In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the United Nations has intervened as peacekeeper in more ethnic civil conflicts than it had done from its inception to 1989. It can be argued that the global politics of the Cold War created the emergency and contingent conditions that prevented such intervention, but this will have to wait for another discussion. What we are interested in presently are the projects of state formation from conflict that the UN undertakes, and the contradictions that these processes expose.

The UN represents the totality of the world’s recognized nation-states, and the fundamental logic of its functioning is to recreate the image of its membership wherever it goes. Elections are, thus, only a step in restoring or conjuring up a nation-state, and wherever the demands of democracy or humanitarianism run contrary to the exigencies of the nation-state, it is the latter that will always win out.
Amitav Ghosh

Few would argue that peace is an undesirable outcome of international intervention in any regional or national conflict, but there are many differing constructions or models of peace, and one must ask whether that created or imposed by the UN is the best of all possible peaces. As a totality the United Nations is not a neutral entity, but the collective will of many states; “the child of all the world’s hierarchies,” as Ghosh has put it.

As ever changing constructs of collective ethnic and cultural identity nations become such as a consequence of the exercise of their own sovereignty; that is to say that the autogenesis of national self-determination precedes the political reality of the state,  and not the other way about as the UN casts new nations from conflict. This creation of states-seeking-nationhood rather than nations-forging-statehood tends to an impression of the international community making states – cookie cutter states – in its own image.

This model of state-building rests on the assumption that states and, by extension, good governance are the best model always and everywhere for peace. States do prefer to do business with states, and, as the international body of states, the UN too prefers dealing with states, and so where such do not exist it makes them. The United Nations is the embodiment of a de-colonising paradigm shift, and therefore the product of a paradigm shift. Peace in that paradigm may indeed be the state, but what happens after the next shift and what happens to those states that have not quite undergone the presumed paradigm shift of the UN? Are we making peace to store up future conflict?

Jason Michael
Blog Author

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