The UN's Experiences in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

Thant Myint-U and Elizabeth Sellwood

This paper explores the role of information in the evolution of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s.

This paper explores the role of information in the evolution of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s. It examines the information order established during two peacekeeping operations in the 1990s in Cambodia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina and shows that although the UN was attempting an ambitious range of tasks in both situations, information gathering and assessment were given surprisingly low priority. The effectiveness of UN peacekeeping was hampered, before and during the missions, by an absence of meaningful discussion about the countries themselves, the real sources of conflict and the specific social and political processes at work on the ground. Peacekeeping and reconstruction operations were planned away form the field, on the basis of generic political, models and universalistic principles. Many UN officials arrived with little or no previous experience of the country in question and were expected to fulfil key tasks without access to relevant information. The paper argues that information gathering and assessment should have been central to UN activities in both situations; however, for historical reasons the UN has no systematic or coherent information mechanisms. In the authors view, if the UN or other international organizations are to undertake complex peacekeeping and reconstruction operations, more attention must be focused on establishing procedures for gaining relevant information during mission planning and implementation.

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