United Nations Peacekeeping

Martin Kobler, new SRSG in the D.R. Congo, arrives at MONUSCO HQ in Kinshasa to assume his duties, 13 August 2013, MONUSCO Photos, CC 2.0

Martin Kobler, new SRSG in the D.R. Congo, arrives at MONUSCO HQ in Kinshasa to assume his duties, 13 August 2013, MONUSCO Photos, CC 2.0

United Nations Peacekeeping

In this article, we shall discuss the role of United Nations peacekeeping within the UN, and the function peacekeeping serves within international relations. The United Nations Peacekeeping is one of the primary tools at the disposal of the international organization, with others going as far as saying that “Peacekeeping and all that it involves and implies has come to be the centerpiece of United Nations activity” (Puchala, Laatikainen, & Coate, 2007: 137). In fact, the United Nations itself says that “peacekeeping has proven to be one of  the most effective tools available to the UN to assist host countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace” (2014). 

And as we shall see, United Nations peacekeeping has been a key policy within the IO, as it has carried out 69 total peacekeeping missions since 1948 (United Nations, 2014a). Early in its history, United Nations Peacekeeping was an active agenda, working throughout the world (such as in Palestine and Israel, Korea, Egypt, Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo), etc… In this article, we shall discuss the role of United Nations peacekeeping operations. We shall begin with an examination of the United Nations Charter as it relates to United Nations peacekeeping. We will also examine how peacekeeping became such as critical part of the United Nations. Then, Then, I shall examine various cases of United Nations peacekeeping throughout the history of the organization. We shall also discuss the evolution of UN peacekeeping activities. Within each of these cases, we will also discuss the positives of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, as well as any criticisms of the United Nations peacekeeping initiatives. Then, I will end by including links to books on United Nations peacekeeping operations, as well as a list of references on the topic. 

The UN Peacekeepers force´s helmet, Daniel Košinár, public domain

The UN Peacekeepers force´s helmet, Daniel Košinár, public domain

Peacekeeping in the UN Charter

As mentioned in arguably the main article of the United Nations related to UN ability to act on international relations matters, the UN Security Council has a number of capabilities within the United Nations Charter. For example, in Chapter 6, the United Nations can use non-military means to end international relations disputes between countries or actors. And Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter allows for sanctions or military actions agains those who are disrupting international security. 

However, through the evolution of the United Nations has also been the development of the United Nations peacekeeping operations. Interestingly, there was no initial mention of United Nations peacekeeping in the UN Charter. This “led [Secretary General] Hammarskjold to coin the poetic and apt expression “Chapter six and a half,” which referred to stretching the original meaning of Chapter VI” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 55). And thus, while United Nations Peacekeeping has been understood as a critical component to the actions of the organization, scholars have explained that “[t]he lack of a clear international constitutional basis makes a consensus definition of peacekeeping difficult, particularly because peacekeeping operations have been improvised in response to specific requirements of individual conflicts” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 55).

So, given the murkiness of the definition of peacekeeping, how does the United Nations define peacekeeping? Scholars suggest that the definition of peacekeeping by the “former UN undersecretary-general Marrack Goulding provided a sensible definition of peacekeeping: “United Nations field operations in which international personnel, civilian and/or military, are deployed with the consent of the parties under the United Nations command to help control and resolve actual or potential international conflicts or internal conflicts which have a clear international dimension” (55).

How is UN Peacekeeping Funded?

Article 17 of the United Nations Charter states that countries are expected to pay their UN dues, which include contributions to peacekeeping. With regards to how much each country has to contribute, “The General Assembly apportions peacekeeping expenses based on a special scale of assessments under a complex formula that Member States themselves have established. This formula takes into account, among other things, the relative economic wealth of Member States, with the five permanent members of the Security Council required to pay a larger share because of their special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (United Nations, 2016).

According to the UN, the budget for United Nations peacekeeping missions from June 2016 until 2017 was at 7.87 billion dollars. With regards to states that pay the most by percentage:


The top 10 providers of assessed contributions to United Nations Peacekeeping operations for 2016 are:

  1. United States (28.57%)
  2. China (10.29%)
  3. Japan (9.68%)
  4. Germany (6.39%)
  5. France (6.31%)
  6. United Kingdom (5.80%)
  7. Russian Federation (4.01%)
  8. Italy (3.75%)
  9. Canada (2.92%)
  10. Spain (2.44%)

(Here is a breakdown of UN Peacekeeping contributions by all countries for the 2016-2018 period). The use of the money depends on what is needed for that specific United Nations peacekeeping operation (United Nations, 2016). Soldiers themselves are first paid by their home state, and then the UN offers reimbursement to the country, at just over 1,332 (USD) for every soldier for every month (United Nations, 2016).

