ABSTRACT: In 1997, President Mobutu of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was overthrown by rebels. Throughout the civil war, President Mobutu repeatedly called for a UN peacekeeping operation (UNPKO). Strangely, however, Mobutu refused all other offers by international organizations and country leaders to broker a peace. Why would Mobuto want a UNPKO and nothing else?
I argue that besides encouraging peace, UNPKOs influence the government-rebel balance of power. More precisely, governments select into UNPKOs that help them stay in power for longer. To support this argument, I first examine the criteria for UNPKO deployment, particularly the issue of consent. I find that no UNPKO has deployed without host government consent, suggesting government consent is a necessary condition for UNPKO deployment. I next analyze the relationship between UNPKOs and government power using government tenure as a proxy for power. I find that of all the post-Cold War governments that experienced civil war those that have hosted a UNPKO have much longer tenures than those without.
To examine motives for consent and mechanisms for the power effect, I examine four cases. DRC President Mobutu consented to a UNPKO for as a means for power and not peace, but rebels fearing the UNPKO’s power effect preempted UNPKO deployment. In comparison, the next DRC Presidents Laurent and Joseph Kabila did receive a UNPKO and have used it to stay in power. In the Angola case the Dos Santos government is able to defeat Savimbi’s threatening rebellion through a UNPKO. Finally, in Cambodia the exiled government of Prince Sihanouk regains some power, but ultimately a UNPKO is not enough to retake control from Hun Sen’s regime.
Policymakers and academics alike must understand the complex roles and influences of UNPKOs. While the international community largely uses UNPKOs as instruments of peace, civil war belligerents view them as tools for power. This perspective helps us understand previously unexplained government and rebel actions. It also raises difficult questions on the value of peace. Is a peace settlement always worth the price of entrenching incumbent governments? If not, then the UN must re-evaluate the role of peacekeeping operations