The Responsibility to Protect and Counter Terrorism: An Incompatible but Inevitable Interaction

Macaulay Eddy, University of Leeds, UK

Macaulay Eddy is a final year undergraduate student in International Relations at the University of Leeds.


The relationship between the Responsibility to Protect and counter terrorism will be critically analysed – arriving at the conclusion that the doctrines are conceptually and practically incompatible. Nonetheless, it will be discovered that their interaction is inevitable and, as this is likely to only increase, their incompatibility should be studied and managed. It is revealed that counter terrorism has the potential to override the Responsibility to Protect and, therefore, it will be argued that they should be maintained as separate doctrines, particularly in light of their continued interaction. To achieve this conclusion, the concepts of state-centricity and impartiality are analysed with respect to this relationship.


This paper will argue that the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and counter terrorism are both conceptually and practically incompatible. However, there is considerable overlap and interaction between the two doctrines, which means this incompatibility must be examined and managed when R2P and counter terrorism are found to operate alongside one another. If their relationship is not critically engaged with then, it is argued, R2P becomes subordinate to and marginalised by counter terrorism, which has significant implications for the accountability of atrocity crimes. Therefore, it will be concluded that the two doctrines should be maintained separate from one another. This will be achieved by analysing two concepts with respect to counter terrorism and R2P’s relationship: first, their state-centricity, followed by their implications regarding impartiality. Within the state-centricity concept, the paper will discuss non-state actors’ inclusion within R2P in order to ground its argument before moving on to assess R2P and counter terrorism’s underlying logics. This subsection on the doctrines’ logics will highlight that, in spite of their incompatibility, interaction between counter terrorism and R2P is inevitable. The transnational nature of terrorism and – finally – how counter terrorism takes precedent over R2P will also be explored. Turning to impartiality, the increasing use of force in peacekeeping and its interaction with counter terrorism operations will be discussed, as is the risk of the United Nations (UN) becoming complicit in mass violence and the consequences of the label of terrorism regarding the relationship between these two doctrines. State-centricity is the condition upon which the international order – and, therefore, the UN, R2P and counter terrorism – is predicated, but its caveats also hold important consequences for R2P, counter terrorism and their relationship. Impartiality is important to discuss because whilst it is central to the UN and peacekeeping, which, it is argued, operationalises R2P, counter terrorism remains inherently partial – therefore, this concept reveals crucial insights into this relationship in practice.


The Role of Non-State Actors within R2P

It will now be proposed that non-state actors (NSA) – the form that terrorism is conventionally viewed as taking – can be included within the parameters of R2P. R2P has been conceptualised and implemented in a fundamentally state-centric manner since its inception (Luck, 2015; Matthews and Mulcair, 2015; Welsh, 2016). This is likely due to the framing of R2P in the UN 2005 World Summit Outcome Document as concerning the responsibilities of states, thereby marginalising the role of NSA (Matthews and Mulcair, 2015; United Nations General Assembly, 2005). Luck makes the important observation that R2P was destined to be conceived state-centrically because the question posed to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was inherently state-centric, and therefore so was its answer (ICISS, 2001; Luck, 2015). Indeed, this analysis should not be understood as contradicting the state-centricity of R2P, but rather complimenting it – as the primary responsibility must always lie with states (Welsh, 2016). However, the rise of the Islamic State (IS), among other terrorist organisations, and the atrocities that have been committed by them implores us to reconsider R2P in how it relates to such actors (Bellamy, 2015; Ralph, 2015). From a legal perspective, NSA arguably hold protection responsibilities under the Geneva Conventions, which designate to all members of the international community a duty to uphold human rights – this can be extrapolated to the atrocities of R2P (Zimmerman, 2020). Although the Geneva Conventions apply only in times of armed conflict, because atrocity crimes – with the exception of war crimes – occur outside of armed conflict, NSA can be considered to have a R2P (Zimmerman, 2020). This legal basis is becoming increasingly salient with the recognition that not all states possess a monopoly on the use of force within their territory (Matthews and Mulcair, 2015; Zimmerman, 2020). In former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s first report on R2P the notion of incorporating NSA into the doctrine was proposed, wherein it is claimed that international assistance against NSA committing atrocities can help the host state restore its sovereignty (Ki-Moon, 2009). This implies that a NSA can inherit sovereignty from a state if it acquires the monopoly on force in a given territory, and therefore the protection responsibilities that come along with it – as sovereignty is now conditional on the fulfilling of the R2P (ICISS, 2001). So, NSA can be considered applicable to R2P, as can terrorist organisations, which represents an overlap between the doctrine and counter terrorism. However, this only accounts for the international legal basis for their protection responsibilities, and we must therefore also account for the committing of atrocity crimes by NSA.

Non-state actors, as well as having protection responsibilities, also relate to R2P through their committing of atrocity crimes. Terrorist attacks and atrocity crimes can often overlap, where atrocities are adopted as a terror tactic because they garner publicity and attention and represent a challenge to international and national authorities (Karlsrud, 2019; Luck, 2015; Matthews and Mulcair, 2015; Zimmerman, 2020). Luck appears to suggest that the committing of atrocities as part of terrorist tactics is a challenge to R2P itself (Luck, 2015). To demonstrate this, violence committed by IS in the territory that it controls across Syria and Iraq is widely believed to be tantamount to atrocity crimes (Bellamy, 2015; Luck, 2015; Matthews and Mulcair, 2015; Ralph, 2015; Welsh, 2016; Zimmerman, 2020). Specifically, the terrorist organisation has been accused of committing genocide against Yazidi peoples and for having attempted the ethnic cleansing of Shi’ite, Alawite, Christian and moderate Sunni populations (Bellamy, 2015). The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has claimed that terrorist acts committed by IS and its affiliate organisations in Iraq may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2015). Here, then, IS has been accused of committing the full spectrum of atrocity crimes in a territory in which it has a legal R2P. Indeed, Bellamy emphasises that acts of terrorism must fall under the remit of R2P as well as counter terrorism because, when they constitute atrocity crimes, they are essentially the same phenomenon: mass violence against civilians (Bellamy, 2015). Therefore, NSA can be viewed as applicable to R2P through atrocity crimes committed by them. Bellamy’s assertion, however, conceals a wider issue: if terrorist acts fall under the jurisdiction of both R2P and counter terrorism then their interaction is inevitable – this is what the remainder of the paper will address. While this analysis may lead one to think that R2P and counter terrorism are complimentary and mutually reinforcing doctrines, it will be argued that they are not compatible. A significant reason for this is the fundamentally different logics underpinning them.

