United Nations:

Limitations in Leading Missions Requiring Force to Restore Peace

NSIAD-97-34: Published: Mar 27, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 1997.

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GAO examined the United Nation's (U.N.) ability to lead missions requiring the use of force to restore or maintain peace, focusing on: (1) what precedents exist for authorizing the United Nations to lead peace operations requiring some measure of force to achieve their objectives; and (2) whether limitations exist in the U.N.'s ability to lead peace operations calling for the use of force.

GAO noted that: (1) the U.N. Security Council has three precedents for mandating the United Nations to lead peace operations where the use of force was authorized under chapter VII of the U.N. charter, the missions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Eastern Slavonia; (2) in four other U.N.-led operations, the Security Council established mission objectives that required some measure of force to be achieved, but did not explicitly authorize its use under chapter VII; (3) although the United Nations has improved its capability to support peace operations, GAO's study indicates there are, nonetheless, organizational limits of the United Nations that increase the risk of U.N.-led operations calling for the use of force; (4) the limitations stem from the U.N.'s structure as an organization of individual sovereign states, which provides the world forum for international diplomacy; (5) because the United Nations is an international political body, and as such, does not have the attributes of sovereignty, it cannot conscript troops and arms from member states; (6) similarly, because member states cannot or will not relinquish command over their own troops, U.N. force commanders cannot always be sure their orders will be carried out; (7) this places the following three limitations on operations calling for the use of force that are led by the United Nations; (8) first, the United Nations cannot ensure that troops and resources will be provided to carry out and reinforce operations as necessary, especially since such operations are risky and nations volunteering troops and arms may not have a national interest in the operation; (9) second, the U.N. force commander cannot be assured his orders will be carried out, particularly in dangerous situations where his authority over national contingents may be questioned or second-guessed by national authorities who do not relinquish command of their troops to the United Nations; (10) third, because of the U.N.'s core principle of respecting national sovereignty, it generally seeks the consent of all parties to the conflict in conducting a peace operation and thus has not developed an overall approach to guide operations calling for the use of force; and (11) these three factors have limited the operational effectiveness of U.N.-led peace operations calling for the use of force.

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