Peacekeeping Operations in 3 Easy Steps

A Guide to United Nations Peace Operations

United Nations peace operations refer to the deployment of military and/or civilian personnel, to a conflict zone, under the mandate of the United Nations. It functions to prevent hostilities from arising, or, more frequently, to prevent their reoccurrence. Traditional U.N. peace operations are authorized under Chapter 6 of the U.N. Charter. However, peacekeeping, as we know it today, is not mandated in the same manner. ‘Peace keeping’ is actually a term not used in the U.N. Charter at all. Instead, it is an idea that has been expanded upon over time and place. This widening conceptualization was made possible to incorporate a variety of disputes settled throughout the past decade.

Broadly speaking, there are three relative types of peacekeeping operations. Observer/monitor missions, represent traditional U.N. operations. Involving unarmed soldiers deployed into a conflict zone to observe, monitor and report violations of peace agreements, early missions were not actually considered “peace keeping” at all. Instead they functioned to monitoring and report conflicts, attempting to place political pressure on aggressors. Interpositioning missions, also traditional forms of peace keeping, similarly utilized observers but placed them alongside lightly armed combatants. With the first instance, taking place in the 1956 Suez Crisis, peacekeepers were positioned as much as possible between warring sides. The peacekeepers were not strong enough to stop any side from resuming in warfare. However, what the troops did was stop small conflicts among individuals from
escalating into larger conflicts with potential for creating humanitarian disaster.

Modern robust peacekeeping operations take a variety of forms and functions. “Humanitarian-izing” the form of international assistance (as controversially outlined in the famous Brahimi report) robust peacekeeping attempted to do things that earlier peace operations had never attempted. Robust peacekeeping moved away from neutrality and impartiality, and instead suggested that peace building, transitions, reconstruction and development, were all equally as important as peacekeeping itself. The rationale behind robust peacekeeping stemmed from the report’s claimed need for preventive action to maintain an environment where peacekeepers protected peace. This was so that peace builders could help enable the conditions that would allow for peacekeepers to be taken from the equation.

Peace operations are reflective of their origins of operations. The evolution of peacekeeping can be divided into two distinct periods, those being before 1987 and following. The factors leading to this change came from the political divisions from the Cold War and the opinion-dividing experience from the 1960’s operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Previous to 1987, very few peace operations were enacted of any kind, whereas those that did most often arose in the context of decolonization. Following 1987, and a relatively successful second mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. experienced an influx of mandated operations. Between 1988 and 1993, 20 new missions were set underway. In just the five years following the Cold War, more missions were mandated than in the entire four decades of the U.N.’s previous existence

Several reasons can explain the significant increase in peace operations in this new era. For one, the ending of the cold war led to an international consensus on peacekeeping. Second, given the new success of peacekeeping missions, more contributors and more countries were willing to contribute troops. Thirdly, as more opportunities arose to engage in peacekeeping around the world, countries began to profit from various aspects of operations. Overall, while many different factors have impacted peace operations throughout the last decades, to best facilitate peace operations it will be imperative that practitioners are resilient to the changing nature of conflict and peace.

-Nick Palombo

One thought on “Peacekeeping Operations in 3 Easy Steps

  1. As discussed by Nick, “peacekeeping” has since its inception in 1956 evolved from a purely monitoring nature to include more “robust” operations that have incorporated mandates to use force to protect civilians. However, as the first-ever “offensive” peacekeeping force, the Intervention Brigade authorized to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2013, marked a further shift in the peacekeeping discourse. While at the time considered a success in that it defeated the rebel force it set out “disarm” (the M23), the deployment of the Brigade signified a controversial move towards what could only be seen as active peace enforcement.

    The deployment of the brigade was never without controversy. While the mandating resolution stated that the Intervention Brigade was not to set a precedent for the future of peacekeeping operations, many UN member states expressed fears that it did just that, and that it in fact marked “a shift toward counterinsurgency-style operations by the United Nations” (Cammaert & Blyth 2013: 2). Indeed, the entire concept of an intervention brigade is complex at best. The liberal origin of peacekeeping and the understanding of the UN as a peacemaker rather than an aggressor, coupled with the divisions that surround robust peacekeeping makes it politically difficult for troop contributing countries to discuss issues like ‘intelligence capabilities’, ‘tactical mobility’, ‘credible force’ and other military characteristics of more muscular peacekeeping operations (Berdal & Ucko 2014: 672) and as such the scope and role of missions.

    Even years before the deployment of the Intervention Brigade, there were concerns about “robust” peacekeeping, including that it could lead to unpredictable responses by various actors concerned, such as host countries, troop contributing countries and local actors. While robust operations might deter some spoilers, it was argued, it might also provoke retaliation by others. In the case of the Intervention Brigade, the concerns of retaliation against civilians, particularly women and children, were early on expressed by local civil society as well as humanitarian organizations working in the area. As evidenced by the brutal massacres in Beni, North Kivu that followed the intervention brigade’s so called success, the brigade did not deter other rebel groups in the region, and in fact did too little to protect civilians.

    Using force to maintain peace, and the deployment of the Intervention Brigade to DRC opened a dangerous door and shifted peacekeeping from protection to coercion. The intervention Brigade in the DRC should not set the precedent for future peacekeeping. Peacekeeping should never be coercive, as this is what distinguishes peacekeeping from enforcement.

    Berdal, Mats & David H. Ucko (2014). The United Nations and the Use of Force:
    Between Promise and Peril, Journal of Strategic Studies, 37:5, 665-673

    Cammaert, Patrick & Blyth, Fiona. (2013). Issue Brief. The UN Intervention Brigade in
    the Democratic Republic of the Congo. New York: International Peace Institute.

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