Peace operations

Authored by: Tom Woodhouse , Oliver Ramsbotham

The Routledge Handbook of Security Studies

Print publication date:  November  2009
Online publication date:  December  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415463614
eBook ISBN: 9780203866764
Adobe ISBN: 9781135239077




In UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda for Peace (1992), the term ‘peace operations’ was seen to cover traditional peacekeeping, peace enforcement and post-conflict peacebuilding. Preventive diplomacy was a further category. All of these were interpreted as fulfilment of UN Charter provisions in the aftermath of near-universal international support for enforcement action to reverse Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1991, and the sudden flurry of non-forcible UN peace operations between 1989 and 1992 to manage transitions from war to peace in a number of long-standing conflicts on almost every continent. It seemed that a new era for UN-sanctioned – and, in the latter case, UN-managed – forcible and non-forcible peace operations had dawned. However, these distinctions have not corresponded to consistent or generally accepted conceptual categories in the evolution of international practice since then.

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Peace operations

In UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda for Peace (1992), the term ‘peace operations’ was seen to cover traditional peacekeeping, peace enforcement and post-conflict peacebuilding. Preventive diplomacy was a further category. All of these were interpreted as fulfilment of UN Charter provisions in the aftermath of near-universal international support for enforcement action to reverse Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1991, and the sudden flurry of non-forcible UN peace operations between 1989 and 1992 to manage transitions from war to peace in a number of long-standing conflicts on almost every continent. It seemed that a new era for UN-sanctioned – and, in the latter case, UN-managed – forcible and non-forcible peace operations had dawned. However, these distinctions have not corresponded to consistent or generally accepted conceptual categories in the evolution of international practice since then.

Originally associated mainly with UN deployments, peace operations (or what purport to be peace operations) today are now also conducted by or under the aegis of regional organizations (EU, AU, OSCE and OAS), sub-regional groupings (ECOWAS), politico-military alliances (NATO) and a variety of ad hoc coalitions led by militarily powerful states (Russia, the US, Britain, France, Nigeria and Australia). This has even at times encompassed a role for private military companies. In the literature, peace operations featured prominently in chapters on conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, peace enforcement and humanitarian intervention. As with Wittgenstein’s rope, which is a continuous whole although no single strand goes through the entire cord, no one definitional element runs consistently through the whole length.

This chapter describes the nature of peace operations (history, functions, authorization, spectrum of force and definition); peace operations and post-war peacebuilding; the measurement of success in peace operations; and possible future directions for peace operations.

What counts as a peace operation?

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) listed 20 ‘UN Peacekeeping Deployments by Mission’ in October 2008 with 75,512 troops, 12,125 police officers and 2,606 military observers (United Nations Department of Public Information 2009). When the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) produced its first Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2006, its ‘data sections concentrated heavily on the United Nations’. In 2007, however, after criticism, the data set was expanded to include figures on EU, AU, NATO and ‘other operations’. This resulted in a further 30 ‘non-UN missions’, to give ‘a richer picture of the evolving international architecture for peace operations, within and beyond the UN’ (Center on International Cooperation 2007: ix; see also Center on International Cooperation 2008: vii; 137–94). It is this shift to include increasing numbers of non-UN missions in the definition of peace operations that causes most of the current difficulties.

For example, the CIC list, and other peace operations lists such as those updated every three months by the ZIF Center for International Peace Operations (Center for International Peace Operations 2008), include the 150,000-strong US-led Multinational Force in Iraq (MNF-I) and Russian-led forces in the ‘near-abroad’ on the one hand, and almost entirely civilian OSCE missions and small UN Peacebuilding and UN Special Representative missions on the other. Unlike the situation in the early 1990s, where a single mission like the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) could be seen as constituting a comprehensive peace operation in itself, in the more complicated and varied contemporary combinations several of the missions listed separately (together with others not listed) combine – often indeterminately – in a single undertaking, as in Iraq, where there is a noticeable imbalance between the contributions of MNF-I, NATO’s 162-strong Training Mission in Iraq (NTM-I), the UN’s 229-strong Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the EU’s small Rule of Law Mission in Iraq (EUJUST LEX).