The Contradictory Logics of R2P and Counter Terrorism

The underlying logics of R2P and counter terrorism have considerable implications for their relationship. Zimmerman contends that, with counter terrorism’s ongoing shift from its original state-centric focus toward a more human rights focus, the two doctrines are increasingly compatible (Zimmerman, 2020). Because they both emphasise the primacy of the state as the first responder but also instil obligations on the international community to act when necessary, it is suggested that they share a conceptual basis and are mutually-reinforcing (Zimmerman, 2020). Whilst I agree with Zimmerman’s assertion that there are overlaps in the prescriptions for preventing both atrocities and acts of terrorism, such holistic measures have hardly been implemented (Karlsrud, 2019). Indeed, Pillar Two of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (UN General Assembly, 2006), which largely concerns direct military operations, has been considerably prioritised over the other components (Karlsrud, 2019; Ki-Moon, 2016). Therefore, the conceptual shift of counter terrorism toward human rights does not seem to have materialised in practice. Zimmerman acknowledges this to a certain extent but insists on emphasising the increasingly clear link between counter terrorism and human rights, and therefore with R2P – which this paper disagrees with (Zimmerman, 2020). This deals with only the methods that might be employed by the two doctrines in the pursuit of their aims – whilst this is important to consider, as will be done to a greater extent later in the paper, this raises the question of what the aims of R2P and counter terrorism are.

Now that it has been established that counter terrorism remains largely conceptually state-centric, its underpinning logic can be identified and juxtaposed with that of R2P. Counter terrorism emphasises the state-centric tenets of non-intervention against a sovereign state and that the nation-state’s monopoly on the use of force should be consolidated (Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming; Zimmerman, 2020). R2P, on the other hand, derives from moral considerations that privileges human rights and human protection (Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming; Welsh, 2016). With these two different standpoints, it can be observed that counter terrorism and R2P conceive of security differently. On the one hand, counter terrorism, which emphasises state-centricity, considers security as that of the state in that it seeks to protect and reinforce its sovereignty and territorial integrity (Welsh, 2016; Zimmerman, 2020). On the other hand, R2P conceptualises security as that of the individual and of populations against mass violence; human security is as important as the security of the state and, indeed, state sovereignty becomes conditional on the fulfilment of this (ICISS, 2001; Rhoads, 2019; Welsh, 2016). Whilst it will be maintained that R2P and counter terrorism do not possess mutually reinforcing logics, their individual conceptual foundations are more complex than the state-centric versus human-centric dichotomy that this might imply. This argument will be expanded upon fully in the following section, but it will be argued that R2P is human-centric in its interpretation of security but bound by state borders in its approach to ensuring this conceptualisation of security. This also somewhat reconciles the debate as to whether R2P is human- or state-centric. Counter terrorism, on the other hand, is considered state-centric in how it defines security, but it transcends the boundaries of states in its approach to ensuring the security of them. Therefore, there is a clear conceptual conflict between the two. If they were to be implemented alongside each other under the assumption that they are complimentary, their contradictory logics would mix in a detrimental manner and work against each other, risking the overriding of R2P’s protection by the national security regime (Luck, 2015; Welsh, 2016). Ralph makes the astute point that, with counter terrorism being inherently national interest-based, self-interestedness could seep into R2P and thereby compromise its legitimacy (Ralph, 2015). It could allow states to claim that they are fulfilling their R2P through counter terrorism operations which, because of their opposing logic, do not constitute these protective measures (Ralph, 2015). These tensions can be seen playing out in the context of Mali where R2P – embodied in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) – emphasises protecting the population from atrocities committed by both the Malian government and the jihadist terrorist and Tuareg rebel groups, while counter terrorism prioritises the restoration of Mali’s territorial integrity through the Sahel-wide Operation Barkhane and its French predecessor Serval (Charbonneau, 2019; Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming; Karlsrud, 2017; Karlsrud, 2019). The contrast in logics and purposes is clear which, therefore, serves to demonstrate the incompatibility of R2P and counter terrorism.

Yet whilst R2P and counter terrorism exhibit contradictory logics, reality shows they coexist in practice, as most clearly seen in Mali (Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming). Indeed, the question is not whether the two doctrines can coexist, but how they might coexist: because of the changing nature of conflict, and that UN peace operations are increasingly deployed in volatile and ongoing situations, R2P and counter terrorism are going to continue to interact. This is problematic due to their incompatible natures, but there must be space for their coexistence as it is inevitable. Establishing a clear division of labour and roles between the two parallel forces would be essential: notably with peacekeepers refraining from excessive use of force and physically distancing themselves from the counter terrorism operation (Andersen, 2018; Rhoads, 2019). MINUSMA has been coordinating and sharing intelligence with Operation Barkhane and such closeness should be avoided (Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming; Griffen, 2016; Karlsrud, 2015). Resolving the tensions between R2P and counter terrorism will prove to be very difficult, as often solutions that are implemented to improve peacekeeping produces a host of new issues that require addressing. For instance, Western militaries’ return to UN peacekeeping has been long-awaited by some, but their participation in MINUSMA has produced more concerns with excessive use of force as advanced military technology is employed in an increasingly combative nature (Karlsrud, 2015). This seems to have been exacerbated by the presence of terrorist groups in Mali. Therefore, interaction between R2P and counter terrorism is inevitable and – with their incompatibility in mind – efforts should be made to reconcile their tensions, in order to minimise the damage inflicted to R2P.

The Transnational Nature of Terrorism and Counter Terrorism

The regional nature of terrorism holds significant implications for R2P because the doctrine’s approach is state-centric: it can address atrocities only within the geographical borders of the state in which it is authorised to do so. If a regional terrorist group commits atrocity crimes within the borders of another state – where R2P is not authorised to act – then this threat poses a considerable challenge to R2P. Terrorism is becoming increasingly regional in nature, defying state borders which traditionally demarcate the geographical boundaries of conflict; Boko Haram, al-Shabab and IS are often cited as typical regional terrorist groups (Bere, 2017; Charbonneau, 2017; Karlsrud, 2019; Matthews and Mulcair, 2015). The situation in Mali demonstrates the regional nature of terrorism with attacks being launched from Mali’s territory against neighbouring states, particularly Burkina Faso, Niger and Cˆote d’Ivoire (Bere, 2017). Indeed, Operation Barkhane and the G5 Sahel Joint Force were deployed to counter the increasingly regional threat terrorism poses to the Sahel region (Charbonneau, 2017; Charbonneau, 2019; Karlsrud, 2017). Beyond the incidence of violence, the spreading of extremist ideologies can also become a regional problem. In Mali, the traditional Maliki Islam has been influenced and increasingly overridden by Wahhabi Islam, originally from the region around the Persian Gulf, which is forming the basis of the extremist jihadist ideology inspiring terrorist acts in the Sahel (Karlsrud, 2019).

