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date: 15 November 2018

Peace Operations

Summary and Keywords

Peace operations involve the expeditionary use of uniformed personnel (police and/or military) whose mission is to help secure “international peace and security.” In many ways, peace operations are the most visible activity of the United Nations with a mandate to deter armed conflict through preventive deployment or help to kick-start a peace process through peacemaking initiatives, among other purposes. Peace operations can be grouped into several categories, including preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, post-conflict peacebuilding, and peace enforcement. There are three clusters of approaches that have tried to think conceptually about the relationship between peace operations and broader processes of global politics: global culture, critical theory, and cosmopolitanism. Questions of success and failure in peace operations have been tackled in the literature, which includes the UN’s own reports as well as books and articles appearing within a range of academic disciplines. Scholars have also analyzed the many challenges facing peace operations ranging from civilian protection and gender issues to public security and policing, privatization, intelligence provision, and state-building. Overcoming these challenges will require, at a minimum, new ways of thinking about the problems concerned, new ways of organizing the relevant institutions, and getting the would-be state-builders to allocate substantial resources. There are also some important questions that deserve greater attention; for example, what types of non-UN peace operations are most effective, under what conditions, and how they compare with UN operations, or how a world order can be constructed in which the peacekeepers have put themselves out of business.

Keywords: peace operations, United Nations, peacemaking, preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping, critical theory, cosmopolitanism, civilian protection, public security, state-building


In many respects, peace operations are the most visible face of the United Nations (UN) and the organization’s mechanism for maintaining what the UN Charter refers to as “international peace and security.” Between 1948 and 2007 the UN conducted over 60 operations (of which 17 remained active as of June 2008) involving personnel from about 130 member states. These operations have cost approximately $48 billion and the loss of nearly 2500 peacekeepers. By the end of 2007, the 17 operations run by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) involved over 100,000 (civilian and uniformed) personnel with an annual budget of some $7 billion (equivalent to approximately one half of one percent of global military spending). But the UN is not the only actor involved in peace operations. Over the same period, peace operations have been authorized and undertaken by other international organizations, coalitions of states, and individual governments. This reflects the fact that while the UN Security Council retains the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security it does not possess a monopoly on such activities.

Not surprisingly, the subject of peace operations has generated a substantial, and rapidly growing, body of knowledge. A crucial source of such knowledge is the UN’s own reporting on its peace operations. This includes the UN Secretary-General’s periodic reports to the Security Council as well as a wealth of other studies conducted under the auspices of DPKO. Practical knowledge and professional training for peace operations have also developed within a range of governments and international organizations, as well as other relevant institutions, including the International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centers and the UN’s Program of Correspondence Instruction in Peacekeeping Operations. Peacekeepers themselves have also written about their experiences, usually in the form of biographical perspectives from senior officials (e.g. Urquhart 1987; Goulding 2002; Dallaire with Beardsley 2003), but more popular accounts of life in a peace operation are also available (e.g. Cain et al. 2004). Journalists have also been drawn to the subject of peace operations and the better accounts have shed useful light on their internal workings and some of the personalities at the top end of the peacekeeping machinery (e.g. Shawcross 2001; Traub 2006).

Scholarly perspectives on peace operations have also mushroomed in recent decades with many books and articles appearing within a range of academic disciplines, although the bulk remain rooted in politics and international relations. It is these accounts that will be the primary focus of this essay. Specialized outlets have also been established, including the journals International Peacekeeping and the Yearbook of International Peace Operations as well as relevant book series, such as those produced by the Frank Cass/Routledge Peacekeeping Series and the International Peace Institute (formerly Academy) in New York. Since 2006, a collaborative project between the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and the DPKO’s Best Practices Unit has produced an Annual Review of Global Peace Operations, which provides comprehensive statistical information and some analytic essays about UN and non-UN peace operations active that year. Another regular source of information is the annual SIPRI Yearbook.

In order to review the analytical literature on peace operations, this essay is divided into eight parts. The first section addresses the thorny but fundamental issues involved in defining peace operations, while the second provides an overview of some of the most important attempts to theorize about their relationship to wider processes of global politics. In recognition of the considerable differences between peace operations, the third section reviews some of the typologies used to distinguish between diverse types of missions. The fourth section briefly maps the main historical trends evident in peace operations. Although the UN remains the major player in contemporary peace operations, other actors have also authorized and conducted them. Consequently, the fifth section looks at the multiple and sometimes competing sources of authority upon which peace operations depend, while the sixth summarizes the different types of actors that have conducted them. The seventh section reviews how the literature has addressed questions of success and failure in peace operations. The final section has one eye on the future and analyzes some of the main challenges facing peace operations: namely, civilian protection, public security and policing, gender issues, privatization, intelligence provision, and state-building. Although several themes will become apparent, it is evident that peace operations have often suffered from a significant gap between the ends asked of them and the means provided to them. Under such constraints, peace operations have offered a remarkably good investment as instruments of conflict management.

Defining Peace Operations

All discussions of peace operations contain (explicit or implicit) assumptions about the subject of their analysis. But readers will search in vain for an uncontested definition of what counts as a peace operation. In general terms, all definitions have consequences that lead analysts in certain directions and produce different conclusions about the number, type, and success or failure of peace operations.

The central definitional dilemma involves deciding what makes some military activities worthy of the label “peace operations” but not others. Here analysts encounter a number of choices: Do peace operations require authorization by the UN? To answer in the affirmative would rule out a number of missions conducted by regional arrangements such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or African Union (AU). But if peace operations do not require UN authorization, what makes them peace operations? Is authorization from any international institution sufficient? Alternatively, should analysts give primary consideration to the motives behind the operation, the means used to conduct it, or the outcomes generated by it (see Wheeler 2000)? Emphasizing one of these factors over the others would create quite different lists of which military actions were considered peace operations.

A common approach has been to define qualifying criteria and then measure the extent to which actual operations displayed them. Another, more constructivist, approach would be to examine the different ways in which actors have justified certain military activities as “peace operations” as opposed to some other sort of action, such as counterinsurgency, limited war, humanitarian intervention, or self-defense (see Finnemore 2003). When dealing with inherently political activities such as these, a universally endorsed definition is unlikely to emerge: one person’s peace operation may always be another person’s invasion force.

Since analysts must anchor their work on something it is useful to briefly illustrate some of the more popular definitions on offer. One widely cited definition of UN peacekeeping, from a former senior official, is “Field operations established by the United Nations, with the consent of the parties concerned, to help control and resolve conflicts between them, under United Nations command and control, at the expense collectively of the member states, and with military and other personnel and equipment provided voluntarily by them, acting impartially between the parties and using force to the minimum extent necessary” (Goulding 1993:455). As discussed below, however, not all peacekeeping operations are established or paid for by the UN, they do not all fall under its command and control structures, and many of them do not necessarily have the consent of all the conflict parties concerned. Consequently, the DPKO now defines peacekeeping more broadly as “a technique designed to preserve the peace, however fragile, where fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the peacemakers” (2008:18).

In recent years analysts have tended to construct definitions that do not focus solely on UN activities or peacekeeping but instead attempt to define a broader category of peace operations that encompasses more tasks than those associated with traditional peacekeeping and may be conducted by a range of actors, including but not limited to the UN. The following are illustrative of this trend:

  • Peace support operations are “internationally authorized, multilateral, civil-military efforts to promote and protect […] transitions from war to peace” (Durch 2006b:xvii).

  • Peace support operation: “An operation that impartially makes use of diplomatic, civil and military means, normally in pursuit of United Nations Charter purposes and principles, to restore or maintain peace. Such operations may include conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace enforcement, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and/or humanitarian operations” (Joint Warfare Publication 3-50 2004: glossary-7).

