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from issue no. 05 - 2004

Never against the sovereignty of a State

The peacekeeping operations are today the flower in the UN’s lapel. On 29 May the international day of the UN peacekeeping forces was celebrated for the second time at UN headquarters, forces which represent, as Kofi Annan said on the occasion, «the best means of assuring sustainable peace». Speaking on 17 May once again about peacekeeping in front of the Security Council, Annan reminded an audience immersed in the Iraq events that in the efforts to construct peace «we must never lose sight of the fact that we are there to help, and that it is the local population which must assume the leadership in the decisions which have to do with their own lives».
Among the peacekeeping methods, the authors of the UN charter of 1945, mentioned mediation, investigation, negotiation, but not “peacekeeping operations”. These came later with “emergency forces”, the famous “Blue Berets” who first appeared on the scene in Egypt in 1956, following the Suez Canal crisis. Though not contemplated in the letter of the UN Charter, they were the response to the need to make the spirit of that Charter more effective in the new and changing circumstances of international relations. They came to be included in chapter VI of the charter, where the solution to international disputes by peaceful means is discussed, and not in VII, relative to cases where recourse to force is legitimated. That placing constitutes their great ideal, but also their weak side, of their exposure and sometimes their yielding to the bad faith of those who, with unchallenged violence, determine their abandonment of the field or in any case undermine their efficacy.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the story of peacekeeping many new circumstances come together that have provoked a notable evolution in its nature, mission and organization. The decisive event was the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Up until then conflicts mostly between States had to be resolved and therefore the peacekeeping operations had the task of monitoring ceasefire between the warring parties and the respecting of the obligations previously undertaken for achieving peace within the determined time frames. After 1989 conflict became itself ever more frequently the intra-state sort, between different factions and armed oppositions. Now, the UN Charter does not make provision for the possibility of intervention against the sovereignty of a member State without the express consent of its government. Further, in intra-state conflicts, the peacekeepers have increasingly had the task of protecting the evacuated and of ensuring the humanitarian distribution of basic necessities: which often requires the use of force, while the soldiers intended for peacekeeping were without a precise mandate in that regard. Peacekeeping soon assumed a multi-dimensional character taking on peacemaking: the monitoring and implementation of peace agreements, help during political transition, in democratic and economic reconstruction, organization of humanitarian aid and the return of refugees, supervision or even organization of elections, monitoring of respect for human rights, clearing of mines, disarming of militias and the collecting in of weapons.

The complexity and the multi-dimensional character of peacekeeping continue to increase in the face of the ever new challenges posed by the changing international scenario. But at the same time the trust and goodwill won by this instrument for peace seem also to be increasing with the determination to provide an adequate response to new challenges, in terms of international law, of quotas and funding.
Right now, 53,000 soldiers are serving in sixteen peace missions (Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Georgia, Haiti, Iraq; Liberia, Libya, the Middle East, Sierra Leone, Somalia, East Timor, Western Sahara). The Security Council is preparing another for the Sudan.
Costs also increase. About three billion dollars a year are necessary today. Nevertheless, three billion dollars to maintain peace represent barely 0.5% of military expenditure at world level (most of which is not destined to maintain the peace!), and they can be seen to be extremely well spent if you consider that, according to reliable calculations, civil wars annually involve economic losses to the tune of 128 billion dollars!

The most recent peacekeeping mission is to Burundi, begun on 1 June 2004. And here an initiative of the local Church is to be noted. The bishops of that country wisely decided to precede the UN mission and then accompany it with action in the cultural, social and spiritual spheres aimed at national reconciliation. So in February last they set up the Commission for Peace and Reconciliation of the Catholic Church in Burundi. With the support of foundations, lovers of peace, and the American Episcopal Conference, a delegation from Burundi recently went through a month’s training offering specific information on the subject in Washington. At the end, bishops and laity, members of the Commission, met various UN officials and figures in New York, establishing useful relations with the people in charge of the peace mission and setting out with clarity and determination their own proposals for peace in the country. Thanks not least to their good example Secretary Annan was enabled to close his official speech of 29 May with the words: «The most expensive peacekeeping operation costs a lot less than the cheapest war».

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