The UN's Challenges and Problems in International Interim Administration: The cases of the Kosovo and East Timor

Term Paper, 2006

22 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction.

2. The United Nations and its peacekeeping missions in the context of International Interim Administration

3. Challenges and Problems of UN international interim administrations.

4. The Case of Kosovo.
4.1 The Kosovo – final status still in limbo.
4.2 UNMIK’s problems in the Kosovo.

5. The Case of East Timor.
5.1 East Timor – finally independent
5.2 UNTAET’s problems in East Timor.

6. Conclusion and critical reflection.


1. Introduction

Since the end of the cold war the number of UN peacekeeping missions raised drastically. This development within international affairs has been labelled the “new interventionism” (see for example Yannis 2002b: 826). But not only the absolute numbers increased, also the scope of these missions has undergone some fundamental changes. The mandates of traditional peacekeeping operations are expanded allowing UN forces to be actively engaged in operations which can be better described as peacebuilding missions (Brahimi 2000, Mortimer 2004: 10). However, the term “peacebuilding” is still not integrating the phenomenon of UN forces running the entire domestic administration of post-conflict societies. Within the scientific discussion the term “international interim administration” is therefore seen as more accurate to describe UN operations in territories such as Cambodia, Liberia, and Eastern Slavonia. This article adds to the scientific discourse by focusing on two of the most recent cases of UN Interim Administration: the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). Whereas the UNTAET ended in 2002 with the release of East Timor into independence, UNMIK is still continuing and the question of the Kosovo’s final status remains open. While the outcome of these missions seems to be very different they were both facing similar difficulties which are characteristically for interim administrations. Therefore this paper is going to point out some specific problems and challenges of these missions. Special attention in this context will be directed towards the following issues. Taking the respective UN resolutions as a starting point for examination the article will take into account the challenges that are derived from the structure of the mandate and the question of state sovereignty in the context of international interim administration. Being amongst the most important aspects within those missions, the article additionally addresses the UN’s organisational capacity to accomplish these wide-ranging missions and the establishment of ad-hoc judicial systems.

This article is structured in six main sections. Section 1 has given an introduction to the topic and outlines the overall purpose and the structure of the paper. Section 2 is giving some basic facts about the United Nations and its peacekeeping missions. Additionally the term “international interim administration” is examined in further detail. Some general problems and dilemmas which are inherent to these kinds of UN missions are presented in section 3. Section 4 and 5 present the two cases of the Kosovo and East Timor and are both structured in a similar way. These paragraphs serve multiple purposes. Firstly there will be an introductory part in which some basic facts about the historic development within these regions are given. Secondly the two sections will address some specific problems the UN missions were facing on the ground. And finally the current situation and the prospects for the future are briefly illustrated. The last chapter of this paper (section 6) first gives a short summary of the paper’s outcome and is finally giving some critical remarks about the arguments that have been put forth in order to guarantee a balanced analysis.

2. The United Nations and its peacekeeping missions in the context of International Interim Administration

To understand the role of the United Nations within the international arena in general and within international interim administration in particular it is important to outline some basic facts about the UN. This section therefore will give a short overview of the history of the UN and its peacekeeping missions Furthermore the term “international interim administration” and its legitimacy under the UN charter are examined in further detail to give a basis for further analysis.

