Several weeks ago I found out that I had been accepted to the Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights (NUCHR), the largest undergraduate human rights conference in the U.S. And I am finally here! Today was a whirlwind of traveling. I literally had to run to catch my flight because the security line was so long and then wandered around O’Hare airport for an hour because I got conflicting directions from everyone about how to find the bus that would take me to Evanston.
Tonight was the opening banquet and keynote speaker. I talked to a man from the Carter Center for a while about his experience working in Liberia and then mostly chatted with the girls at my table. It reminded me a lot of the first day of school, where everyone asks the same questions: “where are you from? what year are you? what are you studying?”. This time it was a little different though, because everyone is interested in what I am interested in: peace and conflict. It has already been so interesting and invigorating to be surrounded by people who are all passionate about the same issues that I am (with variations of course). Everyone here has had such cool academic/personal/travel experiences and I’m excited to learn more about them.
Anyways, after the mingling dinner (bonus points for mediterranean food) three veterans who were involved with peacekeeping operations (two in Iraq, one in Kosovo) spoke to us about their experiences. They said that, as military personnel, they were ill-equipped to deal with their assignment to “fix” what they had previously been sent there to destroy. I think I talked about this in an earlier post, but it is frustrating that the conclusion of every tale or discussion about how to successfully implement a peacekeeping operation is “it depends”, “its complicated”, or “no one knows”. Come on. As a graduating senior who is looking for direction, I would appreciate a big, flashing sign telling me where to direct my efforts. I don’t think that is too much to ask for.
Afterwards we moved to a big auditorium because the keynote address was available to all Northwestern students, not just the delegates. The speaker was Arthur Boutellis, a senior analyst at the International Peace Institute who has participated in many UN PKOs. He gave us a very thorough overview of UN facts and stated three themes he believes are essential to peacekeeping.
1) The consent of the host government. While obvious, his point was that a) consent is necessary, but not a sufficient guarantee for success and b) consent requires encouragement. ‘Consent’ cannot be assumed, but it should also not be given up on if a country is at first hesitant.
2) The protection of civilians. Again obvious, but the conflict he presented was the dilemma between the UN commitment to non-violent force and the moral imperative to not stand by as atrocities happen. While many agree that PKOs cannot (and should not) completely commit to non-violent means of protection, few UN member countries would be wiling to put their citizens in harms way.
3) Stabilization. This theme has a few components: a) the dilemma of needing to re-build local institutions and support the state in a country where these things may be corrupt/abusive, b) the size of the footprint left behind by external actors. He briefly touched on this issue of accountability (who is responsible and to whom are they accountable?) and past UN issue (the most recent being the cholera example in Haiti) and how the entire institution should not be blamed for a few mistakes.
I’m too tired right now to decide if I agree with these themes or not, but I will think about it more tomorrow. However, one thing definitely rang true for me tonight: a successful peacekeeping mission does not depend on what you do, but what they (the local community) will do with what you have done after you’ve left. Peacekeeping is not an end, but a tool to be developed and then given to local communities so that they can sustain themselves after foreign forces leave. Sounds obvious to me, but I guess it is easier said than done.