A brief history of peace operations

These complications are the result of the rapid and unpredictable evolution of peace operations over the past 20 years. A glance at mission inception dates shows how, despite abrupt discontinuities, current peace operations reflect their historical origins. Once again, there are variations as to how specialists categorize different ‘phases’ or ‘generations’ of peace operations (Durch 2006 borrows the term ‘surges’). It seems simplest to distinguish three phases:

  • UN peacekeeping up to the end of the Cold War (Phase 1)
  • The period of expanded UN missions between the initiation of UNTAG (UN Transition Assistance Group for Namibia) in 1989 and the withdrawal of UNOSOM II (UN Operation in Somalia) in 1995 (Phase 2)
  • The more diverse and complex changes that have attended the emergence of ‘third-generation peace operations’ since then (Phase 3).

This evolution has been precipitated by three main convulsions. First, the end of the Cold War opened up the whole possibility of large-scale international interventions of this kind. Second, some key UN peace operations towards the mid-1990s were overwhelmed by crises that temporarily seemed to call the whole undertaking into question. The third break was the result of the US response to the 11 September 2001 attacks and the ‘war on terror’ that threatened to sideline or co-opt the enterprise into what could no longer be called peace operations.

Phase 1

During the Cold War, despite exceptions such as the United Nations Operation in the Congo (1960–64), the 13 UN peacekeeping missions were largely restricted to interposition activities. Their main function was to monitor borders and establish buffer zones after the agreement of ceasefires. The missions were typically composed of lightly armed national troop contingents from small and neutral UN member states. UN peacekeeping came to be defined in terms of a few basic principles famously, if unofficially, formulated by UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and UN General Assembly President Lester Pearson to guide the work of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I), created in response to the Suez Crisis in the Middle East in 1956. The UNEF I principles served to define the essence of UN peacekeeping at least until the mid-1990s and were based on:

  • the consent of the conflict parties
  • the non-use of force except in self-defence
  • political neutrality (not taking sides)
  • impartiality (commitment to the mandate)
  • legitimacy (sanctioned and accountable to the Security Council advised by the Secretary-General).

One of the key questions is how many, if any, of these principles survive in definitions of current peace operations, and whether this matters.

Phase 2

Phase 2 was ushered in by two linked developments. The first was the unexpected transformation of decolonization arrangements for Namibia in 1989 into a template for an unprecedented burst of multidimensional UN-led peace operations. Since most of these were in support of agreed ceasefires or peace accords (for example in Nicaragua, Angola, El Salvador, Cambodia and Mozambique), it was at first supposed that the Hammarskjöld/Pearson principles still applied. UN peacekeeping expanded and merged into UN post-settlement peacebuilding without fundamentally changing its character.

Second, and at this point clearly conceptually distinct, was the collective security operation to reverse Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1991 – only the second large-scale UNauthorized ‘coalition war’, as Michael Pugh calls it (2007: 372). Since the first was the Korean war, which only received UN endorsement as a result of the Soviet Union’s ill-judged absence from the Security Council in 1950, the 1991 Iraq war seemed to be the first genuinely international ‘peace enforcement operation’ by the international community, and appeared to herald a new era – a ‘new world order’, as US President George H. W. Bush somewhat reluctantly described it – in which the UN might be able at last to make real some of the ideals of its founders. In the absence of what had originally been intended as a UN peace enforcement capacity (UN Charter article 47), however, as Operation Desert Storm demonstrated, the UN through the Security Council could authorize enforcement operations, but plainly could not conduct them.

It is this discrepancy that has generated much of the continuing controversy about peace operations, as what was originally a relatively clear distinction between UNauthorized and UN-managed non-forcible peacekeeping/peacebuilding operations on the one hand and UN-authorized but non-UN-managed peace enforcement operations on the other has subsequently collapsed.

