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Peacekeeping is a process that involves military operations aiming to provide a buffer between warring parties. The principal objective of a peacekeeping mission is to halt armed conflict or prevent its reoccurrence. This is achieved by peacekeepers acting as a physical barrier between hostile parties and monitoring their military movements. Peacekeeping techniques are applied to both interstate and internal conflicts.

The Nature of Peacekeeping

Peacekeeping is based on the principle that an impartial presence of foreign troops on the ground can ease tensions and allow the achievement of a negotiated solution to a conflict. A critical first step before peacekeepers are deployed is for the United Nations (UN) or another intergovernmental body to obtain an end to fighting and to gain the consent of both parties in the dispute.

The term peacekeeping does not appear in the UN Charter. Former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold described peacekeeping as falling within "Chapter Six and a Half " of the charter. That is, it falls between traditional methods of resolving disputes peacefully (such as conciliation, mediation, and fact-finding) outlined in Chapter VI and resort to more forceful action (such as economic coercion and military intervention) authorized in Chapter VII.

Peacekeeping is distinctive. It resembles neither traditional means of dispute settlement nor the model of collective security. Peacekeeping compares with collective security only insofar as each technique involves the deployment of military forces. The objective is not to defeat an aggressor, but to prevent fighting, act as a buffer, preserve order, or maintain a cease-fire. Peacekeeping troops are usually instructed to use their weapons only in self-defense. Their role is more closely akin to that of policemen than combat soldiers. To be effective, peacekeeping forces must maintain attitudes of neutrality and impartiality toward the adversaries. Each peacekeeping operation has its particular mandated tasks, but common aims as well—to minimize human suffering and improve conditions for a self-sustaining peace. Thus, although peacekeeping operations have as their core an armed military component, they also employ various civilians, among them police officers, electoral experts, de-miners, human rights monitors, civil affairs specialists, and public information experts. UN peacekeepers normally coordinate efforts closely with field staffs of other UN agencies, especially the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme, the UN Children's Fund, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Certain factors contribute to the prospects for a peacekeeping operation's success. One is financing. Peacekeeping is expensive, and it is critical to adequately fund the supplies, equipment, salaries, and administrative costs of an operation. A second consideration is geography. More successful operations occur on flat, desert terrain in sparsely populated areas, where it is easier to observe military movements. Mountainous, jungle, or urban environments greatly complicate the monitoring mission of peacekeepers. Third, mandates for peacekeeping operations must be clear, and rules of engagement must be realistic relative to the situation. Fourth, peacekeeping forces need a centralized command and control system to facilitate efficient, effective policies. Finally, the peacekeeping forces must be neutral and not work to the benefit of either party in a dispute. Drawing forces from nonaligned countries works toward this end. In all cases the disputants' desire to peacefully solve their differences is critical to the success of any peacekeeping operation.

UN Peacekeeping and Genocide

Since the establishment of the UN in 1945, the Security Council has authorized 56 peacekeeping missions employing more than 800,000 military and police personnel from 118 countries. Of those forty-three UN peacekeeping operations were created by the Security Council after 1988. Fifteen missions remained ongoing in 2004. Since its creation in 2002 the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has shouldered responsibility for providing political and administrative directions for missions in the field.

UN peacekeeping operations between 1945 and 1988 mainly involved the positioning of forces between former belligerents, with their consent, to monitor ceasefire agreements. The close of the cold war in 1989 witnessed the emergence of more multidimensional peace operations, as the Security Council authorized ambitious missions to reduce armed tensions, implement peace accords, and prevent widespread genocidal atrocities within states ravaged by ethnic strife and civil war. Among these multidimensional missions were several UN interventions motivated by humanitarian concerns, including those in Somalia (1992–1995), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1994), Rwanda (1994), Sierra Leone (1997–1999), Kosovo (1996–1998), Liberia (1999–2003), and the Congo (1998–present). Even so, the record of international peacekeeping enjoys only mixed success because ethnic wars often degenerate into massive genocidal atrocities that severely challenge peacekeeping efforts.

