Can UN Peace Operations Evolve With the World Around Them? – Blessing Ikpa

The United Nations Peace Operations is comprised of individuals who are experienced in the areas of conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding with attempts to highlight places in need of change. With its creation in 1948, the conversation around military force being deployed in peace operations has been evolving. Yet, has it evolved to the standards of the 21st century?  There needs to be a strict boundary in which the usage of UN Peace Operations is properly enforced when need be, with regard being given to the autonomy of sovereignty of its member-states.

The concept of sovereignty is important to any member-state of the United Nations, which makes using military force in peace operations more difficult to navigate. Thomas Weiss et al. (2014) arguably note how the Security Council was largely missing in humanitarian matters during the Cold War. Now, the Security Council has found them in the complicated relationship of employing military force too soon. It is important that UN Peacekeepers fulfill mandates to protect citizens of member-states but the use of force has become more robust with “war-fighting mandates” that could be alleviated.

The United Nations has always stood behind the notion that no member-state will be forced to follow or participate in a specified mandate. Even though the peace operations have been deployed into Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Syria, there is nothing holding countries to uphold peace mandates. With the situation in the Balkans, all eyes were on the great powers for the political environment in the background. China and Russia were debating on even labeling the situation as a “humanitarian bombing”, which leads to how powerful countries can have a stronger say over the UN. Even if the answer to war crimes is through the international courts, this does not mean that a proper answer to positive peace can happen.

In another internal report on the UN Peace Operations, a few bullet points were laid out such as:

  • Engaging with host countries and local communities to ensure mission success
  • Improving speed, capability, and performance of unified personnel
  • The full spectrum of peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground
  • The UN Secretariat must become more field-focused and UN peace operations must be more people-centered.

Though many of these points are valid and should be fully implemented, the possibility of coming to fruition is daunting. Though the UN Peace Operations have evolved since the 1990s in terms of strategy and challenges to the growth of operations, but has not reached the level of being “people-centered” and “field-focused”. Cases of sexual violence from peacekeepers and confusion around the responsibility to protect does not gain traction of being able to keep up with the changing world around us.

The guiding principles of UN Peace Operations are Impartiality, Consent, and Limited Use of Force. None of these principles have been adequately met since the idea of peacekeeping is still relatively new to the United Nations. The lines between peace mandates and the responsibility to protect have been blurred significantly. When fulfilling a peace mandate, the idea of state sovereignty is only “contingent on responsible governmental behavior” as stated from Weiss. How can peace be positively accomplished if sovereignty can only be respected when a country is acting according to vague terms? Nothing can be executed sufficiently if there is not a clear, consistent value in achieving positive peace?

With an internal review conducted of UN Peace Operations, a recommendation was given on creating effective strategies for conflict prevention but does not accurately touch on the topic of military intervention and the use of force. When the United Nations is found with the challenge of intervening, military force should not always be at use. The Secretariat is given the power to apply “best-case planning assumptions” when needed, but if this continues to only use the voices of great powers, peace cannot be achieved. The United Nations as an international organization must work to gain credibility over countries such as Russia, China, and the United States.

The efficiency and credibility of the United Nations, along with various other international institutions, is beginning to reach a turning point. Even if NATO was to become more involved, what would this mean for the fulfillment of peace mandates? Powerful countries and their political adversaries have cluttered the usefulness of the UN Peace Operations. If peace is going to be achieved, the use of military force and the decline of state sovereignty must be fully addressed. Even though the UN Peace Operations have made strides, this could all become futile if credibility and sustainability is lost.



2 thoughts on “Can UN Peace Operations Evolve With the World Around Them? – Blessing Ikpa

  1. This article highlights many of the contentious and multi-faceted issues surrounding the direction and future strategy for UN Peace Operations. The debates in the delineations for the use of military force in peacekeeping mandates, the highly politicized decision-making landscape in the Security Council, the coordination/collective-action problems within the entire Peace Ops enterprise, and the overall questions of morality in the face of humanitarian crises are all important to consider when taking into account the viability of UN Peace Operations in years to come. This post serves as a strong primer that introduces audiences to the inherent problems of UN Peace Ops, but does not put forth a clear argument that could address the future of UN Peace Ops. This just shows how complex it is to find solutions for the sustainability of peacekeeping operations on an international landscape that deals with many different actors, with different motives/objectives, working under different pressures/limitations. There is no strict boundary that UN Peace Ops can take because addressing these issues would need a layered and complex understanding of how UN Peace Ops function in a collaborative institution amidst the competing interests of nation-states.

    The connection between the heated debates regarding UN Peace Ops use of military force and issues of sovereignty can be strengthened in this piece by clarifying on how UN members are ultimately threatened by the creation of a standing military force which could impinge on their own national interests (even if its for the sake of humanitarian concerns). While the “Responsibility to Protect” paradigm has been important in evolving the purpose and mandates of UN Peace Ops, the UN must also evolve in regards to thinking about the use of military force for its peacekeeping operations. This piece strongly iterates this point for the viability of UN Peace Ops.


  2. Through out the week I have been reflecting on both this article and my own. It seems that in UN peacekeeping missions, any use of force (especially by military personnel) would be inherently bias and take away from the impartiality of the UN. If these two ideas of impartiality and limited use of force are to hold, loss of state sovereignty seems like a reasonable consequence.

    As we see the world’s rise in nationalism, it is easy to put the state at the center of this issue rather than stateless populations. As a world we acknowledged the importance of these populations in the Geneva Convention and R2P over state sovereignty. However, in practice we see sovereignty as a wall, more than simply an ideological boundary. With R2P, signatories and ratifying nations have given consent to protect people over the state. The state is constantly influenced through technology and bureaucrats, so it’s hard for me to justify haulting at a border for suffering populations. Yes, the Security Council had reacted too strongly at times and held back too much in others. But peaceful action can be achieved through coalition of the “Humanitarian Network”.

    Perhaps it is these ethics and philosophy classes or my idealism, but it a week after all of these readings, I still think there is a way. We have constructed unneeded boundaries to aid because of sovereignty, but sovereignty is just a norm we created.

    Just another thought, trying to gain new perspectives.


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