Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Hondarribia, Spain 1994

Workshop 4: The UN's Peacekeeping Operations

(the armies new role)

The preparatory document

Discussion paper prepared by Dirk Panhuis

The purpose of this workshop and this paper is to reflect on the nature of UN peace keeping forces and to determine whether our conscientious objection to military spending of tax money also applies to these UN peace keeping forces. This paper does not reflect a final stand of its author. Its only intention is to further the discussion.

  • 1 Is the UN a legitimate authority or is it a democratic institution which could wield power over its members in the same sense as a state wields over its citizens?
    • 1.1 The UN is an organization of governments. It is not democratically elected by the people of the world community (an often misused fashion word). It therefore escapes democratic control even more than the Council of ministers of the EU, where there is at least a European Parliament (all be it with limited powers). The first words of the Charter of the UN We, the people.. are a misnomer.
    • 1.2 The UN is a creation of the five victors in the Second World War, who from the very beginning wanted to keep world events under control with peaceful means if possible (Article 1 and 2 of the Charter), with military interventions if needed in their eyes (Article 42 ff.). The debates in the Security Council are conducted in absolute secrecy.
    • 1.3 The USA is the most powerful country and uses the UN for its own purposes as an annex of its State Department. The ambassador of the USA to the UN has a seat in the US cabinet and in the National Security Council. In spite of rightist efforts (who consider the UN as a leftist organization) even the most conservative president has used the UN and has exerted economic pressure on members of the General Assembly.
      • Great-Britain has been its faithful ally providing its diplomatic efforts in order to keep the European Union and the Commonwealth in line.
      • France does not bother too much about the UN and follows its own policy in its sphere of influence (parts of the Middle-East, Africa, Pacific).
      • The Soviet-Union counterbalanced to a certain extent USA policy for forty years, but Russia now has enough internal problems and is selling out its own interests to the West.
      • China used to be a Third World country and, even after recuperating its seat in the Security Council, has not been a strong factor and nowadays seems hesitant about which stand to take in international politics.
      • Some well-intentioned members without veto and without power (Canada, Australia, Scandinavians) have made an effort to make the best of the UN.
      • Two big economic powers (Germany, Japan) have no tradition of using the UN for their own interests.
      • The poor countries have limited influence and can only accept what has been decided.
    • 1.4 What will be the future?
      • 1.4.1 Western capitalist countries will keep using the UN for their purposes. If this is not possible, they will do without it.
      • 1.4.2 There is a growing debt, particularly because of the many UN military operations. Will the UN collapse for financial reasons?
      • 1.4.3 The system of the Security Council with veto for five is under critique, but as yet there is no consensus about a reform.
      • 1.4.4 Public opinion does not support the UN any longer as it did in the sixties.
      • 1.4.5 Will the poor countries rebel or withdraw from an organization which does not further their cause and even recolonizes them?
      • 1.4.6 On the other hand, the input from the grass-roots of the world community seems to be growing: many NGOs at the Rio summit and at the Vienna conference on human rights.
    • 1.5 Do we support, condone, oppose or try to reform the UN? What will be our attitude when we obtain consultative status?
  • 2 Can peace keeping operations be compared with a police activity?
    • Police officers are authorized to do no more than bring offenders before an impartial court, to be tried according to an accepted code of law. There is no such system of law binding the UN military.
  • 3 Are the reasons for interventions honest?
