Member States, Member States, Member States

Writing in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune, three German scholars — and authors of a forthcoming study on “UN Peace Operations and Organizational Learning” — provide an accurate summary of the challenges facing UN peacekeeping and its new chief, Alain Le Roy. What makes this op-ed so compelling is its authors’ careful and consistent specification that member states — not the amorphous collections of these member states, such as the “UN” or the “Security Council” — are responsible for both the struggles of UN peacekeeping and their potential solutions. An example of this simple, but so frequently ignored, distinction:

UN member states have neglected making crucial investments in the support infrastructure for an expanding network of large peace operations with increasingly complex tasks, from protecting civilians to rebuilding defunct institutions in post-conflict states. [emphasis mine]

Far too often, the convenient shorthand “UN” replaces this specification, and the entire body is unjustifiably branded for the failings of specific countries to follow through on their words and commitments. This is why I was disappointed to read one particular word in the op-ed’s subsequent sentence:

As a result, the UN apparatus is severely overstretched, exhibiting increasingly serious pathologies ranging from sluggish deployments to shocking sexual abuse scandals.

These are not pathologies. For one, the sexual abuse scandals, while indeed “shocking” and certainly unacceptable, are the deviations of a relatively small number of peacekeepers, not the symptoms of a systemic disease in UN peacekeeping. And as specified elsewhere in the piece, slow deployment should be chalked up squarely on Member States’ insufficient offers of troops and political pressure. Yet the use of the word “pathologies” suggests that these blemishes — manifestations of Member State shortcomings — are somehow endemic to UN peacekeeping.

This is one minor slip-up, and goes against the tone of the piece as a whole, which I strongly encourage you to read, as it also offers welcome insight into the pressing — and dangerously increasingly ignored — stipulation that UN peacekeepers should only be deployed where there is a peace to keep.