Phase 3

The collapse ushered in a deeply ambivalent ‘third generation’ of peace operations. This was precipitated by a loss of confidence in the UN’s ability to manage major conflict-related peace and security challenges in the wake of failure in Bosnia (1992–95), Somalia (1992–95) and by reflex Rwanda (1994), and the converse attempt by major military powers and alliances to use the UN Security Council to authorize forcible intervention and its aftermath as in Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and, most notoriously, Iraq (2003) – if necessary retrospectively (as pioneered earlier in the 1990s by Nigerian-led interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone). This blurred the middle ground as UN peacekeeping missions were now usually conducted under a Chapter Seven enforcement mandate (which often necessitated cooperation with non-UN forces), while the most powerful military states and alliances were – or claimed to be – working with UN acquiescence or tacit cooperation, if not explicit authorization.

The evolving functions and mandates of peace operations

In addition to changes over time, it is also worth noting differences in the initial conditions and functions of peace operations, particularly as articulated in mission mandates, because the context is often highly influential in setting the parameters for expected results, or should be. Initial declared functions often overlap, are the result of political compromise and may subsequently change as the operation proceeds. Nevertheless, they play a more significant role in determining the scope and outcome of peace operations than is often acknowledged.

Six different initial contextual functions for peace operations can usefully be distinguished (Ramsbotham 2006).

  • Interposition and monitoring operations Phase are traditional ‘phase one’ functions, some of which, such as UNDOF (Israel–Syria), are holdovers from the Cold War period. A more recent example is UNMEE (2000–2007), which was tasked with monitoring the cessation of hostilities in the Ethiopia–Eritrea conflict. UNIFIL (Lebanon) changed its character after the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah war and is now seen by some as a prototype for possible future interposition and monitoring missions in the region.
  • Decolonization operations are mounted to assist the transition to self-rule after wars of national liberation (Namibia, East Timor). In these cases, the fact that the respective ‘colonial’ powers (South Africa, Indonesia) have already agreed to withdraw evidently makes the task of the interveners easier.
  • Democracy restoration operations are tasked with defending an already existing democracy or restoring an ousted democratically elected leader (Haiti, Sierra Leone). Although resistance from the usurper is likely to be strong, the existence of an already elected alternative improves prospects, so long as this changeover of power is generally seen to have been legitimate (‘free and fair elections’).
  • Peace support operations are interventions to help manage the transition from war to peace after a ceasefire or some form of already agreed peace arrangement (Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Burundi). This is the locus classicus for peace operations – indeed, peace support operations are sometimes conflated with peace operations in general. A prior peace agreement greatly increases the chances of success, but since making peace between undefeated conflict parties in civil wars does not end the conflict, but merely transmutes it into intense political rivalry, the post-agreement period is often the most dangerous. The collapse of agreements in Angola and Rwanda in the 1990s subsequently engulfed the peace operations intended to support them (UNAVEM II, UNAMIR). This is where the advocates of post-war international intervention have had to – and to some extent, did – learn some important lessons.
  • Humanitarian intervention operations, unlike during the Cold War period, are now usually interventions in ongoing internal conflicts or civil wars, initially mainly driven by concern for the welfare of civilian populations (Bosnia 1992–95, Somalia 1992–95, Kosovo 1999, Darfur 2007; there are also humanitarian interventions that are not peace operations, such as Operation Provide Comfort in support of the Kurdish population in northern Iraq after 1991). This contextual function should be clearly distinguished from peace support operations (see above). Failure to make this distinction led to the ‘wrong lessons’ being learned from debacles in Bosnia (the massacre in Srebrenica) and Somalia (the deaths of 25 US soldiers). UN peace support operations in general were wrongly implicated in the failure of what were not peace support operations. Conversely, when as a result no action was subsequently taken by the most powerful members of the Security Council in the first weeks of the Rwanda genocide (1994), it was again UN peace operations in general that were mistakenly discredited.
  • Regime change operations are an explicit attempt to topple an existing government seen to threaten international peace and security, and in particular the national interests of the most powerful interveners (Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003). Another major shift in contextual functions occurred as international peace operations were co-opted into what the administration of US president George W. Bush called the ‘war on terror’. Weak or failed states were seen as actual or potential havens for terrorism (US National Security Strategy 2002), and US defence and foreign policy requirements expanded to encompass forcible democratization and ‘nation-building’ as a national security priority. ‘Stability, security, transition and reconstruction (SSTR) operations’ became a ‘core US military mission’ (US Department of Defense 2005).