United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

Because of the different conflicts and understanding of peacekeeping, United Nations peacekeeping operations has varied in terms of approach and mandate. Initially, the idea of United Nations peacekeeping operations was to ensure that the current situation with regards to a conflict was maintained. Furthermore, the United Nations peacekeeping missions, have often “served two functions: observing the peace (that is, monitoring and reporting on the maintenance of the cease-fires) and keeping the peace (that is, providing an inter positional buffer between belligerents and establishing zones of disengagement” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 55). However, more recent cases of UN peacekeeping clearly show the evolution of the mandate of the organization and their activities. For example, peacekeeping missions in recent decades “…are much larger in scope and complexity involving not only cease-fire monitoring, but also one or more of the following functions: the distribution of humanitarian assistance, the protection of civilian populations, the preparation of monitoring of elections, and the repatriation of refugees” (Bowen, 1997: 4).

When looking at the history of the United Nations, and the development of UN peacekeeping operations, it becomes evident that the ideas of peacekeeping that were in place in the early years of the organization were not identical to how peacekeeping work was approached in the subsequent decades. As scholars note: “In the peacekeeping arena, the character of the UN operations has been changing.  [For example,][f]ewer than 20 percent of the UN missions launched since 1998 have been in response to intestate conflict, the type for which the UN founders had originally planned. The majority of UN operations have been in response to intrastate conflict” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 55).

UN Peacekeeping Operations Requirements

There are a number of requirements with regards to the use of UN peacekeeping operations. For one, the United Nations Peacekeeping missions are often centered on consent of the different actors in the said conflict. In fact, consent for United Nations peacekeeping has been viewed as “the keystone of traditional peacekeeping.” The reasons for these are that “[f]irst, it helps to insulate the UN decision-making process against great-power dissent…Second, consent greatly reduces the likelihood that peacekeepers will encounter resistance while carrying out their duties” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 57). Peacekeepers are not there to go against state or non-state militaries, as they do not have the mandate to do so. In addition, they are there not to challenge the state, and thus, with consent, it is expected that there will be far less resistance to their activities. Both of these reasons are important for the deployment, as well as the success of the United Nations peacekeeping missions.

But along with international actors consenting to peacekeepers in a specific country or conflict, in order to for United Nations peacekeepers to be sent into a situation, there must be adequate backing from the United Nations’ most powerful organ, the Security Council. This can of course be a challenge, particularly if there are political divisions with regards to the conflict. Thus, states in the UNSC must be in agreement (or in enough agreement) to allow and support a peacekeeping mission. This requires not only the funding for a peacekeeping mission, but also the sending of troops. This can be difficult, particularly given the dangers of peacekeeping missions. (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

In addition, there must also be other elements of clarity with regards to the United Nations peacekeeping missions. For example, even after there is consent to act, states are onboard, and resources are in place, there must be a specific list of objectives with regards to the peacekeeping mission. In fact, “[e]nunciation of the mission’s objectives reduces local suspicion” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 59). Related to this, it must be remembered that peacekeeping missions are different from military actions; peacekeepers are not allowed to use force. Thus, those serving as peacekeepers must be ready for the specific task at hand (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

Hurd (2014) explains that three are three key features of a United Nations peacekeeping force. The peacekeepers are military members from multiple states through the United Nations, and must be “(i) impartial between the sides in the conflict, (ii) authorized to use force only to defend their own lives, and (iii) consented to by the relevant governments. These three features, of impartiality, force only in self-defense, and consent of the states, are the hallmarks of a peacekeeping force” (Hurd, 2014: 144). 

Countries sending peacekeepers must be willing to accept this, and any of the risks that may be associated with UN peacekeeping work. One of the risks of United Nations peacekeeping has to do with the locations in which they are sent to; many of these peacekeeping missions are in areas where conflict may be ongoing, or just recently halted. So, states have to often find ways to make the argument to their own government (and the public) that they should send their own soldiers to work on these UN missions (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). Related to this, many of the UN peacekeepers come from countries outside of the United Nations Security Council. The reason for this has to do with a position of neutrality, with particular concerns regarding US and Russian actions and intentions (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). 

