AP interview: Divisions among the world's powerful nations are undermining UN efforts to end crises

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Deep divisions especially among the world’s most powerful nations have significantly undermined what the United Nations can do to help nations move from conflict to peace, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix told The Associated Press in an interview that these divisions – most notably between the U.S. and the West on one side and Russia and often China on the other -- don’t only affect peacekeeping but everything the United Nations does in trying to promote peace and security.

The result is that in some cases the rivalry can lead to the presence of U.N. peacekeepers being questioned by the parties to the conflict -- or even asked to leave, as happened in Mali and is happening in Congo, he said.

Twenty years ago, Lacroix said, a united international community pushed in the same direction as the United Nations to restore peace to East Timor, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cambodia.

“But we don’t have that anymore,” he said ahead of the International Day of U.N. Peacekeepers on Wednesday.

“Yes, we still have a U.N. presence in many different crisis situations, but we don’t have the same united, committed push of the membership to advance those political agreements between the parties,” he said. “And sometimes, those agreements just unravel or they stagnate and create frustration.”

Four years ago, the United Nations had approximately 110,000 peacekeepers deployed in 13 missions around the world. Today, there are about 80,000 military and civilians in 11 peacekeeping operations.

At the same time, as Switzerland’s U.N. ambassador told the Security Council last week, there are over 120 armed conflicts around the world and millions of people are suffering.

What actions could really make a difference? “It’s a million-dollar question,” Lacroix said.

In many situations today, he said, multiple foreign countries are intervening on behalf of their own interests.

He pointed to the Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Mali as examples, adding “the list is long and expanding.”

Last July, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the post-Cold War period is over, and the world is moving toward a new multipolar era already marked by the highest level of geopolitical tensions and major power competition in decades.

He warned that these divisions are undermining the cornerstone of the United Nations – having all countries work together to solve global challenges. And he outlined his “New Agenda for Peace” to address the new threats facing the world, stressing the importance of multilateralism.

Lacroix said in many crises where peacekeepers are involved, the U.N. is seeing an increasing influence of the drivers of conflict that are not properly addressed -- inequality, poverty, the impact of climate change and transnational criminal activities.

The undersecretary-general for peace operations said much more needs to be done to address the drivers of conflict as well as terrorism, and this can only be done multilaterally with countries working together.

“The more division we have, the more we’re incapable to address crises, then the more challenging it is to deal effectively with those pressing global challenges,” Lacroix said.

In outlining his “New Agenda for Peace” last year, Guterres said that while peacekeepers have saved millions of lives, “longstanding unresolved conflicts, driven by complex domestic, geopolitical and transnational factors, and a persistent mismatch between mandates and resources, have exposed its limitations.”

Put bluntly, he said, “peacekeeping operations cannot succeed when there is no peace to keep.”

The secretary-general’s proposed peace agenda urges nations to move toward “nimble, adaptable” peacekeeping models with exit strategies, and to support “peace enforcement action by regional and sub-regional organizations” that are mandated by the Security Council, paid for by U.N. member states, and backed by political efforts to promote peace.

It will be high on the agenda at the “Summit of the Future” Guterres has invited world leaders to at September’s annual gathering. The summit is aimed at trying to repair what Guterres has called “a great fracture” among nations and promote the United Nations’ founding objective after World War II – to bring nations together and save future generations from war.

Lacroix said there seems to be a consensus that the drivers of conflict are global threats, but other challenges also need to be on the table as the U.N. contemplates peace operations in the future.

“How do we deal with the new technologies that can be enablers of conflict?” he said, pointing to digital technology and artificial intelligence that promote fake news and disinformation.

The United Nations has no standing military force, and its peacekeepers who wear distinctive blue berets or helmets are contributed by member nations.

“We will never have a mandate to do peace enforcement, which is another name for war,” Lacroix said. “And we would never find troop contributing countries to do that because it’s a very different proposition.”

He stressed this doesn’t mean U.N. peacekeeping is being replaced. Rather, it means there should be other models like the arrangement the U.N. now has with the African Union. In December, the Security Council adopted a resolution to consider African Union requests for U.N. member nations to fund African-led peace support operations – a key AU goal.

Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, his colleague Daniel Forti and African legal scholar Solomon Dersso presented an assessment of U.N. peace operations to a U.N. police retreat in February which concluded they are “in a period of change with no clear end in sight.”

“In contrast to the early 2000s, when the Security Council treated blue helmet operations as a `go to’ response to many civil wars,” they said, “we have entered a period in which the Security Council, regional organizations and individual states are turning to a wide range of alternative security options to deal with new crises.”

The three analysts said the options range from regional peace enforcement missions, as the African Union has carried out in Somalia, to bilateral deployments by one country, like Russia in Mali, and mercenary forces such as Russia’s Wagner Group which is reportedly still operating in Mali, the Central African Republic and elsewhere in Africa.

“We need to have a greater variety of options to address crises,” Lacroix said.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press