Changing Nature of Global Conflicts: Role of the UN Peacekeepers
Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen
Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) are the United Nation’s most visible activities and that is why it got Nobel Peace Prize. They save thousands of lives every year and are vital to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and essential force to maintain stability in post conflict countries. As the top troops and police-contributing county, Bangladesh continues to make an enormous contribution to the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations.
Bangladeshi peacekeepers, the country’s men and women in blue helmets, have been a great torchbearer of the Bangladesh brand abroad. Inspired by the Father of our Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s foreign policy doctrine, “Friendship to all, malice towards none,” and our constitutional obligation to support peacekeeping under UN umbrella. No wonder Bangladesh has been participating in the UN peacekeeping missions since 1988. The glorious liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971, when the nation experienced genocide, persecution, suffering, displacement, torture, and horror, also deeply motivated Bangladesh to seek global peace and work for improving the plight of the persecuted population irrespective of geographical boundaries.
Father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his maiden UNGA speech in 1974 iterated and I quote, “ Peace is an imperative for the survival of humanity. It represents the deepest aspirations of men and women throughout the world.” This people-centric and value-driven approach towards global peace have been the guiding principle for our engagement with the UN Peacekeeping Operations over the last three decades.
The UN Peacekeeping operations have become more complex and diverse. The often-hybrid nature of modern peacekeeping operations involves a wide range of military and civilian activities across the conflict management spectrum, together with various institutions working in parallel in peacekeeping and peace building programs.
Armed conflicts today are mostly intra-state rather than inter-state, and peacekeepers are often called to engage a changing profile of armed/militant groups who often resort to terrorist or guerrilla tactics or are interconnected with organized crime. Peacekeepers are also required to confront and neutralize groups and outfits in possession of a new generation of weapons.
Today’s conflicts have a number of drivers that are different from those of even a decade ago. Two emerging trends are increasingly impacting the conflict landscape: new technologies and sophisticated weaponry. In many respects, technology has enabled a much wider range of actors to become influential players in violent conflict, whether it is the use of social media platforms for recruitment into armed groups, dark web transfers of resources to violent actors, or the weaponization of emerging technologies.
Added to this complex scenario now is the uncertainty of the COVID-19. The pandemic is poised to cause a severe economic downturn globally, which may be most keenly felt in fragile states with lesser financial or social safeguards. Generally, economic downturns tend to generate the kinds of social unrest that often trigger violent conflicts. The Covid-19 is expected to contribute to higher risks of instability in the coming years.
The nature of Peacekeeping operations has also been transformed both in terms of scale and scope. Peacekeeping Missions today are more than truce supervising operation. In fact, Peacekeeping in the present world, perform multi-dimensional activity ranging from peace enforcement, peacekeeping to peace building. Their responsibility have further expanded to include other dimensions of peace, such as establishing rule of law, protection of human rights, protection of women and children, support to political process, managing elections, reintegration and socio-economic development.
Access to local population becomes particularly relevant when considering current nature of conflicts. Generally, women constitute almost 50% of the local population. Therefore, today’s peacekeepers have to be extra sensitive to women’s needs and women rights.
Given these trends, with threats to peace in the world proliferating and crises growing increasingly complex, the UN peace operations need to adapt continually to make them better suited to 21st-century conflicts. Peacekeeping operations may consider several strategies to be more effective in the face of changing nature of conflicts:
First, instead of having sprawling mandates covering many issues, future missions may be entrusted with a much smaller set of tasks with clear focus and priorities.
Second, better synergies among all actors in various phases, starting from mandate setting and peace consolidation and exit strategy are the key. All stakeholders, including the UNSC, troop-contributing countries and the host countries must show adaptability and prudence in forging meaningful partnership.
Third, women and children are often the main victim of violence in conflicts particularly sexual abuse and it is often difficult for male peacekeepers to cross social and cultural boundaries required to build the trust. This is where female peacekeepers can fill the gap by providing women and children greater sense of security, foster their trust and, in the process, gather valuable information for their mission. Realizing the role of women in peacekeeping and peace building, Bangladesh spear-headed the landmark resolution UNSC 1325 on women, peace and security.
Fourth, peacekeeping operations should be designed to analyze and respond to how local, national, and regional actors form an interdependent network. The current configurations of UN peace operations are not adequately suited to these tasks, particularly those requiring analysis and engagement with the political economy of conflict and also addressing the risks of asymmetric security threats.
Fifth, Medical capacity building and resource allocation for health-related contingencies need to get strong focus in our policy discourses on peacekeeping. Preparedness to address challenges such as the one we are confronted now for example Covid, has to be embedded in future planning and mandate setting of peacekeeping missions.
Sixth, As socio-economic factors will largely dictate the future conflicts, whether it is loss of livelihood, global economic downturns caused by a pandemic, or deepening inequalities resulting from a combination of urbanization, uneven growth, and new technologies in the hands of a few, over time, the UN will need to embrace the interrelated nature of conflicts more than it does today. Peace operations should be seen as a node in a system in which change is driven by countless factors.
Bangladesh remains committed to UN Peacekeeping and makes all endeavor to ready its forces keeping in mind the changing nature of conflicts and the complexity of modern peacekeeping operations.
Apart from our leading role in peacekeeping, Bangladesh has also shown a remarkable contribution to peace building activities. Within the limited mandate, Bangladesh peacekeepers have demonstrated outstanding success in mobilizing the affected population in various nation-building activities. Our female peacekeepers have placed them as the key driving forces to reduce gender-based violence, conflict, and confrontation, providing a sense of security, especially for women and children, mentoring female police officers in the local area, and thus empowering women in the host country and promoting social cohesion.
We are proud of the achievements of Bangladeshi blue helmets. Our peacekeepers aptly complement our peace-centric foreign policy vision. They are rendering the world a selfless service by faithfully carrying out their share of the responsibility with other partners to achieve a peaceful global order.
All said and done, it is important to note that UN Peacekeeping is a temporal phenomenon. To have sustainable peace and stability, it is important to create a mindset of respect and tolerance towards others irrespective of ethnicity, color, race or religion. Violence, terror and tension, war and conflicts are increasing across nations uprooting millions of people from their sweet homes and countries largely due to spread of venom of hatred and ignorance. Currently 1.1 m Rohingyas that were persecuted in their own land are being sheltered temporarily in Bangladesh. They are uprooted because of spread of venom of hatred against them for years. However, they are not the only one.
In order to have sustainable peace and stability across nations Bangladesh has been promoting a concept of “Culture of Peace”. It promotes a mindset of respect and tolerance towards others irrespective of ethnicity, color, race and religion. If we truly can create such a mindset, we can hope to have a sustainable world of peace and stability across nations. However, such mindset cannot be created alone by government. It needs proactive support from parents, teachers, academicians, community leaders, opinion builders and activists and, more importantly, leaders of synagogues, mosques, mandirs and churches. Let us take a vow to achieve such a mindset.
Dr. A K Abdul Momen is a Bangladeshi economist, diplomat, politician and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh.