The United Nations remains one of the most well-known pillars of international relations, dominating many conceptions of what exactly the international system consists of. Despite this, the exact concepts present within the United Nations legal framework can often appear nebulous and daunting, consisting of a plethora of interworking parts and countless moving actors. As a result, this 101 series therefore aims to simplify the concept of the United Nations and its connection to international law. It first begins with a chronological history of how international law, specifically within the context of the United Nations, was formed and eventually adopted by states in the system. The series also includes a brief explanation of the main lawmaking bodies of the United Nations, along with methods of how to interpret and put the law into practice. By analyzing enforcement mechanisms for states in the system, the 101 series ends with a case review of the most well-known cases within the United Nations canon and a hypothetical look into the future as to the relevancy of UN law. It is the aim of this series to provide the reader with a foundation from which many dimensions of international law can be better understood, along with a critical lens to analyze many facets of the international system within this context of the United Nations' deep connection to the law. United Nations and the Law 101 is therefore divided into six chapters: 1. United Nations and the Law 101: A Chronological History
5. United Nations and the Law 101: Case Review
6 .United Nations and the Law 101: Future Implications
The efficacy of the United Nations has been called into question in recent years, particularly a due to a  rise in isolationism among member states and increasing number of intrastate civil conflicts. Some have criticized the international organization's tempered approach towards resolving conflicts. Some critics have called on peacekeepers to take more decisive steps towards ending hostilities while others have even questioned whether the UN blue helmets are a necessary element to maintaining international peace in the twenty-first century. Therefore, this entry of the United Nations and the Law 101 series aims to use the example of the UN peacekeeping force as a case review, analyzing its deployment in certain scenarios and reviewing some critical lenses regarding its efficacy.
How are Peacekeepers Deployed?
Perhaps the most important — and well-documented — UN organization dedicated to maintaining peace and order on the international stage is the Security Council. Members of the Security Council including the "P5" (the five permanent members), determine whether a peace operation should be deployed. As a conflict appears to worsen, the Security Council engages in its initial consultations, frequently involving relevant actors such as; the states involved; member states who may contribute peacekeeping forces; and intergovernmental organizations within regional blocs (United Nations, n.d.). These initial consultations eventually evolve into technical field assessments on the ground, where the mission analyzes the political and military situation within the given area of conflict, reporting such findings back to the Security Council. The Security Council may then formally authorizes and adopt a resolution regarding the situation in question. In the meantime, senior officials representing the mission are appointed as member state deployment begins.
Expectation Versus Reality
“UN Peacekeepers are thinly spread, poorly resourced and sometimes undisciplined but they make the best out of a foul job” (Gowan, 2014, p. 36).
As the overall demand for peacekeeping forces continues to increase with the rise of interstate conflicts, a disconnect exists between the expectations derived from the Security Council and its capacity to respond to numerous crises. “Equipment shortages and slow deployments”, argues Gowan, have hampered peacekeeping and its decisive response in tense situations (Gowan, 2014, p. 36). As the number of peacekeepers deployed has risen from under 10,000 in 1900 to over 100,000 within the last decade, states are left scrambling to adequately equip and train their deployments (Gowan, 2014, p. 38). Additionally, many Western states have refused to deploy their own soldiers, leading to the organization disproportionately relying on African, Asian, and Latin American personnel who do not benefit from such equipment as their Western counterparts. As the number of UN missions has expanded, so too have these dilemmas tied with equipment shortages, as deployments are therefore diffused over diverse areas of conflict. Inadequate equipment inevitably leads to ill-prepared troops, thereby increasing the number of fatalities in high-tension situations.
The stark disconnect between expectation and reality is exemplified by the lack of pre-deployment training offered to the blue helmets by member states and the UN. Peacekeeping reform has made special note of this topic, arguing that “deficient pre-deployment training is one of the main causes of fatalities and serious injuries in the field” (United Nations, 2017, p. 5). In addition, it is noted that a proportion of commanders are “visibly unprepared” to verify the preparation of their troops, therefore putting their troops at risk of death (United Nations, 2017, p. 5). Consequently, reformers have argued for more intensive basic training for peacekeeping troops, even going so far as to recommend refusal of deployment and repatriation for those who do not comply.
Who is Responsible?
