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date: 16 January 2018

International Organization and Ending Conflicts

Summary and Keywords

International organization as an idea or an approach to political and social conflict management and resolution—now often referred to under the rubric of “global governance”—has been the subject of much discussion by scholars and practitioners, and has taken shape in numerous historical examples. A landmark figure in thinking about war, peace, and statecraft during the earliest period undoubtedly remains the classical Greek general and historian Thucydides (460–395 bce); his History of the Peloponnesian War, chronicling the conflict between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta, features prominently in virtually all discussions of the subsequent emergence and development of ideas and practices of conflict management. Succeeding scholars have built upon Thucydides’ ideas. While the earliest theorists and philosophers brought out important discussions of war causation, and basic notions of political-social conflict management in divergent settings, political thinking about the context of state interactions and new mechanisms for constraining state behavior had not yet—by the early seventeenth century—reached the era of preparation for international organization. That would wait another 200 years. In the nearly three centuries from the Thirty Years War to the beginning of World War I, scholars of international organization identified a number of proposals that arguably demonstrate the development, growth, and deepening of thought about such mechanisms.

Keywords: international organization, political and social conflict, conflict management, conflict resolution, war, peace


International organizations sometimes have played useful or important roles in bringing particular conflicts to an end, while in other cases they unintentionally have exacerbated the existing conflict or even become a reason for new or further intensified hostilities. At a broader and more abstract level, international organization as an idea or an approach to political and social conflict management and resolution – now often referred to under the rubric of “global governance” – has been the subject of much discussion by scholars and practitioners, and has taken shape in numerous historical examples. This review essay addresses both the historical and the more recent studies, proposals, and debates about whether (and how) international organization contributes to the ending of conflicts in the abstract, and the role(s) of international organization in specific conflicts in the form of interstate wars or, more frequently today, intrastate and very un-civil wars. It also highlights contemporary methodological and epistemological divergences amongst scholars about how to understand, or to look at, the field of international organization and conflict resolution. Some degree of overlap will exist as other review essays in the Compendium series are mandated to address closely related subjects such as international organizations and preventing war, peacebuilding, justice, human rights, or vulnerable populations. However, even where the theoretical literature or the specific case examples are the same, the emphasis on the relationship between international organization and the specific subtopic is different, and each essay will reflect this difference. Where a topic is related to ending conflict, but further discussion nevertheless might better be left to another essay, this will be indicated.

Systematic thinking about forms of organization that might assist in the task of conflict management and resolution existed well before the establishment of what most Western academic literature normally refers to as the modern or Westphalian state system, and therefore before the existence of an “international” system that would require “organizing.” These earliest instances of debate and practice are worth considering in their own right, as well as for what they might have given to others as food for thought in subsequent political proposals. A survey of literature examining this early period of efforts to foster cooperation and to end conflict between the various political entities of the time forms the substance of the first section below. It was the emergence in the early seventeenth century of the Westphalian state system, however, that put in place – and that embodied or expressed – the contemporary, “Western” or “European” model of the international structure and its arguably associated logic of state rivalry and conflict. The second section of the review essay thus looks at the thinking and practices of this period, covering approximately the mid-seventeenth to early twentieth centuries, in addressing proposals for new or improved forms or instruments of international organization(s) to end conflicts. In both of these sections, the potential list of important individuals, authors, and texts, ranging from the Buddha, Confucius, and the Greek historian Thucydides of the fifth century bce, through St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dante to Machiavelli, Erasmus, Jean Bodin, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, and to Hegel and Marx in the nineteenth century, is too extensive to be addressed in any detail here. Instead, references are made to a number of the central figures of these periods (and places), but the focus is on highlighting only a few current scholarly studies that can usefully be drawn upon by those interested in pursuing further reading.

The next two sections are narrower in scope and shorter in time span; they also move us from the more conceptual content of the pre- and early international period literatures, in which the links to international organization(s) necessarily is indirect and speculative, to a discussion of material containing explicit consideration of the functioning of international organizations and their practical roles in ending conflicts – or in failing to do so. The third section of the essay focuses on the literature concerning the founding of the first of the two “global” international organizations most closely associated with ending conflicts in the early twentieth century – the League of Nations. The fourth section turns to the contemporary discussions of the United Nations (UN): its evolution through the several “generations” of peacekeeping, and then as one of several possible actors engaging in third-party interventions into the violence that, since the early 1990s, has characterized many cases of intrastate conflict within the borders of what some observers have labeled as failed or fragile states. Much of this discussion has been policy-oriented and pragmatic, dealing with politically sensitive questions of sovereignty, human rights and “humanitarian intervention,” peacebuilding, and the limits of the political will of UN member states to implement these policies; but it also includes critical scholarship questioning what some scholars argue are these proposals’ deeper ideological and power-driven roots, assumptions, biases, and objectives.

Following the guidelines of the Compendium essay series, the fifth and final section of the essay, rather than offering any definitive “conclusions” about a field of study that still seems far removed from arriving at them itself, instead will offer this author’s observations and/or speculations about one promising approach that currently is a subject for fascinating research but that remains under-explored by those scholars interested in whether or how international organizations can end conflicts, or at least attempt to do so with greater consistency and effectiveness. The approach noted in the final section holds promise for its potential application not just to the development of theory, but also for opening up ways of looking at, and understanding, policy making and policy implementation by international organizations and the real, individual human beings who inhabit the realm where such structures meet the actors engaged in the conflicts the organizations are attempting to end.

Before moving into the main sections, one bias of this essay should be noted. Although recognizing that academic debate continues regarding the causes of war and the conditions for peace in international affairs, an important assumption here is the existence of some significant degree of voluntarism in states’ and humans’ behavior. That is, conflict – taken to mean violent conflict, or war – is not an inevitable outcome of system structure, or human biology, or of any other single politically, biologically, or religiously defined variable. Rather, as A. LeRoy Bennett observed in his widely used text International Organizations: Principles and Issues, “individuals and groups, not abstractions called states, are the actors in both national and international affairs (Bennett 1991:6). As such, these conflicts are what Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, and Miall later described as “an avoidable consequence of human choice” (2005:7). Only in this case does it actually make sense for us now to explore as an open question the extent to which international organization, and international organizations, can have a role in ending conflicts. Otherwise we are left with mechanistic notions of war causation, and therefore of potential paths to peace, which limit or discard the elements of human choice and responsibility (Holsti 1985:19).

Organizing to End Conflict before the “International”

Most scholarly treatments of international organization and conflict resolution offer some introductory comments on the historical background of their subject. James P. Muldoon (2004) and Adam Watson (1992) provide a longer timeframe than many others, and especially a geographically far wider look than is common. Watson identifies the earliest thinking about political organization and the problem of ending conflicts and maintaining order in the ideas and practices of the ancient civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, and Persia (Watson 1992:24–46); and both authors note the contributions of the civilizations of the Indus Valley and China (as well as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere) in addition to the more familiar treatises of the political theorists and historians of classical Greece and Rome. Centuries before the emergence of the modern states system, the leading political thinkers of the day – heads of government and their advisors, theologians, political philosophers – were considering at least some of the basic concepts and practices, such as diplomacy, treaties, rules of warfare, forms of administration, dispute settlement, and international trade, that would “constitute the basic building blocks for existing international organizations” (Bennett 1991:8).

