While the word intervention is viewed with skepticism in the conduct of external relations, it is used more often than not by the powerful countries in the name of keeping peace. Even the international institution like the UN has approved some form of intervention for the purpose of ending conflicts around the world. The global body’s intervention is generally considered to be guided by humanitarian reasons. Its Charter provision prohibits interference in the domestic affairs of member countries. Nevertheless, the UN has got involved in launching interventions on behalf of the communities that are victimised by atrocities of groups engaged in armed conflicts from time to time.
Last resort International law permits the use of force in managing conflicts aimed at achieving peace provided such resort is the last option and more importantly the move is sanctioned by the UN. The fundamental principle here is that an armed intervention is launched only when the international community, whose voice is reflected in UN-authorised resolutions, is convinced that there is no alternative to this in restoring peace and stability. The authorisation from the UN through the adoption of a resolution based on Chapter 7 provisions (this chapter in the UN Charter is related to the use of force) is the key element. In its absence, the armed action from any member of the UN regardless of intentions becomes questionable in line with the international law. The controversial armed invasion of Iraq in 2003 launched by the US is often quoted as an example whenever the issue of legality of intervention arises. The 2003 action did not receive any authorisation from the UN. Then, the US administration decided to go ahead without such authority losing support even from its traditional European allies. However, the international community was united behind the UN-sanctioned resolution to launch the armed intervention in 1990-91 to oust the occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait. That action obtained legitimacy as it was backed by appropriate resolutions of the UN Security Council. Kuwait’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence got restored following the defeat of the Iraqi army at the hands of UN-supported Allied Forces. This enterprise of the UN imbued a sense of optimism among nations which seemed to undertake more missions in the post-Cold War. Buoyed by new-earned credibility in the restoration of peace and security in the Gulf, the UN embraced new missions ambitiously. Ironically, in launching new peace missions, the UN has led to some missteps, where keeping peace was rare to be seen which though was not attributable to the international institution alone. In 1994, former Yugoslavia disintegrated into several states. These states soon got embroiled in armed conflicts prompting UN-authorised peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The conflict worsened killing thousands of civilians, to protect whom the UN peacekeepers were deployed. The UN intervention couldn’t halt the local anarchy for understandable reasons. Considering the UN’s helplessness in protecting Bosnian Muslims and Croats from the Serbian army at the heyday of Balkan ethnic conflict, Michael Maren, an author asked in the New York Times, “If the peacekeepers aren’t keeping any peace, what are they doing?” The cost of intervention topped $1.5 billion. It was a reminder that UN-blessed peacekeeping missions are not always successful. In this piece, an attempt is made to find out why missions of intervention fail sometimes. One must not forget that the interventions whether legitimate with the UN blessings and those lacking legitimacy like in 2003 require some key features for success. Generally, interventions are not successful when they are limited and impartial. It sounds bizarre when we consider the components of UN peacekeeping missions. It is because UN-sanctioned missions cannot be for unlimited period of time. Furthermore, such missions must be evenhanded. The UN peacekeepers are not supposed to take any side in the conflict. Traditional UN peacekeeping operations are launched keeping in view the fact that their deployment is for limited period of time and the principle of impartiality is respected. This uniqueness has hampered the working of the UN peacekeeping missions. While discussing the need for intervention, it is imperative to analyse why wars occur as they create conditions for intervention. Wars happen either between governments as exemplified by the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and between groups or political parties as in Libya. The purpose of such wars naturally differs. In a war between governments, the issue of disputed territory or sovereignty is the basic point like the Indo-China or Indo-Pak border war, whereas between groups, the question is how the country should be divided and who will control the government. Ethiopia-Tigray war is the fitting example in the latter case. A war would not end until both sides agree who will control whatever is in dispute. It is not hard to avert war if either one cares primarily about peace—all it has to do is let the other side have what it claims is its due. Wars are rarely accidents. It is found that belligerents often continue to kill each other while they negotiate. They do so because the terms of diplomatic settlements ending the war are influenced by the results on the battlefield.
Root causes Wars do not bring peace if their root causes are not resolved. The 1994 Bosnia conflict is the example when the outside powers viz the US and the UN pretended to stop ethnic cleansing without allocating territory. Parties to conflict vied for territorial gain. If the intervenors are like the US and the UN in the 1950 Korean War when they are backed by the resolution of the Security Council, interventions need not be necessarily impartial. Peace making is possible through legitimised and impartial interventions.
(Thapa is a former foreign policy advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 09. email@example.com)