This reveals more about the state-centricity of counter terrorism as its methods appear to transcend national borders, more than its fundamental logic might imply. R2P faces a problem here if a terrorist organisation commits atrocities against civilians on a regional scale because its prescriptions and responses are limited to the borders of the state in which the violence was committed. In this sense, R2P may encounter difficulty in assembling a regional response to atrocity crimes as this would rely on the willingness of states to cooperate. This expands upon the argument posed in the previous section that R2P and counter terrorism are state-centric in different respects. Counter terrorism, in its privileging of the security and sovereignty of the nation-state, is state-centric in what it seeks to secure. However, due to the transnational nature of the terrorist threat, its approach in ensuring this security transcends this state-centrism by engaging in conflict on a regional scale. On the other hand, R2P emphasises the security of the individual and, in this sense, can be considered more human-centric, while its ability to respond to threats that endanger this individualised security are more restricted by state borders. Therefore, R2P and counter terrorism, in different ways, both challenge and reinforce state-centricity and this demonstrates further the conceptual incompatibility of the two doctrines. Moreover, insight into NSA’s protection responsibilities can also be gleaned from the implications of borderless terrorism: it suggests that a NSA can acquire sovereignty – and, therefore, a R2P – from multiple states if the territory that it controls transcends national borders. IS is the archetypal example of this, with its monopoly on force having stretched across the Iraqi-Syrian border (Matthews and Mulcair, 2015).

The regional nature of counter terrorism also has consequences for state sovereignty and intervention. Charbonneau argues that by emphasising the transnational nature of a terrorist threat, counter terrorism operations are able to claim that they are not interfering in a sovereign state’s internal affairs (Charbonneau, 2017). For instance, Operation Barkhane possesses an unprecedented level of freedom of movement across regional borders in the Sahel (Charbonneau, 2019). This allows counter terrorism – and specifically, Operation Barkhane – to bypass the traditional debates around sovereignty and intervention that other international doctrines are often subjected to and frustrated by (Charbonneau, 2017). R2P is certainly one of these doctrines, as it is the target of much contestation by the international community (Rhoads, 2019). This could, perhaps, mean that counter terrorism has the potential to override R2P due to it avoiding these international debates as it allows it to respond to an act of violence swiftly, while R2P may be still being subjected to contestation. This argument will be explored more in the following section, as avoiding the contestation around sovereignty and intervention might, in part, explain why counter terrorism seems to take precedence over R2P.

Counter Terrorism Taking Precedence Over R2P

Luck highlights that although R2P may have a theoretically close relationship with other norms, parallel implementation can be more complex as other doctrines can often be privileged over it (Luck, 2015). This appears relevant to R2P’s relationship with counter terrorism as the threat of terrorists often seems to take priority for states, with the chances of international assistance or intervention being much higher if there is a threat of terrorism rather than a threat of mass violence (Ralph, 2015). It appears as though a discursive division can, and has been, established between R2P and counter terrorism through labelling acts of violence that constitute atrocity crimes as terrorism, thereby placing the response exclusively within the realm of counter terrorism (Zimmerman, 2020). This has the effect of subordinating R2P to other doctrines and infers that terrorist threats are of a higher priority than atrocities, even when, paradoxically, the act of terrorism qualifies as an atrocity crime. This also serves to demonstrate that the doctrines are not compatible.

Relatedly, this prioritisation of terrorism can also serve to undermine R2P when atrocities are committed in the name of counter terrorism. For example, during the Sri Lankan government’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam both sides of the conflict committed atrocities against civilians (Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, 2011; Zimmerman, 2020). However, the UN Security Council (UNSC) predominantly condemned the Liberation Tigers and rarely the government because it was able to invoke counter terrorism and thereby downplay its committing of atrocities – Sri Lanka even claimed that R2P supported their counter terrorism campaign because it contributed to protecting civilians (Zimmerman, 2020). We observe here how the UNSC became caught between the contradictions of these two doctrines, to the detriment of R2P. Therefore, these norms should not be considered complimentary as counter terrorism has served to undermine the central function of R2P in the prevention of and accountability for atrocity crimes. This echoes Charbonneau, who claims that the label of terrorist seems to set the boundaries for what is legitimate violence and what is not: which is further analysed later in this paper (Charbonneau, 2017).


The Increasing Use of Force in UN Peacekeeping

The use of force has been a central point around which contestation of peacekeeping has revolved (Andersen, 2018; Karlsrud, 2015; Rhoads, 2019; Tardy, 2011). Over the last two decades this debate has evolved through different phases, moving from the so-called crisis of confidence in the 2000s to the crisis of overstretch in the 2010s (Andersen, 2018). This conceptual vacuum led to the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, resulting in the 2000 Brahimi Report which birthed the concept of ‘robust peacekeeping’ as the solution for protecting civilians (Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 2000). Robust peacekeeping is broadly understood as peacekeeping missions with freedom of movement and the means to protect itself and prevent spoiling of the mission mandate – intended to confer a greater degree of credibility on the institution of peacekeeping (Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 2000; Tardy, 2011). However, the Brahimi Report, while very significant, did not resolve the UN’s crisis of confidence and while debate continued, peacekeeping began yet again to shift into new territory – into what Karlsrud argues is peace enforcement (Karlsrud, 2015; Tardy, 2011). The crisis of overstretch, also coined the ‘pragmatic turn’, represented a doctrinal shift with the principal change centring around the increase in targeted military action (Andersen, 2018; Karlsrud, 2015). Whereas, previously, the use of force in peacekeeping was exercised limitedly and within tight legal parameters under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, force was now being built into mission mandates and, further, specific targets began to be identified for this military action (Karlsrud, 2015; Rhoads, 2019). For example, since stabilisation has been written into MINUSMA’s mandate, it has constituted peace enforcement having been mandated, essentially, to militarily engage the jihadist group Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (Karlsrud, 2015). It can be proposed here that perhaps MINUSMA was pushed into the terrain of peace enforcement not only because of the incidence of terrorist groups in the Malian conflict, but because of the counter terrorism operations against them. Peacekeeping missions, therefore, have been pushed into a realm for which they were not designed. The High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) sought to explicitly resist this transition and emphasised a political and enabling role for the UN (Andersen, 2018; HIPPO, 2015). Beyond this, the increasingly militarised role for the UN challenges the traditional principles of peacekeeping: impartiality, host state consent and minimum use of force become at risk from a militarily aggressive peacekeeping mission (Andersen, 2018; Karlsrud, 2015; Karlsrud, 2019; Rhoads, 2019). The violation of these principles through robust peacekeeping undermines the protection of civilians, as will be revealed later in the paper (Karlsrud, 2015; Rhoads, 2019; Tardy, 2011). If, then, we maintain that the UN should be impartial and employ minimum use of force, it becomes clear that counter terrorism would conflict with this – and by extension, R2P. The remainder of the paper will address this.