Muldoon argues that the fifth century bce witnessed “perhaps the three greatest minds of all times” – Siddartha Gautama (the Buddha), Confucius, and Socrates. In each of these instances, an international system as we generally understand it today did not exist; nonetheless, Muldoon and Watson would suggest that these three figures either developed ideas intended to assist in conflict management within their respective societies and regional systems, or else provided the vital foundations upon which others deliberated and eventually would build. Half a century after Chandragupta Maurya’s founding of the Mauryan empire in 321 bce, and after Chandragupta’s minister Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra – India’s most famous exposition on statecraft, military strategy and economic policy – it was the decision by Mauryan dynasty emperor Ashoka (also known as Asoka, 273–232 bce) to embrace the teachings of Buddhism that would lead him to renounce warfare and make peace with his neighbors, ushering in India’s “Golden Age” (Watson 1992:84; Muldoon 2004:17–19). Confucius had been writing in response to what he observed of the violence, corruption, and disarray widespread in fifth-century bce Chinese society, with his ideas about improving social order and promoting good government based upon merit being later refined and implemented by Mencius and Emperor Han Wudi (Watson 1992:85–93).

Both Watson and Muldoon adopt chronological frameworks in their studies, and both authors also integrate narratives of historical events within their discussions of the emergence of new ideas about political and social governance, with immediate events generally driving the development of new ideas about governance. They differ, however, in their views about how strongly causal they should make these links between events and ideas over the longer timeframe. Muldoon supports a more explicit commitment to what he describes as “an evolutionary perspective” toward “the significance of international organizations – their past, present, and future forms – in the architecture of global governance” (Muldoon 2004:12), while Watson notes early in his introduction his view that although understanding of the present can be informed by knowledge of the past, “we will not gain much understanding if we merely trace our present arrangements back in time.” Rather, Watson takes the position that “we need to examine the different patterns of relations between states in their own individuality and on their own merits; and then compare them” (Watson 1992:1).

Other writers take positions somewhere in between these two, or adopt a combination of approaches. David Boucher notes that “events have a place” in his study of Political Theories of International Relations, “in so far as they set the problems which the philosophers address”; but he presents these theorists’ ideas thematically rather than chronologically, organized according to what he sees as “three distinct ways of thinking about criteria of conduct in international relations” (Boucher 1998:12). Torbjørn Knutsen observes that “International Relations […] does not ‘evolve’ in the sense that it steadily accumulates a body of knowledge about a constantly confined subject-matter,” and as such he adds that his historical survey is limited to an attempt “to sketch some of the ways in which past observers have sought to understand the nature and logic of international politics” (Knutsen 1992:6). Nonetheless, Knutsen also identifies three phases of development in International Relations theory that are bounded by historical events – first the emergence of critical basic concepts such as “state” and “sovereignty” during the years of the Renaissance and Reformation; second, the inclusion of these core notions within larger explanatory frameworks during the three centuries from the Thirty Years War to the industrial revolution and late nineteenth century European nationalism; and third, “the transition from the modern to the contemporary phase” containing the two world wars, the Cold War, and post-Cold War fragmentation (Knutsen 1992:4–5).

A landmark figure in thinking about war, peace, and statecraft during the earliest period undoubtedly remains the classical Greek general and historian Thucydides (460–395 bce); his History of the Peloponnesian War, chronicling the conflict between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta, features prominently in virtually all discussions of the subsequent emergence and development of ideas and practices of conflict management. In discussing the first of his three phases, Knutsen highlights Thucydides’ strong influence upon the work of Francesco Guicciardini, whose descriptions of Lorenzo de’ Medici provided a picture of the Italian city-states system of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and the application of ideas about balance-of-power politics to the management of these city-states’ ongoing political and economic rivalries. Although Guicciardini’s contemporary Machiavelli – whose most famous treatises The Prince and The Discourses were published only after his death in 1527 – was less influenced by the work of Thucydides, Knutsen adds that he nonetheless borrowed stories from The Peloponnesian War and, like Thucydides and Livy, he believed firmly that the lessons of history could be employed as a valuable tool for the political education of state leaders (Knutsen 1992:33–40; Boucher 1998:90–144).

While there is agreement about the prominent role of Thucydides more generally in shaping the works of subsequent theorists, and especially of The Peloponnesian War as a central text of what later would become the Realist strand of international relations theory, less consensus exists regarding how exactly to define his place within that body of theory. David Boucher places the Greek historian within the boundaries of what he describes as “Empirical Realism” (Boucher 1998:29–31, 67–89); and Michael W. Doyle sets out four strands of Realism, situating Thucydides within what he terms “Complex Realism” (Doyle 1997:41–92). John Vasquez observes that the chronicler of the war between Athens and Sparta can be read today as making larger observations about morality versus power, reason versus action, or the potential abuse of power by a “Great Power” state (Vasquez 1996:1). Assessing the contents and the merits of these various interpretations goes outside of the scope of the present review: it may instead be sufficient here simply to follow the line of Karen Mingst, introducing Thucydides to students of international relations – and to those interested especially in understanding international conflict – as providing us with the first systematic study to seek to distinguish clearly and deliberately between “the underlying and the immediate causes of wars” (Mingst 2004:5).

Muldoon, Boucher, and Knutsen each offer reviews that take us from Thucydides through the collapse of Rome, into the theologically defined and inspired thinking of the Middle Ages. Knutsen and Muldoon respectively locate and discuss two of the most notable contributors to thinking about conflict and order during these years, St. Augustine in the fifth century and St. Thomas Aquinas in the mid-thirteenth century, within the context of the transition from medieval to modern worlds and the early Judeo-Christian (theological, rather than secular) tradition. Both would agree with Boucher, who, following his thematic-chronological framework, presents the ideas of Augustine and Aquinas together within what he sees as the historical emergence of the second of his three identified bodies of theoretical work, “Universal Moral Order.”

In his City of God, St. Augustine laid out the necessity of the state as a vehicle for maintaining peace and accommodating what he believed was mankind’s social, but Fallen and imperfect, nature. More significantly in terms of how contemporary scholarship remembers his writing, Augustine also described the several criteria of justness on the basis of which he argued that a monarch could decide to engage in war (Boucher 1998:186–7). Muldoon points out that St. Thomas Aquinas’s eight-volume Summa Theologica, published in 1270, differs from Augustine in presenting a more optimistic view, inspired by Aquinas’ reading of Aristotle, that “a world order of peace, a ‘common order of reason’ is found in natural law” (Muldoon 2004:27–8). Nonetheless as Knutsen notes, during this period the Christian Church still was considered to exercise absolute authority over all other entities, and monarchs everywhere owed obedience and submission to the Pope in Rome, as God’s representative on Earth (Knutsen 1992:18–19). There was as yet no room for discussion of secular authority, or of the political sovereignty of states, and thus also no conception of “international organization” in any speculations regarding the waging of war or the making of peace. Europe would have to transition through the Renaissance and into the Reformation era, adding the divergent works and ideas of Desiderius Erasmus, Francesco de Vitoria, Suarez, Gentili, Guicciardini, Jean Bodin, and most famously (or notoriously, at the time) Machiavelli, before political thought – and politically ambitious monarchs – developed in ways that took it past the supranational authority of the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, and into the “international” system of politically sovereign states (Muldoon 2004:32–5).

