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Can We Fight And Broker Peace Agreements At The Same Time?

Can We Fight And Broker Peace Agreements At The Same Time?


There is an ongoing debate over armed United Nations peacekeeping forces and whether their use of force is beneficial or detrimental to building sustainable, positive peace.

In The News:

“The U.N. faces a dilemma: Its most important comparative advantage is its impartiality. Traditionally, peacekeepers have been provided by countries that did not have a national stake in the conflict, and thus had little incentive to join any fighting. In recent years, countries — especially those that neighbor a given conflict — have volunteered for peacekeeping for precisely the opposite reason: because they had an interest in the outcome. Tanzania, for instance, deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just as Ethiopia and Kenya have deployed in the U.N.-supported African Union mission in Somalia. In such situations, the peacekeepers from these countries also have incentive to take greater military risks in their engagement with the conflicts, in accordance with their political objectives.”

“Can one fight and broker a peace agreement at the same time? The short answer is yes, because peace will often have enemies. Terrorists need to be defeated, and spoilers need to be deterred: Sabotaging a peace process should not be cost-free. But the reality is complex. A big part of defeating terrorism, as well as marginalizing spoilers, is separating hardcore terrorists with a transnational agenda, or criminal actors who benefit from war, from those whose grievances should be addressed in a political process.”

“Peacekeeping requires a new framework to organize this process. A recent report by a former, and very effective, U.N. force commander, Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, recommends that U.N. forces not shy away from tactical offensive operations to preempt hostile acts, instead of becoming sitting ducks who lose the respect of the population and actually end up increasing risks for themselves. He is right, and his recommendations complement rather than contradict the conclusions of another recent U.N. report, the so-called HIPPO report, which reaffirmed the primacy of politics in the success of peace operations. The two approaches now need to be combined in a single strategic vision”.

Insight From Peace Science:

  • Peacekeepers with the ability to enforce peace agreements are better able to build norms of trust and cooperation compared to the absence of peacekeepers or peacekeepers with only monitoring capabilities.
  • Peacekeeping can enhance pro-social norms by deterring spoilers to the peace process.
  • Once peacekeepers are pulled out of a recovering conflict area, opportunists and spoilers are very likely to undermine collective gains achieved during the peace process.

Robust Peacekeeping: The use of force by a United Nations peacekeeping operation at the tactical level, with authorization of the Security Council, to defend its mandate against spoilers whose activities pose a threat to civilians or risk undermining the peace process.

  • Robust peacekeeping, though it may succeed in protecting civilians in the short-term, has unintended consequences that may jeopardize other important goals and the broader work of UN missions.
  • The greater militarization and partiality entailed by robust peacekeeping may actually put civilians at risk, along with peacekeepers, other UN officials, and independent humanitarian actors, in some cases also diminishing humanitarian space/access.
  • The state-centrism entailed by robust peacekeeping may compromise the more substantive aspects of a UN mission, prejudicing its human rights, peacebuilding and development, and political work too far in favor of the government’s concerns at the exclusion of others’.
  • The “robust turn” in UN peace operations may more broadly jeopardize peacekeeping principles and consensus around UN peacekeeping, cause a drop in troop contributions from UN member states, and impede cooperation between the UN and humanitarian actors.


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