There is no suggestion that these are watertight distinctions (if a forcible operation were to be mounted to remove a corrupt dictatorship in a country with severe economic problems, for example, it would probably straddle the ‘restoration of democracy’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’ functions). But it is helpful to bear them in mind when it comes to assessing the success and effectiveness of peace operations, as indicated below.

The authorization, coordination and implementation of peace operations

What are ‘officially endorsed and accepted’ peace operations? Clearly, a UN Security Council resolution is a sufficient mandate (although the UNSC is a political body reflecting the national interests of the most powerful states). But, as already suggested, this is now not generally regarded as a necessary condition – for example, in circumstances where the UNSC cannot agree.

Linked to this is the highly challenging issue of coordination. No matter what their origins, major peace operations usually end up as post-conflict peacebuilding or reconstruction operations. This has required intervening nations to sustain ‘nation-building’ and ‘transitional administration’ capacities of exactly the kind that had, somewhat ironically, just been relinquished by the UN with the winding down of the Trusteeship Council and by erstwhile imperial powers through the merging of former colonial offices into foreign ministries. The result was a ‘post-war planning gap’ filled by a number of ad hoc arrangements. The penalty of failure was graphically illustrated in Iraq in 2003 with the almost instantaneous collapse of the original post-intervention administration planned from the US Department of Defense. The consequences were dire in the extreme. The UN voted in December 2005 to set up a UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) in an attempt to help remedy this at international level.

The spectrum of force in peace operations

Robust third-generation peace operation missions, therefore, have usually been mounted, not under UN command, but by a small number of regional security organizations and coalitions of the willing and capable such as NATO forces in Bosnia and Kosovo (IFOR, SFOR and KFOR); Nigerian peacekeeping forces (ECOMOG) in West Africa; a British-led IMAT (International Military Advisory Team) in Sierra Leone working alongside, but independently of the UNAMSIL force; and the Australian military providing the leadership of the force in East Timor (INTERFET/UNTAET).

According to the UK Military Contribution to Peace Support Operations doctrine (UK Ministry of Defence 2004), UK peace operation planning no longer separates combat operations from ‘operations other than war’ (OOTW), but envisages the use of military capabilities across the full ‘spectrum of tension’ from traditional peacekeeping duties through to combat against spoilers and enemies of the peace. At the tactical level ‘where action actually takes place’ and where formation and unit commanders ‘engage directly with adversaries, armed factions and the civil population’, there is a similar – and very demanding – requirement to combine combat skills with those of negotiation, mediation and the generation of consent. In addition, there is continuing controversy about whether it is possible to ‘gear up’ from traditional peacekeeping to combat level, as well as to ‘gear down’ in the other direction.

Conclusion: peacekeeping, peace operations, and war

Given its great complexity and variability, and the magnitude of the different interlocking tasks currently undertaken by such a diverse range of actors, it is simplest to contrast peace operations with traditional peacekeeping on the one hand and traditional war fighting on the other (cf. Table 38.1).

The five criteria that define traditional peacekeeping are the five Hammarskjöld/Pearson principles. As shown above, only one of these still applies unchanged (in theory) to peace operations – the criterion of impartiality, although even this can be watered down in cases where the ‘international mandate’ is seen to be compromised or even non-existent. Nevertheless, the contrast with traditional war fighting remains reasonably clear – again in theory. If there is no clear dividing line between peace operations and traditional war fighting, then most would conclude that the whole idea of international peace operations has lost its purchase.