From Westphalia to World War I: Plans for Peace

Introducing his thoughtful study of the UN, historian Paul Kennedy observed of these earlier works of theological and political thought that “it comes as no surprise that most of these texts were composed near the end of, or shortly after, a great and bloody war” and that they therefore were primarily reactive, intended by their authors as “efforts to […] escape the repeated struggles between cities, monarchies, and states, and to establish long-lasting peace” (Kennedy 2006:3). This certainly was as true of the second period under review here as it was of the previous one. The new sovereign states system of the seventeenth century indeed was forged “on the anvil of the Thirty Years War” (Knutsen 1992:69, 70–6) and then formally acknowledged in the two treaties negotiated at the congresses of Münster and Osnabrück that together constituted the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (Holsti 1991:25–42). Hugo Grotius’s 1625 publication De Jure Belli et Pacis (“On the Law of War and Peace”) and Émeric Crucé’s proposals in 1623 for a universal organization of all states were written by witnesses of the ongoing conflicts between England, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, and Spain (Boucher 1998:209); and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was profoundly shaped by his thinking about each of these conflicts and, of course, by his years of direct experience of the English Civil War (Knutsen 1992:86–92).

Most of the contemporary scholars of international relations and international organization cited in this essay divide the treatises and proposals that arose during the next three centuries through to the end of the nineteenth century into three broad schools or “traditions,” although they vary regarding definitions of the boundaries of these schools and each is aware of the artificiality and porous nature of the lines that they have chosen to draw. Michael Doyle suggests a division into realism (including Hobbes and Rousseau), liberalism (including Locke, Bentham, Smith, and Kant), and socialism (with Marx and Engels as his main instances); David Boucher prefers the framework of empirical realism, universal moral order (placing Grotius, Locke, and Kant primarily within this tradition), and historical reason (here including Rousseau, Burke, Hegel, and Marx); James Muldoon adopts the framework originally proposed by Martin Wight, of realists (beginning with Hobbes, Pufendorf, and Spinoza), rationalists (Grotius, Crucé, Locke, Penn, and Smith), and then adding in the eighteenth century revolutionists (Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Kant). There also are differences of opinion expressed by the contemporary scholars in their interpretations of some of the historical figures – with Boucher, for example, seeking to qualify the common view of Hobbes’ pessimistic picture of the state of nature in human relations, arguing that Hobbes “believed that not only had there been, but also that there could continue to be, progress” in relations between states through the emergence and development of constraints on their actions (Boucher 1998:149).

Rather than exploring the comparative merits of these various frameworks for representing theoretical traditions in the emerging literature, or of the interpretations of individual historical figures’ work, it is more useful and relevant now to highlight a number of these and other scholars’ most commonly cited examples of seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century authors of peace plans and proposals for “settling disputes or for channeling peaceful change” (Bennett 1991:10). While the earliest theorists and philosophers brought out important discussions of war causation, and basic notions of political–social conflict management in divergent settings, political thinking about the context of state interactions and new mechanisms for constraining state behavior had not yet – by the early seventeenth century – reached what Inis Claude termed the “era of preparation for international organization” (Alger 2006:5). That would wait another 200 years. In the nearly three centuries from the Thirty Years War to the beginning of World War I, scholars of international organization do identify a number of proposals that arguably demonstrate the development, growth, and deepening of thought about such mechanisms.

Peace Plans of the Seventeenth Century

The first “plan of merit” commonly cited in international organization literature for the ending of conflicts between states – setting aside Pierre Dubois’ thirteenth century proposal for an alliance of Christian rulers under French leadership who would cooperate to pursue wars against non-Christians while using the Pope as a final arbiter of their own disputes – is that of the French scholar Émeric Crucé, presented in The New Cyneas in 1623, in the midst of the Thirty Years War (Bennett 1991:11; Knutsen 1992:81–2; Muldoon 2004:45–6). After discussing conflict and order within states, Crucé turns to war and peace amongst them; he proposes that all states, including those of the Islamic world, India, and China, should send ambassadors (not princes) to a permanent “general assembly” located in a neutral, centrally located city. These ambassadors would form a tribunal to hear and resolve disputes between states and if necessary, “pursue with arms those who would wish to oppose it” (Muldoon 2004:46). In his detailed plan, this seventeenth century Frenchman appears to offer a blueprint for a League of Nations; Knutsen claims also that Crucé was notably forward-looking in his belief that merchants and manufacturers held a vested interest in peace, as opposed to princes who otherwise might “seek amusement in war” while using religion as mere pretext (Knutsen 1992:82).

The ideas of a contemporary of Crucé, Maximilien de Béthune, Duc de Sully and trusted minister of French King Henry IV, are cited as another significant instance of a proposal foreshadowing a role for international organizations in ending (or preventing) conflict between states. His scheme for peace involved the division of Europe equally into a Christian Commonwealth of 15 states, to eliminate the need for fear or envy amongst them; each state would send a delegate to sit on a permanent “General Council” that would be empowered to resolve disputes; and each state would contribute on a quota basis to a military force, with that force to be larger than the army of any single state and thus able to uphold the decisions of the General Council and to keep the peace (Muldoon 2004:46). The Duc de Sully and Henry IV had made detailed preparations to seek to implement the proposal when the King was assassinated in 1610 (Knutsen 1992:121).

The Eighteenth Century: Peace Plans and “Revolutionism”

The examples of Crucé’s and Sully’s proposals for a permanent, or regularly convened, congress or other form of general assembly composed of delegates from all states, meeting to resolve disputes between those states and empowered with the authority and the capacity to do so against any state that rejected its decisions, usually are followed in contemporary reviews of the field by consideration of two similar frameworks – that advanced in 1694 by William Penn in his Essay toward the Present and Future Peace of Europe, and the second two decades later in 1712 by Charles-Irénée Castel, Abbé de Saint-Pierre. James Muldoon makes the point that despite their innovative ideas, “these early thinkers of international organization were marginal to the philosophical center, which was preoccupied with the state and its organization” (Muldoon 2004:46). Bennett would agree, commenting that “in spite of the access of many of the philosophers discussed […] to rulers or to government circles, the impact of their ideas upon government practices seems to have been minimal” (Bennett 1991:12). Knutsen, tracing the intellectual lineage of international relations theory, makes the same point although at the same time he observes that the Abbé’s Plan of Perpetual Peace, itself an update of the Duc de Sully’s earlier ideas, would be read closely by the radical French intellectual and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the mid-eighteenth century. Rousseau believed that such proposals failed to recognize that European politics had evolved since the reign of Henry IV, and that no monarch after the Peace of Westphalia would agree to place himself peacefully under a “semi-compulsory” commonwealth led by a single, powerful ruler (such as a French king).