Peacekeeping Missions and Counter Terrorism Operations

Considering Gallagher and Lawrinson’s assessment that R2P and peacekeeping are congruent doctrines because peacekeeping operationalises R2P, it seems prudent that R2P is discussed regarding counter terrorism and impartiality (Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming). Peacekeeping and counter terrorism have been deployed alongside one another and there are increasingly vocal calls from the international community for the UN to begin conducting both operations themselves using peacekeepers (Karlsrud, 2017; Karlsrud, 2019). However, UN counter terrorism operations would be highly problematic because they, at their core, involve the identification and suppression or neutralisation of an enemy, which would severely damage the traditional UN principle of impartiality (Andersen, 2018; HIPPO, 2015; Karlsrud, 2017; Karlsrud, 2019; Rhoads, 2019). Indeed, the UN would come to be viewed as a party to the conflicts it is attempting to mediate (Andersen, 2018; Karlsrud, 2019; Rhoads, 2019). This would be detrimental for R2P as, if the UN is considered to be involved in the conflict or to be partial, it could put civilians in greater danger by inciting retaliation against peacekeepers whom civilians may be near to (Andersen, 2018; Karlsrud, 2015; Rhoads, 2019; Tardy, 2011). For instance, MINUSMA’s peacekeepers have been repeatedly targeted by terrorist groups resulting in a death toll of two-hundred and six, as of October 2019 (Charbonneau, 2017; Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming; Karlsrud, 2019; United Nations, 2019b). Retaliation may also occur against sectors of the population that the UN is perceived to favour: particularly, in South Sudan, the government has – by restricting and monitoring the UN Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) freedom of movement – been able to identify the location of civilians by knowing where peacekeepers are operating (Rhoads, 2019). With the South Sudanese government being a significant committer of atrocity crimes, this, therefore, endangers civilians (Griffen, 2016; Rhoads, 2019). The UNSC has also stated that these attacks may constitute war crimes (UN, 2019a), which compromises R2P further by potentially inciting atrocity crimes which then go unaccounted for. These concerns have become increasingly salient with the realisation that the UN, in both Mali and South Sudan, is increasingly viewed as not only a party to the conflict but a part of the Global War on Terror, rendering peacekeepers even more attractive targets for terrorist organisations (Karlsrud, 2019).

Complicity in Atrocity Crimes

Impartiality proves difficult when several parties to the conflict are involved in the committing of atrocity crimes, especially so when one of these parties is the host state (Luck, 2015; Welsh, 2016). This moral hazard becomes more complicated when the host state requests Pillar Two assistance under R2P against a NSA when both sides are implicated in mass violence (Welsh, 2016). The implication here is that the UN could end up supporting actors complicit in atrocity crimes, thereby becoming complicit themselves. For instance, in South Sudan the government has been one of the most significant committers of atrocities, while the Malian government has committed human rights violations potentially amounting to atrocity crimes (Bere, 2017; Griffen, 2016; Karlsrud, 2019; Rhoads, 2019). In such situations, it is advised that peacekeeping should terminate state-building activities so as to avoid strengthening governments complicit in atrocities and preserve impartiality and R2P (Andersen, 2018). While the pragmatic turn in UN peacekeeping has involved a receding role in state-building, it has encouraged missions to extend state authority – for instance, MINUSMA – (Andersen, 2018; Griffen, 2016; Karlsrud, 2015) which becomes problematic when R2P and counter terrorism are implemented as parallel operations. Indeed, with the recognition that the South Sudanese government had manifestly failed its R2P by committing atrocities against its own population, the UNSC stripped UNMISS of its state-building mandate with Resolution 2155 (Rhoads, 2019; United Nations Security Council, 2014). This communicated a clear message: that the UN would not support a host state guilty of perpetrating mass violence. While this was important for R2P, the resultant deteriorating relationship between UNMISS and the government produced a host of new challenges – perhaps most importantly, the exclusion of the UN from the politics of the peace process (Rhoads, 2019). This demonstrates, therefore, that attempting to reconcile the consequences of the interaction between counter terrorism and R2P has limited success, reinforcing their incompatibility and that, ideally, they should not be interacting in the first place. Of course, however, they are destined to. Further, Operation Barkhane replaced Serval to allow collaboration between France, Mali and its neighbouring states in the Sahel to confront the regional terrorist threat (Charbonneau, 2017; Charbonneau, 2019; Gallagher and Lawrinson, Forthcoming; Karlsrud, 2017; Karlsrud, 2019). This has meant that counter terrorism operations in Mali have been cooperating with states with a record of human rights violations, particularly Chad and its own Operation Epervier (Amnesty International, 2018; Bere, 2017). This is problematic for R2P because it can be observed again how its relationship with counter terrorism can involve it in human rights violations.

