bosnia report
No. 10 April - May 1995
Myth of the Month
by Noel Malcolm

The claim that the UN forces in Bosnia are peacekeepers has been repeated constantly by journalists, politicians and the UN commanders themselves. It is, however, a myth.

Frequently it goes with the claim that there are two categories of UN military activity: 'peacekeeping' and 'peacemaking' : the latter is taken to mean entering the conflict as a full-scale combatant, in order to inflict a final defeat on one side. Since the UN force in Bosnia is not engaged in that sort of 'peace-making', that argument goes, it must be 'peacekeeping'. This argument is false. The only proper distinction is between two different sorts of UN mandate: a 'consent' mandate and an 'enforcement' mandate.

The first of these is a mandate (usually interpreted as flowing from Chapter VI of the UN Charter) for settling a dispute or policing a settlement which has already been made by methods involving the consent of both parties. The second is a mandate under Chapter VII which concerns the use of force (if necessary) without the consent of either or both of the parties. The specific article of Chapter VII authorising the use of force is Article 42, which permits taking 'such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security'.

A 'peacekeeping' mandate is a consent mandate. A standard textbook published by the UN itself defines peacekeeping as follows:

'an operation involving military personnel, but without enforcement powers, undertaken ..... to help maintain or retore international peace and security in areas of conflict. These operations are voluntary and are based on consent and cooperation. While they involve the use of military personnel, they achieve their objectives not by force of arms, thus contrasting them with the 'enforcement action' of the UN under Article 42..... Peacekeeping operations are set up only with the consent of te parties to the conflict in question .... The parties are also consulted about the countries which will contribute troops to the operation ... This requirement of impartiality is fundamental. [The Blue Helmet: A Review of UN Peacekeeping, UN Department of Information, 1990, pp 4-6].

All the essential components of the UN mandate in Bosnia were passed by the Security Council explicitly under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Resolution 770, on ensuring the delivery of aid; Resolution 816, on enforcing thÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ e no-fly zone; and Resolutions 824 and 836, on the protection of the so-called safe areas. These are enforcement mandates, not consent mandates. What this means is that they cannot be described as peacekeeping mandates, and the UN forces in Bosnia cannot be called 'peacekeepers'.

They are not, of course, 'peacemakers' in the popular but false image of that term: thir mandate is not to use force to defeat the Serbs, but to use force to achieve certain specific tasks, such as ensuring the delivery of aid and deterring attacks aainst the 'safe areas'. UNPROFOR has failed again and again to carry out those tasks. The UN generals and the politicians have hidden behind the fiction of a 'peacekeeping' mandate, claiming that they are obliged to treat both sides with impartiality. They are under no such obligation, and they know it

Noel Malcolm is the author of 'Bosnia: A Short History' and on the steering committee of the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina.


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