Rousseau, whose own political writing would help to inspire the Jacobins and the French Revolution, did not criticize the merits or the internal logic of Castel’s plan. Instead, he argued that the Abbé’s proposal was too good and too sensible, its scheme too reasonable, to be accepted by kings and leaders who no longer recognized their true interests and who would “know no other way to react to it than with ridicule” (Knutsen 1992:121). Rousseau’s suggested alternative for Europe, presented in 1782 in light of the American War of Independence and the revolutionaries’ subsequent discussions there regarding new constitutional arrangements to govern the relations between the states, was for a cooperative and voluntary federation of republics.

The period of the War of Independence also directly influenced the thoughts of Thomas Paine, whose two most famous pieces – Common Sense published in 1776, and Rights of Man in 1791–2 – are described as “the first serious treatments of the idea of ‘democratic peace’ and cosmopolitanism”, and were circulating in thousands of copies in several languages throughout Europe by the time that the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant (having published his Critique of Pure Reason in 1781 to initially very limited reviews) produced his political treatise, Perpetual Peace, in 1795 (Muldoon 2004:55). For Europeans, of course, the years 1789–99 also were the decade of turmoil and intellectual ferment brought about by, and associated with, the French Revolution. Despite Paine’s early fame, it has been Kant’s arguments for a world society constituted of republican states, gathered in a voluntary federation with a congress to settle conflicts amongst them, which have led to his name now being associated with a third tradition of international relations and international organization theory – the Kantian tradition, or for James Muldoon (drawing on Martin Wight’s categorizations), Revolutionism.

David Boucher disagrees with the interpretation of Kant’s cosmopolitanism advanced by Knutsen – and before him, by Hedley Bull (1977) in his essay on anarchy and international society in Butterfield and Wight’s 1966 edited volume Diplomatic Investigations, and presumably also implicitly that of Muldoon who adopts Wight’s categorization. Whereas Knutsen and Bull argue that Kant believed that the “fictitious Society of Nations” ought to be replaced with a “genuine international society of all men”, according to Boucher, in fact Kant’s cosmopolitanism “was not of a radical kind […] he was quite happy to accommodate state sovereignty into his plan for perpetual peace” based on the rule of law within and between republican states (Boucher 1998:269–70). Republicanism would give representation to the views of civil society within the state, but it also is worth noting that this did not for Kant mean democracy as a form of state and focus of sovereignty. It meant the separation of executive and legislative powers as a type of government, such that a monarch still might be the executive power in a state while representative institutions held legislative powers (Boucher 1998:276). This understanding may not have been the sort of “democratic individualism” and popular sovereignty that more recent scholars argue was ushered in by the American and French revolutions and which, translated to the international level, would support “a rational search for cooperative alternatives and agreed rules of state conduct” and the creation of modern international law and institutions (Ziring et al. 2000:6–7).

Whatever the differing interpretations of his ideas and intent, Kant’s Perpetual Peace remains as a landmark work in the development of international relations theory, and in international organization theory regarding the management or ending of conflict between states (Knutsen 1992:125–7; Boucher 1998:277–84). Even so, neither Kant nor Rousseau, nor the political thinkers and proponents of peace plans before them, were able to exert any great influence upon government’s practices and state behavior in international affairs. As Bennett observed, their ideas were not dominant or exclusive; and the wider contextual conditions – including popular ideas of laissez-faire and democratic nationalism, growing economic interdependence, and new technologies of war and of commerce – that would be conducive of greater international cooperation did not yet exist (Bennett 1991:12–13). These would emerge during the nineteenth century, though as noted at the beginning of this section still within a framework of international affairs that centered on self-interested coordination of policies and actions by the great European powers of the day.

The Nineteenth Century: Preconditions for International Organization?

International organization literature portrays the nineteenth century as a dynamic period of innovation in thought and, eventually, in state practice toward forms of interstate organization intended to prevent, manage, and end conflicts of various kinds – military, political and economic, or commercial. These new forms included the 1815 Congress of Vienna and its system of periodic congresses between 1815 and 1870, and the unofficial conventions that guided the major European powers during the so-called Concert of Europe that in practice replaced the congresses when the latter proved too visionary for the leaders of the day (Holsti 1991:167; Weiss et al. 1997:23), as well as the proliferation of quite narrowly defined forms of technical or administrative “modern” international organization. These began with the Central Rhine Commission in 1804, and then followed the several new public international administrative unions – such as the International Telegraphic Union in 1865, and the Universal Postal Union in 1874 – created to manage states’ increasingly dense economic relations in the age of the industrial revolution (Ziring et al. 2000:7–8; Alger 2006:69–70). Regarding the theme of international organizations as mechanisms for ending conflict, this period most often is argued to have culminated in the “Hague System” of peace conferences in 1899 and 1907 (Ziring et al. 2000:9; Muldoon 2004:106–7; Alger 2006:7).

As these preceding references suggest, there are many good recent publications that give short sketches of the emergence of international organization during the nineteenth century, but a very useful historical and thematic examination of these developments still remains that offered by Inis Claude’s text Swords into Plowshares, first published in 1956. Claude argued that there were four prerequisites for the development of international organization: first, the existence of a system of states functioning as independent political units; second, a substantial amount of contact (political, economic, and other) between these units; third, awareness by the leaders of the states regarding the problems and demands that arise from their coexistence and frequent contact; and fourth, the recognition by leaders of the need to create institutions or other systematic methods to help regulate their relations with the other states. The first two prerequisites are said to be “objective facts or conditions,” while the latter pair of prerequisites are subjective in nature (Claude 1971:21). Claude then offers as examples the same three streams of development of international organization already noted by the more recent sources cited above: the Concert of Europe, the public international unions and the Hague conferences (Claude 1971:25–39).

Contemporary critical international relations scholarship questions whether even the state and the state system, or the nature and forms of the contacts between them, can be described properly as “objective facts” when these also are expressions of power relationships. Claude also saw the subjective element in his examples and was aware of the dangers of assuming simple linear development of ideas, practices, or institutional forms. The Concert of Europe system was, he observed, in practice chiefly a “hegemony of the powerful” whose leading members were “self-appointed guardians of the European community” (Claude 1971:25). He might have added that “community” here generally meant the reigning monarchs such as Tsar Alexander of Russia, or government elites – such as Metternich of Austria, or Britain’s Castlereagh and Wellington – who had been made anxious by the populism of the French Revolution (Watson 1992:238–9). Cautioning against any overstatement of the contribution of the Concert system to the emergence of international organization as a tool for ending conflicts, he does observe that “Sitting around a conference table does not transform selfish nationalists and arrogant power politicians into a collegium of world-minded, justice-oriented statesmen of humanity” (Claude 1971:28).