The Politicised Label of Terrorism

The use of the label of terrorism – and, by extension, counter terrorism – is problematic for R2P. Terrorism is an inherently political term as it entails moral judgements on certain actors which then affect the legitimacy that actor is granted (Andersen, 2018; Bere, 2017; Charbonneau, 2017; Charbonneau, 2019). This becomes difficult as terrorism is not a stable concept and is highly contested, therefore the label is at risk of being applied inconsistently and politically (Andersen, 2018; Karlsrud, 2019). The UN has shifted its rhetoric from counter terrorism to preventing violent extremism in order to avoid its toxicity and the connotations of the Global War on Terror, and this has proven less controversial than the terrorism narrative – portraying its politicised nature (Karlsrud, 2019). The implication here is – returning to Charbonneau – that the label of terrorist is able to set the boundaries of legitimate and illegitimate violence (Charbonneau, 2017; Charbonneau, 2019). This has significant consequences for R2P because if counter terrorism has the power to determine the legitimacy of violence, this could override R2P’s ability to condemn atrocity crimes and hold perpetrators accountable for them. Therefore, if a NSA has been depoliticised and delegitimised by being labelled as terrorists, this could allow the state to wield legitimate violence – in the name of counter terrorism – irrespective of the scale or severity of it (Charbonneau, 2017). This violence could be tantamount to atrocity crimes, but R2P might not be able to confront it because of the guise of counter terrorism – this, therefore, presents a considerable challenge to R2P. We observed this scenario earlier with respect to Sri Lanka (Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, 2011; Zimmerman, 2020). Furthermore, a potential result of this toxicity of the labelling of terrorism is that UN peacekeeping missions could be susceptible to manipulation by host states in their operationalisation by aiming it toward political opposition that they have labelled terrorists – a possibility Karlsrud cautions against (Karlsrud, 2019). It could be argued that this was attempted in Mali but MINUSMA has, to a large extent, been able to resist the government’s demands for it to militarily engage jihadists and Tuareg rebels in the North, with the exception of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb perhaps (Bere, 2017; Charbonneau, 2017; Karlsrud, 2019). Therefore, the terrorism label illustrates that R2P can be marginalised and disarmed by the politicised nature of counter terrorism, reinforcing that they should be maintained as separate.


This paper has argued that R2P and counter terrorism hold an incompatible relationship. Their contradictory underpinning logics and the consequences of their parallel operationalisation in practice serves to illustrate this argument. There are points of overlap, however – such as terrorist organisations potentially having protection responsibilities and being able to commit atrocity crimes – but these should not be understood as evidence of their compatibility. Instead, they highlight that the two doctrines are inevitably going to clash – as they are increasingly invoked and implemented alongside one another – and therefore demonstrate the need for this relationship to be examined and managed both conceptually and in practice. This is all the more urgent when counter terrorism takes precedence over R2P and disarms it with terrorism’s highly politicised nature, inhibiting R2P’s fundamental purpose of identifying and responding to atrocity crimes. Therefore, R2P and counter terrorism’s separate and contradictory nature should be emphasised in order to preserve R2P’s mission and legitimacy, particularly in light of the realisation that the doctrines are going to increasingly interact.


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A Critical Analysis of the Strengths and Limitations of the Responsibility to Protect in the Central African Republic Between 2013-2017

Claudia Broadhead, University of Leeds

Claudia Broadhead graduated from Leeds University in 2018 with a First-Class Honours in English and History of Art. She currently works in Refugee Support at the British Red Cross.


This paper will discuss the material implications of the UN Responsibility to Protect in the Central African Republic (CAR), a country which since March 2013 has seen ongoing internal conflict. The paper concentrates on the international community’s response to mass atrocities in CAR from 2013 until 2017. The evocation of R2P as a response to the situation on the ground in CAR has resulted in consensual intervention by the EU and UN. This essay will focus on three dimensions of the R2P norm: its shift from a Westphalian to a liberal interpretation of sovereignty, its nature as a tool that is ultimately driven by international political will, and the role of R2P to facilitate support between the international community and the state’s governing body. The paper will use these three facets to evaluate the success of R2P in CAR and concludes that the limitations of the UN norm outweigh its strengths as a tool to prevent and protect mass atrocity crimes.

The Central African Republic (CAR) has seen an eruption in renewed violence and ongoing atrocities since March 2013, with its situation further deteriorating from late 2016. In brief, the crisis emerged with the predominantly Muslim rebel group Séléka fighting to overthrow the corrupt Bozizé government, which resulted in the formation and subsequent retaliation by the mostly Christian anti-balaka militias. Both rebel groups, as well as armed forces and civilian mobs have committed mass atrocity crimes (UNSC Resolution 2134, 2014, p.1). The instrumentalisation of religion and ethnicity have been central to the human rights violations, however, it is imperative to emphasize that the crisis is far more complex, and fundamentally propelled by political groundings (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2014). The international community has repeatedly responded to the violence in CAR: France has intervened multiple times since CAR’s independence in 1960, and in April 2014 the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was established as the third UN mission in 20 years (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 7). In 2005, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was endorsed into the World Summit Outcome Document as a global norm, following its introduction as a principle in the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report (ICISS). At the heart of R2P, there are three pillars of responsibility: pillar one stipulates that foremost it is the duty of the state to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing; pillar two indicates that if a state fails, it is the responsibility of the international community to assist; and pillar three specifies that if peaceful means are inadequate and the state is manifestly failing to protecting its population, the international community must take action in a ‘timely and decisive manner’ in accordance with the UN Charter (United Nations General Assembly, 2005, p. 30).  The UN Security Council (UNSC) has invoked R2P 18 times concerning CAR since R2P’s adoption in 2005 through UN Resolutions that emphasise the commitment of the international community to resolving the country’s conflict.

This essay will argue that despite ongoing international efforts to protect populations from widespread human rights violations in CAR, the limitations of R2P outweigh its strengths. The argument will develop by looking firstly at how R2P’s reconfiguration of sovereignty gives states the opportunity to discuss and act, but how this universal shift of sovereignty has failed to be effective in CAR. Secondly, once this opportunity to help has been created, R2P is flawed in its dependence on political will; the lack of vested interest in CAR has led to slow missions that fail to address the systematic and root issues of the human rights abuses. Thirdly, once states do commit to investing in the protection of a threatened population, R2P instructs the international community to assist, in the case of CAR, a corrupt and problematic government, and gives unprecedented power to peacekeepers that is poorly monitored and has led to bad practice on the ground.