  • Non-UN multilateral peace operations are those “conducted by regional organizations or ad hoc coalitions of states with the stated intention to (a) serve as an instrument to facilitate the implementation of peace agreements already in place, (b) support a peace process, or (c) assist conflict prevention and/or peacebuilding efforts” (Center on International Cooperation 2006:152).

  • “Peace operations involve the dispatch of expeditionary forces, with or without a United Nations mandate, to implement an agreement between warring states or factions, which may (or may not) include enforcing that agreement in the face of willful defiance” (Bellamy and Williams 2005:157).

Thought of in this manner, peace operations can be more or less militarized, ranging from small observer and peacemaking operations right up to large enforcement operations involving tens of thousands of soldiers. It is also sensible to distinguish operations where the international presence is invited and those where it is widely opposed and resisted.

For the purposes of this essay, peace operations can be said to involve the expeditionary use of uniformed personnel (police and/or military) with a mandate from an international institution or at the invitation of all parties to a peace agreement to: (1) assist in the prevention of armed conflict by supporting a peace process; (2) serve as an instrument to observe or assist in the implementation of ceasefires or peace agreements; or (3) enforce ceasefires, peace agreements, or the will of the UN Security Council in order to build stable peace.

Theorizing Peace Operations

For most of the period since 1945, there were relatively few conscious efforts to think theoretically about peace operations (one exception was Rikhye 1984). Instead, much of the literature has comprised detailed accounts of particular operations (e.g. Durch 1993; 1996; 2006a; Doyle et al. 1997), studies of specific countries and their peacekeeping experiences (e.g. Stern 1998; MacKinnon 1999; Briscoe 2004; Jacobsen 2006), or “lessons (ostensibly) learned” reports and other forms of assessment (see below).

Even at the start of the twenty-first century, Roland Paris could reasonably lament that the literature on peace operations suffered from a “cult of policy relevance” which had encouraged it to neglect “broader macrotheoretical questions about the nature and significance of these operations for our understanding of international politics” (2000:44). Paris suggested that future research agendas might include studies of the relationship between peace operations and international norms, “world revolution,” and global governance. This macrotheoretical omission has clearly started to be filled, and the literature on peace operations now includes a variety of theoretical perspectives and approaches (e.g. Fetherston 1995; Richmond 2002; Bellamy and Williams 2004a; Doyle and Sambanis 2006; MacQueen 2006; Bures 2007; Coleman 2007).

This section briefly reviews three clusters of approaches that have tried to think conceptually about the relationship between peace operations and broader processes of global politics. The first analyses how the global normative environment constrains and enables the range of peace operations considered legitimate within contemporary international society. The second explores what functions peace operations serve within wider processes of global politics and how they might be changed to promote emancipatory politics. The third advocates one particular approach to peace operations that might provide a just (and hence stable) basis for peace and security.

Global Culture

Drawing on world polity theory, Roland Paris (2003) has argued that “global culture” – the formal and informal rules of international social life – shapes the design of peacekeeping operations in fundamental ways. Specifically, “peacekeeping agencies […] are predisposed to develop and implement strategies that conform with the norms of global culture, and they are disinclined to pursue strategies that deviate from these norms” (Paris 2003:442–3). Delegitimized concepts include those which are not linked with the norms of the Westphalian state and its modern liberal-market democratic expression (see also Paris 2004). In practical terms, Paris argues:

global culture constrains […] peacekeeping by limiting the range of strategies that peacekeepers can realistically pursue. Peacekeeping agencies seem willing to rule out normatively unacceptable strategies a priori without even considering the potential effectiveness of these strategies as techniques for fostering peace, which is the stated goal of peacekeeping; and concerns about international propriety appear, at least on some occasions, to take precedence over considerations of operational effectiveness.

(Paris 2003:451)

Paris illustrates this argument through an analysis of how UN officials approached the idea of creating international trusteeships for war-torn states. He concluded that the idea of trusteeship was rejected because it went against the global cultural grain. Specifically, the idea was commonly associated with “a throw back to colonialism and an intrusion on state sovereignty” (p. 463). As a consequence, trusteeship was “disqualified […] as a serious policy option within the UN, and consequently little or no effort was made to evaluate the practical effects of widely publicized trusteeship proposals” (pp. 451–61).

Understood in this manner, global culture does not exert consistent influence on peace operations. Rather, it imposes contradictory pressures upon them. On the one hand it encourages peacebuilders to turn war-shattered states into modern, liberal states. On the other, it prohibits them from interfering seriously or deeply enough in the domestic affairs of any UN member state to produce such transformation if state leaders do not agree with that objective, hence delegitimizing the very means that may be required to achieve this goal.

Critical Theory

Drawing upon the work of Robert W. Cox, the social theorists in the Frankfurt school, and the literature on critical security studies, several analysts have sought to apply insights from critical theory to the study of peace operations (e.g. Bellamy and Williams 2004a). Critical theorists explore what roles peace operations play in global politics and how they might be changed in order to contribute to more emancipatory practices, usefully summarized as those that allow people to enjoy freedom from scarcity, freedom from ignorance and lies, and freedom from political tyranny and economic exploitation (Booth 2007: ch. 3). They have argued that peace operations help maintain a particular conception of “international peace and security,” one that is ostensibly compatible with the state system and the (inherently unstable) capitalist global political economy (Pugh 2003:40). Viewed in this light, peace operations can be understood as “vehicles of system management” or global “riot control”; instruments orchestrated by the great powers to deal with flashpoints within a world order that is failing to provide security, welfare, and justice for a majority of human beings (Pugh 2004).

Critical theorists deny the possibility of achieving complete objectivity. Consequently, they adopt an explicitly normative theoretical approach designed to encourage and support emancipatory practices. They also attempt to reveal the ideologies and configurations of power that current peacekeeping practices help maintain and call for greater attention to be devoted to understanding why the current world order generates the need for so many peace operations, how it might be changed so that fewer crises erupt and hence fewer (hopefully no) peace operations are needed, and how the ones that are still necessary might be designed to respond to the needs of the victims of those crises – the people Edward Said called, “the poor, the disadvantaged, the voiceless, the unrepresented, the powerless” (in Bellamy and Williams 2004a:7).


Drawing from cosmopolitan political theory, particularly cosmopolitan conceptions of global governance and principles of conflict resolution, Tom Woodhouse and Oliver Ramsbotham (2005) have called for the development of cosmopolitan peace operations as the only route to maintaining truly stable international peace and security (see also Curran and Woodhouse 2007). These operations should be capable of protecting civilians and addressing the human security agenda recently adopted by the UN. In practical terms, they advocate creating a UN Emergency Peace Service, which they see as “a logical progression of the idea of the collective human security agenda to which the UN is committed” (Woodhouse and Ramsbotham 2005:153). This service would include “a range of civilian expertise” as well as “a robust military composition, capable of deterring belligerents, and of defending the mission as well as civilians at risk” (p. 153; see also Johansen 2006). This is a contemporary variant of the old idea of a UN standing force (see Roberts 2008).

Some years earlier, Mary Kaldor proposed a similar set of ideas, calling for peace operations to be redesigned as instruments of “cosmopolitan law enforcement” (1999:124–31; 2006). In Kaldor’s view, since “the key to resolving new wars is the construction of legitimate political authority” the solution lies in the “enforcement of cosmopolitan norms, i.e. enforcement of international humanitarian and human rights law” that would enable the protection of civilians and the capture of war criminals (2006:x, 132). In Kaldor’s schema, cosmopolitan law enforcement “is an ambitious proposal to create a new kind of soldier-cum-policeman which will require considerable rethinking about tactics, equipment and, above all, command and training” (p. 138). It starts by recognizing that unqualified consent from all local factions is impossible. Instead, the aim is to secure “widespread consent from the victims […] whether or not formal consent has been obtained by the parties at an operational level” (p. 135). This would, of course, mean “risking the lives of peacekeepers in order to save the lives of the victims” (p. 138). Nevertheless, Kaldor maintains that this is a necessary price to pay if outsiders are serious about resolving “new wars.” Although Kaldor’s ideas have been criticized as representing little more than “a left-wing version of the Good Guys vs Bad Guys” approach to thinking about warfare (Hirst 2001:86), her proposals resonated to a significant degree with the Brahimi Report’s (UN 2000) conception of impartiality and its argument that the UN cannot afford not to distinguish between the victims and aggressors in the world’s armed conflicts.