Table 38.1   Contrast between peace operations, traditional peacekeeping and traditional war fighting

Traditional peacekeeping

Peace operations

Traditional War

Universal consent

General consent of target populations, not of spoilers

No consent

Political neutrality between main conflict parties

No neutrality if a conflict party opposes the mandate

No neutrality

Impartiality in fulfilling mandate

Impartiality in fulfilling mandate

No impartiality

Non-use of force except in self-defence

Full spectrum of force needed to fulfil mandate

Full spectrum of force

International mandate

Normally uphold UN Charter purposes and principles, if possible with international mandate (perhaps retrospective)

National interest

Peace operations and post-war peacebuilding

Irrespective of the different initial functional contexts for major peace operations – decolonization, democracy restoration, post-agreement support, humanitarian intervention and regime change – or even of who the lead actor(s) may be, given the prevalence of internal conflict and breakdown in the target states, the core challenge in major peace operations is to create the sustainable conditions needed to underpin the desired outcome and enable the interveners to withdraw (Ramsbotham et al. 2005: 185–214). Evidently, the details of how this aim can be achieved vary from case to case, but a recognizable pattern of requirements can be discerned with a surprising degree of consistency. From the sectoral tasks identified in the 1992 UN Agenda for Peace and its successors (‘actions to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict’ (Boutros-Ghali 1992: 11)) to the various ‘pillars’ identified in the 2004 US template for successful post-conflict reconstruction Winning the Peace (Orr 2004).

A summative sector/phase framework can be constructed from an extensive literature to illustrate the main points (cf. Table 38.2).

Much of this is controversial, for example, the nature and merits of democracy as a requirement, or what the role of the World Bank should be in ‘conflict-sensitive economic adjustment policies’, or how to manage human rights issues. Some, like Elizabeth Cousens, advocate a minimalist approach that does not raise excessive expectations through over-ambition and concentrates on encouraging ‘authoritative and, eventually, legitimate mechanisms to resolve internal conflict without violence’ (Cousens and Kumar 2001: 4). But it is hard to see how even this can be achieved without the interlocking elements that help to secure the phase 2 requirements:

  • national armed forces under home government control stronger than challengers
  • sufficient indigenous capacity to maintain basic order impartially under the law
  • adequate democratic credentials of elected government with system seen to remain open to those dissatisfied with the initial result
  • a reasonably stable relationship between centre and regions
  • l assistance), economic capacity to absorb many former combatants and progress in encouraging general belief in better future employment prospects
  • adequate success in managing conflicting priorities of peace and justice, protecting minority rights, and fostering a reasonably independent, yet responsible media.

Table 38.2   An indicative sector/phase matrix for post-intervention transformation and withdrawal in peace operations

Sector A Security

Phase 1

International forces needed to control armed factions; supervise DDR; help reconstitute national army; begin demining.

Phase 2

National armed forces under home government control stronger than challengers.

Phase 3

Demilitarized politics; societal security; transformed cultures of violence.

Sector B Law and Order

Phase 1

International control of courts etc; break grip of organised crime on government; train civilian police; promote human rights/punish abuse.

Phase 2

Indigenous capacity to maintain basic order impartially under the law.

Phase 3

Non-politicised judiciary and police; respect for individual and minority rights; reduction in organized crime.

Sector C Government

Phase 1

International supervision of new constitution, elections etc; prevent intimidation; limit corruption.

Phase 2

Reasonably representative government; move from winner-takes-all to power-sharing system; stable relationship between centre and regions.

Phase 3

Manage peaceful transfer of power via democratic elections; development of civil society within genuine political community; integrate local into national politics.

Sector D Economy

Phase 1

International provision of humanitarian relief; restore essential services; limit exploitation of movable resources by spoilers.

