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The Problematic Elements of Intra-State Operations

In identifying the problematic elements of the United Nations’ intra-state operations, one has to understand at the beginning that all might not be found immediately nor understood completely. It could be overwhelming to dive into them all. Here I want to point out two of the largest problems found in the UN’s intra-state operations since the Cold War: international reaction and complex clashes.

The international community was highly interested and involved in operations before and during the Cold War as most conflicts involved a large number of UN members. Their eagerness to be part of the operations and support the UN was evident as the results could dramatically impact their culture, economy, and political positions. Since the Cold War, the “value system of the international community” has changed drastically. (1) What the international community once valued as important enough to risk their soldiers’ lives and help support monetarily has changed. They do not see many of the intra-state conflicts as involving their “vital national interests.” (2) Civil war within Bosnia was not something that would directly impact most nations unless they were direct neighbors with the Yugoslavian states. Unlike the move Hitler made or Hussein, the effects of the Bosnian conflict was not seen as a possible threat to the neighboring states nor the rest of the world. In a sense, it was contained. This belief held by many international UN members would impact the resources the UN had to put into motion their peacekeeping operations and to find success in them. Most members would be less willing to send soldiers, administration, supplies, and money to support the intra-state operation. As the UN does not have any of these resources directly owned and controlled by them, they are dependent on mindsets that are not conducive to intra-state operations. That is an extremely large problem with these types of UN operations.

This problem with the international reaction or lack of to the intra-state operations is made worse by the fact that most of them are complex. In many international conflicts, there is the one side against the other. Each side might have different number of participants and varying degrees of resources. In intra-state conflicts, the number of opposing sides could be numerous and the lines drawn between them extremely fuzzy. Often it could be three sides fighting each other trying to annihilate at least one of the opposition. These conflicts become intense as they are more passionate and contained. The international community sees this and prefers that it stay contained. The UN cannot take sides. But when a conflict is not clear on who the aggressors are, it muddies the water in how to approach the situation and even who to talk to in order to negotiate peace.

In the end, the two biggest problems are the international community’s reaction to intra-state conflicts/operations and the complexity of them that is unique to those scenarios. It becomes a whole new world for the UN who must “choose between peacekeeping and peace enforcement.” (3)


(1) Esref Aksu, The United Nations, Intra-State Peacekeeping and Normative Change, (Manchester University Press: New York, 2003), 1.
(2) Sunil Ram, “The History of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Following the Cold War: 1988 to 1996,” Peace Operations Training Institute, Williamsburg, VA, 2008, 177.
(3) Ibid, 178.

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