UMass Amherst Human Security Lab Calls for a UN Peacekeeping Mission for Afghanistan

As the United Nations gather this week in New York, the Human Security Lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Secretary General has issued a call for the organization’s Security Council to deploy a peacekeeping mission to Afghanistan to prevent civil war and ensure the human rights of the country’s citizens.

Charli Carpenter
Charli Carpenter

Based on four meetings of over 25 scholarly experts convened by the Lab between Aug. 23-Sept. 10, Charli Carpenter, director of the Lab and professor of political science at UMass Amherst, has authored a briefing note published by the Lab making the case for such an international operation now that American forces have completed their withdrawal, determining that “even a small, 5,000-troop mission could provide confidence-building measures and minimize civil war recidivism.”

“With all the attention to the human rights and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, it's important not to lose sight of what the U.N. was founded for: the prevention of violent conflict,” Carpenter says. “There's a fragile peace now in Afghanistan, and the U.N. shouldn't miss the opportunity to help keep it.”

Among the key points made in the briefing note are:

  • Research shows U.N. peacekeeping operations have been extremely effective at protecting civilians, reducing civil war and improving human rights
  • A peacekeeping mission would be best developed as part of an inter-Afghan settlement, and that openings exist for the international community to help broker one
  • The international community has significant leverage over the Taliban to secure consent, and the Taliban itself has an interest in governing and wants assistance with governance and international recognition
  • Afghanistan’s regional neighbors – Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and China – all have significant security interests in containing the refugee crisis, avoiding civil war and stemming jihadist terrorism
  • Troops for such an operation should be contributed by disinterested non-Western countries – ideally Muslim-majority states – and not U.S. or NATO nations. Instead, the U.S. and NATO countries should contribute money and support

As Carpenter points out in the note, the opportunity currently exists in Afghanistan to avoid the kind of bloody civil wars witnessed in Libya and Syria, where no peacekeeping was attempted.

“Compared to other forms of intervention or civil war termination, peacekeeping is cheap and comes with significant positive externalities,” Carpenter writes in the note. “A UNPKO, or at minimum an observer mission, should be an option that should be firmly on the table as the U.N. weighs its role in Afghanistan.

“To determine whether it could be a useful one, it is advised that the U.N. Secretary General undertake an assessment mission to Afghanistan as soon as politically feasible with a view to potentially standing up a Rapid Deployment Level mission in the next months or year should circumstances warrant.”

The UMass Amherst Human Security Lab released the briefing note – its first publication – days after hosting a public webinar on the same topic. Carpenter has also recently published a series of articles in World Press Review on the issue of peacekeeping in Afghanistan.