UPDATE: Why A Peacekeeping Mission to Syria is a Bad Idea and Non Starter

UPDATE: I’ve come under fire from Commentary Magazine for this post. Specifically, the blogger Michael Rubin says  I’m “siding with Assad.”  But as you can plainly see by reading my post, I am merely explaining to readers why UN peacekeeping is not an appropriate kind of intervention for Syria right now.

In case the author needed further clarification I wrote a comment to his blog post, but Commentary refuses to publish it. So, dear readers, here is the my comment that is apparently Too Hot For Commentary:

Explaining how UN peacekeeping operates helps inform a discussion about our actual policy options vis-a-vis Syria. That was my intention in writing the post. It is disingenuous to suggest that describing the limitations of UN Peacekeeping equates to “siding with Assad.”

Please understand that UN Peacekeepers are not a standing army. They are drawn on an ad hoc basis from troop contributing countries for specific missions, and those missions are only deployed if and when the host country consents to the mission.  If a country does not consent to having foreign troops on its territory but foreign troops deploy there anyway, that is generally considered to be an invasion.

A debate over foreign military intervention in Syria is a worthy discussion. But we would muddle that discussion by conflating Blue Helmets with other forms of military intervention that might be more appropriate to the Syrian context such as “a coalition of the willing” or NATO.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me should you have further questions about how UN peacekeeping operates. I’ve spent several years writing about this topic and would be happy to help guide you through some of these tricky distinctions between peacekeeping and war fighting.  You can reach me via twitter if you like.


— Mark Leon Goldberg

I posted it around 6 pm yesterday and it’s still not published. But this bizarre comment (posted in duplicate!) is seemingly A-OK:

If and when Commentary publishes my comment, I’ll gladly update this post.  And just to be clear, the distinctions between War Fighting and Peacekeeping can be muddled and I reiterate my offer to be on call to anyone at Commentary who needs clarification on this topic.

UPDATE II: It took a blog post and some Tweeting, but they’ve finally posted my comment. Thanks. I look forward to having an informed discussion about our policy options on Syria.

Original Post: The Arab League has called for a joint Arab League-United Nations peacekeeping mission for Syria.  This is a bad idea and won’t go anywhere…for now.

Peacekeepers can do a lot of things. They can give belligerents that signed a truce or peace agreement some breathing room as the agreement is implemented. They can deter the resumption of violence after a ceasefire. They can protect civilians in fragile, post-conflict situations; and they can help train the security forces of the country in which they operate to become a more professional, competent police or military force capable of protecting civilians on their own.  Peacekeeping is a useful, cost-effective tool to bolster the long term prospects of a peace agreement.

What peacekeepers cannot and will not do is wage war. By “wage war” I mean invade and occupy a country. They cannot shoot their way into a country that does not want Blue Helmets. They must be invited to the country by the host government.  If a military force is not invited to a country, it is invading that country.  This is the key distinction between what peacekeepers do and what national armies or ‘coalitions of the willing’ do.

As of now, the Assad regime has expressed no intention whatsoever of consenting to foreign troops operating on Syrian soil.  Ergo, there is no chance that the UN would even contemplate a peacekeeping mission.  If, at some future point the Assad regime agrees to a ceasefire and invites a peacekeeping force to monitor and help implement the ceasefire or peace agreement then we can start talking about a peacekeeping force. For now, though, the idea is basically a non-starter.