Sending UN Peacekeepers to Zimbabwe? (UPDATED)

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai writes a powerful op-ed in the Guardian today extolling the international community to intervene in Zimbabwe.

[w]e need a force to protect the people. We do not want armed conflict, but the people of Zimbabwe need the words of indignation from global leaders to be backed by the moral rectitude of military force. Such a force would be in the role of peacekeepers, not trouble-makers. They would separate the people from their oppressors and cast the protective shield around the democratic process for which Zimbabwe yearns…

Intervention is a loaded concept in today’s world, of course. Yet, despite the difficulties inherent in certain high-profile interventions, decisions not to intervene have created similarly dire consequences. The battle in Zimbabwe today is a battle between democracy and dictatorship, justice and injustice, right and wrong. It is one in which the international community must become more than a moral participant. It must become mobilised.

Even if the cause is just, the big question here is who should intervene? Tsvangirai envisions a UN peacekeeping force, and that very well may be an option down the road. But for now, it is important to keep in mind that the United Nations has no standing peacekeeping force ready to be deployed at the drop of a hat. So far, member states have not yet made that kind of investment in UN peacekeeping, so as a result, UN peacekeeping does not have capacity simply waiting to be deployed.


That said, the Security Council could very well approve the intervention of a multi-national force operating under Chapter VII authority. Eventually, that force might transition to a standard UN peacekeeping mission. This was the model used for East Timor; in 1999 the Council authorized an Australian-led multi-national force, which transitioned into a standard UN peacekeeping mission that helped prepare for East Timor’s elections and independence. The big difference between Zimbabwe and East Timor, though, is that no member state with a sophisticated military (aside from Great Britain, which is burdened by its colonial past) seems willing to take on this mission. Until a member state or group of states decides to step up, it is hard to imagine Zimbabwe will play host to the kind of intervention for which Tsvangirai is pleading.

(Image: An Australian peacekeeper patrols the streets of Dili, by David Axe. From World Politics Review)

UPDATE: In a letter to the editor of the Guardian, Tsvangirai denies authorship of the op-ed