Thus, it is important for states to clearly state what it is that they are doing within the UN operations mandate. Furthermore, they have to also state that force will not be someone that will be used unless there are no other options for the safety of the peacekeepers” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

History of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

United Nations peacekeeping operations first began in 1948 through the United Nations Troop Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in Palestine and Israel (Goulding, 1993). Shortly after, a similar peacekeeping group went to Kashmir, the contested territory between India and Pakistan. In 1956, a peacekeeping group was also sent to the Suez following the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis, where Britain, France, and Israel attacked Egypt. This was seen as the first “peacekeeping mission” of the United Nations, and arose from the UN Secretary General, and also the UN General Assembly (Hurd, 2014). Following the attack, the United Nations General Assembly set up an “emergency force” for the Suez Canal area. These soldiers were also there to oversee and ensure the cease-fire was being respected (Hurd, 2014).

However, the role of the United Nations peacekeeping forces were just beginning. In “1956-1978, though there was a hiatus for six years after the disaster that befell UNEF in I967. Those 18 years gave birth to 10 of the 13 peacekeeping operations established before the revival of demand for peacekeeping in the late 1980s. On the whole they succeeded well in helping to control regional conflicts, especially in the Near East, at a time when the Cold War made it difficult for the Security Council to take effective action to resolve them” (Goulding, 1993: 452).

UN Peacekeeping in Congo (1960-1964)

The United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Congo was one of the most controversial missions at the time. Much of the reason was due to the political motivations of UN Security Council members such as the United States and Britain, as well as the Soviet Union.

However, others, such as Goulding (1993) have suggested that it did have positive outcomes. Writing on this issue, Goulding (1993) argues that “…it succeeded in its objectives, albeit at a very high cost, including the life of Dag Hammarskjbld and a major constitutional- cum-financial crisis at the United Nations” (452). He gives three reasons as to why it may be viewed as successful, saying:

“First, it was deployed in a country where the institutions of state were collapsing-the first case of what the Foreign Secretary recently called ‘painting a country blue’. Second, it was the first peacekeeping operation to include very substantial civilian elements. Third, it was initially deployed as a peacekeeping operation; but when it became clear that the peacekeeping mode would not enable it to achieve its objectives, the Security Council authorized it to use force on a considerable scale to end the secession of Katanga-the first, and until Somalia the only, case of a transition from peacekeeping to peace-enforcement” (452-453).

UN Peacekeeping Post-Cold War

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, and after a decade of minimal UN peacekeeping operations (where politics and specific interests among UNSC members as it related to the various conflicts overtook ideas of peacekeeping forces), the United Nations began to be more active on issues of peace. Much of this had to do with the attitudes that the Soviet Union and the United States had towards the United Nations. Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union emphasized the importance of working together on international issues, and backed his language by the “USSR [making] payments on its UN debt of over $200 million in 1987” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 65). But along with the Soviet Union, the United States, under Ronald Reagan, nearing the end of his presidency, bean to speak highly of the UN, as well as the work of UN peacekeepers. In addition, he also “vowed to repay U.S. debt to the organization” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 65). In fact, following the end of the Cold War, there were many United Nations peacekeeping missions established. In fact, “Between 1988 and 1995, the Security Council authorized twenty-seven missions, compared to thirteen in the preceding forty years. From fewer than 10,000 troops deployed in five missions in 1988, the number of personnel deployed in the field in peacekeeping missions peaked in 1994 at 77,783, with an annuat cost of $3.6 billion as compared to $230 million six years earlier” (Lipson, 2007: 79).

Some of the UN Peacekeeping operations included Afghanistan, for example, where the United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP) “verified the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan after 1988” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 68). However, this operation was quite limited, both in the number of peacekeepers, as well as in this mandate; there were only fifty officers, over both Islamabad and Kabul (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). Along with Afghanistan, the UN peacekeepers were also sent to Iraq and Iran to monitor peace following a long 8 year war between the two sides.  And here, while there were just 350 unarmed observers, they still helped continue the peace and cease fire (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). Moreover, United Nations peacekeepers were also involved in Angola, Cuba, as well as helping insure South Africa’s movement out of Namibia, as well as aiding “to set up free and fair elections, and to determine the future government and constitution of Namibia” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 69).

