By Evan Gray, Blog Writer

Since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has taken the maintenance of international peace and security as one of its most important goals. With the organization’s founding member states determined to prevent a repeat of the horrors of WWII, peacekeeping was from the outset seen as a crucial part of the UN’s mandate. This need for an effective international force to keep the peace where governments fail to do so has not diminished, as is evident from the persistence of armed conflict in many parts of the world. However, a look at the history of international peacekeeping shows that the UN’s attempts at intervention often fall far short of the promises contained within its own charter.

One of the most shocking examples of the ineffectiveness of UN peacekeeping was the inability of the United Nations Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to prevent or even slow the progress of the genocide that claimed the lives of more than 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. This failure came in spite of the efforts of the mission’s commander, General Romeo Dallaire, who was constantly hampered by bureaucratic indifference, equipment and personnel shortages and a lack of support from his superiors at the UN.

One of the biggest limitations on the effectiveness of international peacekeeping to date has been the reluctance of UN officials and the Security Council (the body responsible for peacekeeping) to authorize any action that might violate national sovereignty. In Rwanda, this meant that General Dallaire, even after being warned of the planned mass slaughter of Tutsis, was refused permission to disarm Hutu extremist groups or shut down anti-Tutsi radio stations that would later prove instrumental in spreading the genocide across the country. A similar scenario occurred in Sri Lanka in 2009, when up to 40,000 civilians were murdered by government and rebel troops despite the presence of UN forces.

In recent years, several reforms have been made in an attempt to address these issues. For example, in 2005, the UN launched the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) initiative, aimed at holding both national governments and the international community responsible for preventing genocide and mass killings. More recent UN peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan have also been given more extensive ‘Chapter 7’ mandates, which authorize peacekeepers to use force when necessary to protect the lives of civilians. The failure of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to prevent the 2012 occupation of Goma by M23 rebels has also led to the establishment of a new, more proactive form of peacekeeping. Known as the FIB – short for UN Force Intervention Brigade – this new force represents a marked departure from traditional modes of peacekeeping due to its unprecedented mandate to seek out and destroy rebel groups operating in the DRC.

Despite these innovations, however, the performance of recent peacekeeping operations has still failed to live up to the lofty standards envisioned by the UN’s founders. In 507 cases of attacks on civilians between 2010 and 2013, UN peacekeepers refused to use force to intervene in all but a few examples, an “unacceptable” statistic in the words of the United States’ ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers. In light of this information, it is clear that much more needs to be done not just to enhance the theoretical capabilities of UN peacekeepers, but also to build the political will and resources that are necessary for them to do their job effectively.