Types of Peace Operations

Peace operations come in many different shapes and sizes and deploy for many different purposes. As a consequence, analysts have devised various typologies to understand the variation across different peace operations. At the most basic level, analysts have distinguished observer and monitoring missions comprised of civilians and/or military observers (MILOBS) from operations involving troops engaged in more robust military activities (e.g. Ku and Jacobson 2003:19–24). Another popular distinction is between those operations with military and observer functions and those with primarily policing and other civilian functions (Center on International Cooperation 2006). Yet another approach distinguishes traditional from complex or multidimensional operations: While the former involves the consensual deployment of soldiers to monitor a ceasefire agreement with a mandate to use force only in self-defense, the latter can involve both military and nonmilitary personnel, and may include mandates to engage in a wide range of activities such as electoral support, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the resettlement of displaced persons and the protection of civilians from spoiler groups. Another common tactic is to distinguish between different generations of peace operations (e.g. MacKinlay and Chopra 1992). Depending upon which account one subscribes to, there may be as many as four generations (e.g. Richmond 2002). Other more nuanced typologies include Diehl’s (2000) division of missions into four clusters (monitoring; limiting damage, i.e. humanitarian aid, preventive deployment, etc.; restoring civil societies; and coercive); Findlay’s (2002) concepts of traditional peacekeeping, expanded peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and enforcement; and Bellamy and Williams’s (2009) distinctions between preventive deployments, traditional peacekeeping, managing transition operations, wider peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and peace support operations.

Arguably the most durable and certainly the most influential typological framework in the policy world has been that set out in Boutros-Ghali’s An Agenda for Peace (1992). This distinguished between:

  • Preventive diplomacy: action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts, and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur.

  • Peacemaking: action to bring hostile parties to agreement, essentially through such peaceful means as those foreseen in Chapter VI of the UN Charter.

  • Peacekeeping: the deployment of a UN presence in the field, hitherto with the consent of all the parties concerned, normally involving UN military and/or police personnel and frequently civilians as well.

  • Post-conflict peacebuilding: action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict.

  • Peace enforcement: actions undertaken under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

If nothing else, this vocabulary has successfully weathered the practical storms of the intervening years.

It is now common practice to think about types of peace operations by situating missions along a spectrum according to their position on the use of military force: usually ranging from missions where force may only be used in self-defense to operations engaged in war-fighting against particular enemies (e.g. Durch and Berkman 2006b). While useful in several respects, this approach is limited because not all dimensions of peace operations can be understood with reference to their position on the use of force. An operation may engage in activities that resemble war-fighting (e.g. MONUC’s attempts to defeat several militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC) but this measure only indicates the mission’s most intense military posture. The spectrum of intended military effort in different types of peace operations is depicted in Figure 1. What this spectrum leaves out, however, is a consideration of the operation’s relationship to the peace process and governance structures within the territory concerned. Measured in terms of their relationship to a peace process and governance issues, peace operations can involve activities that stretch from preventive, peacemaking initiatives through a spectrum of governance-related tasks that might include administering a particular territory (see Figure 2).

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Figure 1 The spectrum of military effort in peace operations

Source: Adapted from Hillen (2000:19).

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Figure 2 The spectrum of governance in peace operations

With this in mind, operations can serve five primary purposes in relation to peace processes:

  1. 1 Prevention: deter armed conflict through preventive deployment or help to kick-start a peace process through peacemaking initiatives.

  2. 2 Observation: monitor/observe initiatives of other actors undertaken as part of a peace process, including ceasefires and demilitarized zones.

  3. 3 Assistance: assist local parties in the implementation of peace agreements. Such operations are deployed at the invitation of the signatories but may encounter local resistance either from factions outside the peace agreement, parties changing their minds, or rogue elements within a party whose leaders have consented to the operation.

  4. 4 Enforcement: enforce the terms of agreements (or the will of the UN Security Council) upon particular parties.

  5. 5 Administration: administer war-torn territories during a transitional period from armed conflict to, hopefully, stable peace.

In addition, peace operations are commonly required to fulfill other functions, including disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of combatants, mine clearance, security sector reform (SSR) and other rule-of-law related activities, protection and promotion of human rights, electoral assistance, restoring and extending state authority, and delivering humanitarian assistance to suffering populations (DPKO 2008:17–30).

Historical Trends

Peacekeeping has a longer history than the UN variant but it is fair to say that peace operations as we know them today are closely associated with the global organization (see Schmidl 2000). For the UN variant at least, Cold War politics ensured that its operations were few in number and generally confined to the margins of world politics. UN officials also knew that they would face significant ambivalence from the great powers: support when the UN could facilitate their foreign policy goals and stinging criticism when the opposite was true (see Urquhart 1994:175–85). On the positive side, even the great powers recognized that the UN could sometimes play a significant role in limiting interstate war and sharing the costs of decolonization. The US, for example, advocated the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to facilitate the British and French withdrawal from Suez and in the 1960s supported the UN mission in Congo (ONUC) in order to shore up the central government in Kinshasa, a key American ally in the region. Similarly, Britain saw the UN Truce Supervision Organization (1948) as a useful way of transferring responsibility for containing the Arab–Israeli war to the UN and, after initial hesitation, also deferred to the UN to share the costs of maintaining order and protecting British interests in Cyprus. France’s support was more circumspect and it did not make a significant contribution to UN peacekeeping until the mission to southern Lebanon in 1978.

On the negative side, UN officials often found themselves criticized by states on both sides of the Cold War divide. For the Soviets, one high point was Khrushchev’s demand that UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld be replaced by a “troika” because the UN’s operation in the Congo had blocked Soviet air operations there. In the Suez and Cyprus cases, UK officials insisted that it was not the UN secretariat’s place to pursue an independent policy detrimental to British interests. France was similarly concerned that the Secretary-General should not undermine the Security Council’s primacy and hence weaken its ability to control the direction of peacekeeping through its permanent seat on the Council. For both Washington and Moscow, another important issue was ensuring that the UN did not restrict their ability to pursue unilateral policies in their regional spheres of influence. Such concerns were particularly evident after the Soviet intervention in Hungary (1956) and the US intervention in the Dominican Republic (1965).

With the winding down of superpower rivalry, UN peace operations became more regular and more ambitious. Specifically, between 1988 and 1993 UN peace operations underwent a quantitative, qualitative, and normative transformation, which saw the deployment of more, and more complex, operations than it had undertaken in the previous forty years (Bellamy et al. 2004:75–92). The intellectual catalyst and rationale for the transformation was provided by Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali’s An Agenda for Peace (1992) (see above). But it did not last long. After failing to prevent terrible massacres in Rwanda and Bosnia, and a badly botched mission in Somalia ended in a humiliating withdrawal, the mid to late 1990s witnessed a serious retreat from UN peacekeeping in parts of the world the great powers considered strategically unimportant. In the areas they still considered crucial, notably the Balkans, Western powers did not run away but proved reluctant to place their troops under UN command, preferring instead the command and control structures of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Into the resulting vacuum stepped a variety of regional actors, including the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and ECOWAS.