The United Nations also set up peacekeeping missions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, as well as Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala. In Nicaragua, the United Nations set up the “United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA), the United Nations Observer Mission to Verify the Electoral Process in Nicaragua (ONUVEN), and the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL)” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 70). The United Nations had a host of activities in these peacekeeping missions, from being observers to peace, investigations on activities, as well as helping rebel forces turn in weapons, as was the case in Nicaragua. In fact,”this was the first instance of UN involvement in demilitarization through the physical collection and destruction of armaments” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 70). The Nicaragua case was also unique in that it was the first that a UN peacekeeping mission actually helped observe elections within a country. While working with ONUCA troops, Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Peace (2014) explain that “ONUVEN consisted of some 120 civilian observers who monitored the election process, from start to finish, to ensure that it was free and fair. They verified that political parties were equitably represented in the Supreme Electoral Council; that there was politics, organizational, and operational freedom for all political parties; that all political parties had equal access to state television and radio broadcasts; and that the electoral rolls were drawn up fairly” (71).

UN Peacekeeping Challenges

The United Nations peacekeeping forces also faced a number of challenges in the early 1990s. In fact, it has been said that “[s]everal UN operations during the 1990s highlight the inadequacy of traditional peacekeeping to meet the challenges of the new world disorder” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 77). The cases that help illustrate this are UN peacekeeping missions in Cambodia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti. In all of these cases, despite the fact that the United Nations peacekeeping forces receive approval to enter into these said states, the UN peacekeeping forces were unpowered for the issues that they faced in these countries. As we shall see, the role of UN peacekeeping forces changed drastically during these conflicts, very different from prior UN peacekeeping mandates (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

Cambodia: the UN peacekeeping forces in Cambodia ended up helping run a great portion of the country’s civilian administration, along with the responsibility to ensure that rebel and government forces put down their weapons. In addition, the UN peacekeeping forces also played a key role in voting registrations. Fearing a civil conflict, shortly after the 1993 elections, the UN began leaving Cambodia, although it continued to work as a part of diplomacy with regards to the politics of Cambodia.

Former Yugoslavia: The United Nations was also active in the Balkans following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. For example, they had nearly 14,000 peacekeepers in Croatia, and helped establish a cease fire between Croatia and the Former Yugoslavia. From this, the UN peacekeeping mission was also called into Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, there were merely 1500 soldiers called to be stationed in Sarajevo, which was seen as not nearly enough forces given the rising actions by the Former Yugoslavian state.  However, it was still not nearly enough to stop the ethnic conflict in the region.

Furthermore, the “UN safe areas” that were established to protect individuals “are anything but safe, and these areas were systematically attacked” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2,014), with one of the most noted cases being the Srebenica massacre, where over 7,000 Bosnian males were killed by Serbian forces (Smith, 2014) (and in fact, in July 2014, a court found the Dutch state liable for hundreds of Bosnian deaths (over 300) at Srebrenica because the “soldiers told them they would be safe and handed the men and boys over to the Bosnian Serb army” (BBC, 2014). And despite increased calls for action by the United Nations–and particularly actions based within Chapter VII of the UN Charter, given the rise in killings of Bosnian Muslims by the Serb forces, very little substantial changes took place with regards to UN actions in Bosnia. In fact, additional troops were sent, but not nearly enough given the on-the-ground conditions. Furthermore, there were no-fly zones, but there were not completely carried out.

There were also threats of action, but no strong military response until much later (in 1995). The continued threats of action by the UN “did little to halt Serbian irredentism and consolidation of territory in either Croatia or Bosnia, nor did these measures prevent the initial expansion of Croatian claims in Bosnia” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 81). In fact, their banning of weapons into Bosnia actually made matters worse for everyone except the Serbia government, who controlled most of the weapons in the country (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). And as is the case in many examples of UN action (or inaction), the US did not see Bosnia as a key strategic interest at the time, were worried about what sort of long term commitment they would be in by acting (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate & Pease, 2014). These inactions led many to criticize UN peacekeeping and UN Security Council actions.

