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Unintended Consequences of Peacekeeping Operations

alt Edited by: Chiyuki Aoi, Cedric De Coning And Ramesh Thakur
Published by: United Nations University Press, 2007
ISBN: 10: 9280811428 13: 978-9280811421

Reviewed by: Geoff Harris, Professor of Economics and Director of the Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies programme at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
In Conflict Trends Issue 4 of 2007

Things do not always turn out the way you plan, and the unexpected often happens. This book examines the unintended consequences of peacekeeping operations (PKOs) – some of which were reasonably expectable, and some of which were not.

Unintended Consequences of Peacekeeping Operations contains 11 chapters arranged in four sections, with introductory and concluding chapters by the editors. The first section reports on the unintended consequences of PKOs for women; the second and third sections examine the impact of PKOs on the host economies and troop-contributing countries respectively; and the final section considers issues of accountability and the extent to which unintended consequences can be prevented or managed. The introductory chapter notes that there were ‘three unwritten chapters’ – on Aids, corruption and the United Nation’s (UN) response to various unintended consequences.

The less than respectful treatment of women in host countries by peacekeepers has been a major issue since the UN report on peacekeepers and humanitarian workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in early 2005, although there had been an earlier damning report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children United Kingdom on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2002. The chapter by Kent documents this sad recent history, while Koyama and Myrttinen cover some of the same ground from a detailed study of PKOs in the former East Timor.

One of Kent’s recommendations (p. 55) is that women should comprise a larger percentage of peacekeeping forces. There is an awareness that men are responsible for almost all the direct violence in the world (peace guru Johan Galtung has suggested 95%, but regards this as an underestimation), and there is an obvious policy for the UN to adopt: to insist that peacekeeping contingents comprise a significant proportion of women. It is worth noting that one of the most successful PKOs of recent times – in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea – was characterised by high proportions of women and civilians in the peacekeeping team.

PKOs may contribute to spreading HIV/AIDS, either as a result of peacekeepers infecting local communities or, in areas of high prevalence of the virus, being infected themselves. One of the few studies on this issue found a direct relationship between the length of PKO service away from home by Nigerian troops and their HIV status (p. 142).

Moving from the gender-related effects, there are a ‘medley of unintended consequences’ for troop contributing countries, including non-transparency in the procurement of equipment for PKOs (p. 138) and corrupt practices of various kinds (p. 144). Such negative unforeseen consequences need to be weighed against the earning of hard currency, the experience gained by personnel (although it is often argued that the attitudes and behaviour required for PKOs are quite different from those needed in a fighting force) and the status accruing to countries providing peacekeepers.

It is predictable that groups of young men – trained and strong in the belief that violence is the way to resolve issues, with time on their hands and away from home – are likely to behave badly (in some form) towards the local population. Unintended, yes, but somewhat predictable all the same. The book’s final section examines the
crucial question of making such peacekeepers more accountable. Hampson and Kahiri-Hunt review who is responsible for the criminal behaviour or breaches of codes of conduct by personnel (not only the military) associated with PKOs. Hoffman reviews the work of a possible ‘beacon of light’ – the ombudsperson institution in Kosovo.

The editors, in the final chapter, identify two major constraints on building accountability – authority (to whom is the PKO accountable?) and control (who is in charge on the ground?). This issue deserved much more than the two pages devoted to it in the book.

Unintended Consequences of Peacekeeping Operations is a readable and stimulating book, and the chapters flow together considerably better than in most edited books. By identifying various unintended consequences, the excuse for not anticipating them loses much strength. It deserves recommendation to students and others concerned with making PKOs more humane and effective.

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