It was not until the start of the twenty-first century that the UN resumed its position as the predominant global peacekeeper (see Durch 2006a). The resurgence began with the stuttering and difficult deployments in Sierra Leone and the DRC, as well as a more (initially) successful mission in East Timor. A few years later, however, a new surge in the number and size of UN commitments occurred (see Figure 3). Specifically, in 2003 and 2004, the UN established large operations in Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and Burundi and authorized a significant expansion to the operation in the DRC. These deployments represented a new zenith for UN peacekeeping, both in terms of money spent and personnel deployed. It was also becoming increasingly noticeable that despite much previous talk of Africa’s neglect and marginalization, at the macro level the worst bias in the UN’s selection of missions had been against conflicts in Asia, not Africa (Gilligan and Stedman 2003:49). By this stage, African issues accounted for well over half of the Security Council’s agenda and an even greater percentage of its peacekeeping resources.

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Figure 3 Uniformed personnel in UN peacekeeping, 1991–2007

Source: DPKO.

This wave of new operations was deployed on the back of the so-called Brahimi Report, the UN’s official attempt to reflect upon the failings of peace operations during the 1990s (UN 2000). Although the report attracted a degree of criticism – some of it warranted – its major recommendations were sound (see e.g. Gray 2001; Malone and Thakur 2001; Schnabel and Thakur 2001; White 2001). In particular, it called for the UN’s great powers to close the huge gap that had developed between means and ends in peace operations, and it concluded that if the UN did decide to deploy forces to a conflict zone those forces should be robust enough to defend themselves, their mandate, and civilians in imminent danger. It also set out a detailed list of proposals to reform the bureaucratic management of peace operations at UNHQ. Naturally, these changes required more money, more equipment, more personnel, more intensive training, and more thinking about doctrine. Not surprisingly, many of the report’s suggestions were not implemented. These included important symbolic recommendations, such as leaving Security Council resolutions in draft form until member states had made the necessary resources available, as well as crucial management issues, such as providing the UN with a centralized information and strategic analysis capacity (Durch et al. 2003). Since then, the high demand for UN peace operations has continued, most notably with two new missions in the Sudan and a significant expansion of the UN’s presence in Lebanon. Indeed, demand has clearly outpaced supply with the result that there has been a related rise in “hybrid operations” (Jones with Cherif 2004) and “partnership peacekeeping” (MacQueen 2006), whereby a variety of actors and institutions have collaborated in pragmatic ways to try to meet the challenges of global conflict management. This array of actors and the sources from which their authority derives are discussed in the following two sections.

Authorizing Peace Operations

Since 1945, peace operations have been authorized by a variety of institutions and actors, principally international organizations but also coalitions of states and sometimes individual governments (Wilson 2003; Bellamy and Williams 2005). Chief among them has been the UN Security Council, although historically peace operations have also been authorized by the General Assembly and the Secretary-General. But the UN does not possess a monopoly on this activity. Other international organizations that have authorized peace operations include regional arrangements (e.g. the European Union [EU], the African Union, and ECOWAS), other multilateral institutions (e.g. the Commonwealth and the Arab League), as well as the NATO alliance. In addition, coalitions of states (e.g. the multinational forces in East Timor and Haiti) and individual governments (e.g. the UK in Sierra Leone) have also performed this function, although the former is more common than the latter.

One way to start thinking about the sources of authority behind contemporary peace operations is Katharina Coleman’s idea of an international legitimacy pyramid (2007:57). At the top of the pyramid is the UN, the organization able to invest peace operations with the greatest degree of international legitimacy. Regional arrangements occupy the next tier down, coalitions of states the one below that, with individual states at the bottom. Coleman’s argument is that states acting alone will find it harder to imbue their operations with international legitimacy than states that act as part of a coalition, which, in turn, will not carry as much international legitimacy as an operation with a mandate from a regional arrangement. The level of legitimacy is important because operations considered illegitimate within international society and, crucially, in the eyes of the local population, will find it harder to achieve their objectives. Although the UN Security Council sits atop Coleman’s pyramid, significant question marks still exist about the legitimacy of its composition and what other actors are supposed to do in situations where either (1) the Council’s members identify a threat to international peace and security but cannot agree on a particular course of action (e.g. Kosovo, 1998–9), or (2) the Council’s members agree that deploying a UN peace operation would not be prudent (e.g. Burundi, 1993).

A second significant debate that has emerged in relation to authority issues concerns the appropriate relationship between the UN and regional arrangements (e.g. Pugh and Sidhu 2003; Durward 2006). Chapter VIII of the UN Charter is clear that regional arrangements should engage in the peaceful settlement of disputes within their neighborhood but they are not allowed to undertake enforcement action without prior authorization from the Security Council. In some parts of the world, notably Europe (e.g. Bono and Ulriksen 2004) and Africa (e.g. Boulden 2004), regional arrangements have taken a leading role in authorizing and conducting peace operations (see also the following section). Sometimes actors in these regions have given the green light to enforcement activities without prior authorization from the Security Council (e.g. NATO in Kosovo and the ECOWAS Monitoring Group in Liberia). Such activities pose a serious challenge to the Security Council’s authority, especially when leaders from these regions have explicitly contested the need for UN authorization. In other parts of the world, notably Southeast Asia, south Asia, and Latin America, regional arrangements have refrained from authorizing military operations (see Daniel et al. 2008).

Overall, it seems unwise to allow regional arrangements free rein within their neighborhoods or for the UN to travel too far down the regionalization path. As Michael Pugh has persuasively argued, regionalization carries the risk of marginalizing “undisciplined” parts of the world, not least because it would undermine the UN’s own moral authority; the spread of regional competence around the world remains hugely uneven, with most regional arrangements failing to provide satisfactory answers to crucial practical questions; most regions suffer from an overbearing hegemon of some sort; and regionalization provides a convenient excuse for Western disengagement (Pugh 2003).

The Actors in Peace Operations

Although it is fair to say that between 1945 and 2007 the UN has been the world’s most experienced peacekeeper, a wide range of other actors and organizations have also conducted peace operations (see Durch and Berkman 2006a). As noted above, chief among them have been regional arrangements, coalitions of states, and individual governments. In recent years, however, private security companies have also played an increasingly significant role in peace operations (see below).

Regional arrangements around the world have adopted very different stances on the question of peace operations. Particularly since the end of the Cold War, some regional arrangements have conducted multiple peace operations involving significant numbers of troops (see Diehl and Lepgold 2003; Bellamy and Williams 2005; Diehl and Cho 2006; Daniel et al. 2008). The most active regional arrangements in this regard have been the CIS (in Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan); the EU (in Bosnia, the DRC, Macedonia, and Chad); NATO (in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Afghanistan as well as providing logistical support for operations in Africa); ECOWAS (in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone); the Southern African Development Community (SADC) (in the DRC and Lesotho); and the AU (in Burundi, the Comoros, Somalia, and Sudan). As noted above, regional arrangements in other parts of the world, notably South America and Southeast and Central Asia, have been reluctant to engage in corporate military operations.

Coalitions of states have also conducted peace operations. The primary reasons for constructing coalitions seems to be a combination of concerns about military efficiency, burden sharing, and the added legitimacy associated with multilateral endeavors. Coalitions have played prominent roles in operations authorized by the UN Security Council (e.g. INTERFET in East Timor, the ISAF in Afghanistan, and the Multinational Forces in Haiti) as well as some that did not receive explicit authorization (e.g. Operation Helpem Fren in the Solomon Islands). While it is useful to draw a conceptual distinction between operations conducted under the banner of an organization and those conducted by ad hoc coalitions of states, in practice the distinction between them is often blurred because missions authorized by regional arrangements are usually conducted by factions of their members. For example, the ECOWAS operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone were actually conducted by only a handful of members and for all practical purposes dominated by Nigeria. Similarly, the operations nominally undertaken by SADC in Lesotho and the DRC were actually conducted by small subsets of the members (South Africa and Botswana in the former case and Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia in the latter).

