Perspectives on postwar reconstruction and the purpose of theory

Kristin Gulbrandsen, Aberystwyth University, UK

Kristin completed her MA in Security Studies at Aberystwyth University in 2017 and previously obtained her BA in International Relations from the University of Leeds. She is currently a research assistant at Swansea University, where her research focusses on digitalisation and social exclusion in the European High North.


The practices around post-war reconstruction are contested in the academic literature. Distinguishing between problem-solving and critical theory, this article draws on Robert Cox’ description of the two purposes of theory to highlight different critiques of post-war reconstruction. Through a review of the literature, the article discusses liberal problem-solving, the contradictions of ‘good governance’, and governmentality approaches to the issue. The idea emerging from the discussion is that the conservative framework and purpose of problem-solving theory cannot deal with some of the inherent problems of post-war reconstruction. Thus, the role of critical theory is to reveal how current practices and logics of peacebuilding and statebuilding reproduce unequal structures of power, securing the interest of some actors at the expense of others.


Post-war reconstruction has a contested track record, partly due to the lack of consensus regarding what constitutes success or failure, and within what timeframe to measure it (Krause and Jütersonke, 2005, p.448). As a consequence, there are a range of views regarding post-war reconstruction as practiced today – understood broadly as the processes of statebuilding and peacebuilding after armed conflict – and its problems. To discuss these, the essay will engage with a number of critiques. It is necessary, in order to draw out some differences, to discuss a variety of arguments, including the stance that post-war reconstruction as practiced today is ‘working’ (Doyle and Sambanis, 2000; Paris, 2010). Between this stance and the complete rejection of post-war reconstruction are a number of critical perspectives engaging with an array of perceived problems of post-war reconstruction, of which this essay will outline two.

The essay will discuss the different strands of critique in the following order. First, in order to elucidate the liberal perspective, it will engage with the self-understanding of liberal statebuilding and peacebuilding and the problems that emerge from this. It will show how the liberal reflection on its practices is necessarily limited by its world view. Second, the essay will outline the stance that post-war reconstruction, and in particular the discourse of ‘good governance’, works to produce unsustainable arrangements wherein governments are stretched between irreconcilable commitments, and reproduce uneven power relationships that serve the interests of only a few actors. Lastly, the essay will discuss two critiques that employ the Foucauldian concept of ‘governmentality’. In so doing, the argument is that current modes of post-war reconstruction work to dispossess rather than empower local actors when overarching goals of neoliberal statebuilding are pursued.

The rationale of this essay’s discussion of both liberal and critical perspectives is that it believes this dual focus is appropriate in evaluating post-war reconstruction as practiced today. After all, 21st century peacebuilding and statebuilding practices are popularly labelled as liberal (Hudson, 2013, p.40), and we live in the age of western hegemony or dominance – though as many have noted, rising powers are exerting more influence, and power is perceived by some to be tipping eastwards (Lei, 2011; De Carvalho and De Coning, 2013). Given the status quo, it makes sense to include a discussion of liberal post-war reconstruction’s self-understanding. This makes it possible to not only address the broad scope of critiques, but also to illustrate the differences between problem-solving and critical theory.

As Robert Cox aptly noted in the 1980s, “theory is always for someone and for some purpose”; it is always contextual, deriving from a temporally and spatially situated perspective, and it is for this reason one must examine theory as ideology, to expose its hidden perspective (Cox, 1981, p.128). As such, Cox argued, theory may serve two purposes: on the one hand, “to be a guide to help solve the problems posed within terms of the particular perspective which was the point of departure”, or to offer “a perspective on perspective” through the deconstruction of its premises (Cox, 1981, p. 128). The first form of theory is problem-solving theory, which “takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action” (Cox, 1981, p.128). Its aim is to make the current order ‘work’ by solving issues that arise – since it does not call into question the prevailing pattern of relationships, it is able to narrow down its scope and parameters for problem solving without considering the broader context, while at the same time avoiding reflection on its own ideological bias (p. 129).

In the following analysis, the essay will address both types of theory. By applying Cox’s binary framework it will critique the inherent weakness of liberal problem-solving, because its purpose is conservative in the sense that it preserves the status quo, and argue for the necessity of critical examination of post-war reconstruction as practiced today.

The liberal self-understanding of post-war reconstruction 

Fundamental to the liberal stance on post-war reconstruction is the belief that there are no alternatives that do not take a liberal shape in one way or another (Paris, 2010, p. 340). Such is also the stance of for example advocates of the Responsibility to Protect principle: essentially reducing challenges to the proposed norm of humanitarian intervention to one of implementation and acknowledging that the principle is imperfect, but the best we can hope for (Bellamy, 2014, p.11). As a result, while proponents of post-war reconstruction may identify problems in the implementation of peacebuilding and statebuilding after conflict, they do not regard it as inherently problematic. It is therefore in true problem-solving fashion that Roland Paris outlines how the ‘liberal triumphalism’ of the early post-Cold War era has been chastened through the self-reflection of relevant actors upon their experience of the negative effects of liberal peacebuilding in its early phases (2010, pp. 341-342).

Similarly to the structure of this essay, David Chandler has identified what he terms problem-solving approaches to statebuilding, which culminate in numerous technical and depoliticised

“‘lessons learned’ reports which repeat generic nostrums of preparedness, early intervention, strategic planning, international coordination, the importance of the rule of law, the integration of military and civic agencies, the problems of relying overly on elections, the need to develop strategies to deal with ‘spoilers’ and to integrate and encourage more moderate political forces, to support civil society initiatives, establish early gains to win the confidence of people in international assistance, deal with health, education, HIV/AIDS awareness, post-conflict demobilisation, etc.” (2006, p. 5).

One ‘lesson learned’ from the experience of post-war reconstruction in the 1990s thus includes the move from shorter to longer term peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction missions, with more expansive mandates and less focus on quick exit (Hudson, 2013, p. 40). Yet this caused another dilemma regarding the strength of the interveners’ ‘footprint’, as these actors were on one hand “under pressure to expand the scope and duration of operations in order to build functioning and effective governmental institutions in war-torn states, and to avoid problems of incomplete reform and premature departure”, and on the other hand, “under pressure to reduce the level of international intrusion in the domestic political processes of the host states” as local ownership of post-war reconstruction was considered increasingly important for avoiding dependency and fostering self-government (Paris, 2010, p. 343). Indeed, operationalising principles of local ownership over peacebuilding remains a key challenge for practitioners (Donais, 2009, p. 3). The footprint dilemma, thus, on one hand regards a heavy footprint as damaging for the legitimacy and sovereignty of the state, which is seen to be undermined, and on the other, the lack of predictability through long-term strategic engagement is also seen to be damaging (Ghani, Lockhart and Carnahan, 2005, pp. 10-11); there is a perceived necessity of more intrusive and systematic approaches, as reflected in the former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali’s ‘Agenda for Peace’ report in the early 1990s (Helman and Ratner, 1992, p. 7). The trade-offs between long and short time scales, global and local ownership, legitimacy and efficacy, and exclusion and inclusion remain critical challenges in peacebuilding (Jarstad, 2008, p. 18).

As discussed with reference to Robert Cox above, the natural tendency of “problem-solving assumptions … give birth to technocratic, depoliticised statebuilding strategies and tactics of implementation” (Hudson, 2013, p. 39) rather than reflections upon the basis of these assumptions. Consequently, the conventional approaches to post-war reconstruction “often argue that the explanation for the failure to implement multisectoral policies and programmes is to be found in a lack of holistic planning, poor policy coordination and insufficient aid and assistance, as well as inadequate understanding on the part of international organisations about the complexities of the local context” (Hudson, 2013, p 37). These priorities are reflected in the UN Peacebuilding Commission mandate (2017), whose purpose is to secure funds, improve coordination, gather advice, raise attention from the international community, and establish best practices, all in order to create a stable foundation for future sustainable development through institution-building and reconstruction.

Thus the liberal perspective – while there are a number of problems in the implementation of post-war reconstruction as practiced today – poses a challenge of reform, not of replacement with an alternative vision (Paris, 2010, p. 362). In line with Cox’s (1981) differentiation between problem-solving and critical theory, this form of reflection on the problems of post-war reconstruction can only go so far since it is intrinsically limited by its acceptance of the world as it is. As such, the liberal perspective is unable neither to go beyond existing structures nor to envision alternatives, leading to a form of determinism regarding the possibility for change. Indeed, the best we can hope for is improved management of unsolvable dilemmas (Paris and Sisk, 2009, p. 18), a hope expressed in the emphasis of problem-solving liberalism on good governance.

Contradictions of good governance 

A salient critique of post-war reconstruction as practiced today is focused especially on the intervention in and restructuring of the economic sphere of states emerging from conflict. Cooper, Turner and Pugh, for example, criticise the view that there are no viable alternatives to capitalist development despite the acknowledgement of its destabilising effects. They argue instead for non-neoliberal modes of development and growth, pointing to China’s economic success as an example (2011, pp. 2003-2004).

Yet post-war reconstruction of states is concerned with the construction of a particular kind of state, one that is able to cope with the conditions of globalisation. Key to this process “is not just the creation of a monopoly over power in a territory; it is also to develop a particular form of authority that will fulfil specific, market-supporting tasks” (Robinson, 2007, p. 13). This, in Robinson’s view, necessitates a change in the preferred role of the state: development is to take place through the market, while government is reduced to ‘good governance’, a twofold function to at once facilitate stability for the private sector and provide accountability for the population through democratic institutions (Robinson, 2007, p. 11). Yet these are inherently contradictory goals, since they simultaneously seek to create stable foundations for market growth through the acceptance of the legitimate authority of the state (fostered by the promotion of good governance, accountability and transparency), all the while economic policy remains unaffectedly neo-liberal (Robinson, 2007, pp. 11-12). In effect, privatisation, cuts in welfare spending, and deregulation are seen as necessary policy changes, but in so doing weakens state-citizen relations (p. 12).

This tension between obligations of the state to its citizens and the state to implementing externally determined economic policy is a problematic aspect of post-war reconstruction which has been conceptualised as the creation of ‘choiceless democracies’ (Mkandawire, 1999) or the ‘disciplining’ of democracy (Abrahamsen, 2000). Mkandawire (2010, pp. 1159-1160), for example, has outlined how ideational, institutional, and financial strategies have been pursued to ultimately undermine the macroeconomic sovereignty of developing societies through the framing of neoliberalism as the only viable option and the empowerment of technocratic elites and institutions sharing this vision. In a similar vein, Rita Abrahamsen (2004, p. 16) argues “that development is an intrinsic part of the technologies of power employed in international politics, and that the way in which it constructs democracy is central to the maintenance of contemporary international relations and structures of power”, in so doing legitimising some practices and interventions while delegitimising others. She further argues that the discourse of good governance works to produce unstable democracies partly due to the dilemmas posed by the simultaneous pursuit of political and economic liberalisation, creating two ‘constituencies’ for governments which are irreconcilable in their demands: external donors and its citizens, none of which can be satisfied at the same time. The ultimate political consequence becomes its maintenance of existing structures of power; while subjecting some states to democratic scrutiny, others are exempt and their role as interveners is legitimised, while at the same reproducing an undemocratic world order (Abrahamsen, 2004, pp. 39-41). Another case that exemplifies this is the noted hypocrisy of prescribing economic policy in the global South that would be deemed politically unacceptable in the home constituencies of the interveners – as well as the framing of the ‘free’ market as free of government management in the form of subsidies and other interventions (Cooper, Turner and Pugh, 2011, p. 2004).

In short, the imposition of specific forms of governance and economic policy in the image of the liberal state has contributed to the creation of ideologically hollow states, caught between contradictory obligations and without any real choice. This critique offers a “perspective on perspective” (Cox, 1981, p. 128) in that it highlights the relations of power that work to reproduce instability, lack of choice with regards to domestic politics, and undemocratic international governance. The deconstruction of the liberal discourse on post-war reconstruction reveals the political consequences of the current framing of good governance and the relationships of power that underpin it. This will be further demonstrated in the following discussion of governmentality critiques.

Governmentality critiques 

Another strand of critical engagement with the practices and logics of post-war reconstruction is one concerned with the Foucauldian concept of governmentality. Governmentality, as used conceptually to explain the projection of Western power, sees these interventions as taking “forms which appear to be consensual rather than coercive, through which the technologies and practices of domination simultaneously produce or constitute the subjects being dominated through the discursive practices and frameworks of knowledge, meaning, norms and values” (Chandler, 2006, p. 15). Scholars such as Jabri (2010) and Campbell (2011) make use of this framework of analysis when theorising peacebuilding and statebuilding. Though there is debate in the literature regarding how appropriate it is to apply the concept of governmentality to non-western, non-liberal contexts, there is also the view that seeking to better understand the “mentalities or rationalities of government” is a fruitful exercise (Gabay and Death, 2012, p. 2). For example, “even for those using Foucauldian governmentality, differences of emphasis exist between those who regard governmentality as a historically specific rationality of rule associated with neo-liberal free market economics, and those for whom governmentality provides more of a general framework for analysing many historically and ideologically specific rationalities of rule” (Gabay and Death, 2012, p. 3). Jonathan Joseph (2010, p. 243), in his examination of how the concept of governmentality has been applied to International Relations, distinguishes between governmentality as a method of international institutions (globally) and governmentality as a reality (locally): “while these institutions may push governmentality, local conditions on the ground may not be conducive to such techniques”. As such, Joseph suggests that researchers using the governmentality ‘lens’ must remain sensitive to this distinction and to the possibility that governmentality may not apply in the neoliberal sense, and rather that other types of power are at play.

In her critique of what she terms the “liberal peace project”, Vivienne Jabri (2010) argues that the practices of governmentality associated with liberal interventionism and post-war reconstruction aimed at transforming postcolonial states fundamentally strip the intervened societies of agency. Indeed, Jabri calls it a “project of dispossession”, since these violent interventions are premised on a cosmopolitan understanding of universal human rights, an understanding that is necessarily a reflection of Western institutions and European Enlightenment, thus precluding political self-determination (Jabri, 2010, pp. 47-48). It is through the imperative of human security, she argues, that interventions in which the ultimate goal is to achieve the security of populations by way of transforming postcolonial societies into liberal states are justified: a goal which is achieved through implementing structures of governmentality – “a complex assemblage of policing practices and their associated knowledge systems” involving the employment of both pedagogical and military-carceral power (Jabri, 2010, p.54). For this reason, she argues, post-war reconstruction as practiced today cannot be emancipatory, since it reinforces a hegemonic, western conception of the self “as against others whose modes of articulation remain ‘other’”, and in so doing banishes the ‘right to politics’ (Jabri, 2010, p. 43). In practice, this means that the particularity of societies is reduced to a universal dichotomy of culprits and victims, simultaneously empowering the former by recognition as political threats, and the depoliticisation and deagentification of the latter by their transformation from potential forces of emancipation into masses to be protected (p. 56).