Phase 2

Formal economy yields sufficient revenue for government to provide essential services; capacity to reemploy many former combatants; perceived prospects for future improvement (esp. employment).

Phase 3

Development in long-term interest of citizens from all backgrounds.

Sector E Society

Phase 1

Overcome initial distrust/monitor media; international protection of vulnerable populations; return of refugees underway.

Phase 2

Manage conflicting priorities of peace and justice; responsible media.

Phase 3

Depoliticize social divisions; heal psychological wounds; progress towards gender equality; education towards long-term reconciliation.

International Intervention Transitions

Phase 1

Direct, culturally sensitive support for the peace process.

Phase 2

Phased transference to local/civilian control avoiding undue interference/neglect.

Phase 3

Integration into cooperative and equitable regional/global structures.

Unless something like this is envisaged, it is difficult to imagine that the outcome will be sustainable and allow intervening forces to be withdrawn securely.

When it is remembered that the transformation needed to deliver phase 2 conditions must be achieved at the same time as the immediate fulfilment of phase 1 requirements (the phases are ‘nested’); undefeated parties to the conflict have not given up their political ambitions; the material and institutional infrastructure is usually greatly debilitated; there are ‘spoilers’ intent on undoing the process; transitions to democracy, market economy, and the rule of law increase instability en route, an idea may be gained of the daunting dimensions of the peacebuilding or reconstruction undertaking that large-scale peace operations imply.

How can success in peace operations be measured?

In view of the challenge posed by the scale of the crises that international peace operations attempt to address, it is not surprising that the overall record for the last 20 years has been mixed. Certainly, excessive expectations have not been helpful, and it is wise from the outset to be realistic about chances of success. But in evaluating peace operations (including peace and conflict impact assessments, lessons learned and best practices identified), the problem goes deeper. What criteria should be used, and how can they be measured? Failure to agree over this issue can explain discrepant conclusions – for example, why the peace operation in Cambodia 1992–93 is classed as a ‘success’ by Doyle and Sambanis (2000), a ‘partial success’ by Hampson (1996) and a ‘failure’ by Durch et al. (2003).

The two most common criteria used are subsequent levels of violence, because these can be measured, and whether post-intervention ‘free and fair’ elections have been held and a legitimate government is in place, which is also easily verified (Downs and Stedman 2002). But as Michael Lund notes, while there are many studies ‘that take an interest in the restoration of minimum physical security, it is much harder to find rigorous, data-based analyses of the other desired outcomes of macro-level peacebuilding, especially using comparative data across several countries’ (Lund 2003: 31).

This does not apply to meticulous analysts like Doyle and Sambanis (2006), who use a data set of 145 civil wars between 1945 and 1999 to determine criteria for determining success in post-war peace processes. Here, there is clear statistical evidence that in difficult cases, a peace treaty combined with a ‘transformative’ UN intervention ‘are crucial in maintaining the probability of success’, and that without them the likelihood is ‘very low’ (see also the similar conclusion in Fortna 2008). There have also been attempts to compare the relative success of different types of peace operations – for example, the RAND Corporation’s comparison between UN-led and US-led ‘nation-building’ efforts (Dobbins et al. 2004; although see criticism of this by Durch 2006: 26f.).

Controversies: on the very idea of peace operations

Peace operations are a litmus test for the evolution of the international collectivity. Does an ‘international community’ really exist? In that case, do peace operations represent emerging norms that serve the interests of peoples rather than states, and do they, however unevenly, progressively leaven the behaviour of states accordingly? Or is there still only an international system of states? In the latter case, are peace operations merely an expression of the interests and values of the most powerful among them, and a mechanism by which the capitalist centre continues to police and control the periphery?

Controversy about peace operations is best seen as articulated along a spectrum defined by answers given to these questions. The spectrum includes views about what the prevailing nature of the international collectivity is at the moment, and about what it should be in future. These usually go together (cf. Table 38.3).

