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United Nations As Peacekeeper And Nation-Builder edited by Li Lin Chang, Nassrine Azimi  (UNITAR-IPS Peacekeeping Conference: Martinus Nijhoff) In the wake of the Iraq War, what lies ahead for the United Nations as peacekeeper and nation-builder? What lessons were learnt in Afghanistan and Iraq, what reforms could they entail, how do UN efforts fare as compared with those of the United States, and what will be, in the next decade, the most pressing challenges confronting the Organization? Will the United Nations, in its current form and within the new global power structure, be able to remain relevant, retain its ideals and still respond meaningfully to mounting international tensions?

These were some of the questions tackled by a group of eminent scholars and practitioners, many directly and personally involved with multilateral or unilateral peace operations. In addition to the larger issues of peacekeeping and peace-building and the recommendations for historical reform suggested by the ‘UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change’ in December 2004, the group debated some of the most complex recent interventions, including Afghanistan, East Timor and Iraq.

This volume, which contains all the presentations and discussions of the UNITAR/IPS Conference on "United Nations as a Peacekeeper and Nation-Builder: Continuity and Change - What Lies Ahead?" will be a valuable addition to the collections of experts or laypersons interested in the future role of the United Nations in general and in peacekeeping and post-conflict state-building in particular.

Excerpt: On 28th and 29th March, some 50 participants and speakers gathered in Hiroshima to consider the United Nations' role as a peacekeeper and nation-builder. The meeting sought to review key lessons learnt from past and ongoing operations and set them in the current world context. What areas does the UN need to improve and what strengths can it con­tinue to build upon? The report below highlights the key observations and recommendations from the conference.

In the first presentation of Session I: The New Environment for Security Peace, Ramesh Thakur, Senior Vice Rector, United Nations University, Tokyo reviewed UN peacekeeping efforts in light of two recent reports – presented by the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change' and the UN Secretary-General's response to the Panel's recommendations.' Thakur observed that in the last six decades of the UN's existence, the Organization has been faced with no greater challenge. The UN needed to become more robust and empowered in order to enforce its resolutions against recalcitrant regimes and improve the consistency of its responses to those who flout the rules. As the environment and the nature of threats had changed considerably in the post-Cold War era, there was a need for new 'rules of the game'. The primary pur­pose of the United Nations was the maintenance of international peace and security. This post-World War II institution was built upon a corpus of rules and cluster of institutions which are under serious challenge. Thakur opined that while the United Nations is not good at waging wars, it had been good at a slow, steady and unremitting effort towards finding political, economic, legal and institutional alternatives to military force as a way of tackling problems of security, development, good governance and environmental protection.

Thakur posited seven disconnects that are currently driving change in the world order:

The gap between the inflated expectations of what the United Nations can accomplish and the modest resources given to it; The growing disconnect between the threats to peace and security, and the obstacles to economic development, lying increasingly within rather than between states; The persistence of policy authority and the requisite resources for tackling problems being vested in states, while the source and scope of the problems are increasingly global and require the globalisation of the process of policy-making; The greater recognition given to individuals as both subjects and objects of international relations, reflecting an increasingly human conscience;  The growing gravity of threats posed by non-state actors, including but not limited to terrorists; The growing salience of weapons of mass destruction that, in their reach and destructiveness, challenge the basis of the territorial state and which,when acquired by non-state actors, have democratised some of the most potent means of using violence; and The strategic disconnect between the distribution of military, political and economic power in the real world, and the distribution of decision-making authority in the artificially constructed world of intergovernmental organisa­tions. The most acute manifestation of this is the growing disparity between the soft as well as hard power of the United States and that of all others, and the challenge that this poses to the Westphalian fiction of sovereign equality of states.

The war in Iraq was "as much a symptom of underlying seismic shifts in world politics as a cause of further diminished UN authority".

Enhancing the UN's ability to harness the research resources within the organization and making the best use of what was available outside of the sys­tem is one of Thakur's recommendations. As one conference participant put it, the UN seemed to have structured itself to be "research unfriendly". Better information and analytical capacities would be a positive contribution to the formulation of mission mandates and their implementation on the ground.

Over the last decade, the UNITAR/IPS Peacekeeping Conference Series attempted to provide a platform to debrief UN Peacekeeping Operations so that lessons learnt from past operations could be applied to future operations, addressing some of the issues that had been raised in these reports. The premise of the series has been that the world, imperfect as it was, could be made better. The lessons hopefully gleaned from this series have made a pos­itive difference. Issues such as the quality and availability of military and civil­ian personnel, the clarity and feasibility of mandates and the availability of information and analytical capacities within the Organisation, for example, con­tinue to haunt peacekeeping and nation-building efforts. In addition to this sum­mary, the reading of the full presentations of the contributors to this conference is recommended and also those before, captured in the conference publication series.'

Given its Charter, the UN has an important role in building peace and facil­itating unity in diversity in a world in which global problems require multilat­eral solutions. While the UN could take the lead, it cannot do it alone. As Ramesh Thakur reminded everyone, the UN is the embodiment of the inter­national community and the custodian of the world's conscience. It is of course also an international bureaucracy with many failings and flaws; and a forum often used and abused by governments – who control it, not the other way round – for finger pointing, not problem solving. Still, the United Nations remains the "symbol of an 'imagined community' of strangers. It exists to bring about a world where fear is changed to hope, want gives way to dignity, and apprehensions are turned into aspirations."

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