Somalia: A United Nations mission was also sent to Somalia in 1992 amidst domestic unrest. The United Nations mandate in Somalia was to provide humanitarian aid. However, in 1992, President Bush pushed for humanitarian intervention in Somalia. Over 27,000 US troops were sent to Somalia, along with thousands more from other countries. The UN’s mission was to disarm various forces. However, the UN peacekeepers were being attacked by different forces. And as a response, the US sent Army Rangers, which in turn further escalated feelings against US presence in the country. One of the most noted cases against the US forces was “the ugly scene in October 1993, when the body of a dead Ranger was dragged by crowds through the streets of Mogadishu in front of television cameras–further inflamed the situation. Washington blamed the UN for the deaths of U.S. soldiers. While this claim was questionable, nonetheless it led to a kind of “Somalia Syndrome” whereby the Pentagon would balk at any further association with a UN multilateral operation” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 84). Overall, Somalia was not seen as a success, partially because of the ineffectiveness for disarming forces. There were also questions about the costs of the mission, with funding at 4 billion dollars over the various stages of UN operations in Somalia (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

Rwanda: The initial United Nations peacekeeping mission was viewed as a “classic” structure; “After the government of Rwanda and the forces trying to overthrow it (the Rwandan Patriotic Front, RPF) signed a cease-fire agreement, the Council agreed to send a multinational peacekeeping force to the country to monitor the compliance of both sides with its terms. These included monitoring the demobilization of troops on both sides and a weapons-free area around Kigali, the capital, training workers to clear land mines, coordinating aid supplies, and monitoring the return of refugees” (Hurd, 2014: 145). The initial number of United Nations peacekeeping was roughy 2,500, with the majority of them Belgian soldiers. The United Nations was able to send a peacekeeping mission into Rwanda because both sides called for the peacekeepers (Hurd, 2014). This is an important point; without the government’s position, the United Nations would not be able to have a presence on the ground, unless the states within the United Nations are willing to use powers of intervention found in the Charter (which did not happen in Rwanda) (Hurd, 2014).

The events that transpired in Rwanda have been viewed as one of the worst failures of United Nations peacekeeping. In 1994, manny from the Hutu majority in Rwanda carried out a genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi population. A United Nations peacekeeping force was already in place in Rwanda for roughly eight months. The United Nations were not only not able to stop the killings, but a number of them were targets. For example, “On April 16, the Hutu extremists systematically killed ten Belgian UN peacekeepers. The Belgian government ordered its troops home, and the UN Security Council dramatically cut the UN peacekeeping force, leaving only a token mission. This reduction came in spite of the previous request of the Canadian commander of the blue helmets, Romeo Dallaire, for an augmented force and a warning that genocide was planned by Hutu extremists” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 85). This lack of a United Nations peacekeeping presence left Tutsis even more vulnerable to Hutu attacks. And while the UN debated whether to use the term “genocide” with regards to Rwanda (because using the term would mean that they would have to act), they continued to not even put needed pressure on Rwandan leaders (who then were one of the ten non-permanent members of the UNSC) (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). Even refugee camps that were set up were not effectively secured by UN peacekeeping forces (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). The United Nations was relying on the different actors to help maintain the peace. But because the peace broke down, “it meant that the mission was in a poor position to adapt to the new circumstances that arose once the genocide began in April 1994” (145).

The United Nations could have done much more by declaring the action genocide, and then intervening. But they chose not to take this avenue, which could have saved hundred of thousands of lives. But, given a very limited mandate, and “[w]ithout legal authorization to do these things UNAMIR became, once the genocide started, a witness to the killing and did almost nothing to stop i.” (Hurd, 2014). As Hurd (2014) explains, a sad circumstance of United Nations peacekeeping is structured “around terms that the target state can agree to, and as such it aims to get states to voluntarily follow the Council’s wishes. It represents an exercise in the subtle power by the United Nations, where the terms of compliance are negotiated between states and the organization and are consented to by both” (146). In this case, the government committed horrible crimes, and the United Nations did not take the needed steps through the Security Council to become more active in protecting the population in Rwanda.