At one end of the spectrum is a neorealist position that is dismissive of the UN, shows scant interest in international law and refuses to use ‘peace’ language at all. The US version, exemplified in Bobbitt (2002), looks instead to coalitions of the willing led by the US in defeating international terrorism. What is needed from this perspective is not peace operations, but ‘stability, security, transition, and reconstruction’ operations. There are Russian equivalents. The future position of China will be increasingly significant here. Furthermore, if China’s mounting economic challenge to the US should change into global political-military rivalry, the entire post-Cold War impetus behind the expansion of international peace operations may be abruptly put into reverse.

Others, like David Chandler (2004), follow Robert Jackson (2000) in interpreting contemporary world politics as being no more than a limited society of states with a common interest in preserving collective order, but not enough to underpin universal interventionary principles. Sovereignty preserves plural values and is best left to do just that. Intervention always serves the interests of the powerful. Traditional UN peacekeeping principles are still the most appropriate.

Others adopt a more extended view of international society along Grotian lines, such as Nicholas Wheeler in the humanitarian intervention debate (2000). They interpret the society of states in a more expansive manner to include universal humanitarian values that trump state sovereignty when civil government is contested to the point of breakdown, or proves incapable of fulfilling its prime task of protecting citizens’ basic rights. Wider international society is then seen to have a legitimate interest in intervening, so long as this is ultimately interpreted as ‘human security’ and can be seen to be internationally sanctioned (United Nations 2000; International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty 2001: 15). It is probably true to say that most current specialists writing on peace operations are located somewhere within this broad category.

There are others again who see the logic behind peace operations only as being properly met when a further stage is reached – as it were, a ‘fourth generation’ – in which the universal principles underlying genuine peace operations are reflected in global politics (cosmopolitan democracy, global civil society, equitable economic arrangements and universal values that are recognized cross-culturally) as well as operational capability and practice. The conceptual underpinning is provided by theorists like Richard Falk (1995), David Held (1995) and Mary Kaldor (2003), who advocate a decisive evolution of global order towards cosmopolitan governance. At the operational level, this implies a move in the direction of ‘cosmopolitan peace operations’ (Woodhouse and Ramsbotham 2005). Among the most innovative ideas here are the quite detailed proposals now on the table for the development of a military intervention capability specifically owned by the UN, according to which designated forces will train and serve entirely as UN forces, not national troops. Plans for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) were presented to the UN in 2006 (Johansen 2006), and Michael Codner has elaborated requirements for a United Nations Intervention Force (UNIF) of some 10,000 troops in the first instance (Codner 2008).

Table 38.3   Peace operation theory and practice: a spectrum













stabilization forces

traditional peacekeeping

current peace operations

‘fourth generation’ peace operations

not defined

The fifth, and final, category in this schema is loosely headed ‘critical theory’, but also encompasses post-structural Foucauldian (Duffield 2001) and radical feminist (Fetherston 1995) viewpoints (see Bellamy and Williams 2004). This school of thought refers to various possibilities of purely civilian, non-violent, or gendered peace operations, but no operational implications are seriously discussed. The implication is that if critical criteria are properly met, then peace operations themselves are no longer needed (Pugh 2004: 54).

In conclusion, the complexity and variability of the evolution of peace operations over the past 20 years has not been accidental. It has been a function of the fact that the ‘international community’ is moving into uncharted waters in the post-Cold War world. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that in the continual reinterpretation of peace operations as a key element of what is meant by ‘restoring and maintaining international peace and security’, the international community has been redefining itself. The relation between the UN (chief legitimizer of peace operations) and the US (chief enforcer) is still being worked out, with the UN currently navigating its way between the twin dangers of marginalization and cooptation. Clear principles to supplement traditional ‘just war’ criteria are needed, such as principles of impartiality, universality, consistency, and the key requirement that peace operations must serve the interests of those in whose name the intervention is carried out, not the interests of interveners (Ramsbotham and Woodhouse 1996; Ramsbotham 2006). Interventions that do not meet these requirements should not be called ‘peace operations’.


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