Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The impossibility of peacekeeping

Sometimes peacekeeping works. This is usally when the peacekeepers have to separate two well-armed factions. In that case there is no easy win and both faction see an advantage.

The situation becomes different when one or both sides believe that they have a chance to win. In that case it is very difficult to maintain te peace. There are two variations on this theme:
- in one scenario both sides believe that they have a chance to win. For example Croatia in 1991/1992, Bosnia, Kosovo before the war, or Darfur. In such cases we see regularly breaks of the armistice and even if one side is really committed they often give up when the other side keeps violating it. The peacekeepers are sitting in between and can do little more than register the violations.
- in the other scenario one side is definitely weaker and the main job of the peacekeepers is to protect them. In reality this is nearly impossible. We saw it in Croatia 1994/1995, regionally in Bosnia and in Kosovo after the war. The dominant party an ignore the peacekeepers when it suits them and they can do nothing against it.

Peacekeepers have tried a variety of strategies to remedy this powerlessness:
- In Kosovo they have been able to improve the situation by promising independence and pointing out that violence hurts that prospect. But such an approach has two weeknesses: it doesn't help for the light violence that doesn't reach the newspapers and it won't work anymore after the promissed independence has been delivered.
- Another strategy is to choose sides. The bombing of Serb targets in 1995 and 1999 worked along these lines. But while it changes the balance of power it just increases the chance that the supported side will become the aggressor.
- A final trick is to support the violations. The way the West reacted when the Serb enclaves in Croatia were destroyed was an example of this strategy. Aggression was relabelled as justified action.

I believe that all these strategies are lacking. In my opinion the only thing that works is empowerment. Give the weaker party control over its own safety. Do not ask them to give up their arms. But don't choose sides and be prepared to censor the weaker side when they become aggressive.

In my opinion missions like KFOR or Eulex in Kosovo are inherently flawed as they do not follow this criterium. This is because there starting-point is not a balance but the conviction that one side has to dominate. In my opinion this is a very dangerous idea as domination is associated with superiority and discrimination. Eulex has two missions: protecting Kosovo's Serbs and dispowering them. These policies are contradictory and will in the end do more harm than good.

1 comment:

pierre said...

Wim, I really like your observations, they are quite astute.

"I believe that all these strategies are lacking. In my opinion the only thing that works is empowerment. Give the weaker party control over its own safety. Do not ask them to give up their arms. But don't choose sides and be prepared to censor the weaker side when they become aggressive."

I really believe this is the correct action that should be taken for Kosovo. However, it cannot be implemented because of the intense bias, as you've noted before, in the media, from Brussels, and from Washington, DC. The concept of "war crimes" and the situation of the 1990s will come back again. Public sentiment needs to change before the weaker side in Kosovo can defend itself because, at this point, no matter how justifiable their actions are, they will be portrayed as the aggressors and thus lose the public relations battle. Indeed, in the public arena is where the Battle for Yugoslavia was fought and won.