The impact of R2P’s reconfiguration of sovereignty in CAR

First proposed in the 2001 ICISS report, utmost sovereignty under the first pillar of R2P was redefined as a conditional right reconfiguring Westphalian sovereignty which dictates the absolute right of state leaders to control their own territory, condemning outside interference on all levels (Cohen and Deng, 2016, p. 88). This shift of the notion of sovereignty to a more liberal orientation can be regarded as a key strength of the norm in reference to CAR because it allows states to discuss and act in situations of widespread human rights violations. Although the report emphasised the value of sovereignty, it stipulated that states had a responsibility to protect their populations and under specific circumstances of state failings to do so, the principle of non-intervention could be overruled (Glanville, 2016, p. 160). In CAR, ‘the successive ruling elites and their entourage never demonstrated any sense of responsibility or accountability towards the populations they were meant to administer’ (UNSC, 2015, p. 27). Widespread human rights violations had been occurring in CAR for a prolonged time, and the failure of the state to lead and take responsibility for its population is a well-recognised cause of the conflict (UNSC, 2015, p. 28). The reconceptualization of sovereignty has led to the international community playing a role in efforts to alleviate the heinous conflict. R2P is therefore a progressive concept in that it encourages states to discuss human rights atrocities across the world, reshaping international relations to prioritise populations threatened by mass atrocity crimes. Jennifer Welsh (2013, p. 368) argues that R2P has been a success because it has altered state behaviour to ‘consider a real or imminent crisis’. Although norm cascade theory set out by Finnermore and Sikkink (1998) is problematic in its assertions, it is useful as a starting point because Welsh (2013, p. 379) contends that R2P has passed its emergence, and is now in the phase of ‘cascade’ and ‘diffusion’ whereby sates are beginning to ‘consistently act on the norm’s precepts’. With reference to CAR, this is evidenced by the 18 UN Resolutions that have been invoked since 2005 in response to the crisis. The recalling of resolutions to support the population of CAR demonstrates how the international community is beginning to consult the norm as a method of international responsibility concerning the four crimes. States are therefore beginning to adopt R2P as worldwide diplomatic language which ensures mass atrocity crimes are considered and discussed, leading to supportive and consented state intervention in extreme situations of widespread human rights violations, as seen in CAR.

In contestation, the liberal shift of sovereignty from its traditional sense under R2P threatens the unconditional right of states, surfacing the threat of interference by international actors. The African Union (AU) is formed of states committed to traditional sovereignty meaning the language of R2P has not been widely adopted by the regional organisation; R2P as a universal principle is therefore flawed in its failure to accommodate for the unique states in Africa (Aning and Atuobi, 2011, p. 16). The AU is an essential component of effective multilateral support. However, due to R2P’s insistence on conditional state sovereignty, the AU has failed to appropriately encourage and assist CAR when mass atrocity crimes have occurred, as articulated by pillar II. Regional organisations are a fundamental aspect of translating R2P practically onto the ground, particularly due to the organisation having an understanding of the dynamics and relations in the area they act within (Aning and Okyere, 2016, p. 355). Article 4(g) of the AU Constitutive Act is a non-interference clause, ‘virtually turning R2P on its head by approaching protection from the vantage point of state regimes rather than the potential victims’ (Aning and Okyere, 2016, p. 363). Therefore, R2P’s reconfiguration of sovereignty is limited in the context of CAR in that the non-conformist states have impacted the role of the AU as an assisting organisation in response to the occurrence of the four crimes in CAR. Despite the AU’s authorisation of the deployment of troops to the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA) in July 2013, the operation failed to provide sufficient support to protect CAR’s populations from mass atrocity crimes that have continued to exist (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 13). A 2014 statement by the UN Secretary-General (Ki-Moon, 2014a) asserted that the 3,500 assigned AU troops were not sufficient to implement MISCA’s mandate. We can identify this as a lack of commitment by the AU to intervene in CAR, compromising the strength of R2P as a globalised norm. The UNSG (Ki-Moon, 2011a, p. 3) notes that R2P should ‘respect institutional and cultural difference from region to region’, while advocates of the global norm emphasise the pragmatic step at the heart of R2P in that it is invoked on a ‘case-by-case’ approach. Critiquing this however, we can use Adejo’s (2001, p. 136) analysis to note that due to old norms of absolute sovereignty, non-interference continues to exist within the institutional framework which has allowed state failings to obstruct AU intervention. Despite the deployment of AU troops to MISCA, their effectiveness was poor due to the insufficient size of the group which suggests the AU’s unwillingness to engage fully with R2P, and thus the mission has had very limited success in protecting threatened populations in CAR.

The failure of R2P to protect a country which has little international interest 

Despite Welsh’s (2013) nuanced approach that celebrates R2P as a norm that has become integrated into international diplomatic language, close analysis of the impact R2P has had in response to the emergence of the four crimes in CAR reveals several limitations of the norm. Effective international assistance through prevention strategies under pillar II are ultimately dependent on the political will of states, particularly the state interests of the Security Council’s permanent five members (P5) (Hehir, 2015, p. 85). This critique of the global norm can be applied to CAR which has been described as a ‘phantom state’ (International Crisis Group, 2007). Cinq-Mars argues that the lack of exploitable resources in the country and the absence of ‘any meaningful institutional capacity’ has led to CAR being disregarded as a priority by the international community (2015, p. 6). Furthermore, due to the structure of the UNSC and the overriding power of the P5 in international decisions, in practice R2P is a concept whose power is vested in the Security Council (Davies and Bellamy, 2014). Aidan Hehir (2017, p. 335) challenges Welsh’s (2013) support of R2P as an integrated norm, instead asserting that the norm’s ‘impact on the behaviour of states has been limited’. R2P has not shifted state mind-sets because international response is fuelled by state interests whereby manipulation of the norm occurs for selfish means (Kowert and Legro, 1996, p. 493). States are given the ability to intervene; but this can lead to intervention for vested interests, or increased violence on the ground and bad practice of the interveners. The Geneva Peacekeeping Platform, an international centre that links experts with peacebuilding actors and facilitates discussion to drive greater knowledge and understanding of peacekeeping issues, reinforces this in relation to CAR, explaining that one factor of the failed peacebuilding efforts is the ‘overly negative and inherently flawed’ perception of the country (Akasaki et. al, 2015). Cinq-Mars (2015, p. 7) concludes that this view of CAR led to ‘reactive and belated’ responses. ‘Reactive’ demonstrates that with no political desire or ulterior motive, the international community prioritised short-term alleviation over the cost of tackling the root causes of the conflict. ‘Belated’ aligns with Hehir’s argument that R2P is a utopian norm because when states are unwilling to respond in a ‘timely’ manner R2P prevents the successful stabilisation of a failing state (Hehir, 2017, p. 340-41). Cinq-Mars (2015, p. 12) interviewed current and former UN staff who described CAR as a ‘punishment posting’ and ‘parking lot of the UN’, suggesting staff are abandoned there while the UN focuses on more important work. Turnover rates of UN staff in CAR are exceedingly high. The absence of exploitable resources and lack of a strong relationship between CAR and any members of the P5 has ultimately shaped the R2P response which has been inadequate in protecting civilians from mass human rights violations (Hehir, 2015, p. 93). CAR being regarded as a forgotten lost cause allows us to conclude with Hehir’s argument that the efficacy of R2P is ‘heavily dependent on political will, as opposed to legal procedure and judicial oversights’ (Hehir, 2015, p. 93).

