At a time when international tensions in the Middle East are the subject of increasing scrutiny, a new book by Griffith University graduate Dr Vanessa Newby offers rare insight into the challenges facing United Nations peacekeepers.

Through the prism of the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Peacekeeping in South Lebanon: Credibility and Cooperation explores questions such as: How does the United Nations mission in Lebanon operate on the ground? How can peacekeepers build credibility? Why does it matter?

“I wanted to contribute to the growing body of literature that is broadening awareness of what the UN practitioners do in their day to day practice, especially the challenges they face,” says Vanessa.

“There is a tendency for the public to assume that once a peacekeeping mission has been authorised by the United Nations Security Council, everything is all right. That’s simply not the case in a crisis.”

Griffith University graduate, author Vanessa Newby

Griffith University graduate, author Dr Vanessa Newby

An Affiliated Scholar at the American University of Beirut and a Visiting Fellow at the National Security College at Australian National University, Vanessa’s research interests include international security, peace building, migration, the politics of religion and the international relations of the Middle East.

She also has a Masters and PhD in International Relations from Griffith University.

“I feel like I was spoilt at Griffith. I came in to the Griffith Asia Institute in 2006, completed my Masters and then went on to do my PhD. I really enjoyed the wonderful collegiality at the University,” she says.

“The focus of my PhD was the Middle East, and during my study I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium in Beirut. I visited the UNIFIL mission and I drove along the so-called “Blue Line”; this artificial yet profound division between Israel and Lebanon. The inspiration for my PhD and then this book was born there.”

In her book, Vanessa applies a formidable depth of analysis to her account of UNIFIL’s navigation of tensions in one of the world’s geopolitical flashpoints. Identifying four types of credibility–technical, material, security, and responsiveness – she shows how building credibility has served UNIFIL and enabled the mission to exercise its mandate despite significant challenges on the ground.

The first UNIFIL troops were deployed 40 years ago in March 1978. Following the 2006 Lebanon War, the United Nations Security Council enhanced UNIFIL and updated its mandate to include:

  • continued monitoring of the cessation of hostilities;
  • accompanying and supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces deployed throughout the south of Lebanon;
  • extending assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

    Part of the so-called Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel

    Part of the so-called Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel

UNIFIL’s mandate is renewed annually by the United Nations Security Council. The current mandate expires on 31 August 2018.

Vanessa’s road to Beirut has taken her to many interesting places. An inveterate traveller, she’s lived in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Syria, among others, always wondering what was around the next corner.

“Around one of those corners was the decision to do my masters and then PhD at Griffith, the aim being to apply the research, opportunities and experience it provided to pursue a career in the field,” she says.

“As a scholar, as a curious person in general, and as someone so interested in the Middle East, I do love living in Lebanon. It offers so much intellectually, culturally and philosophically. It has that intriguing blend of Arab culture and Western influence. It has snow in the mountains and sunshine on gorgeous beaches.

“Furthermore, it has a geopolitical context that is endlessly fascinating to observe and to document.”

Peacekeeping in South Lebanon: Credibility and Cooperation will be published by Syracuse University Press in May this year.