After the 1899 conference attracted 26 states, mainly from Europe, the 1907 Hague conference had been a more global event attended by 44 states, including several from Latin America. The delegates at these meetings sought to promote the development of a “rationalistic and legalistic” approach to the peaceful settlement of international disputes and to a systematic rather than expedient and improvised framework for the ending (or avoiding) of war – which the earlier Concert system had been. Nonetheless, Claude points out that “almost everyone is for peace in the abstract and is likely to be for war in certain specific situations” (Claude 1971:32–3). That would prove to be the case in 1914, as Darwinism and nationalism, Great Power imperial rivalries, and the decline of the old European empires, added to governments’ belief in the probability of short wars (from the examples of the rapid Prussian victories of 1866 and 1870), fed into a political and social context in which the advances in international organization represented by the Hague conferences collapsed into the outbreak of World War I.

International Organization, 1919–39: Forwards and/or Backwards?

Describing the “process” of development of international organizations during the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, Chadwick Alger quotes Gerard Mangone’s observation that “only looking back from the twentieth century with its multitude of international offices, does the procession of organizations seem so steady in its gait, so certain of its future” (Alger 2006:70). The war of 1914–18, notes Paul Kennedy, “had immense consequences, unintended by the decision makers of 1914” that were felt in international as well as in domestic political, economic, and social affairs (Kennedy 2006:7). One outcome of the conflict – and a part of the peace settlement that ended the war – was the new international body, the League of Nations.

In contemporary international studies scholarship, “only a handful of eccentric historians still bother to study the League of Nations,” and any discussion of the organization “evokes images of earnest bureaucrats, fuzzy liberal supporters, futile resolutions, unproductive fact-finding missions and, above all, failure” (MacMillan 2001:83). There is more than a grain of truth in Margaret MacMillan’s comment, as a search for scholarly monographs on the League published in the past three decades provides a relatively small handful of works, most often with a focus primarily on a key political leader such as Woodrow Wilson (Knock 1995; Kuehl and Dunn 1997; Cooper 2001) or on a state’s foreign policy (Egerton 1978; Luck 1999) rather than on the League itself. MacMillan, in her renowned study of the Versailles peace conference, Paris 1919, devotes one chapter to the details of the initial discussions regarding the founding of the League, although there are numerous references to the new organization throughout her book.

Despite what we now know as the ultimate failure of the League to prevent, manage, or end the geopolitical and strategic conflicts of interest that arose in the two decades after 1919, in part from the real or perceived inequities of the Versailles settlement and in part simply as a consequence of ongoing clashes of interest between states, and that would culminate in war once more erupting around the world, Kennedy reminds us that this negative view of the League experiment was not how it initially was greeted. In 1919, the new League “was the closest the world community had come to creating a parliament of man, and its proceedings generated much excitement and hope throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s” (Kennedy 2006:9). Indeed, Kennedy points out that the League had several successes in either ending or managing a variety of difficult territorial and political disputes: between Finland and Sweden over the Aaland Islands in 1920; between Poland and Lithuania over Vilna and Memel; between Germany and Poland over Upper Silesia; and between Britain, Turkey, and Iraq over the former Ottoman province of Mosul – eventually awarding the latter to Iraq. The League also supervised the Free City of Danzig through the instrument of a high commissioner, and it awarded to Belgium the disputed districts of Eupen and Malmédy after overseeing a successful plebiscite (Kennedy 2006:10–11). Kennedy quotes Cambridge University emeritus professor and historian Zara Steiner, who observed in her comprehensive 2005 study of interwar European political and economic history from 1919 to 1933, The Lights that Failed, that the League’s participation in these fractious disputes “made it easier for the loser to accept unwelcome judgments.” This “third-party” role for an international organization in addressing conflicts is one that would be familiar to students of the UN.

The general history of the League between 1919 and 1939, and the detailed instances in which it proved to be institutionally incapable of preventing or ending conflicts involving the major European and Asian powers, have been dealt with by numerous excellent works such as that by Steiner, and need not be recounted here. Kalevi Holsti’s survey of peace and conflicts from 1648 to 1989 identifies an extensive list of issues – 19 categories – which he argues generated up to 30 wars and major armed interventions in “the central international system” between 1918 and 1941 (Holsti 1991:213–28). Ziring et al. identify and offer critiques of five general types of explanation regarding the failure(s) of the League: unwillingness of its member states to support the principles of the Covenant; problems and weaknesses arising from the organization’s institutional structures and procedures; the absence of the United States of America from membership; the close association of the League with the “unjust” Versailles peace settlement ending World War I; and finally, at a theoretical as well as practical level, the inability of any collective security system to keep the peace indefinitely in a world of sovereign states. Their own conclusion is that “no single theory suffices” and that “one might even conclude that bad luck had something to do with it,” including the additional complication of a worldwide economic depression (Ziring et al. 2000:17–19). Kennedy likewise reviews the list of new conflicts and systemic stresses and their interaction with domestic economic, social, and political upheavals, concluding that by September 1939, “the world seemed no different from the way it had been in 1914, or even 1648” (Kennedy 2006:24). The League had not transformed international politics, nor significantly altered the interests or behavior of the major powers in the international system.

The United Nations and Ending Conflicts

Several excellent texts on the UN have been written in the past few years, such as Chadwick Alger’s The United Nations System (2006), Courtney Smith’s Politics and Process at the United Nations (2006) and Karen Mingst and Margaret Karns’ International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance (2004) as well as their more recent The United Nations in the 21st Century (2006). Paul Diehl’s edited volume The Politics of Global Governance (2005), and Crocker et al.’s Turbulent Peace (2001), address an array of issues regarding the nature of conflict, forms of international intervention, political negotiation, the roles of institutions, and the challenges of peacekeeping, on a broader international relations basis. Jacques Fomerand’s Historical Dictionary of the United Nations (2007) offers numerous useful, brief entries. However, the most comprehensive current survey of the history, structures and functioning of the United Nations Organization is Thomas Weiss and Sam Daws’s 800-page edited volume, The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (Weiss and Daws 2007). With several chapters addressing the varied international peace and security roles and activities of the UN (some of which, such as Jane Boulden’s piece on terrorism or Keith Krause’s article on disarmament, are left to review essays dealing with those specific topics), the Handbook can be used here as a convenient and contemporary body of work upon which to trace and to assess the literature and debates regarding the UN and ending conflicts.

Similarly to the structure of Diehl’s volume, the more recent collection by Weiss and Daws includes a trio of insightful essays by Michael Barnett and Martha Finnemore, José Alvarez, and Leon Gordenker and Christer Jönsson, respectively, examining the theoretical frameworks used by contemporary scholars to analyze international organization in general, and the UN in particular. These three essays first identify and explore political approaches such as realism, neoliberal institutionalism, or rational choice analysis, the “English school” (which would have included Benedict and Kingsbury), constructivism, and Gramscian critical analysis; second, provide a thoughtful reflection about legal perspectives on how international organizations have influenced the making, implementation, and enforcement of international law; and finally, set out a discussion of what constitutes new “knowledge” about international organization and the UN. The broader conceptual and theoretical ideas, and related questions about international organization, that are raised by these opening chapters can be found – sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly – in the later chapters on peace and security; and hence they also will be incorporated here in the generally policy-oriented discussions of the role of the UN in ending conflicts.

