Can the UN End the Longest Running Civil War in the Western Hemisphere?

For the last fifty years, Colombia has been embroiled in a horrendous civil war with FARC insurgents. Some 220,000 people have been killed and millions displaced. Now, the government and FARC are closer then they have ever been to signing a peace deal. And on Monday, they got a big assist from the Security Council.

Even though the final terms of the agreement have not been signed, both FARC and the Colombian government asked the Security Council to approve a peace monitoring mission. The mission would deploy ceasefire monitors and experts who can supervise the disarmament of the FARC and the implementation of the final deal.  The fact that both sides petitioned the Council for this mission strongly suggests that a final peace accord is imminent.  The political effect of the unanimous Security Council vote, though, was immediately apparent. From Reuters:

In a televised speech on Monday night, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: “Today, Colombia is the synonym for hope in the world.

“The decision taken by the Security Council means that from now we are not alone – but that we go hand in hand with the U.N., with the whole world – toward the end of this war,” said Santos, who staked his 2014 re-election on the peace talks with FARC.

After five decades of conflict, there is very little trust between the two sides. It is going to take many years  of confidence building measures to create an atmosphere more conducive long term peace and reconciliation. In this context, an outside guarantor of a brand new peace deal is absolutely required.

Since FARC and the government don’t trust each other enough to implement the peace deal on their own, so they’ve asked the UN to help.  This includes the crucial — and sensitive — process of disarming and demobilizing rebel troops. The details of this process, including the number and location of cantonments in which the disarmament will take place, are still being worked out between the sides. But once there is agreement, overseeing the disarmament of insurgents is bread and butter stuff for the United Nations. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations even has an acronym for it.

“Verifying a cease-fire and disarmament will be a very demanding job and require professionals with high credibility and past experience,” said Adam Isacson, a senior researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America told the Los Angeles Times. “The U.N. can provide both.”

The resolution passed on Monday is unusual for the fact that the Council approved a peace monitoring mission before the final deal was struck. But they did so because they want to set in motion the process of standing up a peace monitoring mission so that when pen-hits-paper, the mission is ready to deploy. If successful, this staggered approach be a model for future peace monitoring efforts.

The Colombian civil war began just twenty years after the UN was created. And now, the longest running civil war in the Western Hemisphere may finally be coming to an close. If successful, the UN will have played an indispensable role in ending this conflict once and for all.