A further analysis of peacebuilding and statebuilding framed through the governmentality concept is provided by Stephen Campbell (2011), who argues that the co-option of peacebuilding from the bottom-up by local actors can best be understood through this framework. Campbell specifically looks at governments’ attempts to co-opt mechanisms for conflict resolution on the community-level to achieve “specific finalities [that] deviate from the expressed interests of those being governed”, often manifested as the “implementation of particular neoliberal policies which exacerbate the economic inequalities that lie at the heart of so much contemporary armed conflict”, thus seeking to (re)construct a neoliberal order in societies emerging from conflict (Campbell, 2011, p.  40). The governmentality analysis thus works to expose how “community peacebuilding, as one tactic within a broader post-conflict (re)construction programme, functions as a technical intervention aimed at ensuring social stability and acceptance of the larger project of neoliberal statebuilding” (Campbell, 2011, p. 45). It may however be that the practices of ensuring ‘local ownership’ should not be considered as mechanisms purely for the purpose of enforcing Western interests. Chandler suggests that these practices also function as ways for powerful actors, specifically international institutions and Western states, “to deny the power which they wield and to evade accountability for its exercise” (2006, p. 1).

Further, Campbell (2011, p. 54) argues that bottom-up community based peacebuilding strategies pursued today fail to live up to their transformative agenda, are anti-democratic in their outcomes, and exclude the potential for any transformation that would radically address the inequalities at the root of violence. In a similar vein, Chandler (2013, p. 284) argues that the discourse of resilience, framed as a bottom-up alternative to externally determined interventions, is in reality void of agency: the “framework is problematic in that it remains entirely within the world of superficial appearances and ideologically erases structural constraints and power relations from the picture”.

In summary, the analysis of post-war reconstruction through a governmentality framework outlined above show two critical insights into the workings of the neoliberal state. One is that liberal interventionism and post-war reconstruction in the western image has dispossessed local actors of political agency and the potential for emancipation, instead creating the need to secure populations. The other is that the practice of bottom-up peacebuilding has not empowered communities as much as it has facilitated the co-option of community practices for the broad project of constructing a neoliberal state, thus fundamentally failing to transform underlying conditions for conflict.


This essay has outlined three critiques of post-war reconstruction as practiced today in order to critically engage with different perspectives on peacebuilding and statebuilding, as well as to examine their purpose in accordance with Cox’s distinction between problem-solving and critical theory. First, it outlined the liberal self-reflection on post-war reconstruction, showing how it attempts to ameliorate the problems of peacebuilding and statebuilding, but does not go beyond this to acknowledge inherent problematics. Rather, it sees these problems as challenges for reform, since it cannot conceive of other viable alternatives and thus works to legitimise and reproduce current post-war reconstruction practice. Second, it outlined a critique focused on the contradictions within the concept of good governance, and its production of economic and political choicelessness, resulting in the creation of ideologically hollow states that are caught between irreconcilable obligations to the constituency at home and the international ‘constituency’. In so doing, this approach goes further than the liberal reflection in identifying the causes of inconsistencies within post-war reconstruction, found in the uneven power relations of international governance, and whose interests these serve. Lastly, the governmentality critiques outline how post-war (re)construction of neoliberal structures dispossess populations of their political agency through the discourse of human security on one hand, and the co-option of community practices on the other. Instead of empowering, these practices are seen to take away a community’s right to politics and particularity, subsuming it to the current agenda of peacebuilding and statebuilding in the image of the West.

In conclusion, this essay has shown how different perspectives on post-war reconstruction conceptualise and help understand its problems. What emerges from this discussion is that post-war reconstruction as practiced today has inherent problems that do not come to light through problem-solving theory because of its conservative framework and purpose. As such, it can only address problems within the frame of the status quo. It is therefore down to critical theory to elucidate how current practices and logics of peacebuilding and statebuilding reproduce unequal structures of power and work to secure the interest of some actors at the expense of others.


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Reintegration of Former Combatants: The End to Colombia’s Reign of Blood?

Lucia Syder and Federica Lombardi, University of Cambridge, UK

Lucia is currently a third year student at Cambridge University studying Politics and International Relations. She is greatly interested in conflict and peace building studies, and hopes to go into the field after graduating this summer.

Federica is a third year undergraduate at Cambridge University, studying Human, Social and Political Sciences. At Cambridge she has focused on Politics of the Middle East, Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping and 19th century History of Political Thought. She is particularly interested in the role of justice in international peacekeeping, with a focus on the links between justice, reconciliation and truth in post-conflict settlements.


The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the variables that will play a fundamental role in establishing a long-lasting peace in Colombia. In the first section, the paper focuses on the role that the social, political and economic reintegration of former combatants will play in the establishment of peace. The second section contrasts the role of reintegration with the additional variables of social and economic governmental reforms. The paper concludes that although reintegration is necessary to ensure the success of reconciliation and the triumph of democracy, it must be complemented with social reforms and an increased state presence.


In November of 2016, the Colombian government led by President Juan Manuel Santos signed a revised peace agreement with leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), ending more than 50 years of conflict. Colombia has played host to the longest-running civil war in the Western hemisphere, resulting in at least 220,000 (mainly civilian) deaths and the world’s second largest population of internally displaced people (GMH, 2016). With the signing of the ceasefire and a peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government it appears peace finally looms on the horizon. However, the rejection of the referendum on this peace deal on October 2nd2016 by the Colombian people and the subsequent need to take an alternative route and secure the approval of Congress on November 30th highlights the fragility and uncertainty of this agreement (BBC, 2016). Santos, during his Nobel Peace Prize Speech in Oslo, admitted that, “like life itself, peace is a process with many surprises” (Santos, 2016). Thus, this essay addresses the question of whether peace in Colombia depends primarily on the successful reintegration of ex-combatants. The dependent variable within this analysis is the achievement of peace, while the independent variable under scrutiny is the reintegration of ex-combatants.

The term ‘peace’ will be broadly conceived according to Galtung’s (1969) multidimensional account as both an absence of violence (negative peace) and the absence of structural violence (positive peace). Structural violence is defined as the difference between the actual and the potential of individuals within a given society: in other words, the degree of social injustice and unequal life chances. Violence is thus embedded into the social structure through mechanisms leading to inequality of power and resources. This two-sided understanding of peace is appropriate to examine the Colombian case because it moves beyond a conceptualization of peace as merely the absence of armed fighting, granting visibility to ‘hidden’ systems and mechanisms at work in the socio-economic spheres of the Colombian state. Significantly, this extended understanding of peace allows for a greater range of actors to be held accountable for ensuring peace – in a positive and negative dimension – is sustained in Colombia. Too often, stability and order are mistaken for peace. This essay suggests this narrow understanding of peace often masks a deeper and pervasive type of violence: widespread social injustice. It will therefore allow for an appreciation of fundamental conditions that led to the shattering of peace in Colombia, including socio-economic grievances, rural and urban inequality, and the perceived incomplete role of the Colombian state.

It will be argued that the consolidation of a stable and enduring peace requires the completion of a successful DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) process. While disarmament and demobilization are short to medium term goals, reintegration deals with the long-term need to support the inclusion of former combatants into society through social, economic, educational and psychological policies. Reintegration can be accurately conceptualized according to the following UN definition: “Reintegration is the process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. Reintegration is essentially a social and economic process with an open time frame, primarily taking place in communities at the local level” (United Nations, 2014). This essay will assess the hypothesis that building a sustainable peace for Colombia depends – to a large extent – on “successful reintegration” defined as a multifaceted program of social, economic and political reincorporation into civilian life. Using analysis from three former Colombian DDR programs, it will be concluded that reintegration is the primary ingredient that will allow for reconciliation and the mending of the broken social-tissue of Colombian society. Thus, the shape of the peace Colombia has chosen will be determined – to a large extent – both by the success of the socio-political reintegration of ex-combatants, and by the way in which the tension between reconciliation and justice is resolved. However, the essay will also contend that peace depends not only on the successful reintegration of ex-combatants, but also on the ability of the state to strengthen its institutional capacity and fill the void left by the demobilised groups. The enduring peace Colombia deserves will only be achieved if all the socio-political conditions that led to the sustained armed conflict are improved; peace will be the final result of tackling multidimensional national problems.


This paper’s methodology is grounded in the analysis of a wide range of literature reviews. We reviewed the findings of academic journals from both national and international spheres to provide ample coverage and multidimensional perspectives on the current conflict resolution. Moreover, we relied heavily on the analysis of numerous official documents produced by the United Nations and the Colombian government to establish the official outcomes of the peace process and to incorporate standardised definitions of contested terms.

Section 1Social, economic and political reintegration and its overall impact on establishing peace

The final phase of DDR involves the reintegration of ex-combatants into society. This allows them to “acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income” (United Nations, 2015). Because reintegration is a multifaceted process, it is useful to examine three types of reintegration – social, economic and political. The building of a sustainable peace depends largely on the government’s ability to institutionalize the lessons of Columbia’s recent past and its former DDR programs. There are three immediate precedents that can be used to guide the new DDR process. The first example is the collective DDR of the guerrilla group M-19 in the late 1980s. The second is the demobilisation of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) between 2003 and 2006. Finally, the process and implications of individual demobilisation of FARC and ELN members since 2002 is also telling.

To begin, ‘social reintegration’ refers to the way in which “ex-combatants and their families feel they are a part of society and are accepted by the community” (Casas-Casas and Guzmán-­Gómez, 2010, p. 62). Yet Guáqueta (2007) notes how the FARC are likely to “encounter high entry barriers when reintegrating, as their popularity among Colombians and the international community has eroded”. This is largely due to their involvement in systematic kidnapping and the cocaine industry. These tensions were exacerbated in the rejection of the peace deal in the referendum held in October 2016.  Many of those who voted ‘no’ “said they thought the peace agreement was letting the rebels ‘get away with murder”(BBC, 2016). Many Colombians are therefore critical of the transitional justice elements of the peace deal. They are not only sceptical about the amnesty for those who have committed minor crimes but are alarmed by the fact that those who have been found guilty of serious crimes such as massacres and sexual violence can avoid jail time (if they confess before a special tribunal within a two year period). Hence, there is clearly a sentiment amongst substantial portions of the population that the victims of the conflict will be side-lined for the interests of former fighters. De Grieff (2009, p. 150) argues, “if you leave victims at a comparative disadvantage it gives rise to new grievances, which may exacerbate their resistance against returning ex-combatants”. Subsequently, in order to establish a lasting peace it is necessary not just to focus on providing benefits to former FARC members but the population at large. This is certainly a need the government has attempted to tackle as evidenced by Law 1148 (Law of Victims), passed in June 2011 requiring the Columbian state to provide “care and comprehensive reparation to the victims of the internal armed conflict” (Balanta Moreno, 2014, p. 158).

Examining ‘economic reintegration’ requires us to look at the ways in which ex-combatants “restore their livelihoods through production and/or other types of gainful employment” (Casas-Casas and Guzmán-­Gómez, 2010, p. 61). The importance of this tenet of reintegration is demonstrated by the success of aspects of the education programmes. The importance of reintegration programmes to provide basic and lasting skills is highlighted in a 2016 survey in which 56% of ex-combatants stated the main advantage of demobilising was ‘being able to study’ (Kaplan and Nussio, 2016). However, arguments concerning the current peace process and lessons from past DDR programmes in Columbia show a tension between many demobilised who criticise the lack of resources to reintegrate them successfully into Colombian society, and the Colombian population who resent having to pay taxes towards the rehabilitation of illegal combatants. Without sufficient resources, reintegration programmes cannot create necessary educational and employment prospects. According to Kaplan and Nussio, this is problematic because “if socially desirable material goods are unattainable due to a lack of financial opportunities, it can lead to frustration and anger and fuel illegal behaviour” (2016, p. 6). Therefore it is crucial that the Colombian government takes full advantage of the international community and their involvement in the peace process to obtain funds for the full reintegration of FARC. In this regard the USA has a key role to play; indeed, the Obama administration has pledged $450 million under the Peace Columbia (Paz Columbia) framework to implement the peace plan (Rampton, 2016). Despite this, the importance of financial resources in supporting reintegration must not be overstated, as pillars of reintegration such as employment are reliant on the wider acceptance of ex-combatants by society as a whole.

One of the fundamental problems with the demobilisation of the AUC between 2003 and 2006 was a lack of resources. The government provided 18 to 24 months of financial support, consisting of an allowance of $179 a month, which failed to provide a sufficient disincentive to join criminal gangs. According to the Columbian government’s High Advisory for Reintegration (ACR) an estimated 20% of the 55,000 ex-combatants present in Columbia committed crimes between 2003 and 2012. One ex-combatant claimed, “here [at the ACR], they give you 400,000 pesos [$200 USD]” yet with armed bands you can earn “almost three million pesos per month [$1,500 USD] … imagine the difference of three million pesos!” (Kaplan and Nussio, 2016, p. 18). Subsequently many former AUC combatants turned to crime rather than seek legal employment, resulting in criminal gangs known as Bandas Criminales (BACRIM), who participate in drug trafficking and extortion in areas formerly under AUC influence. Therefore collective demobilisation transformed the threat of the AUC into a new security challenge. The findings of Kaplan and Nussio (2016, p. 18) show former combatants are 158% more likely to return to illegal activities if they are in the vicinity of criminal bands. Because of this, one of the most salient concerns in Colombia today is that criminal structures may emerge from a future demobilization of FARC fighters. The phenomenon of recidivism among former combatants is, however, more than just a failing of reintegration. It also highlights the importance of the Colombian state capacity, and the need to fill the security gap left by demobilised groups. In cities such as Medellin gangs have filled the security gap that the demobilized left, rather than the Colombian state being able to install a legitimate monopoly of violence. Hence as Casas-­Casas and Guzmán-­Gómez (2010) assert “only the provision of strong protection centered security by the state plus DDR bring about sustained reductions in violence.”

A final parameter that determines the success of reintegration is the political reintegration of ex combatants (Guáqueta, 2007). A complete political reintegration will be understood as a process through which ex-combatants lead a proper autonomous, non-violent life, using problem-solving strategies that are in tune with a democratic and institutional perspective. What this entails is the acquisition of a new, permanent status; combatants become active citizens, who take a role in the running of the Colombian state and identify themselves with its democratic ideals. Thus, fundamentally, reintegration must focus on the psychological transition of former combatants and their ability to leave behind old mental models of behaviour (Casas-Casas and Guzmán-­Gómez, 2010). When combatants enter civilian life, they are transitioning between institutional universes; from one in which the law is dictated by the armed organization, to another where the state enforces rules, regulations and a specific value system. In particular, to transition into civilian life involves a dramatic shift in mental models; it involves embracing democracy, peace and non-violence as modes of behaviour, and rejecting “short cut” behaviour that uses violence and coercion to achieve specific aims. Casas-Casas and Guzmán-­Gómez (2010) suggest that previous reintegration efforts in Colombia have failed to create law-abiding citizens that operate in a political culture characterized by norms of democratic rule, and who resort to formal institutions to solve conflicts. The findings of their work suggest that one of the weaknesses of reintegration in Colombia is the possibility demobilized citizens have of creating parallel institutional universes which are permeated by the use of violence. In other words, old mind-models inherited from their days in illegal armed groups have not been fully abandoned by the demobilised. Empirical evidence for such claims is provided by Casas, Andrés and Gómez’s case study in the Santa Rosa community, where former combatants are being re-integrated into society. In Santa Rosa, none of the respondents expressed that they belonged to a political party and a third of respondents say they don’t know what it means to be a citizen. Even more problematic is the fact that the community of Santa Rosa has achieved a climate of security through violent forms of solutions to problems.  A demobilized citizen in the study declared; “If the problem is a gang and they don’t accept talking, well … we, the community takes action, but violent this time. It has always happened like this here; many times before” (Casas-Casas and Guzmán-­Gómez, 2010). What this suggests is that if re-integration is not carried out in a comprehensive manner, ensuring that former combatants become active peaceful citizens, then peace may be achieved on a macro-scale (nationwide), but violent means will persist and continue to gain legitimacy at a more local – but pervasive – social level.