On rare occasions, individual governments have also decided to conduct peace operations. The relatively small number of examples (e.g. the UK’s Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone and South Africa’s Protection Support Detachment in Burundi) would seem to indicate that in the absence of compelling ties or extraordinary circumstances, states are reluctant to conduct peace operations alone. A fourth category of actors engaged in the conduct of peace operations is private security firms. As discussed in more detail below, some of these companies have provided a variety of training, intelligence, logistical, and support functions for peace operations.

As noted above, recent years have witnessed a trend toward hybridization or “partnership peacekeeping” wherein these different actors collaborate in diverse ways within a particular conflict zone. This, in turn, raises the importance of strategic coordination between the different actors (e.g. Jones 2002). The multiplicity of actors has also fueled a set of debates about which of them perform best and under what conditions. These debates, in turn, are part of a wider set of issues about how best to evaluate peace operations.

Evaluating Peace Operations

Broadly speaking, the (publicly available) literature focused on evaluating peace operations can be divided into two types: official lessons learned reports conducted by institutions and governments engaged in peace operations and more academic assessments (examples of the former are Frydenberg 1964; Carlsson et al. 1999; UN Secretary-General 1999; for the latter see Bratt 1996; Druckman and Stern 1997; 1999; Howard 2008).

UN peace operations and other forms of international conflict management have recently been given a significant part of the credit for the reduction in the number of state-based armed conflicts since the peak in the early post–Cold War period (e.g. Human Security Centre 2005; Mack 2007). This claim raises important questions about causality in global politics (i.e. how we know what effects peace operations generate) and how success and failure should be measured when analyzing peace operations. Before embarking on any assessment, the analyst needs to consider at least three key issues (Diehl 2008:118–22): First, success for whom? Given the multiple stakeholders in any conflict zone, success for one of them could be interpreted as undermining success for another. Second, what timescale should be adopted? Perceptions of success may vary considerably depending upon whether one adopts a short- or long-term perspective. Third, what baseline standard should be used against which to assess peacekeeping’s effects? One common tactic is to compare conditions on the ground before, during, and after the peace operation. Another is to compare effectiveness across different peace operations.

Once these questions have been answered, the analyst needs to think about the spectrum of possible generic standards of success that they will employ. Among the most important of these standards are conflict abatement, conflict containment, and creating an environment suitable for conflict resolution wherein local institutions can settle their differences without the need for foreign peacekeepers or resorting to force. In addition, analysts will often include some additional specific standards: for example, whether the operation accomplished the objectives set out in its mandate or how much legitimacy the operation enjoyed among the local population.

With these issues in mind, it is interesting to note that the relevant literature has offered a variety of conclusions about the impact(s) of peace operations, not all of which are consistent with one another. Diehl’s one-line summary of these was that peace operations “are neither uniformly desirable nor to be systematically avoided” (2008:124). In more specific terms, peace operations are now usually regarded as having a positive effect on conflict abatement. For instance, in both intra- and interstate armed conflicts peace is more durable when peace operations are deployed (Fortna 2008; Fortna and Howard 2008). Furthermore, peacebuilding is more successful in the presence of UN or other peace operations than not (Doyle and Sambanis 2006). On the negative side, peacekeeping operations may actually reduce the likelihood that direct negotiation between the parties or third-party mediation may occur because peacekeepers lessen the chance of a hurting stalemate developing (Greig and Diehl 2005). In addition, it has been suggested that the more ambitious tasks associated with trying to turn war-torn states into liberal market democracies are, at best, only achievable with greater commitment of time and resources (Paris 2004), and, at worst, nothing more than a “pipedream” (Marten 2004:155). To date, the important issues of what economic, social, and environmental impacts peace operations have upon the host area remain unclear (but see Carnahan et al. 2006).

These conclusions have prompted analysts to ask what factors make success more likely. Diehl has suggested that the answers lie in a combination of (1) operational factors; that is, the way peace operations are organized and executed; (2) contextual factors associated with the conflict in question, including what stage in the conflict cycle peace operations deploy; and (3) behavioral factors, such as the number and behavior of the primary parties and the policies of neighboring and other influential states (2008:132–45).

Operationally, it would appear obvious that missions that are well prepared, resourced, and managed, and receive consistent support from the UN Security Council or other sponsoring organizations are likely to be more efficient in executing their tasks than those that are not. In terms of the contextual and behavioral factors, once again it is obvious that peace operations are more likely to succeed in certain environments than others. In an important analysis, Downs and Stedman (2002) suggested that the level of strategic challenge posed by particular environments was based on nine relevant factors: the number of warring parties; the absence of a peace agreement signed by all major warring parties before intervention and with a minimum of coercion; the likelihood of spoilers (see Stedman 1997); the existence (or not) of state institutions; the number of fighters involved; the prevalence of disposable natural resources; the presence of hostile neighboring states or networks; whether the conflict is a war of secession; and the extent of international willingness to commit resources and accept casualties among the peacekeepers. This suggests that not only should policy makers think carefully about where and when to deploy peace operations but also that analysts should probably be more lenient when judging operations that took place in relatively harsh strategic environments and less forgiving of those conducted under relatively benign conditions.

Contemporary Challenges

Peace operations are never completely successful. But this is largely because they face many difficult, indeed probably insurmountable, challenges. This section briefly reviews six of the most pressing. Overcoming these challenges will require, at a minimum, new ways of thinking about the problems concerned, new ways of organizing the relevant institutions, and getting the would-be state-builders to commit serious levels of resources.

Civilian Protection

Protecting civilians in conflict zones has become a fundamental challenge for peace operations. Indeed, for many analysts and practitioners alike, it represents the acid test of an operation’s success or failure. Starting with the UNAMSIL operation in Sierra Leone in 1999, UN Security Council resolutions have explicitly called on peacekeepers to protect civilians in imminent danger. As a consequence, the Council started to authorize peacekeeping operations under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The recent focus on civilian protection has arisen from the increasing interrelationship between two sets of debates. The first concerns how and when force should be used in peace operations (see Findlay 2002; Chesterman 2004a). Traditionally this had coalesced around two poles: one relating to traditional peacekeeping missions under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, the other centered on collective enforcement operations authorized under Chapter VII. Whereas the former focused on the meaning of self-defense and what constituted the minimum use of force, the latter revolved around how to conduct what the American military called “operations other than war.” While useful and important in many respects, the distinction between Chapter VI and Chapter VII operations began to blur as the UN’s forces deployed to more intrastate conflicts where civilians were often deliberately targeted. This raised the issue of what peacekeepers were supposed to do when they encountered such situations.

The second stimulus for the focus on civilian protection was the rise in the significance accorded to human rights in international law in general and within peace operations in particular. Although it is fair to say that peace operations have never completed ignored human rights, the issue was treated with a new sense of urgency after the publication of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report The Responsibility to Protect in December 2001 (see also Holt and Berkman 2006; Weiss 2007).

The practical challenge of protecting civilians in the world’s conflict zones has raised difficult theoretical and practical issues. Conceptually, the main obstacle has been the relationship between state sovereignty and human rights, particularly the traditional need for peacekeepers to act only in self-defense and with the consent of the host government. This obstacle has been overcome by, first, making self-defense largely synonymous with “defense of the mission” (see UN 2000; Findlay 2002) and, second, by arguing that human rights and state sovereignty are compatible rather than antagonistic values. By updating the old idea that state sovereignty should reside with the people rather than the rulers, various analysts have argued that state sovereignty implies a responsibility to protect the local population (e.g. Deng et al. 1996). The power of this argument led the UN to endorse the “responsibility to protect” idea in its 2005 World Summit Outcome document, and in a variety of UN Security Council resolutions about the protection of civilians in armed conflict (e.g. Resolutions 1265, 1296, and particularly 1674).

