UN conflict management of the 1990s
Rwanda of 1994 was the ground zero of UN conflict management and perhaps humanity as a whole. The damage it wrought on the UN’s credibility was so devastating that subsequent stock-taking reports, notably the so-called Brahimi report (2000), suggest wholly new structures of conflict management in place of old ones. The UN architecture has consequently changed almost beyond recognition in some sectors, as will be examined in more detail in the following chapters. A new set of control mechanisms has been erected on the rubbles of old ones. However, the UN has never been reinvented, but its new capacities have usually been built by strengthening or developing already existing ones. Therefore, understanding the landscape of the 1990s is the necessary starting point for the examination of both the Rwandan disaster and the case of Darfur a decade later. Critical realism offers an effective methodology to study this development, for it emphasises the analysis of underlying structures of phenomena, mechanisms and their transformation. Viewed from the critical realist lenses, the cases of Rwanda and Darfur appear as snapshots of history which indicate the direction of the longer-term transformation of the UN conflict management architecture. The relational ontology suggested by the previous chapter stands in opposition to the atomistic ontology by demonstrating that not only individuals and state actors but also ‘troublemaking’ structures and mechanisms intrinsic to the UN system, such as Western normalisation and bureaucratic indifference, constitute possible loci of its failure. This chapter will locate those ‘troublemaking’ factors within the relevant structures and mechanisms of the UN that were prevalent in the 1990s, whilst the ensuing analysis in Chapters 5 and 6 will proceed to examine whether these possible structural causes were actual causes of the Rwandan drama. Such a possibilistic methodology, which approaches the
Rwandan case indirectly from its socio-historical context, offers an opportunity to reveal unrealised, even surprising, causes. Previous investigations rush directly to examine the events of the Rwandan failure, thereby taking the apparent suspects, i.e. selfish states, as a given explanatory factor. As opposed to the Kantian idea of universal structures and to the positivist belief in universal covering-law explanations, critical realism assumes that mechanisms in the social world are always socio-historical, shaped by surrounding conditions in a particular time and place.1 This chapter will therefore explore the control mechanisms that typified UN conflict management in the early 1990s. Such an examination will make important inroads into unravelling the Rwandan case, because the hypothesis here posits that the UN’s failure in Rwanda in 1994 was a ‘child of its time’, or, perhaps more accurately, its ‘enfant terrible’. This study holds that the Rwanda debacle constituted a prime example of the ailing conflict management mechanisms of the 1990s, whose dysfunctions intertwined and combined with devastating consequences. A review of the socio-historical context therefore leads us halfway to understanding and explaining the Rwandan case. The point of departure for such a socio-historical examination will be furnished by two groundbreaking reports on UN conflict management covering the period from 1992 to 1995, namely Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s An Agenda for Peace (1992) and the Supplement to an Agenda for Peace (1995). The method used in this analysis will be the abstraction of mechanisms, the first step in the method of double movement. It will draw upon various relevant sources, practical and theoretical, as raw materials for abstraction, such as Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda and Supplement, theories of bureaucratisation and realist cultural studies. This chapter will abstract four control mechanisms: two pertaining to detection, namely early warning and organisational learning, and two with regard to securitisation,2 that is, bureaucratic rationalisation and Western normalisation. The functions, dysfunctions and structures of these mechanisms will be investigated both at the concrete level (the norms and institutions of the UN from which these mechanisms emerged) and particularly at the abstract level (the deep structures of society and human stratum from which they emerged). Previous accounts, informed by (neo-)realist/(neo-)liberal ontological assumptions, tend to resort to simplistic explanations of the UN’s failure in Rwanda, according to which states just pulled the plug on the institutions and mechanisms so that they failed to work properly. This book will oppose such reductionism by arguing that these explanations based on the (mis)behaviour of states must be supplemented by an analysis of the dysfunctions of mechanisms. This chapter will demonstrate that, during the 1990s, the Security Council was:
1 facing complex civil wars that were humanly impossible to predict (overload of the early warning mechanism emerging from the material stratum of human resources);
2 stumbling in human errors while ‘learning to walk’ following the end of the Cold War (cognitive dissonance of the organisational learning mechanism arising from mental resources);
3 attempting to visualise the world through rigid self-constructed categories, but was itself misled and blinded by them (dysfunction of bureaucratic rationalisation operating on the social plane of modern society); and
4 imposing double-standards and stereotypical images of the ‘Other’ (dysfunction of the mechanism of Western normalisation working on the social plane of Western civilisation).