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UN troops reduce violence

By CHARLIE DUCEY | Wednesday, October 16, 2013


In light of the ongoing conflict in Syria, Tuesday’s lecture about United Nations (UN) peacekeeping efforts had special resonance.

Megan Shannon, a Kroc Institute visiting research fellow from Florida State University, said her research suggests the UN can effectively reduce violence in situations of civil war.

Shannon said UN peacekeeping initiatives were put to the test in two particular missions that occurred in areas of violent sectarian conflict in Africa. The missions were ONUMOZ, the initiative in Mozambique, and MONUSCO, the initiative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Shannon said the two initiatives teach different lessons about how the UN can promote peace in war-torn countries. During the ONUMOZ initiative, a large number of armed UN troops were stationed in the country but not explicitly authorized to attack rebel forces. Meanwhile, the MONUSCO initiative deployed fewer UN forces in an enormously hostile situation and allowed troops to use offensive force if needed.

In explaining the difference between the interventions, Shannon said the mission of the UN in promoting peace has changed. 

“The UN peacekeepers were initially intended for post-conflict missions, but now they intervene as hostilities persist,” Shannon said.

Shannon said she drew from a large body of research to uncover whether the peacekeeping initiatives have been successful, but she found that little information exists concerning immediate effects of UN intervention. Most of the relevant research is focused on long-term outcomes of UN efforts, she said.

“We are, unfortunately, limited by research that emphasized only the broad outcome years after the UN has been present in a warzone,” Shannon said. “From what we know, it seems that the UN has little success mitigating short-term violence in conflict scenarios.”

An important feature of the assessment for Shannon was differentiating between certain varieties of UN forces, she said. 

“The three varieties of UN forces that we can examine are observance, police and armed troops,” she said. “Observance involves officials discerning what is needed for peace resolutions, police train and protect civilians, and armed troops divide warring factions and utilize more drastic measures to promote peace.” 

Shannon said armed troops in large enough numbers are the most effective method for attaining peace. 

“As the UN commits more military troops to a civil conflict, battlefront violence will decrease,” she said. 

There was nearly a 75 percent decrease in monthly battlefield deaths in conflict zones when UN armed forces were present en masse, Shannon said.

But, Shannon said, deploying armed forces to the Syrian warzone is impractical given the current political strife among the members of the UN defense council. Moreover, she said certain cases, such as the conflict in Rwanda, show the potentially negative impact of UN peacekeepers. 

“It is possible that the UN provided a false sense of security during the Hutu rebellion, resulting in more deaths,” she said. 

Shannon said the UN nonetheless has a great capacity to promote peace in the world. 

“UN peacekeeping missions are associated with reduced conflict violence, though long term conflict resolution remains uncertain,” Shannon said.