Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Intervention in Communal Conflicts

Intervention in Communal Conflicts

One of the most rapidly growing developments in international relations is the involvement of third-party peacekeepers in communal conflicts. Whether undertaken by a country within the framework of quasi-domestic policy (Britain in Northern Ireland), by states assisting overextended clients or asserting regional hegemony (the United States in Lebanon and India in Sri Lanka), or by international organizations seeking to defuse regional disputes (the United Nations in Cyprus, Lebanon, and Yugoslavia), third-party intervention has become one of the more common conflict-management activities of our time. Yet, in theaters of communal conflict it has also been an almost entirely unrewarding activity. No peacekeeper who has intervened in a communal conflict has yet been able to withdraw after successfully restoring peace between the combatants. United Nations troops still patrol the corridor between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and are still in Beirut; British troops remain in Ulster a generation after their deployment. Where the peacekeepers have departed-the Indian army from Sri Lanka, British troops from interwar Palestine, American forces from Lebanon-the conflict has continued.

This pattern, whose recent replication in Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere has dampened earlier enthusiasm for interventionary diplomacy in the post-cold war world, seems not to result from personal and organizational failure on the pan of the peacekeeper. Rather, it seems to derive from the explosiveness of communal politics; a trio of chronically present, perhaps inherently fatal, obstacles to success awaiting those enmeshed in communal peacekeeping operations; and a peacekeeping model woefully out of synchronization with the peacekeeping operations currently being undertaken.

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