The Politics of ‘Proximity’ and Performing Humanitarianism in Eastern DRC
This article explores the everyday practice of security management and negotiations for access conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival exploration, it examines the experience of MSF Congolese employees, who navigate a complex politics of humanitarian fixing and brokerage. Their role in MSF is simultaneously defined and circumscribed by their political and social situation. MSF’s security management relies on local staff’s interpersonal networks and on their ability to interpret and translate. However, local staff find themselves at risk, or perceived as a ‘risk’: exposed to external pressures and acts of violence, while possibilities for promotion are limited precisely because of their embeddedness. They face a tension between being politically and socially embedded and needing to perform MSF’s principles in practice. As such, they embody the contradictions of MSF’s approach in North Kivu: a simultaneous need for operational ‘proximity’, as well as performative distance from everyday conflict processes.
The Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel eventually established official diplomatic relations in 1965. This chapter challenges the familiar definition of 1965 as a moment of unprecedented harmony in West German–Israeli relations (when ‘two dancers finally begin dancing to the same tune’, to use one image employed in the existing historiography). In fact, there were such low expectations about the future of the newly established diplomatic mission in Israel that the initial location where the West German delegation set up its office was the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv – so as to be ready to pack up and leave at any moment. Yet the embassy remained in place and its employees witnessed one of the most significant developments in the history of the modern Middle East: The Six-Day War. As previously neglected primary sources from the East German intelligence services (Stasi) and the Soviet Foreign Ministry show, the war further complicated the debate both on the role of the two Germanys in the Middle East, and in the international arena more broadly. Two years later, in 1969, the GDR and five Arab countries – Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and South Yemen – established diplomatic relations.
This chapter explores the salience of complexity theory, a relative newcomer to International Relations theory, to the study of UN peacekeeping. It demonstrates how the central tenets of complexity theory provide a valuable alternative framework for making sense of the existence as well as the effects of UN peacekeeping. The chapter highlights the importance of studying the UN peacekeeping machine as a complex social system that has idiosyncratic behaviours, some of which are antithetical to understanding through the exclusive application of simple logics and theories underpinned by linear philosophies. It focuses in particular on its value for understanding UN peacekeeping operations that are part of conflict and peacebuilding systems in highly dynamic and nonlinear environments. Drawing on the study of the UN peacekeeping system as a whole, it shows that thinking in terms of complex adaptive systems can provide important insights into the production of UN peacekeeping through global politics as well as their operation in practice. The chapter concludes by pointing to the potential of complexity theory in understanding the ways that the UN can become part of the conflict systems it seeks to manage and transform.
International Relations theory and the study of UN peace operations
UN peace operations have, since their inception, touched on core issues and concepts at the heart of the study of international relations: conflict and cooperation; sovereignty and intervention; norms and norm diffusion; the use and utility of military force; and the changing character of armed conflict. To study UN peacekeeping, therefore, is also to study international politics and, by extension, to engage in debates about the bases for international order and the prospects for international society. Although the scope and scale of UN peace operations have evolved over time, the study of UN operations needs to factor in not just discontinuities but also important elements of continuity in the history and practice of UN peacekeeping. The experience of UN operations is rich, diverse, and multilayered. The investigation and deeper understanding of that experience are certain to benefit – as the present volume demonstrates – from the application of different theoretical lenses and a range of methodological tools.
This chapter describes constructivism’s distinguishing features and how it has informed existing research on UN peacekeeping. Focusing on core constructivist concepts like norms, culture, and identity, the chapter explains that peacekeeping scholars within this approach tend to focus on ideational influences emanating from outside the UN system or on the role of intersubjective knowledge within the UN. The chapter then draws on evidence from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to identify areas where constructivism can further improve our understanding of UN peace operations. These include the process by which peacekeepers interpret and implement norms at the micro level; the ways in which peace operations reshape local norms, identities, and cultures, and vice versa; and, finally, the relationship between contemporary peacekeeping practices and shifting normative and political dynamics at the macro level.
