5 International responses and mechanisms
Concern has been expressed at the lack of capacity of
international institutions such as the United Nations and various regional
organizations to manage ethnic and internal conflict.
5.1 The role of the United Nations
The UN has considerable potential for conflict prevention and
conflict resolution, but it is obvious that it has a limited mandate when it
comes to violent conflicts, often defined as internal disputes. Nevertheless,
the organization has been involved in conflicts in countries such as the Congo,
Cyprus, Lebanon, Somalia, and Guatemala, and has sent observer missions to
Palestine, Kashmir, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and El Salvador. Over the years, the
UN has developed considerable competence in peace-keeping, but not in
peace-making or in peace-building. It is therefore necessary to continue
exploring ways to advance the UN's role as peacemaker. Many suggestions have
been made, from improving reporting systems to early warnings, strengthening the
role of the Secretary-General, developing competence within the
Secretary-General's office, and appointing special rapporteurs. The Security
Council has not been able to ignore the growing political and public pressure to
re-examine the scope of UN activities. Discussions within the Security Council
have allowed world leaders to explore the weaknesses and strengths of the United
Nations, discuss its role after the Cold War, and make recommendations for its
evolution. Many of the leaders proposed that the United Nations should play a
major role in peace-making. It was suggested that the UN should not only develop
an early warning capability but address the issue of conflict prevention by
early and timely intervention. The Secretary-General was requested to use his
good offices in advancing the cause of peace-making and peace-building.
Research on the formation of conflicts and their maturation tells
us of the many lacunae and gaps in the field. We know that early warning and
early intervention are still the weak links in the chain. We also know that once
a conflict matures there is a mismatch between the event and forms of
intervention. Generally intervention through fact-finding or mediation comes too
late. We need to mobilize and deploy much earlier the skills available to
enforce and monitor cease fires. Parties in conflict rarely find legitimate
frameworks to discuss these issues.
Negotiation is not the business of amateurs but requires the use
of organizations with an institutional memory. Different interventions are
required at different stages, from early warning to conflict transformation. The
problem is not only to reduce the duration of the conflict but also to reduce
the mismatch between escalation and intervention.
The United Nations is rightly placed and has within its mandate
the opportunity to address these issues. According to Brian Urquhart, the UN has
exercised two options in the past: traditional peacekeeping or large-scale
collective enforcement action, such as was seen in Korea and more recently in
Kuwait. Urquhart suggests a third strategy of international military operation
is needed, somewhere between peace-keeping and large-scale enforcement. It would
aim to put an end to random and uncontrolled violence and provide a reasonable
degree of peace and order so that humanitarian relief work could go forward, and
a conciliation and settlement process be undertaken.
Such armed police actions would use highly trained but relatively
small numbers of troops and would not have military objectives as such. Unlike
peacekeeping forces they would be required to take certain combat risks and if
necessary to use a limited degree of force. (Urquhart, 1993: 93-4)
My proposal, however, is directed toward preventing large-scale
conflicts and bloodshed. The dynamics of conflicts are such that we need to have
an enlarged political package where many initiatives can have a consistent
place. This is why a new framework needs to be provided by the international
community. There must be early and timely intervention. A framework for
discussion can provide a basis for negotiating territorial grievances within an
Furthermore, guarantees for minorities may also be secured by
providing comparative knowledge, as well as constitutional provisions and other
mechanisms tried out elsewhere. Given timely warning and early enough alert
information, the United Nations and the Secretary-General should be able to make
available their offices to provide such frameworks for dispute resolution.
There must be a quick and effective manner to bring impending
violent situations to the attention of the Security Council. In this regard,
fact-finding missions sent quickly can accomplish a lot. Providing forums for
the parties to identify the issues can also help, as can the sending of skilled
peace-makers to talk to the parties and the provision of competent negotiators
as technical assistants. The point is that contingency plans should be
In the pursuit of peace-making initiatives the United Nations can
also benefit by closer cooperation with non-governmental organizations in the
field. A much better understanding is required of how these organizations assist
by developing early warning information and research and collaborating with
other groups in the field. This in turn would foster a better understanding of
the comparative advantages of each type of organization and the coalitions
needed to be built around particular issues. Just as the current discussion on
the role of the United Nations is timely, addressing these relationships at the
highest level could help the people of the twenty-first century live in a more
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