African Peacekeeping Operations come to BYU

UN personnel execute a peacekeeping operations. Students learned about these operations during the conference call on Wednesday.
UN personnel execute a peacekeeping operation. Students learned about these operations during the conference call on Wednesday. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

BYU students and faculty participated in an academic conference call about peacekeeping operations in Africa at the Kennedy Center last week.

Dr. Paul D. Williams, an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University, first addressed the participants. Williams is a non-resident senior advisor at the International Peace Institute in New York.

Several universities participated in the conference call, including BYU, University of Southern Mississippi, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Kentucky, Penn State University, University of Texas at Austin and Georgia State University.

Dr. Williams framed his remarks with three questions:

  1. What are the patterns and challenges of peacekeeping efforts in Africa?
  2. How does the U.S. currently support such efforts?
  3. What could the U.S. do better to support peacekeeping efforts?

Williams mentioned the 70th anniversary of the United Nations is approaching and that this milestone is sparking discussions about possible U.N. reforms.

“There’s lots of debate about how we might need to rethink the key tenants of peacekeeping doctrine,” Williams said.

President Obama will hold a World Leader Summit on U.N. peacekeeping operations at the end of this month in New York. Williams predicted this summit to be a prime opportunity for improving these operations.

The Challenges

Williams said one problem facing African peacekeeping operations is the unsustainable division of labor for the operations.

“There are the countries that authorize the mandates of peacekeeping operations, and that’s a different group of countries than those who pay for the operations,” Williams said. “And then there are those countries that provide personnel to execute the operations. The fact that there are three different camps is not the best way to run an organized operation.”

Williams concluded that the underlying conflicts are preventing operations from reaching their goals and sending peacekeeping personnel home.

“For that to happen, we actually need to resolve the underlying conflicts and issues that have started these wars,” Williams said.

Another obstacle Williams discussed was that peacekeeping personnel, known as blue helmets, are often given contradictory mandates that blur the lines between peacekeeping and military strategizing.

“We’re asking peacekeepers to do more and more challenging things on the African continent,” Williams said. “But, under the heading of peace operations, we have some mandates that look like counterinsurgency.”

Williams spoke of the fact that personnel in charge of executing these operations do not always have an extensive knowledge of the region’s history or dynamics.

“We are essentially attempting to keep the peace without a completely finished toolbox of conflict management tools,” Williams said.

America’s Current Role

Williams listed four successful ways that the U.S. is presently supporting peacekeeping operations in Africa.

  • The U.S. uses its political influence to mold mandates for peacekeeping operations.
  • It is the largest single financial contributor to African-led peace missions.
  • It deploys its own personnel as peacekeepers in Africa, but the numbers are relatively low.
  • It supports peace initiatives such as Global Peace Operations.

What America can do differently  

Williams then proposed actions that the U.S. can take to enable successful peace operations in Africa.

“The last time the U.S. had a proper focused document that outlined their strategy on peacekeeping operations was way back in 1994,” Williams said. “I think now it’s time for the United States to think about what peacekeeping operations should look like in 2015.”

Williams suggested that the U.S. should send more money directly to the African Union, an institution that works to enable individual African nations to combat conflicts on their own.

Students from all the participating universities in the conference call were invited to ask Williams questions after he made his main remarks.

Williams once again suggested that peacekeepers go to the source in response to a question from the University of Southern Mississippi about the issue of refugees fleeing Northern Africa.

“We need to look at why people are fleeing from persecution,” Williams said. “The United States needs to use its diplomatic muscle to actually end these wars.”

A student from the University of Texas at Austin asked about how these operations work with the African communities they are intended to relieve. Williams responded that losing sight of the ultimate goal of these operations is dangerous.

“What is the point of peace operations? What are they for in their essence?” Williams said. “They’re not for diplomats in New York or heads of state, but for helping local people who are caught up in unfortunate conflict and violent circumstances.”

Williams then proposed that the only way these operations will succeed is an open dialogue and a cooperation between U.N. peacekeepers and the African nations.

“Peace doesn’t sustain without support and understanding from local communities,” Williams said.

Williams closed by stressing the urgency of these operations and offering one last suggestion to achieve peace.

“The best chance for U.N. peacekeeping to work effectively is if all the countries in the U.N., all its member states, can basically provide support to this endeavor and provide the things that they think are useful,” Williams said. “That’s when we’re going to see more effective peace operations.”


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