    • 3.1 Interventions by the UN or with permission of the UN by others (USA, NATO, allied troops,...) take place on a selective base. Why in Kuwait-Iraq, Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Somalia, but not in Iraq-Iran, Timor, Upper-Karabach, Angola, Liberia?
    • 3.2 There are direct economic interests: oil, sphere of interest,...
    • 3.3 At the end of the cold war, the military lacked an enemy and the public was expecting a peace dividend. In order to justify the existence of the-military some spectacular actions (with TV cameras present) were needed and a new enemy had to be found: Muslim fundamentalism, African anarchy, instability in Eastern Europe. In the countries of origin of the blue helmets these interventions are used to restore the image of the army and to maintain the budget at high levels (E.g. Belgian publicity campaign by the Minister of Defence).
    • 3.4 Show of force: no country should dare to do something against the will of the USA: Kuwait-Iraq, Somalia as warning against Muslim fundamentalists countries like Sudan and as a good precedent for other interventions in Africa.
    • 3.5 Interventions give the military a chance to practise. For them it would even be nicer if they could use heavier weaponry and play with their deadly toys. There is a tendency to go in this direction. The fact that blue helmets with light personal weapons are not always effective in executing their task is used as an argument, not to stop this kind of intervention, but to give them heavier equipment.
    • 3.6 Business interests in furnishing military and other equipment.
    • 3.7 Protection of humanitarian aid seems a good reason for a military intervention. In fact the humanitarian aid itself often consists in dumping of food surpluses from the USA or EU. These food supplies seem necessary in the eyes of the western public after the destruction of local agriculture by the economic and financial policies of the IMF. (Somalia was self-supporting for food till the mid-seventies.)
    • 3.8 Hidden agenda: UNTAC (Cambodia) has given Japanese and German armed forces their first opportunity to operate outside their border since WWII. What will be next? When will they do so on their own to defend their vital interests?
    • 3.9 Repressive governments send troops as a means of polishing tarnished reputation.
    • 3.10 Part of the task of UN forces has been to disarm parties at war (Cambodia, Somalia, El Salvador,...) Did arms manufacturing countries anything to stop or diminish arms production or trade? A new Belgian law on arms trade does not produce any results; government export guarantees for sales abroad are kept secret.
    • 3.11 Media interest in humanitarian intervention is high only if own or western people are involved abroad. In Belgium there were daily reports about Somalia as long as Belgian troops were present, hardly any since they were replaced by Asians.
  • 4 Do UN peace keeping force keep peace?
    • 4.1 No, at best they enforce a cease fire.
    • 4.2 Such an enforcement a cease fire does not hasten a political/diplomatic solution but delays it, because one or both parties take profit from the relative quietness to strengthen their position. Foreign powers also are often involved (Cyprus, Baranja in Eastern Croatia,...)
    • 4.3 UN blue helmets are soldiers, not trained for a peace keeping role, and sometimes with downright inappropriate training (paratroopers or counter-insurgency troops).
    • 4.4 In many cases the UN military option has not reached a real solution. The stronger the civilian component, the better the results. E.g. in Namibia. Part of the UN personnel (Belgians and Dutch) could communicate well with adversary parties in closely related languages (Dutch and Afrikaans).
    • 4.5 The UN is not impartial: it was very strict toward the Iraq government, but complacent to the El Salvador oligarchic government. In Croatia Belgian blue helmets are stricter to local Serbian authorities than the Russians.
    • 4.6 UN forces, rightly or wrongly, are sometimes seen as partial by one of the parties, which in turn complicates the problem.
  • 5 Negative effects of military interventions
