UN REPORT: The United Nations’ conception of “peacekeeping” evolving, recognising the need for building and sustaining peace

by Mary T. Yelenick
Main Representative, UN-NGO Delegation of Pax Christi International

The United Nations’ concept of “peacekeeping” has historically centered upon the provision of humanitarian aid and the deployment of UN-member nation troops abroad, in an effort to maintain, through that third-party military presence, a cessation of active warfare in the host country.

Yet that time-honored formulation and concept of “keeping peace” is undergoing a fundamental reevaluation at the United Nations, under the leadership of Secretary General Antonio Guterres. There is a new focus on helping to create and foster the underlying conditions – the availability of sufficient food, housing, employment, opportunities for youth, clean water, and healthcare, and the elimination of gender-based violence, among them – that give rise to, and sustain, true peace.

These new approaches are consonant with those long embraced by Pax Christi International. Peace is possible and lasting only where there is enough for all.

The vexing reality is that most UN-donor nations are more likely to agree to commit “peacekeeping” troops, funding for troops, and funding for post-conflict humanitarian aid than to commit resources to help create the conditions that would avert conflict. Money from UN-donor nations dedicated to funding education, training, jobs, housing, food, and clean water is difficult to come by. Yet that is precisely what may be needed to prevent global conflict.

On 24-25 April, Mr. Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, convened a High-Level Meeting on “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace.” In announcing the meeting, he described its motivation as follows: “We need a stronger focus on peace when it still exists. We should be acting faster, and sooner, when there is a peace to keep – rather than scrambling for solutions once it has been lost… Currently, the UN’s peacebuilding and sustaining peace activities are chronically underfunded. [W]e need to join the dots … everything the United Nations does must be seen through a lens of peace. … [A]nd, I also want to stress one more important aspect, when it comes to sustaining peace; namely, the participation of women and youth. We have seen that it is mostly men who negotiate and sign peace deals. However, this is not sustainable. And it does not reflect reality on the ground. Because women and young people play a major role in building and preserving peace. Their experiences and ideas must be seen and listened to.”

Speakers at the April High-Level Meeting at the UN – which I attended as an observer, as a representative of Pax Christi International – included representatives of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) around the world, as well as high-level officials from a variety of UN Member States. Among the recurrent themes were the following:

  • We must address, first and foremost, the root causes of conflict. Humiliation, exclusion, inequality, marginalisation, and suppression are factors leading to violent conflict.
  • We must each strive to understand the experience of the “Other.”
  • Each conflict is different. Its resolution requires a deep understanding of the particular roots of that conflict.
  • Conflict resolution must, if it is to be long-lasting, include all shareholders. It is that “ownership” of the process which creates the basis for a lasting peace.
  • Lasting peace cannot be dictated simply by a tribunal, but must instead be premised on the harder work of truth and reconciliation.
  • Peacebuilding is hard work. It must be done brick-by-brick. The process must be inclusive and transparent.
  • Sustaining peace is often as difficult as achieving it.
  • Conflicts can and must be resolved differently, in the future. If generations continue to address conflict in the same ways that they have historically, then conflict will simply continue, down through succeeding generations.
  • Peacebuilding requires that we choose dialogue and compromise over arrogance.
  • Women and youth are key participants in any peacebuilding and peace-sustaining endeavor. They have unique access to, and understanding of, their communities – including marginalised communities of which national leaders may know little.
  • Providing youth with employment opportunities is critical. Absent such opportunities, youth may easily turn to other options, including terrorist groups, if only out of a need to be acknowledged, welcomed, appreciated, and of service.
  • Humanitarian aid is not a substitute for dialogue and mediation.
  • While the world needs security, we must not, in the process, forget our humanity, or human rights.

The current debate regarding the proper role of the United Nations – whether to expand its traditional role as humanitarian-aid and troops-provider to one more committed to addressing the root causes of war – as well the challenge of soliciting (from some less-than-enthusiastic, but powerful, donor nations) the financial resources necessary to address social inequities – is a highly consequential one. As members of Pax Christi, we must educate ourselves and do what we can to help our local, national, and international representatives make decisions that lead in the direction of lasting peace. In that way, we can be global peacebuilders too.

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