The practical challenges of operationalizing the “responsibility to protect” have proved more difficult to overcome. Not only are there many different (and not always compatible) conceptions of what protection entails, but the armed forces tasked with these activities generally lack suitable training and doctrine on how to carry them out in the field (e.g. Findlay 2002: appendices; Holt and Berkman 2006; Seybolt 2007). Even within the armed forces of NATO and EU states, for instance, civilian protection remains a vague concept that, to date at least, has not been prioritized relative to more traditional military tasks. Beyond NATO and the EU, other armed forces that have tried to undertake civilian protection roles, most notably ECOWAS and the AU, have encountered many problems. The UN’s response has been to develop guidelines and principles for its operations (see DPKO 2008). If more proactive techniques of protection are adopted (i.e. those that enable peacekeepers to proactively target the perpetrators of atrocities against civilians rather than defend particular locales or supply routes; see Seybolt 2007: ch. 7), then it is inevitable that policy makers will have to engage in a serious debate about the use of special forces (and hence intelligence capabilities) in peace operations.

Public Security

Ensuring public security has always been a vital part of effective peacebuilding but it has not always been clear whether soldiers or police were best suited to play the leading role. In recent years the weight of opinion has gravitated toward the latter and subsequently called for greater numbers of police in peace operations (e.g. Oakley et al. 1998; Holm and Eide 2000). While police officers have featured in UN peace operations since the Congo mission (1960–64), significant numbers were not consistently deployed until very recently. Throughout the 1990s, for instance, the UN deployed a fairly consistent stream of about 2000 police officers. By the end of 2007, the figure had increased to approximately 10,000 from nearly 90 states, with nearly half as many again authorized for deployment to the AU–UN hybrid operation in Sudan. The central challenges for contemporary peace operations are where to find this number of professional police officers, how to organize them so they can deploy quickly, and how to define their agenda.

Traditionally, the policing agenda in peace operations was captured by the acronym SMART, i.e. police officers were to Support human rights; Monitor local policing; Advise local police on best practices; Report on incidents to the UN; and Train local police on best practices. The operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor/Timor Leste, however, saw some important changes whereby foreign police were tasked with the more hands-on roles of “executive policing” and assisting in the building of new justice systems for the territories concerned (Dwan 2002; Hansen 2002). These agendas have become so important that they have been the primary rationale behind some recent peace operations, not least the series of EU police missions deployed to Afghanistan, Bosnia, the DRC, Macedonia, and Palestine.

Naturally, an expanded and more complex agenda would require more personnel, training, and resources. As a result, the Brahimi Report (UN 2000) and later the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2004) recommended the UN create a permanent pool of civilian police. In late 2005, the idea was tentatively endorsed by the UN World Summit, which called for the establishment of a Standing Police Capacity of 25 police experts to help current missions and assist in the deployment of future ones. After an experiment in its Kosovo mission, the UN has also given greater emphasis to deploying “formed police units” of 125–140 officers rather than individuals. These have become a regular feature of UN operations since 2003.

Despite these obvious advances, the UN and other organizations face a significant shortfall in policing capacity, especially one that can be deployed rapidly to the field. As Smith et al. (2007:xiv) have noted, it still takes an average of nine months from the time of Security Council authorization to get police officers in the field – and these early stages are a crucial period for the success of any operation. To remedy the current shortfall, a team of analysts from the Stimson Center has recommended a three-pronged approach by creating:

  • A Standing UN Rule of Law Capacity composed of 400 personnel divided into eight teams, each looking at legal issues, prison support, and the justice sector. This would have startup costs of approximately $45 million and recurring costs of roughly $33 million, plus the costs of deployments.

  • A UN Police Reserve composed of officers nominated by countries for deployment in UN missions. This would cost between $28 and $52 million in recurring, nondeployed costs.

  • A Senior Reserve Roster composed of retired or former police and criminal justice experts who volunteer to fill open senior positions in DPKO. A hypothetical roster of 100 persons, one-third of whom were on rapid call-up, would cost about $1 million per year (Smith et al. 2007).

Without these or some similar initiatives, the prospects for peace operations providing effective public security are bleak.

Gender Issues

The UN and other international organizations have finally started to appreciate the significance of gender relations both for and within contemporary peace operations. The landmark event at the UN was the passing of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace, and security. Among other things, this recognized the differential impact that armed conflict had upon women and men, and girls and boys, and called upon member states to increase the representation of women at all levels of decision making relevant to conflict management activities. The ongoing challenge for peace operations is to understand the gendered dynamics they encounter and produce locally, and to ensure gender issues are taken into account in future operations.

Although slow to enter the literature on peacekeeping, the debate about gender was stimulated by feminist analysis of some basic but fundamental questions. These included: What type of gender relations are required for peace operations to function as they do (e.g. Enloe 1993)? What roles are women playing in peace operations (e.g. Olsson and Tryggestad 2001)? What are the consequences of the fact that most peace operations are conducted by soldiers trained primarily in the art of war (e.g. Whitworth 2004)? How is it that the presence of foreign peacekeepers has made some elements of the local population less secure (e.g. Martin 2005)? And what does the local population think about the presence of foreign peacekeepers (e.g. Pouligny 2006)?

Some of this literature argues that the hypermasculine culture encouraged in most military training programs increases the likelihood that peacekeepers will engage in the sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of local populations. This culture is also said to promote a tradition of silence and of denouncing and shunning whistle-blowers. The problem is that peace operations, unlike war, often require impartiality, sensitivity, and empathy, attributes that may have been discouraged by military training (Higate and Henry 2004:484). As Whitworth (2004:18–19) notes, “It is often the nonwarrior qualities of soldiering that leave an impact on local people’s security: building a park, reopening a hospital, or repairing a local school.” From this perspective, and in contrast to the Brahimi Report’s call for more robust forces, the way toward more effective peacekeeping lies in the UN demilitarizing its operations. A central problem for this type of analysis is the fuzziness of the concept of hypermasculinity and its relationship to individual behavior. It is not clear, for instance, why only some peacekeepers engage in SEA given their similar hypermasculine backgrounds, or why some civilian personnel and NGO staff without military training also engage in SEA. Nor is it apparent how important military culture is compared to other contributory factors such as a lack of professionalism, training, and unit discipline. In addition, this literature places far less weight on the hugely iniquitous economic context in which peacekeeper–local interaction occurs; a point made repeatedly in the UN’s own analysis of the problem (see UN 2005).

The official response to these challenges has been threefold. First, the UN has attempted to implement gender mainstreaming in all its peace operations (see Annan 2004; DPKO 2004). Second, it has taken measures designed to eradicate instances of SEA by its personnel (see UN 2005). These include attaching gender advisers and conduct and discipline units to peace operations, developing more rigorous investigatory procedures to deal with accusations of SEA, and working to ensure that senior officials take these issues seriously – unlike some of their predecessors. A third strand of the UN’s response has focused on combating the problems associated with HIV/AIDS and peace operations (see UNSCR 1308; Bazergan 2003).


Another ongoing challenge concerns the private sector’s involvement in peace operations. With the rise to prominence of neoliberal economic policies in the 1980s, the downsizing of the superpowers’ militaries after the Cold War, and a steady supply of armed conflicts, the private security industry has boomed (Singer 2003a; Avant 2005). This boom has seen renewed calls to privatize peacekeeping (as recounted by Singer 2003b). Private security companies (PSCs) have long been involved in the conduct of peace operations. Some have played advisory roles (e.g. MPRI) or provided logistical, intelligence, and other forms of support (e.g. DSL). In addition, PSCs have helped with force protection tasks by providing security for peacekeepers and civilian agencies (e.g. Group 4). To date, the UN has shied away from using PSCs in frontline activities of the kind witnessed in the wars in Sierra Leone and Angola among others.