The United Nations came into existence after the Second World War as a successor of the League of Nations. At first it consisted of 50 countries but the number of member states constantly grew up to 192 at present.[1] The founding document is the UN charter which was officially ratified in October 1945 by the five permanent members of the Security Council and a majority of the other signatory countries. According to the UN Charter the overall purpose of the United Nations is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war […], “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace […] (UN Charter: Preamble). Apart from its various other functions the security dimension has always been central to the United Nations. According to the Brahimi Report published by the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations[2] the security function is currently the most important one and can be considered as a “yardstick” for its success (Brahimi 2000: 1). Throughout its history the UN has been involved in peace operations around the globe. As an example for the classical model of UN peacekeeping serves the deployment of peacekeeping forces during the Suez crisis in 1956. At that time the blue helmet troops were securing the ceasefire between Egypt and Israel. Traditional peacekeeping missions have concentrated on the observation of ceasefires and the separation of military forces after wars between sovereign states, (Brahimi 2000: 2) however, the majority of UN peace operations was accomplished in the period after the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. This development is due to the fact that the UN adapted to the changed circumstances after this major turn in world history. Within the scientific discussion of current UN missions there are a number of different terms such as state-building, nation-building or the differentiation between transitional and interim administrations. The analysis of the terminology in use is however beyond the scope of this paper.[3] As noted in the introduction the term international interim administration has turned out to be the most widely used when trying to describe current UN peace operations. International interim administration refers to the ongoing process of expansion of UN mandates in relation to UN peace operations since the end of the cold war. It describes the fact that UN forces nowadays are provided with a broader mandate including the take-over of responsibilities normally reserved to sovereign nation states. Security Council resolutions are effectively transferring all legislative and executive powers over a specific territory to the UN authorities in charge. When it comes to the legitimacy of international interim administration missions performed by the UN there is therefore a lively discussion within the scientific community. However there is consensus among most of the scholar that these kind of interventions can only be legitimated by the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Stahn 2001: 139). As it can be regarded as an outside intervention within the sphere of state sovereignty, international administration can always be regarded as illegitimate to some degree (Harland 2004: 15). This conclusion is posing some unique challenges the UN has to deal with while approaching these missions. International administration is now present in the practice of UN operations and will be of even greater importance in the years to come. However it is not yet officially installed within the UN organisational structure which undermines its leverage in practice. These missions are still all organised by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (Mortimer 2004: 10). The problems that are related to this improvised character are described later on in the paper.

3. Challenges and Problems of UN international interim administrations

So far the article has created the basis for further analysis by giving some facts about UN peacekeeping and international interim administration in general. This paragraph will now shed some light on possible problems and challenges in relation to this newly emerged type of UN missions. According to Chesterman transitional interim administrations are the most complex missions executed by the UN which leads to the fact that there are a multitude of factors that have to be taken into consideration (Chesterman 2002b: 45). Section 3 structures these factors into political, organisational and practical issues and shows some implications for the overall process.[4]

Harland (2004: 15) points out that one of the basic political problems of international interim administration is its lack of legitimacy. By its nature international interim administration logically comes to conflict with the principle of state sovereignty. Today the international system is still based upon the so-called Westphalian System in which the sovereign nation state is the most important political actor (Hobden and Wyn-Jones 2001: 216). This modern state system is hence characterised by geographical parameters which divide ‘the globe’s surface into mutually exclusive geographically jurisdictions enclosed by discrete and meaningful borders’ (Kobrin 2001: 4). Each state has therefore the right to govern itself within its boundaries. This notion of exclusive territoriality can also be seen in Krasner’s (1999 as cited in Caporaso and Jupille 2004: 71) conceptualisation of state sovereignty. Krasner divides the concept of state sovereignty into four specific aspects: control over borders, external recognition, the ultimate legal right to decide and the capacity to exclude external authority structures. These characteristic elements of the concept of state sovereignty are challenged by international administration in some specific ways.

As the term international interim administration indicates, the authority is transferred to an internationally organised body. In case of the UN entirely taking over the administration of a territory it implies that the UN is responsible not only for governing the country on a day-to-day basis but also for tasks intervening in the core sphere of national sovereignty (Harland 2004: 15). Especially when it comes to determining the final status of the administered territory, the UN is facing the danger of passing over the claims of the civil population. These claims are often multifaceted because of ethnic diversities within the region but they are inherent to the people and have to be taken into consideration when deciding about the future of a country. The difficult task of how to integrate the civil population in the decision-making process on the international level determines the stability of the outcome. Although normally being legally justified by Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, it is important that the mission is also legitimized in terms of moral and political issues.


[1] The newest member state is Montenegro accepted on 28 June 2006 by the General Assembly resolution 60/264.

[2] The report of the Panel of United Nations Peace Operations is hereinafter referred to as the Brahimi Report (Citations are given in the following form: Brahimi 2000: pp.).

[3] This paper chooses the term “international interim administration” because it is the most widely used in this context. There are similar terms e.g. “international transitional administration” which can be seen as synonyms. For a first introduction in the terminology see for example Chesterman (2001a: 3).

[4] This paper does not try to outline the problems in all depth. For more information on other problems and challenges in relation to international interim administration see for example: Beauvais (2001); Stahn (2001).

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The UN's Challenges and Problems in International Interim Administration: The cases of the Kosovo and East Timor
University of Constance
International Interim Administration
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Challenges, Problems, International, Interim, Administration, Kosovo, East, Timor, International, Interim, Administration
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Melanie Thiem (Author), 2006, The UN's Challenges and Problems in International Interim Administration: The cases of the Kosovo and East Timor, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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