The failure of the EU and UN to implement prevention and respond to credible early warnings

The lack of political will of states to fully invest in CAR can be identified by the reported failure of the UN and EU to respond to credible early warning systems and implement effective prevention strategies in CAR, and thus R2P has failed to efficiently protect the country’s population (Bellamy and Lupel, 2015, p. 2).  Although atrocity crimes are determined by a multitude of variable factors and conditions making them demanding and strenuous to prevent, prevention strategies including building national resilience, promoting human rights, and adopting targeted preventative measures have been outlined in the UNSG’s 2013 report on prevention and thus enshrined in pillar I and II of R2P (Ki-Moon, 2013). As Simon Adams (2013, p. 1), the Director of the Global Centre for R2P declares, ‘R2P is primarily a preventive doctrine’. Although Hehir (2012, p. 87) argues that the shift of emphasis from intervention in the ICISS report (2001) to prevention in the World Summit Outcome Document (2005) indicates R2P’s failure to impact law, procedure and regulating institutions, it is widely accepted that implementing preventive strategies has resulted in successful aversion from the four crimes (McLoughlin, 2014, p. 414). The UNSG’s 2013 report on prevention noted that early warning mechanisms to alert decision makers to situations that were on the brink of escalation were a vital aspect of atrocity prevention measures (Ki-Moon, 2013, p. 14). With regard to CAR, it was already in April 2013 when public calls were made by XXX for Muslim civilians to be wiped out (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 16) and in August 2017 the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator made a statement that concluded the early warning signs of genocide were visible and action must be taken immediately (O’Brian, 2017). The UN and EU have been heavily criticised for their slow and insufficient response to the rise of widespread human rights violations in CAR (Bellamy and Lupel, 2015, p. 2). The lack of political will to whole heartedly respond to the crisis is a reason for the insufficiency of the international community. Following the December 2013 attacks and warnings of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes, EU ministers agreed in January 2014 to deploy an EU military operation (EUFOR RCA) in CAR (Council of the European Union, 2014). To ensure its rapid operation, EUFOR RCA was approved in UN Resolution 2134 (UNSC Resolution 2134, 2014, p.3). However, three months later, in March 2014, the already delayed EUFOR RCA mission still required another 500 troops for its deployment (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). On the 9th April, a further three weeks later, troops from EUFOR RCA arrived in Bangui and an initial group of 55 begin patrolling (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). Despite the grave warnings of widespread human rights violations from organisations on the ground in CAR, R2P’s lack of legal binding and dependence on political will has meant the UN and EU have been ineffective at translating agreements into practical action. The delay of deployment in the context of the crisis was shockingly high as without an ulterior motive troops were unlikely to be deployed to CAR. The EUFOR RCA mission was initially restricted to a mere six months, and it was centred in the capital of the country with no troops operating in other critically turbulent areas, therefore R2P’s dependence on political will has allowed conflict to intensify and lives to be lost.

The failure of R2P to address the structural underlying causes of instability in CAR

R2P has allowed the international community to provide short-term direct assistance and stabilisation but has failed to address the structural underlying causes of the occurrence of the four crimes. Again, the lack of political will of states to fully invest in CAR that has led to this. This can be illustrated through events in December 2013 where the UN pulled into action following an outbreak of violence, and although further mass killings were initially supressed, the intervention had short-lived preventative benefits but actually intensified inter-communal violence in the long-term (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 15). Early December 2013 saw widespread human rights abuses occur as anti-Balaka militias attacked former Séléka forces in Bangui, killing an estimated 1,000 people in an ethno-religious cleansing mission (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). This was instantaneously followed by the UNSC adoption of Resolution 2127 authorising MISCA and the emergency deployment of French troops to take ‘all necessary measures’ to contribute to the ‘protection of civilians and the restoration of security and public order’ (UNSC Resolution 2127, 2013, p. 7). Unintentionally, international focus to disarm former Séléka rebels placed anti-balaka fighters in a position of superiority resulting in the forced displacement of Muslim civilians by anti-balaka in Bangui and western CAR (Øen, 2014, p. 32). The UN was heavily criticised for its insufficient role in the crisis, once source being the international humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières who released an open letter to the UN humanitarian system expressing its ‘deep concern about the unacceptable performance’ of UN agencies in CAR (Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, 2013). The peace missions deployed to CAR were criticised by Cinq-Mars (2015) for lacking the capacity to interrupt violence due to ill-equipped, under-trained and insufficiently supported operations. The structure of R2P as a non-legally binding concept that relies on state responsibility and voluntary assistance has meant that efforts in CAR have been fundamentally reactive, but not thorough investments to address the underlying causes of the conflict. Unfortunately, the international community has intervened in CAR under R2P in a very surface fashion which has lacked capacity, exacerbating violence in some regions and failing to structurally prevent widespread human rights violations due to the absence of addressing the root issues of the conflict.