Haiti: In Haiti, the United Nations was active in helping set up elections. However, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was taking out of power by a military coup. The United Nations wanted to increase its mandate in order to help bring back the democratic government. Following UN Security Council Resolution 940, they sent a Multi-National Force to Haiti. Here, the MNF helped stop the economic sanctions in Haiti–which were mostly affecting civilians. In addition, “the MNF established a secure and stable environment that stemmed the tide of asylum seekers, facilitated the rather expeditious repatriation of about 370,000 of them, and immediately stopped the worse human rights abuses” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 87). However, despite these important developments, political conflict continued a decade later between Aristide and challenging forces. And after he left the country in 2004, additional UN forces were deployed to Haiti. This has been coupled with the recent troubles from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014).

Kosovo: In 1999, The United Nations was again called to intervene in the Balkans, with reports that Serbian leader Slobodon Milosevic and his Serbian military were carrying out human rights violations in Kosovo. As a response to the Serbian military actions, NATO began a bombing campaign in Kosovo. The United Nations was also called play a role in the military intervention. However, it was more difficult  to do so, given that Russia–a strong Serbian ally, is on the UNSC as a permanent veto-power. And because they would not back a UN action for military strikes, NATO carried out the action without going through the UN. Despite Russia’s fury with the decision–and their attempts to try to stop it through a vote (which failed 12-3), NATO continues their actions. Thus, since it did not go through the UN, some saw it as illegal, despite the justified purpose of protecting Kosovar Albanians. It is for this reason that the NATO actions in Kosovo were seen by some as “illegal but legitimate” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 102). And following a seventy-seven NATO campaign, an agreement to stop the fighting and stop Serbian military actions was in place. Following this, the United Nations were sent, through “resolution 1244 authorizing an international civil and security presence in Kosovo under UN auspices[,]” where this mission would allow for for aiding in daily administrative duties, along with the providing of aid, and the protection of civilians” (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 103). This UN action has been seen as its most compressive, including actions on issues of food, water, energy issues, democratic governance, finances, the judiciary, and a whole host of other issues. And while most of the UN forces have left, there is still a small presence in Kosovo, monitoring tensions between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, as well as the relations between Kosovo and Serbia following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease). 

Darfur: While the conflict in Darfur was in part due to decades of discrimination and lack of resources for the Sudanese in Darfur, the fighting became more pronounced in 2003. The government, under Omar al-Bashir, backed pro-government forces called the janjaweed, who would enter into Darfur towns, killing individuals because of their ethnicity. And because of government-backed actions, it is said that over 300,000 people were killed. The United Nations was backing African Union actions in the region during the early parts of the conflict. However, as the crimes against humanity were becoming more publicized, it was evident that a genocide was taking place. In fact, Secretary of State Colin Powell said as much, using that language.  But while this was the case, the UN Security Council never used such language, as legally they would have to act if they did call it a genocide. In fact, some states–such as Russia and China were against intervention in Darfur (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). China has strong economic ties to Sudan, as they are the largest importer of Sudanese oil. Thus, the resolutions were not nearly as strong as many called for, given the veto power that China and Russia have on the UNSC. And while the UN was calling for peacekeepers, because the Sudanese government saw this as encroaching on their sovereignty, it was the African Union that first went into Darfur, with Sudan only agreeing on UN forces in 2007. This United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was able to be implemented because China refrained from using their veto power (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014: 115).

Syria: This issue of Russia and China’s veto powers also came into the picture with the recent situation in Syria. The United Nations was called to act in Syria, both through economic sanctions, as well as a possible military action against the Bashar Al-Asad regime. However, Russia and China vetoed UN action in Syria (Weiss, Forsythe, Coate, & Pease, 2014). The Syrian conflict is still ongoing today, with over 6 million refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Many criticize the UN veto power structure in this case, given that Russia and China continue to claim sovereignty issues with Syria, as well as protecting their support of the leader. What is ironic is that the Russian government, so prone to advocate sovereignty, continues to back pro-Russian rebel forces in Eastern Ukraine, and was quite willing to accept the Crimea into Russian control, despite accusations that these actions were/are a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. In 2016, Russia vetoed actions on Syria for a fifth time (a resolution looking to stop bombings being carried out in the Syrian city of Aleppo (China abstained during this vote)) (Borger, 2016).

Current UN Peacekeeping Missions

The United Nations currently has 16 peacekeeping mandates throughout the world (United Nations, 2014a; United Nations, 2014b), and 104,184 uniformed individuals active in these missions (there are 89, 911 troops, 12, 516 police, and 1,757 military observers), as well as 16,961  civilian personally, 1,824 UN volunteers, etc, bringing the total to 116,440 members of UN peacekeeping missions (United Nations, 2014a). 