Therefore, reintegration is fundamental to ensure a long lasting peaceful reconciliation of Colombian society. Reconciliation can be achieved through a re-humanization of the enemy; changing the stereotyped image of the enemy in order to acknowledge the other group or person’s attributes as human beings. Reconciliation is achieved when “parties, who once engaged in a protracted, violent and destructive conflict aim for sustainable peace by recognising and accepting other parties diplomatically and psychologically” (Kelman, 1999, p. 198). Realising how important this process is for peace in Colombia, Santos (2016) placed a great emphasis on the basic compassion and solidarity that we share as human beings, stating; “We are one people and one race; of every colour, of every belief, of every preference. The name of this one people is the world. The name of this one race is humanity”. Yet the complete re-integration into a peaceful civilian life will only be possible through active citizen participation. In the first pages of the final peace agreement signed on November 24th, “la participación activa de la ciudadanía” (active citizen participation) is described as absolutely necessary for the sustainability of national peace. The peace agreement stresses that citizen participation is the grounding pillar that underpins all treaties in the peace plan; peace simply cannot occur without civil society engaging in the promotion of a culture founded on tolerance and respect.

Looking at peace through the lens of reconciliation demonstrates the necessity of balancing the needs of ex-combatants and the needs of the Columbian population. However, a problematic aspect in the resolution of the Colombian conflict appears to be the unresolved tension between reintegration and reconciliation, and seeking full justice for the victims of the bloody armed conflict. In all DDR programmes there is an inevitable trade-off between justice and security. By this we mean justice for crimes is ‘exchanged’ for the security of the population by eradicating the immediate threat of illegally armed troops (Rouw, 2011). This is corroborated by Snyder and Vinjamuri (2003) who argue sustainable peace may require more political expediency and less justice since it takes into account the actual power configuration among a given set of actors (Guáqueta, 2007). One such trade-off is evidenced by FARC’s participation in Colombia’s democratic system of governance. Under the peace agreement FARC have been guaranteed a minimum of five seats in the House and five in the Senate for two legislative periods (Miroff, 2016). The logic for this is succinctly voiced by Columbia’s current President Juan Manuel Santos, “the reason for all peace processes in the world is precisely so that guerrillas leave their arms and can participate in politics legally” (Cardenas, 2016). This is also reflected in the academic literature; Guáqueta (2007) asserts “power sharing, in particular within a democratic framework, is a way to reduce the potential for renewed violence because it may harness illegal armed groups’ motivations and capacity to resort to violence.” Certainly there is evidence to support this argument from Columbia’s recent past. After their demobilisation, the guerrilla group M-19 were guaranteed two seats in Congress for the 1990–94 term. As the political party AD M-19 they went on to win 19 of 70 seats in the National Constituent Assembly, constituting the second largest representation and the first real option other than the two traditional parties since independence (Guáqueta, 2007). As a United Nations Development Programme official report (2013) advocates, Latin American governments should, in general “reduce impunity by strengthening security and justice institutions while respecting human rights”. Yet this advice conflicts with the efforts to reintegrate and reconcile with former combatants. It raises the difficult moral question of determining to what extent justice should be sacrificed in order to aspire for enduring peace. In his Nobel Prize Speech, Santos (2016) places the emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation above any plea for accountability or justice. He tells the story of Leyner Palacios, who lost 32 relatives including his parents and three younger brothers in a mortar attack launched by FARC in Bojayá. The FARC has asked for forgiveness for this atrocity, and Leyner, who is now a community leader, has forgiven them. This type of peace is consistent with the United Nations Development Programme report (2013), which highlights the failures of “iron fist policies” that focus on punitive measures, increasing the severity of penalties, and the use of force against ‘criminals’. Rather, the study suggests that in Latin America, violence and crime are mitigated most effectively through the strengthening of state capacities, and by encouraging active, responsible citizen participation. Yet this pursuit of human development may leave hideous crimes unpunished, for the sake of national reconciliation. Therefore, the nature of the peace Colombia seeks at the moment is one that may come at the cost of sacrificing comprehensive justice for the victims of this long armed conflict.

Section 2Beyond re-integration: what other variables will lead to peace?

The possibility of enduring peace in Colombia does not rest solely on the re-integration of former combatants; it also relies on the long-term success of promised social transformation policies and socio-economic development. If peace is conceived according to Galtung’s notion of social justice, or in other words, as a situation in which structural violence (discrimination, poverty, inequality) is minimised, then ensuring peace in Colombia will depend on whether the Colombian government can uphold the promises of social justice it has promised. The final version of the peace agreement consists of six main clauses, which together address all the required transformations necessary to lay the grounds for a long lasting peace. Of fundamental importance is Clause #1, entitled “Reforma Rural Integral” (Final Agreement FARC-Government 2016). In this Clause, the government promises to engage in a structural transformation of the Colombian countryside, in order to close the wide socio-economic division between urban and rural contexts. It also promises to deliver good living conditions for Colombia’s long-overlooked rural population, to eradicate rural poverty and promote equality of citizen rights.

A parallel can be drawn to the early 1990’s period in Colombia, in which five left-wing guerrilla groups, including M-19 were successfully integrated. M-19, like FARC, began as a Marxist struggle over land rights and advocated for profound social and agrarian reforms. Government efforts to demobilize and reintegrate former M-19 combatants were therefore aided by the government’s commitment to a deep constitutional reform through a national assembly (Guáqueta, 2007, p. 417). The maintenance of promises on both ends of the deal ensured M-19 did not dismiss its promise to take demobilisation and disarmament seriously. It can therefore be argued that the recent peace agreement with FARC will be able to sustain peace in Colombia if – in the long run – both parties, government and former combatants, commit to the promises they have outlined in the final peace plan.


To obtain what President Santos aspires to – a long lasting, stable peace – Colombia will have to succeed in a complex and multidimensional approach to reintegrate ex-combatants. But peace, like reintegration, is by no means a monolithic concept. Each country’s “peace” rests on a unique combination of social, economic and political policies, chosen by a particular government. The final shape of Colombia’s peace will be revealed in the post-conflict dynamics of everyday life across the nation, from the streets of Bogota to the remote and impoverished hills of Antioquia, Sucre and Córdoba. Ending violence through a program of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration is only the beginning of a long path towards ensuring that peace becomes the standard condition in Colombia, and not a brief interlude in an otherwise endless cycle of violence.

This essay has concluded that for reintegration to be ‘successful’, it must combine the multifaceted integration of former combatants in the social, economic and political arenas. If such a process is carried out in a comprehensive manner, then the reintegration of former combatants will play a crucial role in reducing the likelihood of future outbreaks of violence by promoting national reconciliation. Reintegration will – as previous programs in Colombia have shown – face critical difficulties, particularly when it comes to ensuring a suitable balance between justice for victims of the armed conflict and a harmonious re-humanisation of rebel agents. Moreover, the success of reintegration in ensuring peace will depend to a large extent on the degree of local citizen support and commitment to reintegration programmes; reintegration cannot remain an elite driven affair.

Nevertheless, while this essay has demonstrated the importance of reintegration as the central pillar of DDR programmes, in order to assess how peace can be achieved in Colombia it is also necessary to look at the reasons behind the origins of the conflict. The conflict stemmed, in large part, from the failings of the Colombian government, whereby large segments of society did not see their government as representative or legitimate. Subsequently for long-lasting peace to come to Colombia the government “will have to accomplish things it has never achieved in its history” (Cardenas, 2016). It will have to ensure the state has control over its entire territory, which will help fill the void left by the former combatants, and ensure that future conflict resolution is carried out through democratic mechanisms.

Given the findings of this paper there is ample scope for further policy research aimed at investigating the appropriateness of future government policies and commitments to socio-economic development in Colombia. Moreover, additional research is needed to ascertain the impact that a trade-off between justice and security will have on the overall establishment of peace. While this paper focused exclusively on the Colombian conflict, it is possible to expand the research ideas developed here to address the question that Santos (2016) asked during his Nobel Prize speech; “If war can come to an end in one hemisphere, why not one day in both hemispheres?”. The extent to which the success or failure of the Colombian peace process will affect other warring nations across the globe remains to be determined. For the time being, it offers a spiral of hope in an increasingly turbulent world.


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Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping as an Appropriate Institutionalised Answer to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

Orsolya Plesz, London School of Economics, UK

Orsi is a Masters student at the London School of Economics and Political Science where she specialises in international conflicts. Previously, she studied Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester and experienced Israel’s military culture on her year abroad in Jerusalem.


This paper focuses on conflict-related sexual violence and argues that current enforcement measures of the international community to tackle this issue have proven to be inefficient. It is claimed that this inefficiency is due to the negative consequences of the use of violence, militarization and its gendered reconstruction of soldiers’ identities. Thus, this essay introduces unarmed civilian peacekeeping as a strictly non-violent method to respond to conflict-related sexual violence. However, the deployment of unarmed civilian peacekeepers in a conflict setting implicates moral concerns. For this reason, deontological and consequentialist arguments are utilized to analyse and argue in favour of the feasibility of unarmed civilian peacekeeping as an enforcement measure in a conflict setting.


The prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) is a daily reality for many women and girls, and less frequently boys and men, in war-torn societies. According to a report by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, conflict-related sexual violence was widespread in the last 20 years in 51 countries in Asia, South and North America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East when armed conflict occurred. However, this issue continues to be marginalised in the security sector. CRSV is often interpreted as a side-effect of, rather than a reason for, insecurity (Bastick, Grimm and Kunz, 2007, pp. 9-11). In 2000, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted the famous Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; the first in a series that recognise women’s particular vulnerability in conflict zones, but also their agency and key role in conflict prevention and conflict resolution. During the last two decades, conflict-related sexual violence as a pitfall of the security sector started to draw more attention from scholars, journalists and policy makers.

Despite numerous calls from the UNSC in the last two decades for armed peacekeepers to tackle CRSV, the presence of UN peacekeeping forces in an area have in many cases been closely linked to the expansion of local sex industries that develop along highly gendered lines (Jennings and Nikolić-Ristanović, 2009, pp. 6-8). This enables the sexual exploitation of local women by peacekeepers that have also been accused of committing sexual violence and abuse on their missions. Thus, it seems that armed solutions do not suffice when it comes to tackle conflict-related sexual violence. This paper concentrates on unarmed civilian peacekeeping (UCP) as a non-violent method to respond to CRSV, and its use as a weapon of war, by attempting to answer the question of when, if ever,  non-violence is a morally justifiable response to serious aggression. It will be argued throughout the essay that unarmed civilian peacekeeping is a more effective measure to tackle crimes of sexual violence in large scale conflicts, provided that the peacekeepers’ participation is voluntary, that they receive sufficient training on gender related issues and that their presence on the ground is requested by the negatively affected civil society. The main focus of the analysis will be limited to the immediate responses in an emergency: accompanimentprotective presence and inter-positioning. Protective presence is a method by which Unarmed Civilian Peacekeepers are strategically placed in locations where civilians face imminent threats. In order to ease the reading, this paper will use the term ‘protective presence’ as referring to these three methods of UCP. This essay relies on the work of NGOs and INGOs that adhere to three principles: strict non-partisanship, moderate to low levels of interventionism and obedience to the law of the country in which they perform their missions. The examples I use are the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) and Peace Brigades International (PBI). Although PBI offers its protection services to human rights activists, important lessons can be learned from their enormous experience. The importance of these principles will be discussed later in relation to the question of forced use of UCP.

The article begins by defining CSRV and UCP. This will be followed by an analysis of CSRV responses that involve the deployment of soldiers, which perpetuates and increases militarisation. This will pave the way to examining UCP using deontological and consequentialist criteria. The paper suggests that UCP can be imposed by the international community on a country that perpetrates, or cannot put an end to the use of, sexual violence as weapon of war. The conclusion brings all these sections together to show that UCP and its protective presence is a more effective measure to combat CRSV.

Conflict-related sexual violence

According to the United Nations Analytical and Conceptual Framing,

“conflict-related sexual violence refers to patterns of sexual violence against women, men, girls or boys occurring in a conflict, post-conflict setting or in other situations of concern such as in the context of political repression. Conflict-related sexual violence takes multiple forms such as, inter alia, rape, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, sexual exploitation, trafficking, sexual enslavement, forced circumcision, castration, forced nudity or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” (Stop Rape Now, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, 2010, p. 3).

To add to this, as DeLargy (2012, pp.62-3) notes, there are long-lasting socio-economic impacts of sexual violence on the victim and on its community, and it is often used purposefully to demoralize and dissolve communities.

The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, depending on the circumstances, is considered to be a war crime, a crime against humanity, genocide and a gross violation of human rights that constitutes a threat to international peace and security (Stop Rape Now, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, 2010, p. 3). When sexual violence amounts to a mass atrocity, but the state is unable or unwilling to protect its population, the international community, according to the Responsibility to Protect norm, is expected to intervene in a supportive manner (Pillar II) to help the state fulfil its protection responsibility, or in a coercive manner (Pillar III) authorised by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (World Summit Outcome Document, 2005). The focus of this essay is conflict-related sexual violence in conflict and in conflict zones when it is systematically used as a tactic of war to destroy the social fabric of a community or a nation. As it has been outlined above, an overview of a more appropriate international response to CRSV that is based on non-violent methods which could be carried out by unarmed civilian peacekeepers, will be offered by the discussion in this paper.

Unarmed civilian peacekeeping

Unarmed civilian peacekeeping is understood as civilians voluntarily acting as unarmed bodyguards to provide protection for communities they are sent to, and to strengthen local peace infrastructures (Mahony and Eguren, 1997, pp. 1-4). The most frequent deployment of UCP against imminent violence is in the form of protective presence. Protective presence is long-term physical nonpartisan presence and visibility (Julian and Schweitzer, 2015, p. 5). In later stages of a conflict, UCP is used as a peacebuilding operation. It facilitates space for dialogue and it encourages local solutions by introducing methods of nonviolent dispute settlement (Mahony, 2013), yet it does not impose its own approach to conflict resolution (Julian and Schweitzer, 2015, pp. 1-3). Activities of unarmed civilian peacekeeping include proactive engagement, monitoring, relationship building, rumour control and capacity development (Schirch, 2006, pp. 31-55). This essay will focus on the imminent protection services of UCP that are protective accompaniment, presence of an unarmed civilian peacekeeper and inter-positioning.