Advocates claim that private actors are more cost effective and militarily efficient (especially as force multipliers) than the forces assembled by the UN and other international organizations. They also argue that because PSCs are less concerned than governments about the “body-bag syndrome” they are willing (as long as the price is right) to go where governments fear to tread (see Shearer 1998). Any PSC that proves inefficient, unreliable, corrupt, or abusive, so the argument goes, will ultimately be forced out of business by market forces.

In contrast, critics of the increasing privatization of peace operations point to several worrying issues. Of course, civilians in danger of massacre will probably prefer rescue by private forces to the rhetoric without action that usually emanates from the world’s most powerful states. Consequently, while these states (especially the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, P5) continue to abdicate their responsibility to maintain international peace and security in places like Darfur and the DRC, it will not be possible to completely dismiss the arguments in favor of privatized peace operations. Nevertheless, privatization is not a sound basis on which to build international peace and security, for several reasons. First, unlike operations conducted by the UN and other international organizations, the costs of privatized peace enforcement are likely to be borne by the authorities in the relevant conflict zone (unless the UN is willing to hire the contractors itself). This channels already scant resources into what is at best a partial and temporary solution to conflict and at worst may leave embattled governments dependent on the PSC in question. Second, as the most recent scandals concerning Blackwater’s Iraq operations attest, until considerable advances are made in regulating the private sector, there can be no guarantees that PSCs will act in a transparent manner or be held accountable for any abuses committed by their personnel. There is also little evidence to suggest that a PSC could assemble a force on the scale required for some contemporary peace operations, such as the 26,000 personnel authorized for the AU–UN operation in Darfur. In this sense, PSCs might at best be able to perform a spearhead or vanguard function for such a larger force. Nor is there much evidence that PSC personnel are trained in the skills that make a good peacebuilder as opposed to a good warrior. Until that is the case, they will only be able to deal with the symptoms of armed conflicts; it will require other actors to treat the underlying causes. Finally, PSCs both contribute to and reflect the growing erosion of the state’s monopoly on the legitimate instruments of military force. As one analysis put it, by dispersing military capacity and expertise, PSCs are likely to make already complex emergencies more complicated, increase the prevalence and legitimacy of using military means to address political problems, and thus make it harder to bring the instruments of violence under democratic control (Bellamy and Williams 2004b:193).


For decades, intelligence was a dirty word within the UN Secretariat and the humanitarian components of the UN system (de Jong et al. 2003). Moreover, the fact that the UN is dependent upon its member states for intelligence is also rather convenient for the P5, which have made no urgent efforts to change this state of affairs (Johnston 1997; van Kappen 2003). The closest UNHQ has come to establishing a centralized set of intelligence capabilities is the Situation Center (set up in April 1993), and this was heavily influenced by intelligence experts from Western Europe, North America, and Australia (Smith 1994). The experiment of adding an Intelligence and Research Unit in September 1993 struggled on until it collapsed when the supply of “gratis military officers” who staffed the Unit ran out in the late 1990s (Durch et al. 2003:38). All this has left the UN largely dependent on the P5 and other Western powers for strategic intelligence. This is less than ideal because these states are notorious for providing information that reflects their (often very different) political priorities, exemplified by Colin Powell’s February 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council of US intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs.

Although military activities of any sort require information about their environment, traditional peacekeeping operations did not generate many urgent calls for sophisticated intelligence gathering capabilities. Indeed, in the demilitarized zones where they tended to operate, peacekeeping operations could act as a useful source of intelligence for the UN’s member states (Cammaert 2003:17–18). But when peace operations are deployed to more complex and fluid environments without the consent of all the parties and/or their fighters, intelligence (especially HUMINT) is crucial. As Dame Pauline Neville-Jones (2003:iv) noted, “it is hard to envisage the possibility of capable and effective peacekeeping without the availability of good quality, timely intelligence.” In addition, the explicitly moral argument has been made that it is unacceptable to deploy soldiers in a war zone without proper knowledge of the situation (Eriksson 1997).

In the sense that all peace operations must have some way of gathering, interpreting, and disseminating information about their operational environment and the actors affecting it, all of them engage in basic intelligence processes. Since 2003 some have created Joint Mission Analysis Cells to provide at least tactical guidance to the head of mission. A recent example is the call for contributors to the UNIFIL 2 operation to set up a Joint Mission Analysis Center, set up in but separate from UNHQ, as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance units. In general, however, the UN’s member states have been reluctant to endow DPKO with its own intelligence gathering capabilities. This was in spite of the arguments set out in the Brahimi Report, which made two main recommendations concerning intelligence capabilities. First, peace operations “should be afforded the field intelligence and other capabilities needed to mount a defense against violent challengers” (UN 2000: para. 51). Second, in order to handle the gathering, interpretation, and dissemination of information in a professional manner, the UN should create an Information and Strategic Analysis Secretariat. The Panel’s advocacy did not stop some UN members from viewing this concept as a potential mechanism for powerful states to conduct espionage; a “CIA for the UN” (Chesterman 2006:154). From that point on, it was clearly going nowhere as a policy initiative.

From today’s vantage point, peace operations face at least two interrelated challenges in the area of intelligence: gathering it and sharing it effectively at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. On the first challenge, some UN members clearly remain averse to the institution acquiring a centralized capability for gathering strategic intelligence; seeing it in a sinister light as a threat to their sovereignty. On the other hand, it is also clear that complex peace operations are unlikely to succeed without effective operational and tactical intelligence. It is a necessary component of their activities, especially when facing spoilers. Nor should it be dismissed as espionage, the proper aim of intelligence gathering being to identify and assess all possible scenarios and options to help commanders avoid nasty surprises and to prepare for all contingencies. By depriving its peace operations of such capabilities the UN is increasing the odds that they will fail.

In relation to intelligence sharing, as Neville-Jones (2003:v) has observed, the central dilemma is that the loose command structures associated with multinational peace operations make governments in possession of relevant intelligence wary of making it freely available for fear of compromising their sources (either through carelessness or deliberate misuse). On the other hand, these governments will not want their own troops (or those of their close allies) to be deprived of intelligence. The net result of these conflicting imperatives is that different national contingents within peace operations will operate with different levels of intelligence, which, in turn, may encourage different assessments of the strategic and tactical situation. Such differences can reinforce existing divisions and fuel mistrust between contingents, especially when some of them come under threat. This raises a more intractable problem for the UN: how to conduct genuinely multinational peace operations when the fundamentals of intelligence gathering remain located at the national level.

Building States

Of all the challenges facing peace operations, building efficient and effective states from the ashes of war is arguably the most complex and daunting. There is, of course, a long history of foreign powers managing local societies of one sort or another. Historically, foreigners have given different reasons (including treasure, conquest, civilization, and religion) and different descriptive terms have been applied (including empire, trusteeship, protectorates, and more recently transitional administrations and provisional authorities). In the postcolonial era the UN’s largest state-building ventures have been confined to the relatively small territories of Bosnia, Croatia, East Timor, and Kosovo. The US and its allies, on the other hand, have recently experimented in the much greater expanses of Afghanistan and Iraq, so far with largely predictable results. With this in mind, the increasingly plausible thesis that, in Africa at least, some big states fail in large part because they are big, should give the UN and other would-be state-builders serious cause for concern when attempting to manage conflicts in large and constantly turbulent states such as the DRC and Sudan (Clapham et al. 2006).

Since the end of the Cold War, international attempts to administer war-torn territories have been guided by the interrelated concepts of peacebuilding (Barnett et al. 2007), nation-building (Fukuyama 2005), and state-building (Paris and Sisk 2008). To crudely summarize some of the key distinctions between these concepts, peacebuilding is usually understood as activities undertaken (often but not exclusively by foreign personnel) to encourage stable, self-sustaining peace, the acid test being if peace endures after the foreign peacebuilders withdraw; state-building is best thought of as activities undertaken to construct the institutional foundations and infrastructure necessary for the effective governance of a particular territory; while nation-building refers to the more explicitly normative and ideological attempts to construct a group of people who adhere to a particular national identity.