Peaceful Settlement of Conflict

Rama Mani’s commentary on the UN’s roles in “Peaceful Settlement of Disputes and Conflict Prevention” notes that Article 1 of the UN Charter “concisely states the organization’s principal objective – ‘to maintain international peace and security’ – and the ways in which that goal is to be attained – collectively, peacefully, and preventively” (Weiss and Daws 2007:300). Preventing conflict, and resolving disputes through peaceful means, constituted the first priority and the core objectives of the new international organization. As Mani indicates, and as other texts on the UN normally note, the instruments for pursuing these objectives were quite traditional and included negotiation, enquiry, mediation, arbitration, and other political and judicial modes of pacific settlement (Weiss and Daws 2007:303–8: also see, for example, Bennett 1991:96–102; Ziring et al. 2000:210–13).

Pacific settlement of disputes falls more substantially within the ambit of a review essay on international organization (or international law) and preventing conflicts rather than the current focus on ending them – taking “conflict” to mean violent action, and not merely the existence of conflicting or competing interests that might, left unchecked, escalate into violent clashes and possibly war. Further exploration of the use of such measures thus will be left to others. However, one issue of interest should be raised here, as it speaks also to the concerns of the critical political theories of international organization and conflict resolution noted earlier. Despite the lofty rhetoric surrounding the founding of the UN in 1945, and what Stephen Schlesinger describes as “the unusual intellect and honest idealism” especially of the seven members of the US delegation to the San Francisco conference (Schlesinger 2003:xvii), the experiences of two world wars and a global economic depression, the failure of the League of Nations, and the first modern systematic realist analysis of international relations that had been penned by E.H. Carr in The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919–1939 (1939: see also Weiss and Daws 2007:11), all fed into a healthy degree of pragmatism, and a strong bias in favor of sustaining the international status quo, in the institutional design of new postwar international organization. This pragmatism and limited scope for change can be seen in the tensions between the placing of a strong priority on the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the rising demands by smaller states and developing world populations for significant changes in the structure and functioning of the postwar international system.

Michael Howard, writing in Roberts and Kingsbury’s 1993 text United Nations, Divided World about the UN’s historical role in international security affairs, describes as fundamentally conservative the assumptions underlying the new organization in 1945. First, the UN Charter took the sovereign state as the essential building block of international order, and its functioning depended on the cooperation and good will of its member states. Second, the founders of the UN assumed the existence amongst its member states of at least sufficient cultural and ideological compatibility to allow for consensus on basic issues. Third, it was taken that there was a willingness on the part of member states – including the most powerful – not to use force unilaterally (the use of force in self-defense was permitted, but if force was not used unilaterally in the first instance, of course, this would not become necessary). Fourth and most importantly, Howard argues, “a general and equal interest was assumed in the preservation of the status quo post bellum,” with change being permitted only by general – and therefore presumably peaceful – consent (Roberts and Kingsbury 1993:64–5). Added to these conservative and static, state-centric foundations, and to the considerable chagrin of smaller states who raised their objections vociferously but futilely in San Francisco, the five major victorious allied powers of the war (the “Big Three” of the US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, plus China and France) insisted that they were to be given special status on the new UN Security Council and responsibility for maintaining, and enforcing, international security and order (Schlesinger 2003:193–207). Of course, they would be at the top of the new postwar system.

Amongst the several challenges that she argues face the UN in the early twenty-first century in its pursuit of pacific settlement of disputes and conflict prevention, Mani lists as being the most important the need for the organization to focus its efforts more effectively and substantially on the issue of systemic conflict prevention. Violent conflicts are embedded within the system itself, and as the contributors to Fen Osler Hampson and David M. Malone’s edited volume From Reaction to Conflict Prevention illustrate, these require a wide and different array of measures ranging from addressing immediate causes, to identifying deeper underlying frictions and potential political, economic, and social rifts within and across states and societies (Hampson and Malone 2002). Quoting Michael Lund, Mani believes that these are “fundamentally liberalization conflicts” and an expression of “the dilemma that the very institutions and practices of market liberalization and political democratization that might be desirable in the long run provoke conflicts” in the short term. Croatia, Bosnia, and Burundi are given as examples. Until conflict prevention at the systemic level is addressed by international organizations including the UN and also the major international financial and trade organizations, Mani cites Barnett Rubin in arguing that even those policy makers and others in the developed world “engaged in the work of international prevention are no more than half-heartedly patching up damage we have an interest in perpetuating” (Weiss and Daws 2007:317).

Ending Conflicts through Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Enforcement

This broader criticism of the pacific settlement and conflict prevention efforts of the UN – and, indeed, of all international organization(s) – as being well intentioned and perhaps even successful in specific instances, but unable to address the more fundamental issue of systemic conflict, also can be found regarding the UN’s activities in the realms of peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding. There exists a vast body of excellent scholarly studies of UN peacekeeping missions, whether looking at the strategic, operational, and institutional challenges of post-Cold War (and earlier) peacekeeping, or at peacekeeping as a concept or “theory” of international action. These include: analytic volumes such as Bellamy et al.’s 2004 text Understanding Peacekeeping; Jett’s more critical Why Peacekeeping Fails (2001) or Thakur and Schnabel’s United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (2001); the detailed summaries of current and past missions now available in the Annual Review of Global Peace Operations from the Center on International Cooperation; “bottom-up” examinations of the critical need to understand and engage with the lives and experiences of ordinary local inhabitants (Pouligny 2006); and the wide range of topics addressed in each issue of the United Kingdom-based journal, International Peacekeeping.

In their 2006 publication Making War and Building Peace, Michael Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis examine the three “generational paradigms” of UN peacekeeping – first-generation narrower peacekeeping with consent of the parties (e.g., the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization in 1948 on the Arab–Israeli ceasefire, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan in Kashmir, the United Nations Yemen Observation Mission in Yemen, the United Nations Angola Verification Mission I and II in Angola, and ONUCA – the United Nations Observer Group in Central America – in Central America); second-generation peacekeeping, including additional activities such as domestic election monitoring (e.g., the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group in Namibia, the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador, the United Nations Transitional Authority for Eastern Slavonia, and the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ); and third-generation complex humanitarian operations that may be conducted without all parties’ consent and under a UN Charter Chapter VII mandate for use of force (Doyle and Sambanis 2006; Weiss and Daws 2007:324–48: see also Edgar and Ifantis 2007:495–518).