The idea of UCP by non-governmental and international non-governmental organisations was pioneered in the 1980s by Peace Brigades International (PBI) and has been adopted by many others since. To name a few, there are organisations that engage in UCP because of religious affiliation, such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, organisations that provide collective accompaniment in a specific area like Witness for Peace, and organisations that are actively involved in a cause, for example the International Solidarity Movement (Mahony, 2013). Additionally, these organisations do not have an official mandate and are not military personnel without weapons; rather, they rely on trained volunteers (Schweitzer, 2010a, pp. 1-8). What conjoins these volunteers is their belief in active non-violent methods (Mahony and Eguren, 1997, pp. 50-51).

The methodology of UCP is based on the idea commonly referred to as ‘political jiu-jitsu’ (Pattison, forthcoming). The non-violent methods employed on UCP missions, based on the principle of protective presence, aim to throw the violent party off its balance by using its brutality against itself. In other words, using non-violence against violence results in the delegitimisation of the violent party and the favourable perception of the non-violent party due to presumed unequal power relationships and the unjust utilisation of violence. Political jiu-jitsu achieves ‘dissuasion’, which Sharp defines as “the result of acts and processes which include an opponent not to carry out a contemplated hostile action”, such acts include “Rational argument, moral appeal, increased cooperation, improved human understanding, distraction, adoption of non-offensive policy and deterrence” (Sharp, 1985 cited in Mahony and Eguren, 1997, p. 84).

Military solutions

Having clarified the two main concepts of non-violence and serious aggression, below I will elaborate on the underlying reasons why it is problematic to employ violent methods in cases of conflict-related sexual violence. CRSV does not necessarily occur on the battlefields, but in regions hidden from the eyes of the international community, where it affects civilians disproportionately. Protection of civilians from CRSV requires physical presence on the ground. To this end, the international community, if it deems necessary, sends military peacekeeping missions to affected areas to stabilise, secure and protect. However, despite the deployment of military peacekeepers being the mainstream response, it is not the most appropriate.

The first objection to military peacekeeping as an international response to CRSV is based on the effects of militarisation on the soldiers’ behaviour. As many feminist theorists (see Maxwell, 2009; Cohn, 2012; Baaz and Stern, 2014) argue, the military is a highly gendered institution whose aim is to resocialise its members in order to construct a soldier identity that is willing to risk his/her life and take someone else’s. This resocialisation results in hyper-masculine identities, both in female and male soldiers, which glorify violence, aggressiveness, dominance and misogyny (DeLargy, 2012, pp. 61-62). Therefore, violence is redefined as a desirable and necessary way to fight the enemy. The abused use of violence calls upon military forces to resort to morally non-acceptable measures to fight the enemy, which can manifest in sexual violence. Even when this redefined approach to violence does not result in CRSV, it still generates a higher tolerance for extreme violent behaviours.

Second, military peacekeeping fails to address CRSV at its roots. Sexual violence as a tactic of war aims at the demoralisation and dissolution of communities. It is done by attacking those who are considered to be in need of protection, mostly women and girls because of their reproductive abilities. The purpose is to prove to the male counterparts that they are incapable of providing protection and therefore have failed to fulfil their fundamental role (DeLargy, 2012, p. 61). One of the reasons for using sexual violence as a tactic of war is to destroy the social fabric of a community. This is because victims of CRSV struggle to reintegrate into their communities since they remind their own community of its failure to provide protection. Tackling the issue of CRSV by deployment of armed international personnel is considered not effective for the reason that these forces participate in the maintenance of the protection myth defined above that is based on extreme gender divisions and unequal power relations. Additionally, once the military peacekeeping forces depart, the communities are left with their underlying gender inequality issues without having any coping mechanisms.

UN peacekeeping forces are not exempt from the effects of militarisation. This is because the military force of the UN is composed of its troop-contributing countries’ (TCC) military services (Anon, Nonviolent Peaceforce, 2016). The primary responsibility to train soldiers that are being sent to peacekeeping missions is borne by the troop contributing countries (Lyytikainen, 2007, pp. 4-15). Thus, having discussed the effects of military training and especially its effect of resocialisation, the risk prevails that soldiers that are sent to peacekeeping missions bear the characteristics of a hyper masculine identity. For this reason, it is important to incorporate a gender sensitive approach to the training of peacekeeping personnel. The UN has recognised the importance of gender mainstreaming in the training of its armed personnel, and the UN Development for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) developed training materials and offers advice for supplementary training for preliminary training that is available for police and troop contributing countries, yet the utilisation of such resources vary (Lyytikainen, 2007, pp. 7-11).

According to a 2007 working paper of the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) regarding gender sensitive training of personnel employed in UN peacekeeping missions, the extent of gender mainstreaming in preliminary trainings varies from country to country and depends on the respective country’s resources. The bulk of UN peacekeeping personnel come from developing countries of the Global South with limited resources and capacity to train their troops in a gender sensitive approach, as well as to involve non-technical matters such as preventing sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) (Lyytikainen, 2007, pp. 8-9). Countries of the Global North have wider resources available to include gender sensitive training (Lyytikainen, 2007, p. 9). However, greater capabilities do not translate into effective training and the expected results, as the situation in the Central African Republic humanitarian crisis illustrates, where French soldiers, among others, were accused of sexual abuse of children (Morenne, 2017). With regard to the induction training, the 2007 INSTRAW document draws attention to the insufficient gender awareness training. The length of such training, where it does happen, varies from 30 minutes to 2 hours (Lyytikainen, 2007, p. 9). Besides time limitations, existing language barriers also make it difficult to train peacekeeping personnel regarding gender issues in depth (p. 9). Moreover, during induction training the UN peacekeeping forces are being made aware of the UN’s Code and Conduct and Zero Tolerance policy regarding engagement in SEA (Lyytikainen, 2007, pp. 11-12). However, it seems that being aware of certain policies of the UN does not prevent peacekeepers to commit crimes of sexual violence and abuse by UN Peacekeeping. This is a concerning issue that could be understood in the framework of feminist theory of the effects of militarisation and unequal gender relations and should receive recognition and attention.

Despite these difficulties, in 2016 a compulsory online programme for all uniformed and civilian personnel was introduced with special focus on SEA to tackle the misconduct of UN personnel on Peacekeeping missions (UN News, 2017a). One of the recent developments is a new 4-point strategy announced by the Secretary General in March 2017, which aims to put the rights and dignity of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse at the forefront of UN efforts and to establish “greater transparency on reporting and investigations in an effort to end impunity for those guilty of sexual exploitation and abuse” (UN News, 2017b). The effectiveness of these efforts will be seen in due course.

Considering the relationship of feminist theory of militarisation and uneven gender sensitive training of UN Peacekeeping forces, it is not surprising that sexual violence is prevalent in UN peacekeeping missions, and that crimes of sexual violence have been documented on various missions, including in Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti (Maxwell, 2009, p. 110). Recent news reports also reported allegations of SEA committed by UN and French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR), that were acting under the authorisation of the Security Council (BBC News, 2017a, Morenne, 2017, and Foroohar, 2017). Overall, according to a 2016 report of the Secretary General, between 2013-2015 there were 187 allegations of SEA perpetrated by Peacekeeping personnel (United Nations, 2016).

As a response to the allegations of SEA in the CAR, an External Independent Review Panel, the “CAR Panel”, suggested that the way the UN handled these allegations was a “gross institutional failure” (Deschamps, Jallow and Sooka, 2015, p. v). Investigations identified 41 alleged perpetrators from its TCCs, 16 from Gabon and 25 from Burundi (Laville, 2017). Yet, further investigation of these cases is the respective countries’ responsibility. Investigating these allegations in a decentralised manner might result in lack of international attention, which leads to softer punishments of the perpetrators. Similarly, the BBC reported that the investigation of 6 accused French soldiers of sexually abusing children in the Central African Republic have not been charged (BBC News, 2017a). It is clear that the UN attempts to address issues of sexual abuse committed by its personnel with very limited success. On the other hand, a culture of impunity prevails regarding SEA crimes and Peacekeeping operations. It could also be argued that the UN is more interested in its political reputation than solving issues of SEA among its troops.

Due to the limited scope of this essay, an in-depth analysis cannot be provided on the effects of the involvement of women peacekeepers and their roles, however a few arguments may be considered. First, that the increasing involvement of women in peacekeeping missions may be a positive development towards gender equality. Female peacekeepers’ presence also aids the war-torn society by providing female role models and encourages victims of sexual abuse to report crimes based on the assumption that women would understand this issue better than their male counterparts (BBC News, 2017b).

However, the feminist theory of militarisation maintains the view that soldiers, regardless of their gender, are subject to the obtainment of hyper-masculine identities which could also result in downgrading the importance of sexual abuse and rape due to the high tolerance of violence. Further, post-colonial feminism argues that unequal power relations prevail among women of different cultural backgrounds (Tickner, 2013), which could complicate the self-identification of protected women with the peacekeeping forces’ female soldiers. Thus, involvement of women is important in peacekeeping operations, yet this paper maintains the view that it would not solve the underlying problem of militarisation in relation to CRSV.

To summarise, any attempt by the international community to tackle conflict-related sexual violence which involves military personnel is difficult to justify because the military system may facilitate sexual violence through the construction of hyper masculine identities. It is likely that the effects of militarisation result in doing harm intentionally and pushes the limits of tolerance for violence further than acceptable. Therefore, the next section turns to the discussion of unarmed civilian peacekeeping’s non-violent methods as alternatives to military solutions.

Deontological arguments for unarmed civilian peacekeeping

In what follows I will consider the inherent advantages of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping, that play a vital role in the justification of the utilisation of UCP as a response to serious aggression. The emphasis will be on the intentions of the personnel of UCP and will argue that the principle of volunteering cannot be changed by imposing UCP on other civilians.

One of the intrinsic arguments for using UCP is that its personnel is rightly motivated. Right intention is one of the main criteria of jus ad bellum of the just war theory, which defines the morally justifiable behaviour of when and how to wage a just war (Lee, 2012, pp. 69-85). Just war theory is relevant to the justifiability of the international community’s reaction when it acts in accordance to the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, for instance. In cases where the international community steps in to protect civilians from serious aggressions when a country has failed to provide such protection to its own citizens, it is important that those who are being deployed to tackle the conflict are rightly motivated.

In order to establish the argument that the personnel of UCP is rightly motivated, civilians that engage in UCP need to be examined. First and foremost, the personnel of UCP consist of volunteers that undergo a recruitment process to ensure appropriateness on missions. A study conducted on PBI’s earliest accompaniment volunteers revealed that most of the volunteers had some level of college education and had diverse professions before their voluntary service (Mahony and Eguren, 1997, pp. 50-51). Among these, the most common were human service professions (p. 50). Furthermore, as Coy (2010, p. 4) points out, the volunteers of PBI do not have financial motivations since their travel expenses are paid by themselves and they receive minimal financial contribution to their living costs. What is it then that motivates these individuals?

Some volunteers join because of religious and spiritual reasons, others join as a result of interest in peacekeeping, and others join because of altruistic reasons (Schirch, 2006, pp. 82-83; Pattison, forthcoming). More importantly, these volunteers share a firm belief in non-violence, humanitarianism and commitment to do the right thing (Mahony and Eguren, 1997, pp. 50-51). Furthermore, due to the volunteers’ strong belief of non-violence, UCP does not and cannot harm the civilians it accompanies. This is due to the fact that non-violent methods lack the complex relationship to violence of military solutions which is being reinforced through the reconstruction of soldiers’ identity. As it has been demonstrated, the underlying intention of UCP is to genuinely help innocent civilians that are disproportionately affected by violent conflicts. Therefore, unarmed civilian peacekeeping fulfils the criterion of right intention of the just war theory.

Unarmed civilian peacekeeping’s voluntary character is of utmost importance. therefore, if participation is imposed on individuals, this form of peacekeeping faces a valid objection. Pattison (forthcoming), in his persuasive account on unarmed civilian peacekeeping, raises a worry regarding the supererogatory nature of the method of proactive nonviolent presence if this service is imposed on others. His argument goes as follows: UCP’s protective presence is based on people willing to be human shields. Individuals cannot be required to be human shields because that is a supererogatory request, therefore UCP cannot be prescribed to individuals as a response to serious aggression.

A few issues surface by further examining the possibility of institutionalising unarmed civilian peacekeeping recruitment. If UCP is being made part of a military system and proactive non-violent presence is imposed through conscription, then the international community is back to point zero given the account that has been given on the effects of militarisation. It is deemed true even if the conscripted soldiers are civilians because the problem is inherent within the military system.

Additionally, Schweitzer (2010b, pp. 61-62) argues that UCP could be turned into a civilian duty under Pillar III of the of Responsibility to Protect, which involves coercive means of intervention to stop mass atrocity crises, according to which not only governments are responsible for addressing serious aggression but civil society also could also have a direct role (pp. 59-60). This argument is unconvincing because individuals cannot be sent to areas of conflict of any kind and protect by taking serious risks so that other civilians will not be harmed. Considering that the effectiveness of the method is based on non-violent methods and a strong belief in such methods, sending individuals on UCP missions that lack the motivation of genuine humanitarianism could be rather counter-effective. Those who have been enforced to take this duty might not understand the principles of UCP regardless of prior training. In this case, imposing duties on civilians not involved in the conflict could be seen as playing the game ‘who comes back alive’, which would have demoralising effects on the societies who have to take this duty.

To briefly conclude this section, deontological arguments justify the deployment of unarmed civilian peacekeeping as a response to serious aggression of CRSV given the high moral qualities of UCP’s personnel. However, the use of unarmed civilian peacekeeping is conditional. The condition is that it needs the volunteers’ and their respective organisations’ agreement to participate in a mission since it cannot be prescribed to individuals.

Consequentialist arguments for unarmed civilian peacekeeping

Having discussed the main deontological considerations, this section analyses consequentialist arguments regarding unarmed civilian peacekeeping. These arguments will concentrate on the efficacy of the methods of UCP. It will be argued that protective presence of UCP is the most effective measure that can be invoked as a response to serious aggression of sexual violence. Based on the high efficiency of unarmed civilian peacekeeping to tackle CRSV, UCP could be employed by the international community if it has the request of the civil society in need.

To prove that protective presence of UCP is the single most effective measure of the international community, this essay makes the following assertions. Firstly, protective presence is effective because it “tacitly activates sensitivities” (Schweitzer, 2010a, p. 21) by being simply present, which deters the violent opponent. Those who resort to the use of intentional harm of civilians by using sexual violence as a tactic of war tend to favour hiding such crimes from the eyes of the international community in order to avoid repercussion. In these cases, protective presence changes the traditional dynamics of sexual violence, making the aggressors evaluate the importance of the presence of the unarmed accompanier and the political costs of the intended crime.

