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Limitations and Capabilities of the United Nations

The history of the United Nations Peacekeeping can be traced back to the inception of the organisation. From the beginning until now, the concept of peacekeeping has gone through a lot of changes. The purpose of establishing the United Nations was to prevent another war like the World War, foster feelings of international cooperation and maintain peace among the nations. The Security Council is the organization which is primarily responsible for matters related to international peace and security. After the Cold War, the Council dedicated itself to resolving regional disputes, so that they do not spiral out of proportion and threaten the security of the people. In the event of a dispute, the first objective of the Security Council is to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. The Security Council is also responsible for deploying UN peacekeeping operations to help reduce problems in troubled areas and promote the idea of peace. Peace operations involve dealing with direct conflict prevention by sending uniformed task forces to the troubled region.

The approach of the UN has been to identify the root cause of the issue and then build resistance against it through political or socioeconomic measures. This is done by playing the role of a mediator or fostering Inclusion. There are three ways of conflict prevention 

  1. Direct Prevention - which involves short term initiatives, intervening at critical moments and diffusing tension.
  2. Structural Prevention - long term efforts, identifying and tackling the root cause of the grievances, making necessary changes in the governance or justice systems.
  3. Systematic Prevention - addressing global issues where the major chunk of the global population is at risk.

Though the United Nations has achieved successes, can we say that it can prevent wars? I would like to disagree with the notion. There are many instances where the United Nations has failed to prevent war and conflict. From the Israeli war, Somalia Civil War to the Kashmir dispute and at present the situation in Syria, these incidents shed light on the ineffective methods of the United Nations of peacekeeping.

From a realistic approach, the United Nations does not have the power to stop wars. The United Nations has been criticized for taking up peacekeeping projects that are too much for them to handle. They also have extremely high expectations of themselves. The UN does not have sovereign power over the nations - if two or more countries are adamant to wage a war, there is little or nothing that the UN can do. The decisions made by the State come before those of the United Nations and almost every State thinks about its benefit and keeps itself first. Also, it is extremely difficult to get all the members on the same page and member states cannot be forced to participate in peace missions. 

The UN does not even have its military which can help in the enforcement of rules; their peacekeepers are volunteers from different member nations. In retrospect, most of the successes enjoyed by the United Nations has been in small countries or conflict zones where the conflict could be easily prevented.

Another major drawback is the lack of reforms in the Security Council. The UNSC requires to undergo major reforms to efficiently alleviate war and conflict situations. The UNSC has not undergone any reforms since its founding and 70-year-old methods are ineffective against modern-day problems. Veto rule and Lack of agreement among the P5 members render the Security Council ineffective. Measures like placing limitations on the use of veto power should be employed to ensure quicker and more effective actions. Exceptions need to be made concerning humanitarian causes and swifter actions need to be taken instead of waiting around for member nations to come to a consensus. The mandates and policies of the Security Council and the resources at hand are not practical enough to prevent wars.

References for International Organisations

Howard, L. M., & Dayal, A. K. (2017). The Use of Force in UN Peacekeeping. International Organization, 72(1), 71–103. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0020818317000431

Kathman, J. M., & Melin, M. D. (2016). Who Keeps the Peace? Understanding State Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Operations. International Studies Quarterly, sqw041. https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqw041

Sheehan, N. (2008). United Nations peacekeeping: Limitations and prospects. The Economics of Peace and Security Journal, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.15355/epsj.3.2.74

Other Sources:

Kalantar, N. The Limitations and Capabilities of the United Nations in Modern Conflict.

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