In 1992 a U.S., and later UN-led, peacekeeping operation intervened in Somalia to protect international food aid personnel working to save local populations from famine and prevent the collapse of civil governance. When Somali warlords killed eighteen American soldiers in October 1993, the incident prompted the United States to withdraw its forces in early 1994, precipitating the collapse of the entire UN mission. Likewise in Bosnia, the Security Council deployed the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in 1993 to end the bloody civil war between Serbs and Muslims that eventually resulted in the death of some 250,000 persons, mostly Muslims. However, the inability of UN peacekeepers to halt the slaughter of civilians, especially in Sarajevo and Srebrenica, led to their disengagement in 1995 and replacement by NATO troops—the first time a UN force was replaced by a regional organization's troops. The most tragic failure in peacekeeping occurred in Rwanda between April and June of 1994, when the world watched marauding Hutus murder thousands of their own countrymen, mostly Tutsis. The Security Council did not act, and when it did, it was too little, too late. A French-led UN peacekeeping force arrived in late June, as the genocidal massacres ended. In the interim 800,000 victims perished.

UN peacekeeping efforts since 1997 have focused on African intrastate wars, both to limit armed conflict and promote peaceful settlement. In Sierra Leone internal violence broke out in 1997. The UN established the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone in July 1998 to disarm the combatants, and although fighting continued, UN diplomacy facilitated negotiation of the Lomé Peace Agreement that officially ended hostilities in 1999. To implement this agreement and monitor the protection of human rights, UN forces were then increased to six thousand troops.

The deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to Liberia in 1997 facilitated resolution of a civil war that had been ongoing since 1989, claimed the lives of 150,000 people—mostly civilians—and displaced some 850,000 refugees throughout neighboring countries. Civil turmoil erupted again in Liberia in July 2003, as fighting between government forces and warring factions intensified. In the face of a humanitarian tragedy, a peace treaty was signed in August that halted the violence. This agreement requested that the UN deploy a force to Liberia to support the government's transition and assist in implementing the terms of peace. In September 2003 the Security Council authorized the transport of fifteen thousand UN military personnel to assist in the maintenance of law and order throughout Liberia.

More tragic is the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1998 fighting broke out between the Lendu and Hema tribes. The conflict erupted into a brutal civil war that became complicated when local militias were backed by Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, and Zimbabwe, who all sought control over mineral resources and diamonds in the Congo's eastern provinces. In November 1999 the UN dispatched 6,500 peacekeepers to control the violence, with only partial success. Widespread fighting diminished after 2001, but by then more than 3.5 million people had perished, mostly displaced civilians who had starved to death.

Regional Peacekeeping Missions

Some peacekeeping efforts are undertaken by regional organizations. For example, in response to pressure from the United States, in 1994 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) authorized air strikes in Bosnia against Serbs who were attacking Muslims. These strikes led to the cessation of hostilities and negotiation of the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995. During 1995 and 1996 a NATO-led international peacekeeping force (IFOR) of sixty thousand troops served in Bosnia to implement and monitor the military aspects of the agreement. IFOR was succeeded by a smaller, NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) whose mission is to deter renewed hostilities. SFOR remains in place, although troop levels were reduced to approximately twelve thousand by late 2002.

Violence broke out in February 1998 between indigenous Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. Over the next year 800,000 Kosovar Albanians fled to neighboring countries to escape ethnic cleansing. The refusal of the Serbs to negotiate, coupled with the likelihood of genocidal atrocities, prompted the United States through NATO to launch in March 1999 an intense bombing campaign against local Serbian militias. These air strikes lasted until June, when Serb forces withdrew from Kosovo and the United States, Great Britain, Italy, France, and Germany deployed a combined peacekeeping force of forty thousand peacekeepers to maintain peace and political stability.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), supported by the UN, sought to end the 1989 civil war in Liberia. Fighting continued though 1997, when an ECOWAS-brokered peace agreement ended the conflict and established a democratically elected government. Likewise in 1997 the Security Council authorized the ECOWAS Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) to intervene in Sierra Leone's civil war to restore order, followed later that year by a special UN peacekeeping force. By January 1999 twenty thousand peacekeepers were stationed in Sierra Leone and peace had been restored.

Pervasive violence in the Balkans region and in Africa during the 1990s demonstrated the limits of peacekeeping where there is no peace to be kept, as well as the serious political complications for peacekeeping when armed force must be used against local citizens. Nonetheless, peacekeeping can work to preserve order if the parties to a dispute are willing to let it happen. And importantly, UN peacekeeping enjoys the advantages of universality and greater legitimacy compared to similar efforts undertaken by national or regional interests. In the long term, though, deploying peacekeeping operations to stop genocidal violence is not enough. Efforts at peacekeeping must have genuine political, financial, and military support from the major powers, and peace-building efforts must be made to develop stable political institutions, justice systems, and police forces that can maintain civil order and contribute to the creation of a civil society.