Furthermore, as it has been defined previously, the accompanier has the opportunity to utilise it skills of dissuasion, and through communication it can provide explanation of international human rights and the standpoint of the international community on conflict-related sexual violence. Secondly, it is also possible that the protective presence meets with a ruthless opponent who, after evaluating the political costs, decides to commit the crime (Mahony and Eguren, 1997, pp. 98-99). In this case, UCP is still effective in the long run, since the presence of a member of the international community in such hidden places assures awareness of the fact that sexual violence is being used as a tactic of war. Accordingly, unsuccessful accompaniment might have consequences that will deter from engagement in these criminal activities in the future (Mahony and Eguren, 1997, pp. 98-99). For these reasons, it could be argued that, in case of CRSV, accompaniment by unarmed civilian peacekeeping personnel is a game-changer because it is effective in the long-run even if the protective presence fails to prevent aggression at first.

The effectiveness of UCP in relation to conflict-related sexual violence can be exemplified by examining Nonviolent Peaceforce’s mission in South Sudan, where “incidents of sexual violence and harassment decreased to zero in some locations during protective accompaniment activity” (Anon, Nonviolent Peaceforce, 2016). By working on grassroots level, it is ensured that those who provide protective presence can analyse the situation at hand and apply the most appropriate response. In South Sudan, Nonviolence Peaceforce volunteers are trained to identify and address incidents of sexual violence. They have performed round the clock protective accompaniment for women at risk of sexual violence and established mobile protective response teams. Reintegration programs were facilitated and specialist support was provided to rebuild lives and to empower communities (Anon, Nonviolent Peaceforce, 2016). Volunteers work with local civil society organisations to transfer knowledge on deterrence, thus, upon their departure, working self-defence strategies are left behind. It is apparent from this example that CRSV can be significantly reduced if it is tackled by proactive non-violence. Furthermore, as a consequence of reintegration programs of victims of CRSV, the use of sexual violence as weapon of war is likely to lose its efficiency.

The efficiency of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping can also be seen in the preparation and training for missions. In most cases, volunteers of UCP receive pre-deployment general training and mission specific training that can last up to 3 weeks. Common elements of general training are gender issues, intercultural communication and working in a team. Special preparation includes information on country, culture and conflict and occasionally language training (Schweitzer, 2001, p. 303). The volunteers’ preparation is taken seriously in order to prepare the volunteers to be able to fulfil the task they need to tackle. After training and prior to departure some organisations, such as PBI, evaluate the participants’ competence and suitability for the mission (Schweitzer, 2001, pp. 293-302). Personal development, nonviolent methods and specific skills to the mission these volunteers are sent to are at the core of unarmed civilian peacekeepers’ pre-deployment training (Schweitzer, 2001, p. 298), which explain why UCP could successfully tackle CRSV without engaging in sexual exploitation and abuse.

Having argued so far that the effectiveness of UCP has its root in nonviolence, others oppose this viewpoint and attribute its efficiency to the privileged social status of unarmed civilian peacekeepers. To be more precise, Coy (2010) asserts that Peace Brigades International’s effectiveness, and consequently unarmed civilian peacekeeping’s effectiveness, is due to the volunteers’ ‘pale white skin’. In his account on PBI in the early decades, Coy claims that PBI “engaged and partly relied upon racist and classist constructions of internationality in order to protect local activists” (2010, p. 1). This essay recognises the possible validity of this objection but maintains the following claims. Firstly, it might be true that the internationality and the colour of the skin is what deters violent aggressors, however, the basis of deterrence is the racism of the violent aggressors and not that of the unarmed civilian peacekeepers’. In fact, by providing protection, UCP promotes the importance of human rights and therefore racial equality (Pattison, forthcoming). Secondly, organisations of UCP acknowledge the risk of depending on internationals from the Global North and aim to employ staff from various backgrounds (Schirch, 2006, pp. 83-84). If so, this essay takes the stance that if both in the short and long-term UCP is significantly successful in deterring aggressors of CRSV, while it addresses the problems at their roots, then sending UCP to tackle these kind of mass violations of human rights is morally justifiable.

Furthermore, credibility also has to be given to the issue that UCP is a limited enforcement measure. As Schirch explains (2006, pp. 65-72), if the parties want to keep fighting, and they enjoy the support of civil society, UCP cannot do much and neither can armed peacekeeping. This also means that CRSV prevails as a weapon of war due to its relationship to violence. As a consequence, UCP depends on the civil society actors’ desire for peace and willingness to transform their societies. Nonetheless, this essay takes the stance that if there is civil society keenness to solve underlying issues of extreme unequal gender relations but the government in question has not given its consent to third party interference, UCP could be imposed by the international community under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (1945).

This viewpoint is in accordance with Coy’s persuasive account (2012, p. 77) on the importance of non-partisanship, non-interference and obedience of local law. It is argued that, by following these principles, organisations could reduce their vulnerabilities and avoid delegitimisation and discrimination by the host government (Wallis, 2010, pp. 32-34; Coy, 2012, p. 77). Therefore, UCP could be enforced if genuine impartiality and non-partisanship is ensured. It is argued that the host government in which the intervention occurs would tolerate an imposed UCP measure better than it would a military solution. For the reason that the host government likely would regard military intervention as a violation of its sovereignty, this concern would be alleviated by the principle of non-interference of UCP. Besides, in the case where UCP is enforced and peacekeepers are being harmed intentionally by the host government, it would lead to reputational costs, delegitimation and serious repercussions. Given UCP’s high efficiency, impartiality and non-partisanship it is likely that in case of enforcement, UCP could provide protection and safe space to local dispute settlement without its volunteers being harmed. Therefore, its use is justified because it results in doing more good than harm. However, its enforcement depends on the condition of request from the civil society in need.


To summarise, this essay has established that conflict-related sexual violence is a serious aggression that needs to be addressed. It has shown that military solutions to address CRSV are both problematic and cannot be justified due to their complex relationship to violence. Therefore, this paper has argued that unarmed civilian peacekeeping could effectively address such issues due to its firm belief in nonviolence. Yet UCP also faces limitations. The voluntary nature of participation in UCP cannot be removed and the imposition of unarmed civilian peacekeeping by the international community is dependent upon the invitation of the civil society in need.


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Increasing Accountability in Peacekeeping Operations: Challenges and Opportunities

Ellinore Ahlgren, University of Cambridge, UK

Ellinore is a recent graduate from the University of Cambridge, where she studied Politics and International Relations. She has a keen interest in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Ellinore is currently volunteering with the Cambridge Development Initiative in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and has begun work for Education First this fall.


During the past 25 years, peacekeeping operations have become increasingly common and extensive in their scope. This development has been accompanied by demands for increased accountability in peacekeeping operations. This paper aims to explore to what extent increased accountability can be achieved in the peacekeeping context, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead. The article looks at how to improve local accountability in peacekeeping operations by discussing four key areas of concern: the operations detachment from local communities, the regionalization of peacekeeping operations, the current approach to establishing peacekeeping mandates and the culture of impunity for peacekeepers accused of sexual violence. Accountability in peacekeeping operations should be a priority, and there are a number of opportunities for decision-makers to address this issue. Incremental steps to improve accountability include creating performance indicators for operations, establishing contact points with local communities, developing collaborative peacekeeping mandates by involving local actors in their creation, and enforcing justice for the misconduct of individual peacekeepers.


Newly appointed Secretary-General António Guterres inherited a United Nations (UN) that currently deploys more than 100,000 peacekeepers in 16 peacekeeping operations around the world. Peacekeeping operations are made up of military, police and civilian personnel, working to provide support in the areas of security, politics and early peacebuilding (United Nations, 2017). Despite the rapid expansion in both the number of operations and the scope of them since the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping operations have a varying track record that has been subjected to increased scrutiny and critique in later years. A key challenge for the new Secretary-General has been to improve accountability for failed operations and the individual misconduct of peacekeepers; currently, there is a lack of effective accountability mechanisms at all levels.

This essay will explore what accountability means in the peacekeeping context, and discuss ways it could be increased. The essay begins by problematizing the concept of accountability in peacekeeping operations and thereafter discusses their detachment from local realities. Subsequently, the idea of strengthening regional arrangements to improve accountability will be evaluated. The possibility of turning peacekeeping mandates upside down will be considered and the final section will discuss the persistent culture of impunity in peacekeeping operations. The aim is to argue that in peacekeeping operations, outside actors should take measures to improve local accountability through a process of more inclusive and collaborative mandates, creating community relations offices, establishing performance standards and holding individual peacekeepers responsible for misconduct.

Qualifying accountability in the peacekeeping context

‘Accountability means answerability; it implies a duty to explain one’s conduct and be open to criticism by another’ (Heywood 2015, p.2). In other words, accountability means being obliged to answer to someone. In addition to answerability, accountability relates to the relationship between someone exercising power, and those affected by that power. Whalan (2016, p. 2) argues that ‘accountability processes are ways of both checking power and arguing about how it should be exercised’. In the peacekeeping context, this means the power relationship between the actors in charge of decision-making, the peacekeeping personnel executing the operation, and the local actors affected by the peacekeeping operation. Accountability in peacekeeping operations can be divided into two terms: international accountability and local accountability. Whalan (2016, p. 3) uses these terms to describe the direction of accountability, where international accountability is flowing upward, referring to mechanisms within UN organs and member states to hold those executing peacekeeping operations accountable, and local accountability which refers to downward accountability, or the mechanisms available to the host society to hold those involved in peacekeeping operations to account. This essay will focus primarily on local accountability, as it is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of operations.

Operations detached from local realities

Local accountability is fundamental to the success of peacekeeping operations, as it provides legitimacy to peacekeeping forces and can thereby ensure the efficiency of missions. When peacekeeping personnel are perceived by the host society as illegitimate outside interveners, local actors can resist and hinder the effectiveness of the operation. For instance, in 2010, the government of Chad requested the withdrawal of the UN mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT). In 2015, Sudan’s government refused to issue visas for French, British and American UN ambassadors, in addition to denying peacekeepers of the UN and African Union joint mission to Darfur (UNAMID) entry to a village where mass rape was thought to have occurred (Day, 2017). This resistance demonstrates that host governments sometimes have an antagonistic stance towards outside interveners, which highlights the importance of local cooperation. Instead, if local actors have mechanisms to hold peacekeeping operations accountable, they can rely on these mechanisms to voice their discontent rather than resort to obstructive measures.

A key aspect of accountability in the peacekeeping context concerns mechanisms to account for failed operations. In order to create both international and local accountability mechanisms for failed operations, there needs to be a set of standards for success in peacekeeping operations. Scholars of peace studies have suggested a myriad of approaches to measuring success; Durch emphasises the need to tackle the underlying causes of conflict, while Rater suggests that the long- and short-term impact on the target country should be in focus (Bellamy and Williams 2005, p.176). Rather than accepting any of these approaches, Bellamy and Williams highlight three crucial aspects for measuring success in peacekeeping operations: the operation’s perceived legitimacy, its success in achieving its mandate, and its impact on peace and security in the region (2005, p.171). This is a practical way of measuring success in peacekeeping operations compared to Durch’s or Ratner’s approach, since the focus on legitimacy, effectiveness and impact are concrete ways of relating an operation’s success back to the concept of accountability. Establishing performance indicators for peacekeeping operations would be the first step towards ensuring accountability, as it would allow for operational definitions of success and failure.

Another dimension of accountability relates to who the outside actors are, and who should hold them responsible. Varied actors, including the UN, regional organisations, and coalitions of the willing or individual states, conduct peacekeeping operations. I argue that the UN has a key responsibility to hold this diverse group of actors accountable, given its dominant role as peacekeeping actor, and as a conveyor of legitimacy for other actors. This includes the operations that are not conducted with UNSC involvement or approval, because even when non-UN actors lack formal support from the UN, research has shown that they still try to act in accordance with UN purposes and principles to achieve legitimacy (Bellamy and Williams 2005). Therefore, the key focus will be for the UN to increase its own accountability, and that of other actors involved in peacekeeping operations.

Peacekeeping operations need to ensure accountability for local actors on the ground; the current nature of peacekeeping operations makes it impossible to provide local accountability. Pouligny shows that in most operations, there are very limited opportunities for contact between peacekeepers and the local population. Often the local population has little, if any, direct communication with the peace operations. ‘There is a lack of testimony about entire zones where inhabitants have said they ‘have never seen’ peacekeepers or indeed think they have left the country well before the actual date of withdrawal’ (2006, p. 30). Moreover, opportunities for contact do not necessarily mean opportunities for communication; culture and language barriers may prevent effective communication. Most often, the operation’s budget is not sufficient to meet the need for interpreters (Pouligny 2006, p.32). In addition, peace operations tend to be based in cities and capitals, which creates discord with the rural population. Even within cities, peacekeepers tend to focus on military and political elites in the metropolitan areas, and rarely venture out into the residential suburbs (Pouligny 2006, p.33). Considering these conditions, it is not strange that some societies reject peacekeepers or see them as outsiders. As long as peacekeeping operations remain distant and detached from the social, political, economic and cultural realities of local peoples, it will be hard to achieve accountability from a bottom-up perspective.

The detachment of peacekeeping operations from local realities remains one of the biggest challenges to achieving accountability in peacekeeping operations. While the 2015 United Nations High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report cites further engagement with the people on the ground as a goal, which

‘demands that United Nations personnel in the field engage with and relate to the people and communities they are asked to support. The legacy of the “white-SUV culture” must give way to a more human face that prioritizes closer interaction with local people to better understand their concerns, needs and aspirations’, 

this remains an abstract goal without concrete measures for application. Establishing links with local councils or other structures of governance outside the country’s capital would improve local participation in peacekeeping operations. Yet while increased participation in decision-making by affected parties can help create a sense of local ownership in peacekeeping operations, it does not necessarily lead to increased accountability for local actors. A suggestion by Whalan (2016, p.2) is to create a local ombudsperson or a community relations office. This would establish a mechanism that would allow local actors to hold both individual peacekeepers and peacekeeping operations accountable to a set of standards regarding their legitimacy, efficiency and impact. However, local participation in setting the standards is crucial, as an ombudsperson could otherwise exclude local actors if these indicators were to be developed without their input.