Carefully examining 61 “principal UN peacekeeping missions” from 1947 to 2006, Doyle and Sambanis identify the common causes of success and of failure in each generation of peace operations, and consider the value of neoliberal, neorealist, and constructivist theories as means of explaining conflict resolution successes or failures. They determine that a better framework for understanding is the use of two classic game situations, coordination and cooperation, that incorporate elements of each theory. Conflicts that are described as cooperation problems require “transformative intervention strategies” such as third-generation multidimensional peacekeeping operations, while “facilitative peacekeeping strategies” characteristic of second- or first-generation monitoring and peacekeeping are effective in ending conflicts based upon coordination problems (Edgar and Ifantis 2007:507–9; Weiss and Daws 2007:334–6). The authors argue that success in third-generation, complex peacekeeping operations may be found by transforming the conflicting parties’ preferences, and even the parties themselves – and therefore transforming a cooperation problem into a coordination problem. They recommend “the institution-building aspects of peacekeeping as a revolutionary transformation in which voters and politicians replace soldiers and generals; armies become parties; war economies, peace economies” (Weiss and Daws 2007:336).

Doyle and Sambanis are careful to emphasize the difficulty and complexity of such transformative peacekeeping, and the need for UN missions to achieve local consent in a “participatory peace.” Their goal or ideal for UN peacekeeping missions is to “create the conditions for a self-sustaining democratic peace” (Weiss and Daws 2007:344). In this sense, their underlying objectives and fundamental assumptions are similar to those of Roland Paris in the latter’s discussion of the UN’s efforts in 22 post-conflict peacebuilding operations between 1989 and 2005. As the UN has become engaged increasingly in third-generation peacekeeping, it also has – eventually – learned the lesson that it must support states in the long and uncertain, but vitally necessary, process of building sustainable peace. Just as with peacekeeping, this subject too has generated a growing collection of studies by scholars and practitioners on a wide range of issues such as the politics of peacebuilding (Cousens and Kumar 2001); the need for justice, reconciliation, and the rule of law (Rigby 2001; Rausch 2006; Hughes et al. 2007; Kerr and Mobekk 2007; Bull 2008; Marchak 2008); the roles of nongovernmental organizations and local civil society groups (Terry 2002; Weissman 2004; Bortolotti 2006; Reychler and Paffenholz 2006; Minear and Smith 2007; Orbinski 2008); the demand for post-conflict development (Junne and Verkoren 2005); the problems of refugees and internally displaced persons (Newman and van Selm 2003); and the challenges of dealing with potential “spoilers” of peacebuilding – that is, those who have profited criminally, financially, and politically from the chaos and violence (Ballentine and Sherman 2003; Newman and Richmond 2006).

Like Doyle and Sambanis, Paris is aware of the complex operational and other challenges faced by the UN in building peace in post-conflict societies. These include the danger that “rapid economic liberalization can also undermine efforts to promote postwar political stability” in states and societies emerging from conflicts and seeking to avoid a return to violence (Weiss and Daws 2007:418). Still, Paris joins his colleagues in supporting a “strategy of promoting peace through democratization and marketization” on the grounds that “well-established democracies tend to be more peaceful both internally and in their relations with other states than non-democracies, and some form of market-oriented economic system appears to be a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for long-term economic growth” (Weiss and Daws 2007:418).

While exercising caution about modalities in advancing the case for its implementation – Paris, for example, adds the proviso that “countries have unique histories and traditions of social organization, which create different challenges and opportunities for conflict resolution” (Weiss and Daws 2007:419) – all three authors share a general belief in the idea of a “democratic peace,” a liberal–idealist thesis made popular amongst political scientists especially by Michael Doyle in his pair of 1983 journal articles on “Kant, Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs,” and that challenged realist interpretations of international relations. Advancing his own thesis regarding the essential need for political and administrative institution building in post-conflict states as a priority goal for the UN or other international organizations, rather than a focus first on “grassroots” or bottom-up social and economic development, Paris argues that “democratic polities (and market-oriented economies) cannot be built on nothing: they presuppose the existence of public institutions to enforce rules and to structure political and economic competition” (Weiss and Daws 2007:423).

The so-called “liberal democratic peace” thesis generated considerable debate through the later 1980s and 1990s between its liberal–idealist advocates and critics – realists or those who questioned the general historical accuracy or the empirical data used by the former group. This literature need not be addressed here, as it should be covered amply in other review essays on international organization and preventing war, or international organization and building peace. However, as with the broader critique offered by Rama Mani regarding the UN’s pacific settlement efforts, both Michael Pugh and Oliver Richmond argue that there are important but insufficiently understood flaws or biases that lie behind and beneath the very framing of contemporary international organizations’ approaches to ending conflicts through peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and “peace enforcement.”

Paralleling the views of Lund and Rubin as raised by Mani, Michael Pugh worries that even though a specific UN peacekeeping, peacebuilding, or especially “third-generation” peace enforcement operation can be portrayed by the organization as contributing to a peace process or protecting civilians from widespread harm and abuse (and indeed, may be doing so on the ground), “its underlying strategic function is generally to contribute to an international order that maintains a global hierarchy.” At the same time, Pugh argues that “the consistent norm in enforcement is its basis in interests as conceived by the ruling elites of intervening states” (Weiss and Daws 2007:370). There is a mixture of structural and instrumental Marxist, and Gramscian, critiques in Pugh’s analysis. Discussing NATO’s use of the concept of peace enforcement in conjunction with the UN’s role(s) in collective security as a means to issue itself with “a permit to go to war with a designated enemy,” he cites Johan Galtung’s formulation of “structural violence” and the equivalence between military and nonmilitary forms of coercion or enforcement. Nonmilitary coercion over the have-not peoples and states by powerful (Western–Northern) states, multinational corporations, and international financial institutions “brings death from poverty-related causes (in the order of 20,000 deaths a day)” (Weiss and Daws 2007:371–2). The representation of the UN’s roles in the Korean War in 1950, the 1991 Gulf War, and then in 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as peace enforcement operations “serves the cause of politico-military window-dressing by camouflaging militarism as pacification,” while in fact “none of these wars entailed any operational leadership on the part of the UN or Security Council instructions as to how action could be taken” (Weiss and Daws 2007:372).

Pugh is skeptical of the recently adopted UN doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, and of the justifications of the NATO missions in northern Iraq and Kosovo as “human security operations” that were precursors to the development and expression of that doctrine in the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (see ICISS 2001; see also Thakur 2006; Thakur in Weiss and Daws 2007:387–403; Weiss 2007). He argues that government-defined interests and capabilities, the opportunity to use and convey images of success, and the ability to avoid financial burdens and loss of life by contributing (Western) states have been the determinants of whether coalitions of powerful states would pursue peace enforcement actions on behalf of what they termed the “international community.” For Pugh, it has been governing elites, their constructed perceptions of state power, and their adopted and adapted representations of enforcement that have informed and shaped the UN’s roles in ending conflicts, rather than an “ethical basis for a redistributive justice that mitigates, if not rejects, the disintegrative socioeconomic effects of the global economy” on human security as experienced by the majority of the world’s population (Weiss and Daws 2007:379, 383–4).