    • 5.1 The culture of violence is strengthened, particularly when a military operation or a military ultimatum seems to be successful. Trust is placed in force, not in satyagraha.
    • 5.2 There is a tendency to undermine, rather than build up or even legitimize local structures or initiatives for handling the crisis. Local initiatives have been destroyed by the UN. The UN/USA even destroyed the successful diplomatic work with clan leaders of its own envoy Sahnoun in Somalia.
    • 5.3 Local people are pushed into a position of receivers, incapable of doing anything themselves and expecting everything from outsiders.
    • 5.4 Life-style of military is a slap in the face of local populations: wages, costly cars with tinted windows (so that local people don't see them), high rent prices, costly shark protection device on Somali beaches, tennis courts,... When not busy collecting weapons in Cambodia, soldiers play sports, do routine patrols,... and some die falling into pools of water, falling out of a building, or from boxing injuries or die from shooting himself in the head. USA troops were forbidden to talk to Somalis.
    • 5.5 Military operations are extremely costly.
    • 5.6 There is a danger that limited military action escalates to a bigger involvement or departure from the scene (Rwanda?).
    • 5.7 UN forces sometimes have to make deals with factions at war on food supplies or on their own protection.
    • 5.8 Racism: They've got a nice little nickname for the Serbs and stuff... We classify them by colour so we call them niggers. (Canadian blue helmet in Somalia)
    • 5.9 Prostitution, sexual abuse of women and children by UN troops in Cambodia was justified by UNTAC head Y. Akashi as a right of 18-year-old hot-blooded soldiers.
    • 5.10 Drugs, alcohol, crime, black market.
    • 5.11 Uncertainty for blue helmets. Is this a war? What are the rules? How to react? For lack of a peace keeping training, soldiers revert to aggression, the only thing they have learned. If someone breaks into our wire...and is stealing something, weapons, ammunition whatever, he's dead... (Canadian in Somalia). Military are uncertain whether they are at war, in peace keeping mission, or low intensity warfare.
    • 5.12 Harassment and killing of local people are either not investigated or are investigated by the military themselves. These reports of course justify the troops or downplay the importance of certain acts. Some say that, since they are not at war, the are not bound by the Geneva Convention.
    • 5.13 Internal reports on killings to head quarters are sometimes ignored (UNTAC).
  • 6 Some other roads to peace.
    • 6.1 Peace cannot be enforced from above or from the outside. It can be encouraged and has to be built by those concerned. People should be considered, not as objects, but as subjects of their own history.
    • 6.2 Peace building should start when tensions are rising and spotted by observers.
    • 6.3 Support of independent press and TV (The first victim of war is truth)
    • 6.4 Support of local peace and other grass-roots organizations. Support for NGOs like the Red Cross, PBI, IFOR, WRI, ...
      • Among the big NGOs the Red Cross has maintained a policy and image of neutrality, even if it does nothing about the causes of war. But other big NGOs may be busy with their own survival, be inclined to accept military support, suffer from paternalism/ethnocentrism, or rather be prone to interventions than to solidarity (Médecins sans frontières).
    • 6.5 All UN personnel should receive intensive training in cultural awareness and sensitivity.
    • 6.6 One should not accept military or police units from countries with human rights violations, from superpowers or from former colonial powers.
    • 6.7 Military cannot be re-trained for peace missions. New teams of civilians should be trained in peaceful conflict resolution.
    • 6.8 Efforts should be made to include women and minorities in the peace process.
    • 6.9 Foreign personnel should have as much as possible the life-style of the local people.
    • 6.10 Peace is not only the absence of war, nor is it an obstruction in isolation. Peace is intertwined with a vast array of fields like cultural structures, economy, politics, religion, geography, history, etc.