These activities raise many fundamental moral and practical questions about the ethics of outsiders governing insiders; the type of states to be built and what road maps should guide the process; and how to build new states without adequate resources, especially given that the enterprise is likely to be managed by actors which have “attention deficit disorder” when it comes to such projects (Chesterman 2004b:253).

What might be referred to as the orthodox approach to state-building after the Cold War has followed a sectoral, sequential, and liberal blueprint. In short, state-building mandates have been organized around different sectors of activity with the goal of building market democracies; that is, states with a liberal democratic polity and market-oriented economy. While the exact number of sectors often differs from mission to mission, the most common framework is as follows:

  • Military: end armed conflict and disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate combatants who have no place in the reformed armed forces.

  • Legal: establish or reconstitute a system of criminal justice complete with police, courts, and prisons.

  • Governance: design systems that establish who rules and under what conditions.

  • Economic: provide and enable local institutions to sustain essential services and employment.

  • Social: reassure minorities, promote human rights, and support the education, information, and communication systems.

The process is often considered to be sequential inasmuch as it is assumed that little progress can be made in the other sectors until military security is provided (see Marten 2004). In terms of funds and personnel, it is usually the military sector that accounts for by far the largest proportion.

This orthodoxy has been the subject of much discussion, not least because of the inherent tensions of state-building. As Chesterman (2004b:239) argued, transitional administrations are plagued by problems of inconsistency, inadequacy, and irrelevance, which challenge “the very idea of creating a legitimate and sustainable state through a period of benevolent autocracy: the means are inconsistent with the ends, they are frequently inadequate for those ends, and in many situations the means are irrelevant to the ends” (see also Berdal and Caplan 2004; Orr 2004; Caplan 2005; Chandler 2006). In this literature, two approaches stand out as proposing alternative blueprints for state-building. The first, by Roland Paris, supports the idea of building market democracies but is heavily critical of the orthodox methods used to do so, while the second, by Michael Barnett, seeks to reorient the priorities of state-building around republican notions of legitimacy.

Paris (2004) has argued that the goal of turning war-torn societies into market democracies is basically sound but international peacebuilders need to change their methods, not least because the territories that have experienced peacebuilding operations have often witnessed the re-eruption of armed conflict. In particular, state-building projects should not be rushed and conducted on the cheap. For Paris, a better strategy would entail what he calls institutionalization before liberalization (IBL). This would postpone the liberalization of the economy and polity until after institutions have been constructed that are robust enough to cope with the demands of electoral competition and marketization in these traumatized societies.

Paris’s strategy stems from the recognition that during the transition toward market democracy war-torn states are susceptible to five “pathologies”: the problem of “bad” (nonliberal) groups within civil society; the opportunistic behavior of “ethnic entrepreneurs” who garner political support by exploiting intercommunal distrust; the risk that elections may serve as focal points for destructive societal competition; the danger posed by local saboteurs who may win power democratically but then sabotage the transition to democracy to perpetuate their own rule; and the disruptive and conflict-inducing effects of economic liberalization (2004:159–68). The IBL strategy is “designed to anticipate and avert” these pathologies by, among other things, postponing elections until moderate political parties have been established and mechanisms are in place to ensure compliance with election results; designing electoral rules that reward moderation rather than extremism; encouraging nonviolent and intercommunal civic associations; regulating incendiary “hate speech”; promoting economic reforms that moderate rather than exacerbate societal tensions; and developing effective security institutions and a professional, neutral bureaucracy (Paris 2004:187–207). Paris envisages his IBL strategy taking at least five years, and probably much longer.

While IBL would probably represent an improvement on the orthodoxy, it raises a number of troubling, and largely unanswered, practical questions. First, who will implement it given Washington’s reluctance and the limitations of the UN’s new Peacebuilding Commission? Second, it is not entirely clear why territories that have reached Paris’s institutionalized stage should liberalize, especially if local needs for security, recognition, and welfare are being met. Finally, since states and societies can choose to liberalize in different ways, what variety of capitalism should they adopt?

A second important critique of the liberal orthodoxy is Michael Barnett’s (2006) concept of republican peacebuilding. This starts from the premise that state-building projects confront “a dual crisis of security and legitimacy” (2006:92). This is most likely to be overcome, Barnett argues, if insiders and outsiders can agree on procedural rules and principles to underpin the decision-making process. Consequently, state-builders should not automatically set a course for market democracy and figure out how to overcome the challenges in the way. Rather they should focus on earning the respect and trust of the local population by gaining “societal agreement regarding the proper procedures for deciding and pursuing collectively acceptable goals” (2006:93). For Barnett, republicanism’s emphasis on deliberation, constitutionalism, and representation makes it the best package of principles currently available to meet this objective. In his words:

Unlike liberal peacebuilding, which uses shock therapy to push postconflict states toward some predetermined vision of the promised land, republicanism’s emphasis on deliberative processes allows space for societal actors to determine for themselves what the good life is and how to achieve it. It is incremental. Unlike liberal peacebuilding, which has the vices of all grand social-engineering experiments, republicanism’s emphasis on basic design principles and deliberative processes provides the shell for improvisation and learning informed by experience. Finally, republican peacebuilding offers principles not only for building states after war but also for conducting peacebuilding operations. The concern with arbitrary power extends beyond the postconflict state; it also includes the exercise of power by peacebuilders. (2006:90–1)

Building versatile republics would thus seem a better way to achieve stable peace than pushing the liberal vision of market democracy upon local societies that may not want to be transformed in this manner. In more practical terms, Barnett argues that despite its limitations the loya jirga approach in Afghanistan was far more preferable than the coalition provisional authority model adopted in Iraq.

Naturally, Barnett’s republicanism invests significant faith in the power of deliberation and constitutionalism to overcome differences of interests among competing factions. But as the cases of Bosnia and Kosovo attest, lengthy deliberation may not significantly alter group interests. At this point, it is not entirely clear how a republican strategy to provide the security and order within which serious deliberation could take place would differ greatly from the orthodox approach. Similarly, Barnett’s approach may underplay the extent to which global forces are pushing newly (re)created states to become market democracies. If, for example, a new government wants debt relief or loans from the international financial institutions, or to join the World Trade Organization it is difficult to see how it can resist the pressure to liberalize for long. While the major actors engaged in state-building are market democracies it would require them to engage in probably unrealistic levels of other-regarding behavior to allow the states they help build to develop in ways that are incompatible with their own ideals.

Future Directions

A wealth of literature is now available which analyzes the many challenges facing peace operations. Over the years, this literature has become more theoretically sophisticated, it has investigated a wide range of questions from a variety of perspectives, and it has employed numerous methods to produce knowledge. It has not, however, produced a consensus on some key issues, not least how to define peace operations and how to measure their success. Nor has it persuaded the world’s governments to close the gap between means and ends in peace operations. There are also a considerable number of important questions that deserve greater attention (see also Fortna and Howard 2008): What types of non-UN peace operations are most effective, under what conditions, and how do they compare with UN operations? What explains why states participate in peace operations at all and why they do so in some cases but not others? How do locals – the “peacekept” – perceive peace operations and what effect does this have on the success of a mission? Under what conditions might military force be required to build stable peace? What are the likely long-term consequences of the economic, social, and environmental footprints left behind by peace operations? And, ultimately, how can a world order be constructed in which the peacekeepers have put themselves out of business?


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I am grateful to Alex J. Bellamy, Michael Pugh, Peter Viggo Jakobsen, and the two anonymous referees for their constructive comments on earlier drafts of this essay.