Oliver Richmond shares with Mani and Pugh the “critical impulse” in international relations scholarship toward evaluating or understanding the roles of the UN and other international organizations in seeking to end conflicts. He contrasts what he describes as the top-down, institutional, liberal (or neoliberal) peace thesis with a bottom-up, critical focus on “emancipation as the aim of human security” in which “individuals are empowered to negotiate and develop a form of human security that is fitted to their needs – political, economic, and social” and also in which these individuals are “provided with the necessary tools to do so.” Whereas the Responsibility to Protect doctrine of humanitarian intervention leans heavily toward identifying and responding to prevent or to stop further widespread and systematic threats of (physical) harm to civilian populations, Richmond’s emancipatory forms of human security consider as essential not only freedom from threats of physical violence, but also “emancipation from oppression, domination, and hegemony as well as want” (Edgar and Ifantis 2007:460–1).

Returning us to one of the first references in the current essay, this alternative formulation of security – and of the nature and forms of conflict that create insecurity – also has echoes in the cosmopolitan conception of conflict resolution developed and set out by Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, and Miall. Recognizing and accepting the types of critique leveled toward the UN by contemporary critical theorists, they describe the international body as “a hybrid organization, reflecting the coexisting aspects of the international collectivity: at the same time an instrument manipulated by the great powers, a forum for the mutual accommodation of state interests, and a repository of cosmopolitan values.” Even so, they believe that for contemporary scholars working in the field of conflict resolution, “the UN still retains its unique reservoir of legitimacy or integrative power. These are precisely the resources in the end most valued in conflict transformation” and hence, why those engaged in the study and the practice of ending conflicts also regard the international organization as “the essential institutional global framework for the realization of conflict resolution goals” (Ramsbotham et al. 2005:326–7). The ability of the UN Security Council especially to confer legitimacy and, arguably, legality upon international (as well as unilateral and ad hoc coalition) security actions or policies, or to choose to withhold such legitimacy and legality by refusing to authorize action with a Council resolution or even by vetoing such action, gives the world organization an often overlooked but still significant form of soft power resource regarding the use of force and the ending of conflicts (on legitimacy, Coicaud and Heiskanen 2001 – on law and Security Council resolutions, Byers 2000; Ku and Jacobson 2002; Byers 2005 – on the UN and international law, Joyner 1997).

Observations on International Organization and Ending Conflicts

In the January–March 2009 issue of Global Governance journal, Thomas Weiss, Tatiana Carayannis, and Richard Jolly outline a new research agenda to begin to investigate the influence of the “third UN,” which they argue is composed of three main groups – nongovernmental organizations, scholars and expert consultants, and independent commissions of eminent persons – and the ideas and experiences of the key individuals who make up these groups (Weiss et al. 2009:123–42). Their proposed research agenda builds on the invaluable series of studies published as part of the UN Intellectual History Project (UNIHP) that includes works by S. Neil MacFarlane and Yuen Foong-Khong (2006) on the idea and practice of human security, and more recently Bertrand Ramcharan (2008) on the UN and preventive diplomacy, as well as separate studies such as that by Thakur et al. (2005) on international commissions.

They would address three immediate tasks: first, mapping the existing networks of these groups, in a manner similar to that employed by Anne-Marie Slaughter in A New World Order (2004) regarding transgovernmental networks; second, applying the “good network analysis and good ethnographic work” described by Michael Barnett and Martha Finnemore (in Weiss and Daws 2007) in order to achieve a better understanding of the organizational behavior of the UN and its various bodies; and third, identifying and differentiating between the roles and influences of the “three UNs” – that is, the UN of member states; the UN as a secretariat; and their third UN composed of “outside-insiders.” Developing such a research agenda, the authors believe, will be an important contribution to building a better understanding of the UN in practice as well as in theory, because “states and intergovernmental organizations cannot adequately address threats to human security” (Weiss et al. 2009:139).

This research agenda would allow scholars of leading individual UN figures’ role(s) in ending conflicts to move in their analysis more systematically and coherently beyond otherwise interesting and comprehensive biographies such as Samantha Power’s look in Chasing the Flame (2008) at the life of Sergio Vieira de Mello and his work in conflicts such as those in Lebanon, Cambodia, Bosnia, Congo, East Timor, Kosovo and, tragically, Iraq; Manuel Fröhlich’s (2008) study of Dag Hammarskjöld’s political ethics; Kent Kille’s two excellent volumes examining the personal beliefs and values of each of the UN Secretary-Generals (Kille 2006; 2007); James Traub’s (2006) look at the Secretary-Generalship of Kofi Annan; or Carol Off’s (2000) journalistic and insightful comparative look at Canadian generals Lewis MacKenzie and Roméo Dallaire and Justice Louise Arbour. It also would offer a reason for new serious scholarly attention to, and examinations of, the careers of these and other individuals – military and civilian at different levels, inside the UN system but also in other bodies such as national militaries, or with nongovernmental affiliations – engaged in the work of ending conflicts, in a framework that would take the literature past the interesting but inevitably limited biographical pieces (e.g., MacKenzie 1993; Dallaire 2003; Burnett 2005).

Whether conflicts are taking place between states or within them, “violent conflicts are acts of human agency combined with a set of structural circumstances that trigger, cause, or even encourage such acts” (Cochrane 2008:1). While much rigorous scholarly attention – in addition to popular introductory works (Fasulo 2004), reflective insider pieces with limited academic merit (Cain et al. 2004), and primarily polemical intent (Sanjuan 2005) – is paid to questions of practice at the level of the UN as an international organization, and to the problems within the UN Secretariat as a “whole” bureaucracy (Meyer and Califano 2006), there remains an important void to be filed in our detailed knowledge and understanding of the individuals who make up this “third UN,” and the parts that they can play (or might play) in preventing, managing, resolving, and ending conflicts.


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Academic Council on the United Nations System. At, accessed June 12, 2009. ACUNS is a nongovernmental organization focusing on promoting advanced scholarship about the United Nations and the field of international organization. Website access requires membership of ACUNS; contains previous ACUNS publications, and some members’ research papers, as well as links for researchers and for teachers.

Center on International Cooperation. At, accessed June 12, 2009. Part of New York University, the CIC publishes the Annual Review of Global Peace Operations. The website offers free access to reports, other publications, and data from several CIC “Current Projects,” including Evolution of Multilateral Security Institutions, Managing Global Insecurity, and Global Peace Operations.

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United States Institute of Peace, Jeannette Rankin Library. At, accessed June 12, 2009. Provides free access to information under several relevant categories, including the Oral Project on Stability Operations (access to transcripts), the Peace Agreements Digital Collection, and the Truth Commissions Digital Collection. Also offers Annotated Links on regions and topics, and Lists of Links.

UN Peacemaker. At, accessed June 12, 2009. Under the auspices of the UN Department of Political Affairs, this website provides “an online mediation support tool for international peacemaking professionals.” It includes materials and briefings on peace agreements, peacekeeping mandates, managing peacemaking, dealing with spoilers, and other topics of immediate concern to practicing peacemakers. Indirectly offers a useful look into the issues and tasks facing individuals engaged in UN peacemaking.

Uppsala Conflict Data Program. At, accessed June 11, 2009. Led by Project Director Peter Wallensteen at Uppsala University, the UCDP website offers access to conflict databases on conflict termination, peace agreements, managing low-intensity conflicts, and other topics; ongoing research projects include UN in Armed Conflict, and International Mediation in Internal Armed Conflict.