Leuven, May 15, 1994

The report

Written by Jan Birk

The attendants were German (4), Belgian (1), British (1), Danish (1), Spanish (4), Italian (1), Dutch (1) and from the United States (1). The language was used was mostly French language.

The preliminary document was written by Dirk Panhuis. It is based essentially on documents published in Peace News. It contains one mistake: point 4.4, there should be a full stop after the word Namibia.

Dirk opens the discussion bringing up the matter of maintaining our position (refuse the money for the military, whatever way it is presented) also with the peace forces. The Belgian VRAK and the Dutch objectors have been required by their governments to express their opinion on this matter.

The situation in some countries:

  • The government of Belgium and The Netherlands have consulted with the objection associations about their position with regard to the new civil disobedience law.
  • Bob, from Canada, explains that with regard to the 30 years of intervention of Canadian soldiers in the name of the UN in Cyprus without any results, the Canadians make a difference between peace keepers, who ought to be always and exclusively formed by NGO's, and the military peace makers.
  • The Yugoslavian refugees Bob has just visited feel betrayed due to a lack of real intervention. This intervention did not take place but after the outbreak of the situation. They think that the UN's troops ought to pull out because they do not work. Bob, therefore, demands the withdrawal of the troops and that the same amount of money for the same work be given to the NGO's. He proposes to allocate 95% of the military budget on language and cultural education and 5% on the military, on the musical bands and parades.
  • In Germany, there is a campaign for members from the Protestant church. This campaign, which calls for the formation of an independent non-violent intervention organisation will come into effect just after the legislative election in October. It is demanded that this effort is to be financed by the state.
  • In Italy, a new law allows conscientious objectors to go abroad (this has been discontinued by the new right-wing government). At present, some groups are being formed, for both, inside intervention (against the Mafia and others) and abroad (Ex Yugoslavia). The money the tax resisters deny to the State is always offered to the president who does not accept it. Then, the money is spent in Kossovo (among others) with the purpose of preventing the situation from breaking out.

The global situation is nowadays as follows:

  • The military change their perception as peace forces indeed in front of some movements for peace that ask for an intervention in Yugoslavia.
  • The pillars that Franco had in his dictatorship, the Legion and the Guardia Civil, are now fighting in Yugoslavia for peace.
  • The non-violent intervention of the United Nations has no legal basis on a national level.
  • Any foreign intervention involves the risk of paternalism, that is, the attitude of people who are not looking for understanding but for imposing the right way.

The following questions are stated:

  • Can we change the character of the military or the military spirit?
  • How to avoid the governments of industrialised countries spreading the image of the guardian angel while abusing from their military power for economic purposes?
  • How can a non-violent force for intervention be organised? NGO?, National Government organisation? UN's organisation?
  • Is it possible to take part from abroad avoiding the paternalism? Under which circumstances would a foreign intervention be desirable?
  • Who is going to decide the moment of the intervention?

We have found the following answers (not always unanimous but sometimes contradictory):

  • The difference between the Peace Keeping and the Peace Enforcement actions is discussed. The former need many more people, the latter, with the help of well situated bombs, wreak havoc of the opposing. Several attendants emphasise that for the essential matter (military intervention or not) this difference, although existing, is hardly of any importance to them, as the role of the military is still that of the assassin.
  • There is no answer.
  • The NGO is the best instrument of intervention as it works face to face between people and not from government to government. A non-violent intervention may be successful with few participants. For instance, the Italians (from the DPN) have carried out a non-violent intervention for some time in Kossovo. They are also trying to establish an Embassy of Peace. The establishment of a national legal basses for non-violent interventions is not expected because this would damage the sale or weapons and the creation of this international power would increase the risk of non-violent actions including at the national level (risk for the government, of course). We think that a possible first step is to create a NGO and to expect and demand the State to continue and finance it (Historical parallel: the schools). After the creation of a UN's non-violent intervention organisation, this organisation would depend less on the national governments which are now sending or refuse to send national troops.
  • The attendants agree that foreign forces can help in the peace process, as long as they are not armed. Kossovo and Northern Ireland are examples of where a foreign intervention would be desirable seeing as how outside perspectives of these conflicts is lacking. The problem becomes more complex in terms of the cultural distance between the plan of intervention and the actors from abroad.
  • The demand from inside, although not unanimous, would be a condition for a foreign intervention.


There is unanimity about the following points:

  • We do not accept the intervention of armed forces.
  • We demand the creation of non-violent intervention forces. Give us angels, benefactors, practitioners of the Satiagraba! (force of truth)
  • It is always preferable the intervention of an interior force, that is to say from within the country.
  • There are no definitive answers to the questions:
  • What would these forces be like?
  • Under which circumstances would foreign interventions be desirable?

CPTI, the NGO founded at the Conference, has as its sole objective the lobbying for the right of not paying military taxes at an international level. It is not a part of the Conference and it does not manage their affairs. As for its part, the Conference will provide arguments and give its point of view to the CPTI. This way, it does not matter if the topics expressed here are not discussed on a national level or that the participants in this debate give their personal point of view and not that of their national organisations.

Main Page for Hondarribia