Over the past several decades, widely publicized humanitarian interventions have become a recognizable mark of the modern world. The media has celebrated the many humanitarian aid responses to natural disasters initiated by the United Nations Security Council and similar organizations. Recently, another kind of contribution to the maintenance of global peace and security has emerged in the forms of peace-keeping and peace-building.
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Despite being praised by the media and becoming a symbol of humanity’s highest values, the actual record of these interventions is controversial at best. Some of these operations have drawn criticism for their inefficiency or poor choice of strategy, and some have failed to deliver the desired results altogether (Chesterman 96). Unfortunately, peace-building operations and, to some extent, other humanitarian interventions have become extremely complex in nature as they are used as a tool to secure ties and fill possible political, cultural, social, and economic gaps. Because of this, no central cause can be isolated as responsible for their shortcomings; instead, there are several distinct impediments to peace-building and peace-keeping, including political, institutional, and legal obstacles.
The two obstacles that are most often cited are political in nature. The first is the unsuitability of policy established by the peace-building organizations. According to Tschirgi, the overwhelming majority of these operations are guided by a liberal normative orientation (14). Such a belief system encourages the formation of a society with well-developed human rights, an emphasis on equality, transparent governance principles, the rule of law, a liberalized economy, and constitutionalism.
However, some scholars suggest the poor suitability of such an approach for the communities where peace-building actually takes place, which is usually associated with recent conflict (Chesterman 154). According to some experts, the whole premise of the necessary intervention is fundamentally flawed, as civil wars, which are often targeted by intervening parties, should be treated as one of the manifestations of modern aggressive globalization, where one side is improving its stability and increasing wealth while the other suffers from violence. Despite being obviously radical, such a suggestion cannot be ignored considering the growing recognition of the role of transnational networks in promoting and sustaining local conflicts (Tschirgi 14).
Other scholars focus instead on the negative economic aspect of liberal policies, pointing to the inadequacy of macroeconomic stabilization for post-conflict societies (Pugh, Cooper, and Turner 50). Arguably, this economic approach has been thoroughly proven to be inefficient and, in some cases, counterproductive.
Another important obstacle to effective peace-keeping and peace-building comes from political bias, which, according to the major consensus, still influences the overwhelming majority of humanitarian interventions. First of all, five of the members of the United Nations Security Council are nuclear powers and are thus acting upon their own interests rather than objectively determining the targets of the intervention. The situation is complicated by the fact that the majority of the Security Council’s members are of European origin, which adds to the potential for selective treatment.
This suggestion was initially illustrated by the contrast in resources allocated to aid the population of Kuwait and the near absence of resources and efforts for Rwanda, which had faced a similarly grave situation as Kuwait but was not a sufficiently desirable resource base. Since then, however, rigorous research undertaken by Fink and Redaelli has greatly expanded the scope of the concern (741). These scholars have found that the allocation of humanitarian aid provided to the governments of countries suffering from natural disasters is noticeably biased. Indeed, donor countries tend to favor former colonies, prefer to dispatch aid to countries situated closer geographically, and mostly choose states with a lower political affinity (Fink and Redaelli 754).
Besides, the assertions of donors favoring more resource-rich countries are confirmed by the fact that oil-exporting countries usually get more attention. Finally, the effect of herding is observable in the foreign aid process, in which later donors tend to focus on the countries previously aided by the forerunners. It is important to note that none of these factors implies ill intent or any deliberate violation of the policies; instead, these tendencies may be viewed as a sign of governments using humanitarian intervention as a political instrument.
Some concerns also exist regarding the legal aspects of the authorization of peace-building interventions. The provisions of the UN Charter explicitly frame the legality of these operations by appealing to the violation of human rights. However, these interventions often entail the possibility of violating the territorial integrity of the state in question, a clause that is overridden by the recognition of the need for international peace and security (Macklem 371).
Despite the seeming simplicity, the actual decision-making often hinges on an interpretation of the violations as threatening to international security, which is somewhat arbitrary, as well as the impact of the interventions on the target country’s territorial integrity, which also may depend on a multitude of factors. As a result, relatively similar cases may receive vastly different treatment, with some interventions being ruled out as illegal. Besides, such a setting occasionally allows for cases in which seemingly legitimate missions (i.e., those that are concurrent with the existing norms of international justice) end up being unauthorized because of the number of ambiguous details involved.
Finally, the involvement of the local population in the intervention process influences the outcome to at least some degree. Research by Gizelis and Kosek has demonstrated a strong relationship between the degree of involvement of the local population and the positive outcome of the intervention (381). Thus, despite the implication that peace-building missions ultimately benefit the local populations, they do not necessarily secure their sympathies or support, without which the interventions are more likely to fail.
When combined, these obstacles not only slow the progress of humanitarian interventions but introduce uncertainty to the field. Admittedly, some of these obstacles, such as a lack of local cooperation, may be amended once they are located. However, changes in policy are much slower to implement, and the political biases revealed in the analysis are likely to persist as they are both subtle and are hard to regulate. Finally, while the reasons for most of the obstacles are relatively obvious, their relative significance and impact remain unclear and difficult to measure, so additional research is recommended.
Chesterman, Simon. You, the People: The United Nations, Transitional Administration, and State-building, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
Fink, Gunther, and Silvia Redaelli. “Determinants of international emergency aid—humanitarian need only?.” World Development 39.5 (2011): 741-757. Print.
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Gizelis, Theodora-Ismene, and Kristin E. Kosek. “Why Humanitarian Interventions Succeed or Fail The Role of Local Participation.” Cooperation and Conflict 40.4 (2005): 363-383. Print.
Macklem, Patrick. “Humanitarian intervention and the distribution of sovereignty in international law.” Ethics & International Affairs 22.4 (2008): 369-393. Print.
Pugh, Michael, Neil Cooper, and Mandy Turner. Whose peace? Critical perspectives on the political economy of peacebuilding. Springer, 2016. Print.
Tschirgi, Neclâ. Post-conflict peacebuilding revisited: achievements, limitations, challenges. New York: International Peace Academy, 2004. Print.