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The question above seeks to reify the inadequacy of the United Nations intercession in affairs of state begot by the rationale of humanitarian intervention. Article 39 Chapter VII of the UN charter consigns the UN Security Council (UNSC) primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security with the provision of necessary armed forces and facilities of all member states. Humanitarian intervention is directed towards two resolves; the provision of emergency assistance and the protection of fundamental human rights.

Such intervention foremostly encompasses non-military forms such as the deliverance of financial, medicinal, food and expertise emergency aid and human rights promotion through diplomacy and sanctions. Forcible military humanitarian intervention is necessary in failed states to resolve on-going conflicts which threaten aid operations, and against murderous states to expunge massive human rights abuses. Forcible intervention must be legally authorised by a resolution of the UNSC in accordance with the consent of nine of the fifteen members, though any UNSC resolution can be vetoed by any one of the five permanent members.

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To assess the problems and prospects of UN- led humanitarian intervention, I have drawn upon the UN’s facilitation of peace and enforcement of human rights within the Bosnian conflict; firstly providing an overview of the UN involvement as the events unfolded, and secondly, addressing the problems encountered as a result of UN bureaucracy. Finally I will highlight the prospects of UN-led humanitarian intervention given constructive improvements.

The Bosnian Conflict: Nationalistic tendencies in Yugoslavia that had been subdued by the cultivation of a socialist fraternity and unity that took precedence over ethnic differences by Yugoslavian Prime minister Marshall Tito re-emerged after his death in 1980, and were accelerated thereafter by economic decline and the end of the Cold War. Bosnian Serbs rejected the results of the elections in Bosnia in 1990 and Bosnian independence ensued, recognised by the international community as a new-born multi-ethnic and democratic state in 1992. Bosnian independence spurred inter-communal violence and war, waged by Serbia and Croatia in collusion with Serb and Croat allies in Bosnia.

Attempts to alleviate civilian suffering eventuated the deployment of a 7,000 strong force into Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 by the United Nations Operations in former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR), defining its principal mission as assisting aid deliverance. Mandated by the UNSC to safeguard six designated enclaves of Muslim civilians surrounded by the Bosnian Serb military, UNPROFOR was not prepared to use force to push aid through road blockades or to protect civilians including those in the six facetiously named ‘safe areas’.

Relying on the cordiality of Bosnian Serb extremists to facilitate aid deliveries, protect defenceless Muslim civilians, and negotiate a peace, UN policy amounted to endless appeasement which obviously did not transpire from the ethnic cleansing motivations of the same Bosnian Serbs. Whilst lacking the land power to defend aid convoys and safe areas against Serb retaliation, UNPROFOR would not undermine its credibility as in impartial peacekeeping force by resorting to air strikes to punish Serb transgression.

UNPROFOR’s military weakness was reinforced by UN out-ruling of a military solution to the Bosnian crisis despite Anglo-French Rapid Reaction Force of helicopter gun ships and artillery re-enforcement. The siege of two safe areas, Srebrenica and Zepa, and subsequent massacre of 7,000 Muslim male civilian inhabitants by Bosnian Serb forces prompted military action. Serbian shelling of Sarajevo in August 1995 resulted in retaliatory NATO air strikes; Bosnian Serbs adjured for peace following military pressure in combination with military advances by the Bosnian government and Bosnia Croat forces in the East.

Problems of UN humanitarian intervention: The depth and breadth of any U.N. intervention is based on inter-changing and evolving factors which vary with each unique situation. The UN rarely faces criticisms of imperialism or hegemony in its efforts to help resolve internal conflicts, however, the United Nations, by its mandate, can only intervene when requested to do so by the country in turmoil. The mitigation of egregious humanitarian intervention despite claims of national sovereignty remains a divisive issue, whilst the assurance of such intervention is hampered by UN bureaucracy.

The UN Security Council’s provision of the power of veto to its permanent five members (P5) underpins the realist viewpoint that states intervene on humanitarian grounds to protect their national interests and not because of the altruistic moral imperative. Any one of the P5 can refuse to contemplate a UN intervention which it considers threatening to its interests, thereby hindering potential humanitarian intervention and subsequently acting unrepresentatively of the international community world opinion.

This was evident in Russia’s approach to Kosovo in the late 1990’s when Serbian forces once again committed ethnic atrocities. Russia was clearly prepared to Veto a UN intervention through its refusal to recognise the humanitarian need were it not for the independent action by NATO which argued that force was justified on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. P5 members may also withhold support in conjunction with the threat of veto for humanitarian intervention unless support is exchanged for their interests elsewhere in the world. This is known as the log-rolling problem.

Even if all P5 agree to authorise a UN peace keeping operation they may still encounter postulation and coordination problems; the former arise when sounding resolutions are passed without sufficient military force. The creation of ‘safe areas’ in Bosnia highlights this postulating problem; the UNSC was not prepared to deploy additional military forces to ensure their protection rendering them ‘safe less’.

The latter coordination problem occurs when disagreements among the P5 arise over the nature of the humanitarian crisis as well as the most effective response. The USA and its European allies perceived the Bosnia conflict in completely different fashions; the European powers saw an ethnic conflict with a necessary partition resolution, whilst the USA was unprepared to support partition in the light that Serbia had started the war and partition would support Serbian aggression. The USA resolved the coordination problem by accepting that partition was a necessary outcome and permitted the international community’s effective action to end the war.

UN humanitarian intervention is also highly responsive to public opinion, which can prompt military intervention spurred by media images of mass suffering, and likewise withdraw support for forcible humanitarian intervention in the light of home casualties. This is called the ‘CNN effect’. The international community’s response to the mass atrocities occurring in Bosnia was largely a result of Western public opinion which put pressure on governments to act. Similarly the ‘body bags’ effect can have an equal and opposite reaction toward humanitarian intervention such as the US withdrawal in Somalia.

The counter-restrictionist argument of the legal right of unilateral and collective humanitarian intervention in the society of states is unmatched by UN capacity. The UN remains frightfully under-resourced for peace operations with annual costs of UN peacekeeping personnel and equipment peaking at over $3.6 billion in 1993 with 80,000 peacekeepers deployed, reflecting the expense of operations in Bosnia and Somalia.

Resurgence of larger scale operations in the late 1990s maintained peace keeping costs at $3 billion in 2001. All Member States are legally obliged to pay a portion of the UN budget for peacekeeping costs under the UN charter with each State’s contribution calculated on the basis of its share of the world economy. Although this payment is mandatory, as of 31 December 2003, Member States owed approximately $1.07 billion in current and back peacekeeping payments. The failure of Member States to pay their assessments for peacekeeping has, in effect, shifted the burden of peacekeeping onto those States which have not been reimbursed for essential personnel, equipment and other elements they have supplied.

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