SEE ALSO Bosnia and Herzegovina; Humanitarian Intervention; Kosovo; Prevention; Rwanda; Somalia, Intervention in; United Nations Security Council


Boutros-Gali, B. (1995). An Agenda for Peace, 2nd edition. New York: United Nations.

Diehl, P. F. (1993). International Peacekeeping. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Durch, W. J. (1996). UN Peacekeeping, American Policy, and the Uncivil Wars of the 1990s. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Ratner, S. R. (1996). The New UN Peacekeeping: Building

Peace in Lands of Conflict after the Cold War. New York: St. Martin's Press.

UN Department of Public Information (1996). The Blue Helmets: A Review of United Nations Peace-Keeping, 3rd edition. New York: United Nations.

Weiss, T. G., ed. (1993). Collective Security in a Changing World. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.

UN Peacekeepzing website. Available from

Christopher C. Joyner

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Peacekeeping. One consequence of the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union was a burst of joint efforts aimed at resolving armed conflicts. Between 1990 and 1994, fifteen international peacekeeping operations were initiated through the United Nations. At their peak in 1994, there were over twenty such active operations.

Modern peacekeeping efforts began with the League of Nations, which employed military forces twice in Germany, in Upper Silesia (1921) and in the Saar (1935). One of the first UN efforts was the United Nations Special Committee on the Balkans (UNSCOB). Emphasizing fact finding and mediation, it also employed “peace observation,” with military observers who reported on the conflict to the General Assembly. The first mission employing more than a few military personnel was the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), operating in the Middle East since 1948.

Early UN operations received such descriptive labels as peace observation and truce supervision. The term peacekeeping was coined by Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson for the United Nations Emergency Force deployed in the Middle East after the 1956 Arab‐Israeli War. It was developed to distinguish this larger operation (which deployed 3,600 personnel in military units) from individual observer missions such as UNTSO.

In the early 1960s, the controversial United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), an unprecedentedly large operation, strained the “peacekeeping” concept and the strength of the United Nations. In part as a result, peacekeeping operations underwent a period of retrenchment until the late 1980s. One exception was the 1981 start of the U.S.‐manned Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai, the product of the Camp David Accords. Despite its non‐UN origins, it serves as an example of a “chapter six” of the UN Charter, featuring military forces—with the consent of belligerents—monitoring the implementation of an established truce.

In the late 1980s, the member states, through the United Nations, started a new series of peacekeeping operations. Many of these missions (particularly in Namibia and Cambodia) were very complex, and covered activities ranging from civilian police through election administration and refugee resettlement.

In the 1990s, operations were undertaken in which the central tenets of “classic” peacekeeping (consent by all parties and the restricted use of force by peacekeepers) no longer seemed appropriate. These operations, including the UN and U.S. military involvement in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, were mounted in the face of ongoing conflicts. The terms peace enforcement, “muscular” peacekeeping, and “chapter seven” operations reflect U.S. political and military concerns, and imply more aggressive ideas about the use of force. The American domestic debate over such a U.S. role has generated a new dynamic: as operations (rightly or wrongly) were judged failures in domestic debate, new labels were invented to distance new missions from past failures. Operation Joint Endeavor, begun in 1995 in the former Yugoslavia, was called a “peace implementation” mission, not because its tasks are unique but because the mission had to be differentiated from past efforts. The frequently changing labels applied to these operations reflect the lack of consensus within the United States about how to—and indeed whether to—conduct such operations.
[See also Bosnian Crisis: Civil‐Military Relations; Middle East, U.S. Military Involvement in the.]


David W. Wainhouse , International Peacekeeping at the Crossroads: National Support—Experience and Prospects, 1973.
David W. Wainhouse , International Peace Observation: A History and Forecast, 1986.
Paul F. Diehl , International Peacekeeping, 1993.
William J. Durch, ed., The Evolution of UN Peacekeeping: Case Studies and Comparative Analysis, 1993.
David R. Segal and and Mady W. Segal , Peacekeepers and Their Wives: American Participation in the Multinational Force and Observers, 1993.
Barbara Benton , Soldiers for Peace: Fifty Years of United Nations Peacekeeping, 1996.
Andrew J. Goodpaster , When Diplomacy Is Not Enough: Managing Multinational Military Interventions, 1996.
William J. Durch, ed., Peacekeeping, American Politics and the Uncivil Wars of the 1990s, 1996.
United Nations Department of Public Information , The Blue Helmets: A Review of United Nations Peace‐keeping, 3rd ed. 1997.

Dana Eyre

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