Vol 2 No 2

Peacebuilding and Peacekeeping Special Issue

Dear reader,

Together with STAND, The Student Led Movement To End Mass Atrocities, we are delighted to introduce the first-ever Special Issue of the Responsibility to Protect Student Journal – an issue entirely dedicated to important theoretical and practical questions concerning peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

For this Special Issue we have selected five student essays reflecting on issues around peacekeeping and peacebuilding. They touch on themes such as unarmed civilian peacekeeping, accountability in peacekeeping missions, the core principles of UN peacekeeping, ex-combatant reintegration and the problems of post-war reconstruction.

The issue opens with an introductory essay on training, doctrinal guidance and strategic leadership in UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions by Dr David Curran, research fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace & Social Relations at Coventry University. Training of UN military peacekeepers has become a priority, yet lack of capacity poses a significant challenge to its effectiveness, quality and conformity. Another challenge to UN missions is that current practice stretches the key principles of peacekeeping. In other words, the development of UN doctrine is not keeping pace with modern day peacekeeping missions which include PoC mandates, ‘robust’ and ‘stabilisation’ missions and intelligence gathering. The article written by Eric Harsch focusses on this mismatch of policy and doctrine.

Harsch argues that the departure of current peacekeeping practices, including the protection of civilians, robust and stabilisation missions, from the core principles of consent, impartiality and the use of force in self-defence has a negative impact on the UN’s ability to reach political solutions. Only with a stronger adherence to the peacekeeping principles, he argues, can this disconnect be remedied.

Ellinore Ahlgren’s article discusses the increased demand for accountability in today’s peacekeeping operations. Ahlgren outlines several barriers to improved local accountability, including their detachment from local communities, the regionalisation of PKOs, the way in which peacekeeping mandates are established and the culture of impunity surrounding peacekeepers accused of sexual violence. She suggests steps that can be taken by decision-makers in order to improve accountability.

Reflecting further on the nature of sexual violence in peacekeeping missions, Orsolya Plesz argues that current enforcement measures employed by the international community against conflict-related sexual violence are inefficient due to their violent and militarised nature. Analysed through a feminist lens, Plesz argues that strictly non-violent unarmed civilian peacekeeping may pose an alternative to current operations.

Lucia Syder and Federica Lombardi’s article engages with the contemporary issue of peacebuilding in Colombia. Their evaluation of reintegration efforts of former combatants in the country assesses a number of factors contributing to lasting peace and stability. Syder and Lombardi argue that while reintegration is a necessary development in the reconciliation and democratisation process of the country, social reforms and increased state presence are also vital components in facilitating lasting peace.

Lastly, Kristin Gulbrandsen’s article makes a theoretical contribution to the special issue by discussing the difference between problem-solving and critical theory on post-war reconstruction. Drawing on examples from the literature, she shows how critical contributions can illuminate some of the problems of current day peacebuilding and statebuilding. Rather than suggesting that modification and refinement of current practices can adequately address these issues, she argues that problem-solving theory ultimately has a conservative purpose that works to unequal structures of power which can only be uncovered through critical engagement.

Kristin Gulbrandsen and Georgiana Epure

This issue was originally published under our previous title, the Responsibility to Protect Student Journal.


  • Filling the doctrinal gap? Challenges in UN peacekeeping operations
    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).
  • Peacekeeping in today’s ‘complex emergencies’: Why it still matters that UN peacekeepers strive to adhere to the core principles of UN Peacekeeping
    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.
  • Increasing Accountability in Peacekeeping Operations: Challenges and Opportunities
    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.
  • Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping as an Appropriate Institutionalised Answer to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
    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.
  • Reintegration of Former Combatants: The End to Colombia’s Reign of Blood?
    The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the variables that will play a fundamental role in establishing a long-lasting peace in Colombia. In the first section, the paper focuses on the role that the social, political and economic reintegration of former combatants will play in the establishment of peace. The second section contrasts the role of reintegration with the additional variables of social and economic governmental reforms. The paper concludes that although reintegration is necessary to ensure the success of reconciliation and the triumph of democracy, it must be complemented with social reforms and an increased state presence.
  • Perspectives on postwar reconstruction and the purpose of theory
    The practices around post-war reconstruction are contested in the academic literature. Distinguishing between problem-solving and critical theory, this article draws on Robert Cox’ description of the two purposes of theory to highlight different critiques of post-war reconstruction. Through a review of the literature, the article discusses liberal problem-solving, the contradictions of ‘good governance’, and governmentality approaches to the issue. The idea emerging from the discussion is that the conservative framework and purpose of problem-solving theory cannot deal with some of the inherent problems of post-war reconstruction. Thus, the role of critical theory is to reveal how current practices and logics of peacebuilding and statebuilding reproduce unequal structures of power, securing the interest of some actors at the expense of others.