The Current UN Peacekeeping Missions and the number of personnel for each mission (United Nations, 2014a) are listed below:

  • United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (479 personnel)
  • United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) (929 personnel)
  • United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) (10,293 personnel)
  • United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) (9,169 personnel)
  • United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (25,349)
  • African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) (20,297 personnel)
  • United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) (1,429 personnel)
  • United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) (1,062 personnel)
  • United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) (11,108 personnel)
  • United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) (4,312 personnel)
  • United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) (14,007 personnel)
  • United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) (9,754 personnel)
  • United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (362 personnel)
  • United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) (7,404 personnel)
  • United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) (110 personnel)
  • United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) (377 personnel)

And with the case of Lebanon, some have argued that the reason UN peacekeepers have not been as effective is not due to their actions, but rather the lack of commitment by all parties (Goulding, 1993). And even here, it has been argued by some that no UN presence would make matters much worse (Goulding, 1993).

Does Peacekeeping Work?

One of the most asked questions with regards to the UN peacekeeping missions is: Does peacekeepers work? This is of course an important question, given the involvement and investment in peacekeepers from individuals, countries, and overall international organizations such as the United Nations.

There have been a number of studies on the issue of the effectiveness of peacekeepers. In one of the most important studies on the issue of whether peacekeeping is effective, Fortna (2004) looks at at the conditions following civil wars, and whether peace continued to prevail or falter. And within this, she looks at the presence of peacekeepers, and whether they had a positive, negative, or no effect on the presence of peace in that said conflict. Fortna looks at 115 peace periods following civil wars, with the time frame begin 1944-1997, and aims to see if peacekeepers can keep the peace. In her analysis, Fortna (2004) finds that “Controlling as much as possible for factors that might influence the degree of difficulty of a particular case, it is clear that intervention by the international community helps maintain peace. Peacekeeping works, particularly after the Cold War when most of the attempts to keep peace after civil wars have been made…Despite a number of well-publicized peacekeeping fiascoes in the early and mid-1990s, peacekeeping is an effective conflict management tool” (288).

Within this study, furthermore, Fortna (2004) also found that it might in fact also be the case that peacekeepers are not only helpful with peace, but that their role is actually “understated” (273). Fortna’s argument has to do with the conditions and context of which peacekeepers are sent to. For example, United Nations peacekeepers are actually sent to conflict areas following the end of fighting, often after it is not clear as to who “won” the conflict. Forna’s point is that it would be easier to keep peace in a situation where the victor was clearly decided during the fighting, but without this, it would be more difficult to actually keep the peace between conflicting sides. But again, in her findings, “[o]f those cases that end with no clear winner, peace fails in half (8 of 16) of those without peacekeepers, while only about one-third (8 of 23) of those with peacekeepers experience another war” (273).

Reforming United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

Scholars have raised a number of issues with regards to the United Nations peacekeeping missions. For example, Bowen (1997) discusses various critiques and challenges with regards to the UN Peacekeeping, namely, issues of financing, early warning, along with prevention issues, the clarification of the mission’s objectives, the issues of legitimacy with regards to the UNSC, questions on peacekeeping implementation, administration issues, command structure issues, deployment, as well as equipment issues.

While it is believed that United Nations peacekeeping operations are largely effective in reducing conflict, and also in the post-conflict context of society, there are still many who advocate reforming the United Nations peacekeeping operations. The reasons vary, but have to do with budget, payment, organization, on the ground actions, along with other matters. Here are just some of the calls for UN peacekeeping reforms:

United Nations Peackeeping Budget: One of the problems with the United Nations Peacekeeping operations has to do with the UN budget towards peacekeeping. Regarding finance, for example, it seems that missions are becoming more expensive, and countries are not contributing funds to the missions. As countries continue to delay their payments to the UN, this makes peacekeeping missions more difficult to carry out to their fully capacity. Furthermore, there have been times where states have agreed on peacekeeping missions, only to not financially back them (Bowen, 1997). The United Nations has also been called to set up more effective monitoring of conflicts (Bowen, 1997). Moreover, the United Nations has been criticized for its lack of clarity with regards to its peacekeeping missions. Peacekeeping missions have at times veered from their initial objectives, although the UN members and officials have tried to address this point (Bowen, 1997).

