Preventive Diplomacy, Peace-Enforcement, and International Civilian Police Officers


By: Gerald Witherspoon, Sr. 20141204

Preventive Diplomacy

According to the Peace Operations Training Institute, “Preventive diplomacy could be defined as an action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into armed conflicts, and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur” (Langholtz, 2008, p. 13).  Thus preventive diplomacy manifests itself in a three stage process. Essentially, a mere discussion can evolve to armed conflict, and once this happens, the need to prevent it from escalating further becomes much more imperative. It is the latter two stages that would be of utmost concern to an international civilian police officer.

Obviously, if a conflict has progressed beyond the point of discussion or “preliminary peace talks”, the chances for a breakdown of the rule of law, public disorder, and widespread danger to property and lives have dramatically increased. Accordingly, the prospect of an international civilian police officer encountering angry, hostile, and distrustful civilians will have doubly increased. It is in this scenario where the duty of the international civilian police officer is spotlighted.

All behavior at this point works either for or against the betterment of the conflict. All behavior and communication at this point should be carried out in a manner consistent with deescalating the conflict. Angry unarmed civilians may turn into vengeance-seeking armed combatants if given the impression that the conflict is managed in an unjust fashion.  As this instigation progresses, some which were neutral may transition toward allegiance to one or the other conflicting parties which could fan the flames of conflict until reaching tragic levels.

Further, the same way military soldiers have no business killing a civilian for stealing a TV from a local merchant, international civilian police officers have no authorization to manipulate the operational environment by violating human rights and instigating civilians to become violent aggressors. They have a responsibility to establish order and a commitment to preventive diplomacy should remain their goal throughout that process.

The international civilian police officer would be confronted with “personal habits” along with “culture shocks” already in motion that would exacerbate the need to maintain “impartiality” and prevent a lack of “transparency” from eroding trust and confidence amongst the conflicting parties (United Nations, 2014).

Peace-Enforcement in Peacekeeping Operations

As modern conflict has increasingly changed from inter-state to intra-state, the United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO) has attempted to improve strategies for peacekeeping. The Principles and Guidelines for UN Peacekeeping Operations is a master document or doctrinal guide to understanding the peacekeeping doctrine, definitions, procedures, and policy (Langholtz 2010).

According to Harvey Langholtz,

In 10 chapters, it introduces the concept and evolution of UN peacekeeping, explains the decision process that precedes the deployment of a peacekeeping operation, and then the planning process to implement that decision. It discusses the art of successful mandate implementation. It discusses the management of peacekeeping operations, how operations are supported and sustained, and how they are concluded at their termination (2010).

This is an important read for any student of international relations concerned with the major actors on the global stage as the United Nations plays a quasi-centralized role in governing the affairs of the international community.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with an associate about the prospect of a reserve police corps for the purpose of deploying alongside the military. The conversation took an immediate turn toward the lack of teeth in international agreements or the binding potency of an international law, or the UN in general, within domestic jurisdictions.

I assumed she was referring to the principle of sovereignty in which nations oft-times assume will prevent them from being invaded or deter unwanted interventions.

I did not necessarily agree with this assessment as history has demonstrated that a conglomeration of states can and do invade and intervene when the “political economy” warrants it. That is, the political will of the world’s plenipotentiaries is pushed and pulled by comparative advantages and sovereignty is undermined in many instances.

However, states do take bold and militant attempts to prevent others from ignoring or overriding their sovereignty.

It appears, then, the influence of the international civilian police force and the effectiveness of the tools they have at their disposal would be contingent on its ability (or the ability of a co-opted military force) to ward off armed attacks from armed state and non-state actors.

Additionally, I believe Robert Perito echoes this notion when stating, “Civilian police require the presence and support of conventional military forces and military police to provide force protection, logistics, and other services. Civilian police augment the military, assuming responsibility for dealing with civilians and freeing soldiers to perform their duties, including engaging armed groups” (Perito 2014, 11).

Example: The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip have clearly stated their intentions to make no distinction between Israeli occupying military forces and that of foreign military forces (Times of Israel Staff 2014). Therefore, I would assume any tools utilized by an international civilian police force would require an environment quasi-secured by a military force, which appears to have been thwarted in this case. In essence, it seems the toolbox would be shot out of their hands.

On the other hand, peacekeepers could execute peace-enforcement which would require armed force and would not necessarily constitute partiality. That is, the peacekeepers could remain committed to impartiality, but would have to side with “…the law and the peace…” against “…injustices and unlawful actions…” to fulfill their dual obligation of enforcing a cease-fire.

Although the role of military personnel and those employed in peacekeeping operations are oft-times vastly distinct, it should not be assumed that peacekeeping operations do not involve use of force. This is because peacekeepers retain the right to self-defense. As Langholtz pointed out, “This right includes defending United Nations personnel and property, as well as the operation as a whole” (Langholtz 2008, 16). Therefore, in much the same way as military personnel rely on Rules of Engagement (ROE) to order their steps and avoid infractions, peacekeepers need clear and concise instructions in regard to use of force.

Langholtz further notes that companies have one authority providing objectives, whereas peace operations involve three or more independent parties. This increases the importance of communicating in a fashion that fosters clarity, credibility, and achievability. Any confusion could discourage the formation of an agreement which would have a debilitating effect on peace efforts (Langholtz 2008, 15-16).


Langholtz, Harvey J. (ed). 2008. United Nations Police: Restoring Civil Order Following Hostilities. Peace Operations Training Institute.

Langholtz, Harvey J. (ed). 2010. Principles and Guidelines for UN Peacekeeping Operations. Peace Operations Training Institute.

Israel, The Times of. NATO peacekeepers to get same treatment as IDF, Hamas says. February 15, 2014. (accessed December 05, 2014).

Perito, Robert. U.S. Police in Peace and Stability operations. Special Report, United States Institute of Peace, 2014.


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