UN peacekeepers were taken to Southern Lebanon in 1978 to help the central government gain control over the region. Initially the security council gave its mandate for half a year. Till today, the mission keeps going in the restless region.
From last year, within a Finnish-Irish joint battalion, an Estonian infantry platoon is involved. In the 1990ieas also, Estonian peacekeepers served in Lebanon. At first glance, the mission is not complicated as compared to places like Afghanistan or Iraq, but doubtless a tough test anyway.
For 37 years, UNIFIL has served as a buffer between the forces of Hezbollah and Israel while both take a sceptical view towards the UN peacekeepers. Hezbollah does not like the presence of the West, Israel has often accused UNIFIL and the UN in imitating peacekeeping. Outwardly at the moment, there is peace in Southern Lebanon, but just like the Balkans of the beginning of the 20th century, the Middle-East of the beginning of the 21st has the potential to turn into a gunpowder keg threatening world peace.
So what are the Estonian guys doing over there, thousands of kilometres from home? The UN peacekeeping missions have been criticized for years. Presence of international troops is no panacea, but at for the most part it increases the probability of the peace maintained, and also for a longer while – this would be proven by a look at the earlier history of the blue helmets.
Sure, we are reminded of the failures in the Yugoslavian conflicts of the 1990ieas, including the inability of peacekeepers to avoid the Srebrenica massacre. Even so, the international role has been large in regulating the conflicts, and on several occasions repeat of civil wars have been avoided with their help.
The Lebanese civil war of 1975–1990 has recently been often likened with today’s conflict in Syria. The war of 15 years claimed 150,000 lives but the country did not split and the main ethnic and religious minorities gained a broad-based self-governance. In the keeping of that fragile balance and stability, the UN blue helmets including Estonians have a large part as well.
Peacekeeping missions carry the important foreign political message of Estonians not being mere onlookers but participants on world affairs. These past years, there has again been the talk of Estonia running for UN security council replacement member for 2020. To support the endeavour, the more important the message of us the conflict solvers.