Peace: It's Not Easy to Keep

Some types of conflicts are less susceptible to resolution than

others, but the most difficult of all peacekeeping operations are precisely those most tempting policy makers today -- conflicts involving the struggle of contending national communities, as typified by the fighting in Bosnia, Beirut and Belfast.


As American troops operate in Somalia and we edge ever closer to military action in Bosnia, we should consider the following:

1.Peacekeeping is an especially deceptive misnomer in cases of national or communal conflict. As we discovered in Bosnia, it is often difficult in such instances to find enough peace even to inject a peacekeeping force.


2.Communal peacekeepers rarely find allies in the field. Intervention almost always occurs only after the domestic devices for conflict management (the police, courts) have broken down. The problem confronting the troops is thus not so much keeping the peace as the immeasurably more difficult task of creating a civil society.

3.There are no effective game plans for communal peacekeeping. Peacekeeping forces must be perceived as neutral to be effective. Unfortunately, most peacekeeping operations define their objectives in terms of laws to be enforced or territory to be controlled; that is to say, in terms of the status quo whose legitimacy is at issue. Not surprisingly, peacekeeping forces have invariably ended by appearing to take sides and becoming the targets of at least one of the protagonists in the conflict they seek to control.

4.Peacekeeping tends to be an exceedingly long-term undertaking. British troops still patrol Northern Ireland a generation after their deployment; U.N. troops have been in Cyprus even longer; the end is nowhere in sight in Lebanon.

5.Given its emotional content, communal conflict normally defies rational cost-benefit treatment. Two remarkable dimensions of communal conflict are the degree to which it can nurture itself on lTC grievances occurring centuries before, and the rapidity with which it can break down the veneer of civilization -- for example, former neighbors sighting their weapons on the children they watched grow up in the streets of Sarajevo.

6.Peacekeeping holds few answers to evil. No one is arguing that the United States should enforce its moral pronouncements on the world; however, where there is a desire to act in the face of perceived evil, peacekeeping is an ill-designed tool of foreign policy. Its implementation can even depend on the willingness of the aggressor to permit the deployment of peacekeeping units.

7.No peacekeeper intervening in a communal conflict has ever been able to withdraw after successfully restoring peace between the combatants! Peacekeeping forces often grow old where sent; when they have departed (the Indian army from Sri Lanka, U.S. troops from Lebanon), the conflicts have continued.

The list could be expanded into a larger number of interrelated reasons for caution in the face of communal conflict. Each new case seems to highlight yet another peril of communal peacekeeping. Still, the urge to engage in interventionary diplomacy in such areas as Bosnia and Nagorno-Karabakh grows, boosted by America's rediscovery of the military arm of its foreign policy, our current preference for exercising force within a multilateral framework, and the non-stop promotion of peacekeeping missions by Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

As the United Nations secretary general, it may be Mr. Boutros-Ghali's job to serve as a pied piper for peacekeeping operations. Few would deny that there is an important role for peacekeeping in the contemporary world -- perhaps even in theaters of communal conflict if the expectations are lowered and the costs of such ventures are appreciated.


At the same time, there are tremendous differences between patrolling a corridor separating armies tired of fighting and sending personnel into a political vacuum or an on-going civil war. As events in Somalia daily remind us, even when dealing with the rag-tag villains of thugocracies, peacekeeping duties can be nasty. Where the peacekeeping units confront centuries-old communal animosities, there are few precedents for expecting success.

Joseph R. Rudolph Jr., a professor of politics at Towson State University, is completing a book on ethnicity and politics.