One crucial question is whether the states employing peacekeepers or the UN itself are responsible for misconduct by peacekeepers. This remains a contentious legal question among many, as reports of sexual exploitation and abuse of native populations continue to remain a sobering issue (Moncrief, 2017). This remains an important legal issue, particularly given the post-conflict settings where ineffective state presence and a plummeting economic situation lead to the presence of peacekeepers. Sexual exploitation and abuse related to peacekeepers' misconduct have been reported in states such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 2000s and 2010s (Stern, 2015, p. 6). Such actions undermine the UN's credibility and the mission’s mandate, as “a peacekeeping mission cannot credibly advise the government on adherence to international human rights standards while its peacekeepers are violating international human rights law” (Stern, 2015, p. 6).
In part, it is useful to turn to the Protection of Civilians mandate enforced by the UN on all peacekeeping missions. Though the POC mandate is primarily guided by a set of principles focusing on protecting civilians from imminent bodily harm, its handbook contains a specific portion regarding sexual exploitation and abuse. Here, peacekeepers have a duty to intervene and bring the survivors to safety, immediately documenting and reporting the incident to human rights officers and to offer women protective advisors (United Nations, 2020, p. 172). Therefore, at least a portion of the duty to be held responsible is both on the individual soldier itself on a micro-level to report any such occurrences and the United Nations on a larger scale to take seriously any documented reports of such violence. Though, it is difficult — and more importantly, inaccurate — to remark that simple prosecution and interrogation of UN peacekeepers would limit the occurrences of SEA in peacekeeping scenarios.
Many have addressed the addition of women forces into peacekeeping regiments as a potential avenue to reducing instances of SEA. However, this “mythicization” of women as a good influence on reducing gendered violence only serves to reinforce the UN Peacekeeping’s current official policy on the subject (Hernandez, 2020). Women do not serve as a quick solution to a growing criticism of peacekeeping forces, but rather, perhaps it would be more prudent to build sustainable peace and reduce the negatives of peacekeeping through involving wider civil society and policymakers into the discussion. Determining who is responsible for the heavy criticisms of UN peacekeeping forces. Solving the problem is not an easy task.
Viewing the United Nations through a critical lens inevitably dredges up the question of the role of UN peacekeeping forces in the 21st century. Though intended to maintain peace in an otherwise fragile and fraught scenario, the blue helmets’ reputation has continued to be called into question over the last few decades. Critically analyzing its growing troop numbers, lack of adequate equipment and pre-deployment training, and instances of sexual exploitation in fragile post-conflict scenarios, may indeed paint a stark image vastly different from its intent of modern peacekeeping. Therefore, the following article in this 101 series aims to conclude with some future wonderings and questions regarding the international organization.
Gowan, R. (2014). Send in the blue helmets. The World Today, 70(3), 36–39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45048794 Hernandez, B. N. (2020). Sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping: The problem of viewing women as a 'quick fix'. E-International Relations. Retrieved from https://www.e-ir.info/2020/02/20/sexual-abuse-in-un-peacekeeping-the-problem-of-viewing-women-as-a-quick-fix/ Moncrief, S. (2017). Military socialization, disciplinary culture, and sexual violence in UN peacekeeping operations. Journal of Peace Research, 54(5), 715–730. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48590498 Stern, J. (2015). Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping. In Reducing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping: TEN YEARS AFTER THE ZEID REPORT (pp. 8–9). Stimson Center. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep10973.4 United Nations. (n.d.). Forming a new Operation. United Nations. Retrieved from https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/forming-new-operation
United Nations. (2017). Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers. United Nations. Retrieved from https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/improving-security-of-united-nations-peacekeepers-independent-report
United Nations. (2020). United Nations Peacekeeping. The Protection of Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping. Retrieved from https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/dpo_poc_handbook_final_as_printed.pdf
Cover Image: Dormino, M. (n.d.). United Nations military personnel are the Blue Helmets on the ground. Today, they consist of over 70,000 military personnel contributed by national armies from across the globe. [Image]. United Nations Peacekeeping. Retrieved from: https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/military
Figure 1: AA. (2022). UN Security Council unanimously extends Cyprus peacekeeping mission. [Image]. AA. Retrieved from: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/un-security-council-unanimously-extends-cyprus-peacekeeping-mission/2487526 Figure 2: Getty Images. (n.d.). The UN's 193 member states supply people and equipment to protect civilians and keep the peace in 16 operations. [Image]. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/9/29/un-nations-pledge-40000-peacekeepers Figure 3: Center for Civilians in Conflict (n.d.). What Does MINUSMA’s Revised Mandate Mean for the Protection of Civilians in Mali? Part 2: A More Detailed Approach to Mitigating Civilian Harm. [Image]. Center for Civilians in Conflict. Retrieved from: https://civiliansinconflict.org/blog/minusma-revised-mandate-part-2/