The “regionalization debate” and accountability

Another suggestion to increase accountability could be to strengthen regional arrangements and let regional actors be the primary players in peacekeeping operations. HIPPO includes directives to strengthen regional ties in peacekeeping operations, which could enable accountability. Indeed, if the primary actors of peacekeeping operations were regional forces, they are more likely to 1) have a stake in the conflict and therefore possess an understanding of the local context, 2) avoid charges of neocolonialism, and 3) the governments of the countries in the region could be held accountable by their people. While a move towards regionalization of peacekeeping operations has many strong points, it is necessary to consider the weaker aspects as well. One potential downside would be that the peacekeeping actors might have too high stakes in the conflict, and therefore hold vested interests. Bellamy and Williams raise another consideration in their exploration of “the regionalization debate”: since 1990, a number of peace operations in Africa and elsewhere have been conducted by non-UN actors, including regional organisations like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU), but also individual states such as the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone, France in Central African Republic and Côte d’Ivoire (2005, p.157). Much of the literature discusses this phenomenon of non-UN peace operations in terms of “regionalization” and is focusing on how to best develop the relationship between the UN and regional arrangements. Bellamy and Williams reject the term “regionalization” for two reasons: the actors that conduct these operations are not only regional organisations or arrangements; individual states intervene, as do coalitions of the willing from different areas, and secondly, regional arrangements have engaged in areas far outside their own regions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan or the European Union (EU) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2005, p.160-161). Proliferation of actors in peacekeeping operations may be a more apt term to describe this phenomenon.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former UN head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, further warned that regionalization creates an “only in my backyard” -approach which is problematic for regions that lack the resources to conduct effective peace operations (Bellamy and Williams 2005, p.160). It is worth questioning whether the quality of peacekeeping should be subordinated to the amount of resources a conflict-torn state’s neighbors have the capacity to spare. Increased regionalization could have serious implications for poor regions that lack the resources to provide effective peacekeeping. In addition to the implications that the region’s resources have for the quality of peacekeeping, the region’s system of rule may severely impact opportunities for accountability; if a democratic state conducts a peacekeeping operations that fails, there may be a high political cost for leaders domestically, which provides a certain amount of accountability. In an autocratic state, mechanisms for holding political leaders accountable may be significantly impaired. While the increased regionalization or proliferation of actors in peacekeeping operations has some advantages, it could prove detrimental in the long term.

Turning mandates upside down: the compact approach

Another suggestion to increase local accountability would be to turn peacekeeping operation mandates upside down. In a thought provoking think piece, Day (2017) suggests that one way peacekeeping operations could address the issue of consent from host-governments would be to change the process of mandate creation. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issues new mandates for peacekeeping operations, with recommendations from the UN Secretary-General. The host government and other regional players may be consulted to determine the scope of the mandate, but not the terms of it: ‘This means the mission’s mandate is often viewed by host governments in particular as an imposition—a Western process cooked up in New York without key national or regional buy-in’ (Day 2017). Day suggests that in order to address the issue of consent, the substantive mandate should instead be developed in a process involving the UN Secretariat, the host government and other relevant stakeholders, limiting the Security Council to create a preliminary mandate determining the broad objectives and to approve the mandate as negotiated by the Secretariat and parties involved. The mandate would from the outset be a collaborative, horizontal creation rather than a vertical order from the Council.

Day calls this reconstruction of the creation of mandates the “compact approach”, which fits particularly well with the HIPPO directives, which Day suggests have yet to be implemented:

‘…there has been much talk of the HIPPO, but little has changed in the way the UN plans and manages peacekeeping operations. In fact, in 2016 the UN struggled more than ever before to demonstrate its ability to deliver in complex circumstances’ (Day 2017). 

The compact approach aligns particularly well with HIPPO, as the approach 1) allows for the “primacy of politics” directive emphasised in the report; mandates are supposed to be a political agreement with joint expectations of the goal of the operation, 2) tailors the mandate to the conflict, avoiding a more formulaic and universalist approach, as favored in HIPPO, 3) could be one way of achieving HIPPO’s call for increased inclusion of local and regional actors. The UN could request that important local actors and civil society sign the agreement of the mandate and finally, 4) makes the process more collaborative, mitigating charges of neocolonialism often directed at the UN and Western powers intervening in conflict situations. The compact approach offers a solution to the accountability problem threatening peacekeeping operations while mitigating other criticisms simultaneously.

A big question mark that arises in response to the compact approach is whether the UNSC would be willing to relinquish authority on peacekeeping mandates. Day (2017) argues that in practice, the UNSC has little control already. However, this does not necessarily indicate that the most powerful organ of the UN would willingly relinquish formal authority over peacekeeping operations to the Secretariat and host governments, considering that operations have been growing in both number and in scope since the 1990s. Given that the body has resisted calls for structural reform since its outset in 1945, it seems rather unlikely that the Permanent Five (P5) would respond to this call for accountability by surrendering authority of one of its key mechanisms.

Increasing accountability in a culture of impunity

The final reflection of this essay regards the culture of impunity in relation to peacekeepers accused of sexual violence, harassment and child abuse. In 2016, allegations surfaced that peacekeepers in the Central African Republic had committed crimes of sexual violence and child abuse on a wide scale (Asumadu and Kinouani, 2016). This is far from a new feature of peacekeeping operations; during the UN mission in Cambodia during 1991-1992, the number of sex workers is estimated to have risen from 6000 to 20,000 due to the high demand from peacekeepers; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2003, peacekeepers were said to have traded food for sexual favors (Asumadu and Kinouani, 2016). Despite these longstanding allegations against peacekeepers, dating back to the early 1990s at least, no effective mechanism exists to deal with these allegations and hold perpetrators accountable. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) conducted an internal investigation regarding allegations of sexual violence and harassment in the Central African Republic, resulting in a report that identified 41 peacekeepers as potential perpetrators of sexual violence and child abuse, which OIOS shared with the peacekeepers’ national governments (UN News Centre, 2016). While the UN condemned the behavior of the peacekeepers and encouraged the governments of the accused perpetrators to take judicial action against them, no guarantee exists that they will be held accountable. The UN Spokesperson Office issued a statement saying that the responsibility now lies with the governments of the accused (UN News Centre, 2016). Despite oft-repeated promises of “zero-tolerance policies” for peacekeepers that engage in sexual exploitation and child abuse, prosecution is the exception rather than the rule (Asumadu and Kinouani, 2016). Here, the UN needs to devote greater resources and use its leverage to get states to commit to holding perpetrators responsible, thereby establishing greater international accountability over peacekeeping operations. Addressing the culture of impunity that surrounds peacekeeping operations would be a first step towards dealing with the problem of accountability on a micro-level, which in turn could feed into macro-level reform to hold operations responsible for poor performance in peacekeeping activities.


Outside actors can increase their accountability, and should devote time and resources to do so since the accountability problem can lead to local resistance that threatens the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations. The primary burden lies with the UN as the dominant actor and legitimizer of peacekeeping operations. A first step towards accountability would be to establish performance standards to systematically evaluate the operation’s legitimacy, effectiveness and impact. Establishing contacts with local structures to increase participation, as well as an ombudsperson or a community relations office, would be another way to increase accountability. While the strengthening of regional ties could help the issue of accountability, the proliferation of non-UN actors may have problematic consequences in the long term. Turning mandates upside down is another interesting idea that would increase accountability by making the process of mandate creation more collaborative and inclusive, and by giving the host government a greater responsibility in the operation. However, a lack of political will among the P5 may become a serious obstacle to this vision. Finally, holding individual peacekeepers responsible for misconduct is a key concern; the UN needs to demand that countries providing peacekeepers hold them responsible for abuse and exploitation, rejecting the existing culture of impunity. One of the major challenges to ensuring accountability on the ground is the elite-centered nature of peacekeeping operations and the lack of effective interaction with local populations. As long as operations remain detached from local realities, accountability at the grassroots level remains an illusion.


Asumadu, S. and Kinouani, G. 2016. The UN must smash the culture of impunity that let’s peacekeepers get away with child abuse. The Telegraph. (Online). 20 April. Available from: (Accessed: 7 May 2017).

Bellamy, A and Williams, P. 2005. Who’s Keeping the Peace? Regionalization and Contemporary Peace Operations. International Security, Vol. 29, No. 4.

Day, A. 2017. To Build Consent in Peace Operations, Turn Mandates Upside Down. United Nations University, Centre for Policy Research. (Online). 17 January. Available from: (Accessed: 7 May 2017).

Heywood, A. 2015. Key Concepts in Politics and International Relations. 2nd edition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pouligny, B. 2006. Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People. London: Hurst.

UN News Centre. 2016. Central African Republic: UN completes investigations into allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers. (Online). 5 December. Available from: (Accessed: 7 May 2017).

United Nations. 2015. Report of the Independent Panel on Peace Operations. (Online). Available from: (Accessed: 7 May 2017).

United Nations. 2017. Peacekeeping Operations. (Online). Available from:  (Accessed: 7 May  2017).

Whalan, J. 2016. Strengthening the local accountability of UN Peacekeeping. In Jeremy Farrall and Hilary Charlesworth (Ed.), Strengthening the Rule of Law through the UN Security Council (pp. 135-149). Abingdon, Oxon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Peacekeeping in today’s ‘complex emergencies’: Why it still matters that UN peacekeepers strive to adhere to the core principles of UN Peacekeeping

Eric Harsch, King’s College London, UK

Eric holds an MA in International Peace and Security from the War Studies Department from King’s College London. He obtained his BA degree in History and Political Science from the University of Glasgow and McGill University in Montreal and has previously worked with the Human Rights Council. 


The three core principles of consent, impartiality and the use of force only in self-defence have been a distinct and defining feature of United Nations Peacekeeping. Notwithstanding their partial reconceptualization in the wake of new post-Cold War realities, the ever-more ambitious tasks that peacekeepers undertake in complex environments put into question the value of adhering to the core principles, and the identity of peacekeeping itself. This article argues that current practices, especially the protection of civilians, increasing ‘robustness’ and stabilization-type missions undermine the principles and create a mismatch between doctrine, strategy, and practice. Advocating a shift towards more politically-oriented interventions, it is shown how the departure from the core principles has adverse consequences for UN missions in the pursuit of political solutions, which ought to represent their ultimate strategic objective. The article posits that stronger adherence to the core principles can, to some extent, remedy this disconnect and provide a solid basis for UN peacekeeping missions to support political processes, which should act as a reference point for UN peacekeeping practices.


In 1956, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld outlined the three core principles of peacekeeping, namely consent of the host parties, impartiality and the use of force only in self-defence, in the context of the deployment of UNEF (White, 2015, p.48). Almost 60 years later, the High-level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (HIPPO) (2015, para.122) reaffirmed the salience of the core principles, though the content of each principle has decisively changed. Indeed, peacekeeping as a whole has significantly evolved, from a buffer force to a polyvalent instrument used by the international community to manage and solve conflicts (Findlay, 2002, p.4). Peacekeepers now operate in complex emergencies, pursuing more ambitious objectives and fulfilling a wide range of tasks. The increasing ‘robustness’ of UN peacekeeping missions, the centrality of protection of civilians mandates and the recent move towards stabilization-type missions, are vivid illustrations of its changed nature. In view of these far-reaching transformations, the question of whether it remains reasonable to expect peacekeepers to adhere to the core principles deserves closer attention.

Ideally, doctrine and practice are aligned, buttressed by a strategic vision for UN peacekeeping. Some contemporary mission mandates and activities disregard the three core principles, creating an unreasonable state of affairs where principles, practice and objectives do not seem to support each other, potentially hampering the effectiveness of peacekeeping. Bellamy and Hunt (2015, 1281-82; 1285) remark for instance that missions tasked with stabilization, usually comprising robust capacities and protection of civilians mandates, contravene the principle of impartiality by openly siding with the state, hence discriminating a priori against some parties, and stretch the use of force beyond self-defence. The challenges arising from this discrepancy between doctrinal and strategic considerations on the one hand, and operational practices on the other will undermine peacekeeping if these elements remain misaligned (Peter, 2015, p.352). This essay will argue in favour of a re-alignment of practice with the core principles, tied to a clear sense of political purpose. It will claim that the current practice of peacekeeping, with its departure from the core principles, undermines UN peacekeeping and impedes it from engaging meaningfully in political processes. The first section will outline the transformation of peacekeeping and consider the concurrent evolution of the core principles. The next section will look at three particular elements of contemporary peacekeeping, principally within the context of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), analysing the mismatch between doctrine and practice. The final part will outline some adverse consequences flowing from the above, and propose a more restrained use of peacekeeping more strongly aligned with the core principles.

Peacekeeping and its core principles in complex emergencies

Peacekeeping was conceived as one of the tools to pursue the UN’s obligation to maintain international peace and security within the Cold War context, in the absence of the operationalization of the collective security provision (Thakur, 2006, p.34). Traditional peacekeeping missions had the fairly straightforward purpose of acting as a buffer force between two opposing sides, usually states, monitoring a cease-fire and stabilising the situation, with a view to enable a political solution (Thakur, 2006, p.35). The three core principles, sometimes referred to as the ‘holy trinity’, defined their behaviour and were indeed central to their existence, making them both legally and politically palatable in the context of the Cold War: consent to the UN’s presence and activities allowed them to act impartially in their dealings with the parties, which equally meant that there was no need for the use of force beyond self-defence (Sloan, 2014, p.678). The underlying principles guided and reflected practice and were geared towards peacekeeping’s purpose.

After the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping has changed almost beyond recognition. It has evolved from a primarily military model to multi-dimensional missions, whose various parts ought to work together to enable the achievement of sustainable peace (UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), 2008, p.18). It no longer exhibits a clear consistency of purpose, but has rather taken on a variety of tasks in internal conflicts, against the background of the Security Council’s evolving view that threats to international peace and security can emerge from within countries (UN Security Council (UNSC), 1992). In this context, peacekeeping objectives broadened and, some would argue, explicitly politicized, swaying towards a more liberal agenda (Koops, 2015, p.3). At the same time, while the core principles continued to underlie peacekeeping, they have been adapted to fit the changed political and normative structure of the post-Cold War system.

This change, captured by the Brahimi Report and consolidated by the Capstone doctrine[1], stemmed from the realization that the traditional conceptual framework of UN peacekeeping could no longer further the goals of the international community in the post-Cold War era and deal with the changed operating environment. As peacekeeping was reconsidering its role in the post-Cold War world, the 1990s yielded crucial experiences and debates regarding the non-use of force (Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina) and the excessive use of force (Somalia) (Findlay, 2002, p.1), the potentially tragic consequences of remaining neutral in the face of atrocities (Rwanda), and the right balance in gaining universal consent and retaining effectiveness (Bosnia-Herzegovina) (Gow and Dandeker, 1995).

While the Brahimi Report (UN General Assembly (UNGA), 2000, para.48) reaffirmed the core principles as the bedrock of peacekeeping, their meaning was significantly altered. At the heart of its vision for modern peacekeeping lay a new understanding of impartiality. As its traditional meaning of neutrality and equal treatment of all parties had supposedly become untenable, it was now to mean “adherence to the principles of the Charter and to the objectives of a mandate that is rooted in those Charter principles” (UNGA, 2000, para.50). Peacekeepers are considered referees, and the use of coercion is conceivable as long as peacekeepers deal even-handedly with all parties for the same infraction (DPKO, 2008, p.33). Rhoads dubs it ‘assertive impartiality’ and emphasizes that it shifted the substance and nature of peacekeeping, and has led to its politicization, with its authority now being derived from a set of human rights-related norms (Rhoads, 2016, p.198; p.2; p7). As von Billerbeck argues (2017, p.51), peacekeeping’s ultimate aim extended from the mere stabilization of the international system, towards building the foundations for sustainable peace by promoting democracy.

