Should UN peacekeeping go “back to basics” or further expand its task fields?

Essay, 2009

5 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Task: Should UN peacekeeping go “back to basics” (i.e. concentrate on its traditional role) or further expand its task fields?

The recent United Nations Capstone Doctrine notes that “over the years, peacekeeping has evolved from a primarily military model of observing cease-fires and the separation of forces after inter-state wars, to incorporate a complex model of many elements – military, police and civilian – working together to help lay the foundations for sustainable peace” (UN 2008b, p.19). As the first document of its kind it presents an overarching guidance to a better understanding of the main principles of (current) UN peacekeeping operations1. Subsequently, I will outline why the UN should rather expand its task fields regarding peacekeeping than concentrate on its traditional role.

The shape of these missions has considerably changed – or more precisely – extended throughout the years. While traditional peacekeeping originally foresaw to stick among others to the principles of consensus2, authority of the UN3, the non-use of force and a strict impartiality (see Gareis 2002 and UNO 2008b, p. 31), peacekeeping in terms of classical observer missions has become upgraded in particular since the end of Cold War through “a series of improvizations4 to address the matters of peace and security” appropriately (Taylor 2008, p. 319). This step was necessary – sparked by a significant change in conflict forms and threats in general (please compare assignment no. 1). And it will be essential in the future to adjust tasks flexibly according to the respective demands.

But not only risk and conflict scenarios have changed. Also facets in international law like modifications in national sovereignty and the issue of human rights require an adequate adjustment. The former aspect has been increasingly questioned since the end of East-West-Conflict, when borders became more and more permeable and blurred. Thus on the one hand, inner-state conflicts like civil wars, which are on the rise, present a global threat to international (or at least regional) peace and stability, resulting e.g. in refugee flows caused by mass expulsions (Taylor 2008, p. 321). In consequence, scholars like Taylor claim that sovereignty is not an unconditional good. A changed nature of state sovereignty requires apt reactions, so for instance in the form of peacekeeping operations (2008, p. 321).

On the other hand, in the aftermath of WWII a universal human rights standard comprising a large set of rules including individual rights5 has been elaborated in order to prevent another catastrophe like this in the future. Even though human rights have developed considerably since then, their actual enforcement still lags behind, requiring a contemporary adjustment in terms of advancement of UN security institutions and conventions (like peacekeeping, as mentioned by Daase) in order to reach humanitarian ends – also if necessary by force (like in Bosnia and Somalia 1992).

However, on should keep in mind that this new kind of peacekeeping is also controversial due to the fact, that it has per definitionem no clear legal basis and there is no universal agreement on the norms. In addition, with a broadened mandate it also becomes more difficult for UN peacekeepers to stay neutral, thus becoming easier targets and in turn rendering sending countries more reluctant to supply forces to protect their nationals.

Nevertheless, steps to adapt the instrument of peacekeeping are undertaken6, e.g. through the establishment of the so called UN Peacebuilding Commission founded as an advisory subsidiary body of the General Assemply and Security Council, delivering integrated strategies to countries “in the volatile post-conflict phase to prevent the recurrence of conflict” (Taylor 2008, p. 321). Regionalization in the form of “task-sharing” in a partnership (Alagappa 1997, p. 439) is another solution, i.e. assigning certain functions to regional organizations or ad hoc coalitions (like in Afghanistan or Kosovo, see Gareis 2006, p. 58), which thus can relieve financial stress through a split-up.


1 Examples for a great variety of the up to date 63 United Nations Peace Keeping Missions over the globe are among others: UNIFIL (United Nations Interims Force in Lebanon, since 1978), UNOMIG (United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, established in 1993) or UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia, started in 2003, see UN 2008a, UN 2008c).

2 consensus of conflict parties for peacekeeping through “blue helmets”

3 i.e. of the DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations)

4 i.e. by including additional tasks such as human security, confidence-building measures, electoral support, strengthening the rule of law, or economic and social development, and last but not least in some cases also the use of force (UN 2008c and Roberts 1994, p. 97)

5 first defined in Article 1 No. 3 of the UN Charter (“promoting and encouraging respect for human rights“). Later framed more detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), tacitly accepted by all UN members. Based on this, various legally binding conventions and instruments were established succinctly to ensure the respect for human rights. Besides, many countries included human rights in their national constitutions, so e.g. Germany, where they can be found in Articles 1-19 of the Grundgesetz (see assignment in International Law about Human Rights).

6 called “post-conflict peacebuilding” (Taylor 2008, p. 320), which is the new form of peacekeeping: to develop the social, political and economic infrastructure to prevent further violence and to consolidate peace

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Should UN peacekeeping go “back to basics” or further expand its task fields?
Free University of Berlin  (Center for Global Politics)
International Security
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ISBN (eBook)
File size
442 KB
peacekeeping, UN, UNO, international law, Völkerrecht, Menschenrechte, human rights, souvereignty, Souveränität
Quote paper
Natalie Züfle (Author), 2009, Should UN peacekeeping go “back to basics” or further expand its task fields?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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