Saturday, August 09, 2008


I'll be the first to admit that while I follow foreign policy pretty closely, I can sometimes be naive about how international relations work. I can be idealistic when I should know better.

This brings us to the Russia-Georgia war. I don't have anything particularly useful to add on the conflict itself. For that, see Robert Farley and Daniel Nexon.

But I was taken by this story linked to on one of Rob's posts.

The de facto government of pro-Russian Abkhazia asked United Nations peacekeepers to depart from their posts in the Kodori Gorge, a small mountainous area that Georgia had reclaimed by force in 2006. The peacekeepers withdrew, and aerial bombardments of the gorge began soon after, the official said.

My question is this: What good are peacekeepers if they allow violence to happen in situations like this? Obviously, no nation wants its soldiers to die as peacekeepers helpless in the onslaught of Russian aerial bombing. But would the Russian have bombed if the peacekeepers were in place? If they had, the political cost of killing UN soldiers would have been very very high.

But then you see this all the time. It's true that peacekeeping missions are often understaffed and underfunded. What can the limited number of peacekeepers in Darfur do against the Sudanese militias for instance? Not much, it is true. And again, I'm not looking to sacrifice peacekeepers. But too often in my life I've seen those peacekeepers step aside and allow wanton violence.

I have two questions:

1. Would the Russians have actually bombed peacekeepers had the UN refused to withdraw them?

2. What good do peacekeepers actually serve in conflicts given that their authority is completely at the whim of the conflicting sides?