On the crucial issue of consent, the Brahimi Report (UNGA, 2000, para.48) recognized that it could be manipulated. Indeed, as Johnstone (2011) reports, there have been significant challenges to consent in recent times, ranging from complete withdrawal to hampering operational tasks. The distinction between strategic and tactical consent points to a novel understanding contained in the 2008 Guidelines, which underline that consent could break down at the local level, potentially requiring the use of force as a last resort (DPKO, 2008, pp. 31-33). The maintenance of consent is an increasingly potent challenge, and Gow and Dandeker (1995) discussed the potential need for limited enforcement measures, opposing a craven attachment to consent, which would undermine respect for and the effectiveness of the mission. In this context, the Guidelines refer to the desirability of obtaining consent from the ‘main parties’, as well as of their commitment to a peace process (DPKO, 2008). While the consent from the host state retains primary importance, not least as a fundamental legal requirement, seeking the consent from other relevant actors can be seen as a ‘practical cum political necessity’ to bolster UN legitimacy and efficiency (Tsagourias, 2006, p.475). In complex, internal conflicts, this is often premised on the existence of a peace agreement or some basic political process, in the absence of which the UN has no real reference point for impartiality beyond human rights-related norms, which cannot constitute a strategic objective by themselves. This logic underpins the challenges UN missions may face in cases where there is no peace to keep.

While framing the use of force as an exception, the Brahimi Report (UNGA, 2000, p.49) also calls for ‘robust’ peacekeeping missions, able to defend themselves and the mission’s mandates. The use of tactical force became sanctioned, but the Guidelines (DPKO, 2008, p.34) clearly noted that robust peacekeeping must not be confused with peace enforcement. While a number of peacekeeping missions are now authorized under Chapter VII, they are not meant to amount to peace enforcement, i.e. the imposition of a particular solution. Rather, missions are allowed to ‘use […] force at the tactical level, limited in time and space’ (UN General Assembly Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, cited in Karlsrud, 2015, p.43), though the line between tactical and operational use of force, which constitutes the threshold to peace enforcement, is sometimes very fine (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1281). The HIPPO (2015) explicitly states that peacekeeping missions should be cautious with regards to peace enforcement and are not suited for counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency activities, recommending outsourcing such tasks to regional partners, as has been done with the African Union in several instances. The latter has increasingly engaged in peace support operations on its continent since the early 2000s, raising questions about the potential impact of its missions on UN doctrine, addressed below.

Even as this new framework gave potentially more leeway to pursue more far-reaching objectives and activities, peacekeeping (and its practices) has continued to evolve, becoming more enmeshed with other activities under the umbrella of peace operations, and now threatens to grow out of the conceptual suit it is wearing. The HIPPO Report (2015, para.105) pointed to the increased use of peacekeeping for conflict management purposes, beyond its core role of preserving the peace and implementing agreements. While the Guidelines (DPKO, 2008, p.18; p.31) stress that the core principles set peacekeeping apart and allow it to make a distinct contribution, the next section will focus on how the new peacekeeping vision and three associated elements and practices, namely ‘robustness’, the protection of civilians (PoC) and stabilization-type missions, ultimately undermine the core principles, raising the question of whether it is still reasonable for peacekeepers to adhere to them.

Contemporary peacekeeping: wither the core principles?

The novel understanding of impartiality was supposed to establish a new purpose for the UN, yet is ultimately deeply contested (Rhoads, 2016, p.92). Peacekeeping has become a ‘politically fragmented practice’ (Rhoads, 2016, p.93), and the lack of agreement on its core purpose extends to and is reflected in the debates regarding the adequacy of the core principles as a basis for today’s missions. As the HIPPO (2015, para.121) indicated, a number of member states, including several large troop contributing countries, have fervently argued in favour of retaining the core principles, while others have emphasized that they are out-dated and need another readjustment, pointing to a held belief that current aims and practices are hindered by the core principles, whose normative value no longer fits policy. In order to assess these opposing claims, this section will consider three elements, namely the increasing robustness, the protection of civilians, and stabilization-type efforts, which have become an integral part of several recent missions, and their impact on the core principles and the practice and nature of peacekeeping as a whole, as a basis for formulating a way forward.

The call for more robust missions is both linked to the more fragile operating environments as well as to some practices of peacekeeping, namely the protection of civilians and the confrontation of spoilers (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1279). As the protection agenda gained traction within the UN, the PoC has become an integral part of many peacekeeping mandates, and sometimes indeed a central focus[2]. For example, UNMISS’ mandate under Resolution 2155 (UNSC, 2014a), reinforced by Resolution 2304 (UNSC, 2016), conceives PoC as a primary task of the mission, along with an increase of peacekeeping troops. This potentially encourages a more robust posture, and reflects the new assertive impartiality dictating the defence of human rights. Finally, stabilization mandates, providing ‘active support for consolidation and extension of state authority’ (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1279), reflect a move towards Afghanistan or Iraq-type missions. There are currently four such missions[3], and while they do not inevitably prescribe far-reaching actions, they raise pertinent questions regarding the core principles and the aims of peacekeeping.

The implementation of such mandates and practices provides a vivid illustration of their contradiction with the core principles. MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DRC, strongly exhibits all these practices. It was deployed in 2010, as a successor to MONUC (established in 1999). While the latter’s mandate already contained a protection of civilians mandate since October 2004 (UNSC, 2004a), Resolution 1925 (UNSC, 2010) introduced the stabilization mandate. Additionally, Resolution 2098 (UNSC, 2013b) created the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), allowing it to ‘take all necessary measures’ to ‘neutralize’ and ‘disarm’ groups that pose a threat to ‘state authority and civilian security’.

Firstly, stabilization mandates are inherently biased: as they support the host state in extending their authority against any challengers, they are self-consciously partial and indeed require the UN to differentiate between the parties a priori (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1282). There is an unstated ‘belief in the transformative agency of extending state authority’, relying on the power of institutions outside the realm of politics (De Coning, 2015, p.2). In the DRC, partiality is amplified by the FIB, which is explicitly mandated to eliminate particular parties. Similarly, MINUSMA supports the transitional authorities of Mali against insurgents and jihadist groups (Karlsrud, 2015, p.45), explicitly implying that parties are not to be treated alike.

Such mandates are generally not associated with a peace process, and the lack of comprehensive agreements creates uncertain relations with other ‘main parties’, whose consent is desirable for the effective operation of peacekeeping missions. Instead, as observed in the DRC, stabilization missions are fully concentrated on host state consent, while no attempt was made to secure strategic-level consent from other ‘main parties’. Certainly, obtaining consent from ‘main parties’, which are often in armed opposition to the state and may attempt to overthrow it, is arduous at best. If anything, such situations illustrate that the absence of political processes entails complex challenges for peacekeeping missions established in unstable conditions with no peace to keep, where the UN tends to manage conflict rather than keep the peace. Focussing on state authority extension assumes a premeditated solution, essentially precluding a political denouement other than on the government’s terms. However, overly close ties with the state can yield problems if the state, such as in the DRC, is being abusive itself, putting the UN in a difficult position (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1285).

Secondly, the protection of civilians can create perceptions of partiality. The associated threat or use of force is rarely directed against government troops, while its use against militias can make future cooperation more difficult (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1285). In the DRC, the UN’s inconsistency and failures to protect civilians, and in morally condemning particular actors, all while emphasising its impartiality, served to legitimise or delegitimise parties to the conflict, making it a potentially powerful and subversive tool for various actors (Rhoads, 2016, p.199). Also, the protection of civilians often raises expectations that missions are unable to fulfil, which can lead to a loss of confidence in and legitimacy of the UN[4].

Lastly, both stabilization and the PoC have contributed to calls for more robustness, with a potentially larger tolerance for the use of force, alongside the notion that the UN must be able to confront spoilers of peace processes[5]. A number of peacekeeping missions are now authorised under Chapter VII[6], which can allow the use of force without the consent of the ‘main parties’. Force can be used to defend the mandate, and with mandates expanding, it opens up the possibility for the increasing use of force, beyond individual self-defence[7].

Going further, some mandates seem to explicitly authorise the offensive use of force. The FIB does not depend on the particular behaviour of actors as a trigger to use force, but can take proactive measures to ‘neutralize’ armed groups (Müller, 2015, p.366). Besides departing from the core principle of defensive use of force, it equally reinforces the partiality of MONUSCO. The mandate of MINUSMA has authorised French contingents to use all necessary measures in support of the UN mission (UNSC, 2013a), thus putting the rest of the mission in close relation with the proactive use of force.

Confronted with increasing demands and challenges potentially requiring enforcement approaches the UN is not inclined to adopt, partnerships to maintain peace rise in importance, in particular with the African Union (AU), which engages in peace support operations since the early 2000s. Such a partnership potentially raises questions with regards to the UN’s core principles. As Fitz-Gerald (2017, p.630) notes, the UN’s core principles are quite unique as a doctrine and provide it with a very particular starting point compared to other organizations. Indeed, the AU’s African Standby Forces (ASF) adapt their approach according to function and purpose of the mission, rather than taking a principled approach (De Coning, 2017, p.169). At the same time, the UN’s authorization of such missions, i.e. in Burundi, Mali, or Somalia, means that it has to relate to the UN core principles. The current cooperation is largely complementary, wherein the AU deploy into on-going conflicts to stabilize the situation and create the necessary political processes, which the UN can subsequently support and protect through peacekeeping missions (De Coning, 2017, 155). From a UN view, the AU missions engage in peace enforcement activities to establish the conditions for UN-led peacekeeping missions. This functional division of labour circumvents hard questions about the core principles for now, but deeper partnership with more subsidiarity would require clarification on the relationship. In this context, the recently concluded Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security (United Nations-African Union Annual Conference, 2017) recognizes the need of a ‘shared understanding of each other’s doctrines’.

As is plainly discernible from the above analysis, the practices of peacekeeping are in opposition to the core principles in obvious ways, raising precisely the question of whether it is still reasonable to adhere to them. As M. Peter (2015, p.351) pronounces a new era of ‘enforcement peacekeeping’, the mismatch between doctrine and practice, and the potential detrimental effect on peacekeeping, calls for a rethink in view of furthering peacekeeping’s strategic purpose. This essay is does not believe that the core principles are necessarily worth preserving for their own sake, as unchanging constitutional principles. Rather, it inquires about the purpose of peacekeeping in the context of recent trends and practices, questioning whether the practical departure from the core principles adversely impacts its effectiveness, legitimacy and possible contributions. If UN peacekeeping ought to restore, support, protect and implement political solutions and peace agreements, the above trends can hinder the UN from assuming this role. The final section will outline some of the negative consequences of the current approach and argue in favour of the continued relevance of the core principles for peacekeepers, in the framework of a politics-first approach for UN peacekeeping.

The future of peacekeeping: making the trinity holier again?

As posited in the introduction, the ideal configuration for peacekeeping is an alignment of doctrine, practice and strategy. While reality will likely not allow such a perfect alignment, the current mismatch is unsustainable. The conflicting views and the arising paradoxes are, however, rarely explicitly examined: as Findlay suggests (2002, p.16), there seems to exist a ‘taboo to openly question the principles of peacekeeping too rigorously for fear it might destroy a delicate instrument that was proving, despite its flaws, to be useful’. Rhetorical attempts to camouflage the contradictions or the outright denial of the latter are entirely unhelpful: what is needed is a frank discussion on the overall strategic purpose of peacekeeping and the ways to achieve it, and the principles or approach that can best enable any such approach.

This essay advocates for UN peacekeeping missions, whose operations and practices support political solutions at all stages (HIPPO, 2015, p.VIII). While it does not call for the complete retreat from the above activities, the latter should be driven with a view to further the political process, which aims to establish lasting peace. The current practice and disregard for the core principles impede the UN’s effective engagement towards political solutions, as will be shown below. Instead, the essay will argue in favour of an approach more firmly rooted in the consent of both the host state but also other relevant parties, linked to political processes. This would allow the UN to be impartial in relation to a generally agreed course of action, and guide the use of force towards strategic, political objectives.

The increased ambitions of UN peacekeeping, displayed by the more far-reaching notion of impartiality and the three developments outlined above, have inevitably raised expectations regarding UN peacekeeping. On a micro-level, civilians now expect missions to protect them against armed groups, while the international community developed an inflated sense of what Peace Operations ought to be able to achieve in mitigating and solving today’s conflicts (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, pp.1283-84). In addition to the perennial resource problem, these expanded ambitions were not accompanied by ‘concomitant work to clarify the strategic purpose of UN Peace Operations and what peacekeepers ought to do to achieve them’ (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1284).

The increasing robustness and use of force may suggest that local, political problems could be solved by external military responses (Bellamy and Hunt, 2015, p.1284). Berdal and Ucko (2015, p.10) argue that the use of force in UN operations is constrained by a lack of political and strategic purpose: the FIB found it challenging to transform tactical successes into larger strategic progress, given that the mere creation of a secure environment does not address the root causes of the conflict itself. Such an approach is largely Sisyphean and misunderstands the utility of force, which derives its core value from the contribution it can make towards enabling or protecting political processes or peace.

Similarly, the PoC, while inherently valuable, should be driven by a political purpose (HIPPO, 2015, p.IX). It is sometimes portrayed as an apolitical, impartial response to violence, which is perceived as an evil to be countered (Rhoads, 2016, p.102). Such approaches disregard the complexity of violence and its potentially political nature, and hence pose as a technical response to a deeply political problem, rendering peacekeeping ‘reactive and palliative’ (Guéhenno, in Rhoads, 2015, p.103). Cloaking PoC as a supposedly impartial activity is unhelpful, and can counterintuitively lead to perceptions of partiality.

While the claim is one of impartiality, force is generally only used against non-state actors (White, 2015, p.50). The blue helmets have become a very conspicuous symbol of the UN, whose authority and unique position will be damaged by perceptions of the partial use of force (Thakur, 2006, p.37). It cannot aim to be an impartial broker while attempting to neutralize one or more of the parties to the conflict at the same time. Indeed, the use of force, bordering on peace enforcement, means that the UN itself becomes a party to the conflict.

UN peacekeeping missions’ close ties with an incumbent government, though understandable given its desire to uphold the state system, can make strategic success elusive if that government is part of the problem. The 2015 Review of the United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture (United Nations, 2015, para.21) recognizes the potential pitfalls of promoting the extension of state authority, possibly deepening a conflict. In pushing for a particular outcome, and creating a partial reality, the UN might overlook the ‘many-sidedness’ of the conflict (Rhoads, 2016, p.159). Openly siding with the government can create further legitimacy problems in the eyes of some parts of the population, which in turn can be exploited by armed groups the UN opposes, creating an unhelpful vicious circle and a seeming impossibility to come to a comprehensive agreement.

Ultimately, the current practices dispute peacekeeping’s identity, and the resulting conceptual mismatch and its challenges, if left unaddressed, will ‘create a wall between operational activities and strategic/doctrinal considerations’ (Peter, 2015, p.352). Deciding on a way forward is tightly related to one’s overall conception of peacekeeping. It is indeed easy to see how the core principles can be considered unsuitable, and hence in need of revision, to guide more ambitious operations, which can be portrayed as the natural progression of peacekeeping in order to remain relevant in the face of new realities. At the same time, failure to deliver on its ambitious promises may dilute peacekeeping’s potential (Rhoads, 2016, p.189).