The role Pillar II has had in supporting CAR’s corrupt government and giving unprecedented power to UN peacekeepers

Transcending beyond political will, even if states do commit to preventing and protecting the population from mass atrocity crimes, pillar II instructs the international community to support CAR’s government, who have been fundamental in fuelling the crisis and have taken part in widespread human rights violations themselves. Pillar II stipulates ‘the international community should as appropriate, encourage and help states to exercise their responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning system’ (United Nations General Assembly, 2005, p. 30). Its aim is to ensure international assistance helps a failing state to build the resilience to protect its population from the four crimes. In the 2009 UNSG report ‘Implementing the Responsibility to Protect’, Ban Ki-Moon claimed that pillar II is an ‘active partnership between the international community and the State’ and broke down the pillar into three categories: encouragement, capacity building, and assisting States (Ki-Moon, 2009, p. 15). Regarding the third dimension, Gallagher highlights how if those in power are the reason for the lack of ‘accountable political institutions, respect for the rule of law and equal access to justice, and mechanisms for the fair and transparent management of economic resources and assets’, then international assistance may legitimise those responsible for the crisis (Gallagher, 2009, p. 1274). Gallagher’s critique can be applied to the CAR case because it is the state who has played a leading role in fuelling conflict and committing human rights violations, and therefore it is controversial and highly problematic that the international community work side by side with CAR’s government. CAR has failed to be effectively governed by legitimate state authority since its independence in 1960. Bozizé, who ruled from 2003 to 2013, controlled a horrifically corrupt government, holding all the power and marginalising the northern and eastern regions of the country (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 6). Ostracising communities outside Bangui led to the rise of anti-government rebel fighters who are legitimately furious (Cinq-Mars, 2015, p. 6). Furthermore, Louisa Lombard (2014) notes that Bozizé engaged in the politicisation of religion which intensified tensions between religious groups, providing further ground for conflict. However, through the October 2013 UNSC Resolution 2088 and MINUSCA’s attempt to establish a legal framework, we can identify two distinct ways that the UN has assisted and ultimately legitimised a government that has manipulated relations and established hierarchy. Firstly, Resolution 2088 both ‘Urges the Government of the Central African Republic to ensure that freedom of expression and assembly, including for the opposition parties, as well as the rule of law are fully respected’, and ‘Demands that all armed groups cooperate with the Government in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process’ (UNSC Resolution 2088, 2013, p.3). The UN is encouraging CAR’s government to oversee commitment to human rights and law by all groups, and instructing armed groups to actively work with the government, legitimising it as an actor which holds power and control. Secondly, with the support of MINUSCA there has been efforts to re-establish the court system, yet the UNSG emphasises the rebel group individuals convicted, suggesting elite figures in the corrupt CAR state have continued unscathed (Ki-Moon, 2018, p. 7). Rebel armed groups were responsible for 33% of all human rights abuses, yet the national police and State led military are responsible for 25% of violations (Ki-Moon, 2018, p. 9). Furthermore, in April 2014, Russia and China blocked a proposal by the United States and France at the UNSC to impose targeted sanctions against three individuals, including former President Bozizé (Charbonneau and Nichols, 2014). International assistance in the way of establishing courts and prison systems, although fundamental in establishing a democratic and well-governed State, legitimises the mass human rights violations of the State by majoritively condemning the rebel groups. We can therefore critique R2P as a norm that encourages the international community to aid state’s that are key players in the cause of conflict.

Once states commit to supportive military intervention in the form of peacekeeping, which aims to protect populations at risk, R2P provides unprecedented power to peacekeepers and does not enshrine rigid training and monitoring, which has led to power being misused and abused, and ultimately R2P has created opportunities for bad practice on the ground in CAR.  Prevention by definition ‘involves a bi-lateral dynamic’ (Hehir 2015, p. 91), but accusations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers has hugely weakened the reputation of the military operations (Arieff, 2014).  Hehir’s work on prevention informs us that in the case of CAR the groups planning the attack must be dissuaded by the international community in order for prevention to be successful (2015, p. 91). However, there have been repeated accusations of sexual abuse, many cases involving children, by troops associated with French, AU and UN intervention which has ruptured any sense of trust or working relationships between the armed groups and the peacekeepers. An October 2017 Amnesty International news article reported that UN peacekeepers in Bambari drugged and sexually assaulted a young woman in CAR (Amnesty International News, 2017). The atrocious actions of the UN peacekeeper in this specific case were taken to court and the victim was restored with some form of justice (Amnesty International News, 2017). However, Amnesty (2017) reports that no other allegations of rape involving UN troops, despite the ‘continuous stream of well-documented’ claims, have been criminally investigated. The lack of a strategic framework and rigid monitoring following international assistance and intervention on the ground has allowed peacekeepers to heinously misuse their powerː despite training modules and mobile training teams being used to ensure peacekeepers understand their role in protecting civilians, this is evidently not enough (Ki-Moon, 2014b, p. 17). The UNSG’s 2014 report emphasises ways to identify at risk groups and increase protection capacity for vulnerable women, although this progress is vital, it fails to acknowledge the continuous allegations against peacekeepers themselves and how this can be combatted in the future (Ki-Moon, 2014b, p. 17). The misuse of power by certain troops has been a contributing factor to the failure of the international community to protect CAR’s populations from the four crimes. R2P is thus limited in that it does not ensure rigid training and monitoring of practice on the ground, allowing assault to occur which has jeopardised the success of prevention and restoration missions in CAR.


R2P is advocated for by scholars as a progressive norm that has encouraged conversation about human rights atrocities and has reshaped thought to further prioritise the lives of mass atrocity victims in international relations. However, this article has argued that in the context of the ongoing crisis in CAR, the limitations of R2P outweigh its strengths. There are two key strands of critique that this essay has negotiated, one in reference to the wording of the norm, and another in relation to how R2P is put into practice and interpreted. On one hand, the R2P discourse reconceptualises sovereignty in pillar I and instructs the international community to assist the manifestly failing state in pillar II. These stipulations have meant the African Union has had minimal input in restoring CAR due to its framework tied to legalities of traditional sovereignty. Furthermore, the rest of the international community has been involved in supporting and actively assisting the corrupt CAR government which is criticised for being the catalyst of the entire crisis. On the other hand, the non-legally binding norm has been able to be exploited in its invocation by states and their troops. R2P is dependent on the political will of states to offer their resources and services to protect populations threatened by the four crimes, it is therefore able to be abused in situations of state interest or allied relations which has led to the crisis in CAR being insufficiently responded to by the international community. On a more granular level, the authority that the peacekeepers have has been horrifically misused due to the absence of rigid training and monitoring efforts, which has weakened the opportunity for peacebuilding relations between international troops and local armed groups. Ultimately, R2P creates opportunities for states to help populations threatened by genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, its nature as non-legally binding allows states to act most effectively and efficiently in cases of vested interest, while once states do commit to assist, R2P threatens to further violence and legitimise bad practice.


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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.


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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.


Center on International Cooperation. 2013. Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2013. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

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.

UK Government. 2016. UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial: London Communiqué. Available from [Accessed 09 Nov 2017].

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).