The most recent budget for UN peacekeeping missions is at 7.87 billion dollars. However, one of the biggest problems with the UN peacekeeping budget is not necessarily the number allocated for peacekeeping missions (although this has also been a point of criticism), but rather, a significant issue has been the inability to ensure that UN member states pay their peacekeeping bills. In fact, there are numerous cases where a country does not pay their bill on time, or if ever. Furthermore, “[t]he level of non-payment to the peacekeeping budget is even greater than that to the UN general budget, making it difficult to pay troop-contributing countries on time” (Troszczynska-Van Genderen, 2015: 10). As of 2015, the main contributors of the UN peacekeeping budget are the United States (which was at 28 percent), Japan (at 10 percent), and France at 7 percent of the overall 2014-2015 budget (Troszczynska-Van Genderen, 2015). So, it is imperative that countries pay their bills in order to allow UN peacekeeping operations to be funded, and in turn can be as effective as possible. Waiting for funds limits the capacities of UN peacekeepers on the ground.

UN Peackeeping Operations Coordination: If the United Nations is going to be successful in implementing their peacekeeping plans, then it is imperative for various reforms to take place, which will allow them to more successfully reach their set objectives. One for the major issues has centered on effective coordination among the United Nations and actors within the international organization, as well as outside the international organization. In 2005, the United Nations created a body known by the name of Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) as well as the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) in the year 2005. Both of these UN-based entities are very important in the coordination of UN Peacebuilding efforts, as well as UN peacekeeping efforts. The two entities are responsible for different elements of UN peace coordination.

For example, “The Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) is an inter-governmental advisory body that supports peace efforts in countries experiencing conflict or at risk of conflict, and is mandated to coordinate all relevant actors, international financial institutions, national governments and troop-contributing countries to help ensure adequate resources, highlight gaps, identify potential ‘spoilers’ and devise strategies to neutralize them.” Then, “[T]he Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) is responsible for coordination at the UN and international levels for conflict-affected countries. The Office also supports the Peacebuilding Commission and administers the Peacebuilding Fund. It is based in the UN headquarters in New York, with no presence in the field. Currently, the PBSO is contributing to the review of peace operations by the Independent High-Level Panel. The Office is also responsible for developing knowledge management products, including handbooks on measuring the impact of peacekeeping and gender in peacebuilding. As a structure mandated to help the UN’s peacebuilding activities remain coherent through coordination efforts, publications and training, the PBSO serves as a reference point for its partner regional and international organizations” ((Troszczynska-Van Genderen, 2015: 11).

UN Early Warning and Monitoring Activity: The United Nations has also been criticized at times for failing to see early warning signs related to conflict within a country, or in a region. Therefore, there have been calls for the United Nations to be much more efficient in setting up early warning structures in place to follow what is transpiring in an area, gather necessary information quickly, and then be able to respond to the developments before a situation becomes uncontrollable. The United Nations, to their credit, has attempted to set up institutions to help monitor and make people aware of any rising problems  on the ground. For example, “In 2010, the DPKO established the Peackeeping Situation Centre, which operates 24/7 to ensure a constant flow of information related to missions’ and delegations’ security” (Troszczynska-Van Genderen, 2015:: 11-12. This UN Peackeeping Situation Centre conducts research and also organizes information that comes in. Then, the Centre can also work as a go-between from the UN and UN peacekeeping missions on the ground. It is important that all of these actors receive the necessary budget and personnel support (Troszczczynska-Van Genderen, 2015).

Mobilization of Action: Despite all of these critiques, none seem to loom larger than that criticizing the willingness of states to get involved in domestic and international conflicts. It is this failure of political action that sits at the heart of reforming the United Nations Peacekeeping operations. Time and time again, the United Nations, because of state action (or rather, inaction), have done little to help stop the escalation of conflict. Wether this is in the case of Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan, Syria, etc…, state interests (when not aligning with human rights and humanitarianism) continue to be a serious roadblock to quick and effective UN interventions. This has to do with current power structures in the UN Security Council, and also an ineffectiveness of following through on recommendations that come from within the international organization (Troszczczynska-Van Genderen, 2015). So, whether it is through the Responsibility to Protect, or other human rights advancements, for UN peacebuilding and United Nations peacekeeping to be effective, it must ensure that state actors are fully committed to these ideas.


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