A focus on technical, military-centred protection approaches has had decisively mixed results in the past decade, including in the DRC, South Sudan, and Darfur. As contended above, tactical victories in the DRC did not yield strategic gains, mainly because they were not connected to an overarching political purpose. The strong emphasis on extending state authority, at the expense of seeking more politically oriented solutions with armed groups, contributed to this. It is true that not everyone ought to be engaged; yet an overly partial approach closes off potential rudiments for political involvement. In terms of consent, international law tends to privilege incumbent governments (Tsagourias, 2006, p.475), however, outright deference to their wishes can prove counterproductive, and host state consent can be fluctuating.

In South Sudan, for example, UNMISS went through a tumultuous period with changing mandates and situations. Having cultivated close ties with figures within the government, it first proved unwilling and unable to prevent the impending return to conflict, and was subsequently accused of partiality from both sides, with the UN becoming side-lined in the political process and increasingly hampered in its operations due to government restrictions (Rhoads, 2016). Further, the PoC proved to be a double-edged sword. Though it sheltered over 200.000 civilians at UN bases, adopting a new practice and certainly saving many lives, such a state of affairs is ultimately unsustainable. To make matters worse, its performance beyond its bases was poor, and a 2016 UN Special investigation (United Nations, 2016) into the July 2016 crisis found that ‘the lack of preparedness, ineffective command and control and a risk-averse or ‘inward-looking’ posture resulted in a loss of trust and confidence [vis-à-vis various South Sudanese actors]’. Finally, the Regional Protection Force mandated by Resolution 2304, is seen by some commentators as yet another military band-aid to a fundamentally political wound (Williams, 2016).

Similarly, decision-makers that established UNAMID have been accused of inflating hopes regarding the impact of an international force for protection purposes, without considering the wider strategic objectives (de Waal, 2006, p.1044). As de Waal (2006, p.1046) states, the sequence of planning was reversed, subordinating the pursuit of political and diplomatic objectives to the deployment of a peacekeeping mission, whose overall strategic purpose consequently remained vague in the absence of political or peace processes to support. In this context, though African Union missions employ force amounting to peace enforcement in UN terms, they are a

‘political-strategic undertaking that require a sustained approach. Military force is only useful to the extent that the temporary security and safety it creates can be transformed into lasting stability and peace. When it is not, military imposed stabilization generates negative and perverse side-effects’ (De Coning, 2017, p.154).

While it does not guarantee success in any way, it does represent a more sensitive approach regarding the use of force and stabilization.

This essay believes that contemporary UN peacekeeping lacks strategic direction, and its departure from the core principles make the desired politics-oriented approach all but impossible. It is crucial to acknowledge its limits−operational, financial and strategic−and while the flexibility of peacekeeping is an asset, it is worth considering whether overstretching it does not entirely change peacekeeping and undermine the particular contribution it is able to make.

It is not suggested that peacekeeping returns to its initial state: it can play an important role in today’s complex emergencies. Nor are the core principles considered to be untouchable. However, there ought to be a clearer strategic approach linked to seeking political solutions, guiding peacekeeping missions and its individual practices as a whole. Against this background, and in view of the above analyses, adherence to the core principles can provide a reasonable basis to conceptually underpin that effort, and provide the UN with a source of authority.

Directing practice towards a political process will not dispel accusations of partiality or doubts about the UN’s legitimacy: the core principles, however formulated, will leave some ambiguity and political contestation. Nonetheless, seeking the consent of the ‘main parties’, though inevitably tricky, is constitutive of efforts to impartially broker a peace process, while dealing even-handedly with all parties requires some type of peace process in the first place. This means to ground impartiality stronger in the consent of the parties, rather than in a set of human rights-related norms, and reinforces the view that peacekeeping missions operating in situations with no peace to keep will face strategic and tactical difficulties. The use of force will always be difficult to reconcile with the UN’s diplomatic and political engagements (Tardy, 2011, p.153), yet will prove more palatable to more actors if clearly inscribed in a strategic vision.


This essay has argued that it is still reasonable to expect peacekeepers to adhere to the core principles of peacekeeping. Considering MONUSCO’s and other missions’ robust postures, and PoC and stabilisation activities, it was demonstrated that current practices undermine the doctrinal underpinning, and argued that this mismatch is detrimental to UN peacekeeping. Remedying this situation will involve either readjusting the core principles or re-aligning practice with doctrine. After positing that UN peacekeeping ought to pursue a ‘politics first’ approach, it has attempted to show that the current, ambitious mandates and practices and their varying disregard for the trinity entail adverse impacts, and deny its ability to politically engage in the conflict situations within which peacekeeping missions are deployed. With a view to recalibrate peacekeeping’s activities towards supporting political solutions, the core principles are deemed to provide a good basis to support this approach, reinforcing the UN’s legitimacy and authority.


[1] Several member states strongly opposed the formulation of an official doctrine, leading to its reconfiguration as the Guidelines, an internal DPKO document

[2] See S/RES/2155 (2014) for UNMISS, S/RES/2149 (2014) for MINUSCA

[3] MINUSTAH: S/RES/1542 (2004); MONUSCO: S/RES/1925 (2010); MINUSMA: S/RES/2100 (2013); MINUSCA: S/RES/2149 (2014)

[4] UNMISS fell into this trap, especially after the 2016 July crisis

[5] Though such peace processes are now often absent in the first place, as noted above

[6] See for example S/RES/2149 (2014); S/RES/1996 (2011)

[7] Though in practice, the effect has been limited


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Filling the doctrinal gap? Challenges in UN peacekeeping operations

Dr David Curran, Coventry University, UK

Dr David Curran is a research fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations at Coventry University. His primary research interest is in developments in UN peacekeeping. Since completing his PhD at the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, David has undertaken research into a range of topic areas including the role of conflict resolution in training programmes for military peacekeepers;  Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping; the United Kingdom and the UN; the evolution of rapid-reaction peacekeeping and peacebuilding forces such as the African Union standby brigades, EU battlegroups; and the potential of specialized UN rapid reaction capabilities.

It is a pleasure to be invited to contribute to this special edition of the R2P Student Journal on the topic of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Papers within this special edition speak to a number of important debates in this field, from doctrinal and policy evolution, to the actions of personnel deployed in operations, to the larger theoretical norms and assumptions which guide the activity. This reflects a vibrancy of research in this area from a new generation of scholars.

From a conflict resolution perspective, peacekeeping operations have the potential to contribute to processes of de-escalation of violent conflict, with the aim that space and stability is provided for peacebuilding actors to undertake their activities (Ramsbotham, Miall and Woodhouse, 2011, p. 170). This sounds like a tough assignment, which of course is true. Peacekeeping operations, if anything, are fundamentally demanding on those who undertake them. Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs that peacekeeping has played a positive role in reduction of violent conflict (Fortna, 2008).

In the context of the R2P, peacekeeping, through the development of Protection of Civilians (PoC) mandates, represents an important function in protecting vulnerable populations, and possibly preventing genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing unfolding in deployment areas (Curran et al., 2015). Although serious difficulties persist, it is important to recognize how far the UN’s peacekeeping and peacebuilding functions have travelled regarding civilian protection since the catastrophes in Rwanda and Srebrenica. Protection also serves an important peacebuilding function, as it is communities of peacebuilders who are often amongst the civilian population. This links to broader cosmopolitan goals, as argued by Lorraine Elliott, whereby interventions can

Restore civil society especially in areas where it is under threat from criminal activities or various destructive forms of particularist politics, and to engage in rebuilding local legitimacy and pluralist democratic practices (Elliott, 2004, p. 25).

Nevertheless, although the UN has expanded its policy functions in new areas, challenges remain throughout the organisation’s systems in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. This essay shall focus on three interlinked areas: training, guidance, and strategic leadership.

The training dimension

The first challenge is the extent to which the UN has access to well-trained peacekeepers acting with a broad awareness of conflict dynamics, the use of – and impact of using robust force – in a conflict zone, and a considered understanding of the principles and dynamics of UN peacekeeping operations. These aspects of peacekeeper performance have been highlighted in UN Security Council Resolutions, UN policy, as well as in academic study (Fetherston, 1994; Goodwin, 2005; Curran 2016). Moreover, training is increasingly significant in how member states are engaging with UN peacekeeping. The training aspect was specifically outlined in the communiqué which came from the September 2016 London Defence Ministerial on peacekeeping which outlined the necessity to set out in a single place a comprehensive list of the minimum requirements and standards for all pre-deployment training (UK Government, 2016). Moreover, the 2017 Ministerial (this time to be held in Canada) will focus on training and capacity building in UN operations.

Training of UN military peacekeepers has developed significantly. There has been a rise in regional and national training initiatives, geared towards training uniformed personnel in a range of issues from civil-military coordination, to the impact of gender based violence on post-conflict environments. Additionally, bilateral initiatives, such as the British Military Advisory Training Teams (BMATT) have significantly developed capacity amongst troop contributors. Under the UN’s umbrella, a dedicated team at the headquarters works on developing new lines of policy, and a train-the-trainers centre has recently opened in Uganda.

However, there are challenges associated with the training dimension. Primarily, there exists limited capacity for UN peacekeepers. Partly this is a numbers issue. For instance a 2013 report stated that there are 19 members of staff working on training within UN headquarters (Center on International Cooperation, 2013). Although this is to be complemented by mobile training teams, and in-mission training, the number is considerably small. Therefore, the peacekeeping training architecture relies on the support of Troop Contributing Countries, with a ‘recurring emphasis’ on terms such as ‘partnership’ and ‘networks’ in the UN strategy (Cutillo, 2013, p. 6).  Such a structure can obviously hamper attempts of instigating a rigorous training regime, as it means that there is greater variance in the quality and depth of training across the board. Moreover, member states will have differing perspectives as to what is an important requirement for peacekeeping.

The guidance for peacekeeping and peacebuilding

With such an array of differing perspectives on what peacekeeping and peacebuilding should achieve, the second challenge concerns the extent to which the UN can be guided by a coherent centralized doctrine that explains the key concepts of peacekeeping operations. Modern day peacekeeping, or more broadly termed ‘peace operations’ is a broad church of concepts and ideas. Although the traditional operations of the Cold War era still exist, they have been superseded by expansive operations which incorporate a myriad of responses to violent conflict.

As stated above, the UN has since 1999 developed PoC to such an extent that 95% of all peacekeepers are deployed under PoC missions. Yet it has taken up to ten years for operational guidance to appear and to be agreed upon (Curran, 2017). Additionally, the UN currently has deployed ‘stabilisation operations’ in Mali, Central African Republic, the DRC, and yet there is no broad understanding of what the term ‘stabilisation’ means in the UN context. Added to this, the concept of robust peacekeeping is ongoing in operations, but there is little reference to the concept in the last attempt to codify UN doctrine. Similar can be said about the emergence of intelligence gathering in UN operations. Yet, in UN fora, the key principles of peacekeeping – impartiality, host state consent, and non-use of force apart from self defence and defence of the mandate – are constantly highlighted as the bedrock of UN Peace operations. At times, these principles are tested to their limits with the actions and policies of UN missions (De Coning, Aoi and Karlsrud, 2017).

With this in mind, therefore, a question exists as to the extent that the UN can either reinforce a coherent approach to UN peacekeeping operations (through doctrinal coherence), or whether we accept that the concepts that drive missions will forever be developed through policy responses to particular situations. Both options contain both positive and negative effects, but it is a significant question to ask when considering the effectiveness of peacekeeping in building sustainable peace.

Strategic guidance

Overarching doctrine and training is the role of strategic leadership – particularly in the UN security council. With such flexibility in design of mandates and tasks, peacekeeping has been termed the ‘swiss army knife’ of conflict management tools (von Gienanth, Hansen and Köppe, 2012, p. 58).

Therefore, coherence at a strategic level is important. This is a theme which was evident in the HIPPO report which advised that mandates be realistic and linked to wider political approaches (United Nations, 2015). Moreover, members of the Security Council have debated recently the form and function of a number of peacekeeping missions. This reflects the necessity to understand the contexts in which consent-based impartial UN missions with limitations on use of force can be used, where they may not survive, and where there may be other, more appropriate models of intervention (such as unarmed civilian approaches).

Added to this is reform of working practices to ensure dialogue between the significant troop contributors to operations, the Council and the UN secretariat are essential in ensuring that mandates for peacekeeping operations reflect the realities of what can and cannot be achieved in mission. That the C34 committee report from 2016 makes little or no mention of new aspects of peacekeeping such as stabilization indicates that it is yet to conceptually catch up with the other cogs of decision making in the UN.

As said at the beginning of this article, UN peacekeeping operations have the potential to open space for peacebuilding, providing a valuable avenue towards conflict resolution. However, the challenges outlined above, as well as those identified in the articles in this journal, demonstrate that the practice still has complications. The role of academic research is key in investigating these complications, particularly in debating the extent to which the UN can problem-solve its way through these challenges, and exploring the potential of alternative models of third party intervention in violent conflict.


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Curran, D. 2016. More than Fighting for Peace? Conflict Resolution, UN Peacekeeping, and the Role of Training Military Personnel. New York: Springer.

Curran, D. 2017. ‘Muddling on through? Cosmopolitan peacekeeping and the protection of civilians’, International Peacekeeping, 24(1), pp. 63-85.

Curran, D., Fraser, T., Roeder, L. and Zuber, R. (eds.) 2015. Perspectives on Peacekeeping and Atrocity Prevention: Expanding Stakeholders and Regional Arrangements. New York: Springer.

Cutillo, A. 2013. ‘Deploying the Best: Enhancing Training for United Nations Peacekeepers’, Providing for Peacekeeping no. 5. New York: International Peace Institute.

De Coning, C., Aoi, C. and Karlsrud, J. (eds.) 2017. UN Peacekeeping Doctrine in a New Era: Adapting to Stabilisation, Protection and New Threats. Abingdon: Routledge.

Elliott, L. 2004. ‘Cosmopolitan Ethics and Militaries as ‘Forces for Good’’. In Forces for Good: Cosmopolitan Militaries in the Twenty-First Century, Elliott, L. and Cheeseman, G. (eds.) Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Fetherston, A.B. 1994. Towards a Theory of United Nations Peacekeeping. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Goodwin, D. 2005. The Military and Negotiation: The Role of the Soldier Diplomat. London: Frank Cass.

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Fortna, V.P. 2008. Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping Belligerents’ Choices after Civil War. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ramsbotham, O., Miall, H. and Woodhouse, T. 2011. Contemporary Conflict Resolution. Cambridge: Polity.

United Nations. 2015. ‘Uniting our Strengths for Peace – Politics, Partnership and People’, Report of the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, New York: United Nations.

Von Gienanth, T., Hansen, W. and Köppe, S. 2012. Peace Operations 2025, Berlin: Center for International Peace Operations (ZiF).