Peacekeeping in the Middle East fails to produce results, Professor Jett argues in new publication

Penn State School of International Affairs professor and former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett

UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. -- The United Nations’ peacekeeping operations in the Middle East are as ineffective as they are expensive, argues Penn State School of International Affairs professor and former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett in a forthcoming article to be published in the journal Middle East Policy.

Jett’s article—“What Can Peacekeepers Do if There Is No Peace to Keep?”—was influenced by research he undertook in Israel during the spring 2016 semester as part of a Fulbright Senior Scholarship Fellowship and formed the basis for an address he gave to the Folke Bernadotte Academy of Sweden at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C. last month.

By examining the historical context and evolution of peacekeeping organizations (PKOs) in the Middle East, Jett identifies three key themes that overshadow ongoing peacekeeping efforts: 1) the United Nations does not easily adapt to evolving circumstances; 2) peacekeeping has come to rely on poor countries supplying manpower for tasks that rich countries pay for, but with rich countries avoiding putting their own troops at risk; and 3) even if a peace agreement were to be reached between Israel and Palestine, peacekeeping as currently practiced would have no meaningful role in implementing it.

The role of peacekeepers has also dramatically shifted in the past several decades with PKOs being forced to take on daunting political and economic goals, Jett states. Peacekeepers, rather than strictly dealing with implementing or enforcing ceasefires or navigating territorial disputes, must now often attempt to help rebuild the economies of war-torn and often improvised nations and organize democratic elections to lend legitimacy to governments that are often run by dictators and warlords.

When examining the four PKOs operating in and around Israel through this lens, Jett finds each one to be well-intentioned but ineffective because of the changing conditions with which peacekeepers are incapable of dealing. Despite the massive cost associated with running these organizations—roughly $700 million per year, with over 14,000 military and civilian staff in often-dangerous areas—Israel is no safer from a potential strike from the terrorist group Hezbollah, the flow of weapons to dangerous organizations has not been slowed, and terrorism continues to pervade the Sinai Peninsula.

Ultimately, Jett concludes, the efforts of PKOs are merely a stopgap in lieu of a more permanent fix.

“Lasting peace is achieved not through military and technical engagement, but through political solutions,” Jett writes. “If the international community does not act more forcefully and with greater unity, it will be a long time before peacekeepers have any peace to keep.”