This chapter explores what a critical approach to UN peacekeeping entails and highlights the valuable contributions of Critical Security Studies (CSS) to capture the nature and significance of peace operations in international politics. It shows how CSS questions the values and representations that inform UN peacekeeping and the political order that peacekeeping interventions shape, promote, or sustain. It further discusses how CSS unpacks peacekeeping (often mundane and daily) practices and their political and social implications and takes into account non-traditional security issues. The chapter then relies on CSS theoretical and methodological tools to study the specific case of the rise of environmental practices in UN peacekeeping. Drawing on the concepts of securitisation and environmentalisation, it demonstrates how UN peacekeeping has been framed as relevant to environmental policies, while contributing to a broader process of securitisation of the environment.
Feminist institutionalism aims to understand and explain how power is distributed within institutions. As a political project, feminist institutionalism (FI) seeks to disrupt existing power settlements within institutions and facilitate change by identifying and challenging institutional barriers that sustain gender inequalities and other forms of discrimination. This chapter explores how FI contributes to explaining how peacekeeping is a gendered enterprise in the context of the global racialised and classed power relations that underscore the contemporary international security system. The chapter first discusses the key assumptions of FI and considers how the theory can help explain why contemporary peace operations take the shape that they do. Applying an FI approach to the study of institutional change and institutional reproduction, the chapter then examines how the implementation of gender equality initiatives in the Ghana Armed Forces impact on the way in which female military peacekeepers from Ghana are deployed to UN peace operations. Two institutional barriers that are known to prevent women’s meaningful participation in peace operations are examined: recruitment processes and deployment criteria.
Although UN peacekeeping fits the definition of an ‘international institution’, liberal institutionalism has not been the dominant theory in the literature. However, several aspects of UN peacekeeping – coalition-building in the UN Security Council, domestic pressures for intervention, and troop contributions – have been studied by drawing on liberal institutionalist concepts and insights. A particular difficulty is presented by the consensual and secretive nature of Security Council negotiations, which makes its voting record less informative than in other international organisations and requires other sources of data, such as on the sponsorship of peacekeeping resolutions. The analysis of sponsorship behaviour reveals that the dominant coalition consisting of the US and European states has drafted the majority of peacekeeping resolutions. The coalition has been quite successful at ensuring the smooth adoption of the resolutions. Yet recently, more states – including Russia and China – have abstained on peacekeeping resolutions, suggesting a weakening of the dominant coalition’s position. As new sources of data emerge (for example, on the content of peacekeeping resolutions), we can expect further applications of liberal institutionalism.
The chapter discusses how practice theories have informed analyses of peacekeeping. Following a brief overview of practice theories, a theoretical agenda that has started with relying on the works of Pierre Bourdieu but has since diversified, the chapter argues that such approaches lend themselves particularly well to integrating practitioner perspectives into academic writing on peacekeeping. The chapter also surveys how practice theoretical approaches have benefited from close conversations with constructivism and examines this by summarising research making understandable considerable differences in implementing the protection of civilians. It closes by arguing that practice theories promise innovative and often micro-level accounts of peacekeeping dynamics just as peacekeeping operations become increasingly varied and experimental.
This chapter takes a rational-choice institutionalist approach to UN peacekeeping and shows that the principal-agent model can offer valuable heuristic insights for analysing the most pressing challenges to date. It highlights the importance of studying preference heterogeneities among UN Security Council (UNSC) members, information asymmetries between the UNSC, the UN Secretariat and troops in the field, and the capacity and willingness of the involved principals to install credible and effective monitoring mechanisms. The chapter particularly focuses on the value of conceptualising so-called chains of delegation to get grip on the politics of control in the increasingly complex web of agents in UN peacekeeping. In doing so, it focuses on two challenges in particular: first, information flows between the UN headquarters in New York and the missions in-theatre; and, second, the difficulty that comes with the increased involvement of regional organisations in peace operations.