Peace Science Made Accessible, Understandable, and Useful.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS: Working Together (or Not) in Peacebuilding and Civilian Crisis Response

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS: Working Together (or Not) in Peacebuilding and Civilian Crisis Response

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Dijkstra, H., Mahr, E., Petrov, P., Dokic, K., & Horne, P. (2018). The EU’s partners in crisis response and peacebuilding: complementarities and synergies with the UN and OSCE. Global Affairs, 4(2-3), 185-196

Talking Points

In the context of EU, UN, and OSCE civilian crisis management missions in Kosovo, Mali, and Armenia 

  • The European Union (EU), like many international organizationsaspires to enhanced coordination and collaboration with other agencies in crisis situations. 
  • “[W]hile there is potential for complementarity” between the EU, UN, and OSCE in their civilian crisis response activities, given the different functions and locations served by the three organizations, this potential is not being fulfilled.  
  • EU, UN, and OSCE civilian missions could do much more to fully capitalize on the potential for “synergy” in their work, through more systematic exchange of capabilities like staff, mission support, equipment, funding, or political and diplomatic support. 


International organizations (IOs), especially intergovernmental organizations, are prominent representatives of the international community in countries experiencing armed conflict and other crises, whether offering to mediate, providing humanitarian aid, or assisting with broader peacebuilding efforts. As they are often joined by international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and either state or multilateral military forces, the number of international actors on the ground can be formidable, creating the potential for redundancy and/or competition between different agencies. As such, many organizations—including the European Union (EU) in its 2016 Global Strategy—have been trying to enhance their coordination and collaboration with other actors in crisis situations. The authors focus on the EU in particular and how successful it has been at working more closely and effectively with partners in civilian crisis response/management, especially the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  

International organizations (IOs)

Institutions with formal procedures and formal membership from three or more countries. Often thought of as the same as intergovernmental organizations (where the members are countries themselves) but can also include international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) (where the members are not countries but rather individuals or other transnational actors). 

Civilian crisis management (CCM) 

“a policy which involves the use of civilian assets to prevent a crisis, to respond to an ongoing crisis, to tackle the consequences of a crisis or to address the causes of instability…EU CCM is about addressing various causes or effects of conflicts or state fragility through activities that include, inter alia, support to good governance and the rule of law, security sector reform, development and humanitarian aid, support to political and electoral processes, border and coast management, counter-terrorism, anti-corruption, etc.” 

Tardy, T. (2017, January). Recasting EU civilian crisis management. Report No. 31. Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies.


To examine this question, the authors first assess the geographical reach and functions served by each of the three organizations to see what potential there is for “complementarity” and then analyze interviews conducted in three field sites (Kosovo, Mali, and Armenia) to determine the extent to which these organizations are actually combining efforts to the extent that they could. They find that, “while there is potential for complementarity,” given the different functions and locations served by the three organizations, this potential is not being fulfilled. In other words, the EU, UN, and OSCE could be doing much more to create “synergies” in their civilian crisis response work. 

While the OSCE operates in member states in Europe and Central Asia (especially former Soviet states), EU civilian missions are found more broadly in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, and UN civilian missions are even more widespread, spanning both hemispheres. The authors identify a total of 10 functions carried out by the three organizationsseveral of which are part of the organizations’ respective mandates. However, each organization has its particular area of focus, with the EU specializing in police support, security sector reform (SSR), and border management; the UN in monitoring, mediation, and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR); and the OSCE in judiciary support. Therefore, there appears to be a division of labor between the organizations that would seem to point to “complementarity [rather] than overlap and competition.” 

Nonetheless, interview research in Kosovo, Mali, and Armenia indicates that the EU, UN, and OSCE civilian missions, though working together in a limited capacity, may not be fully capitalizing on the potential for “synergy” in their work. By “synergy,” the authors mean not simply coordination—already challenging enough—but rather “the actual exchange of civilian capabilities, such as diplomatic and political support for each others work, project funding, exchanges of staff, and use of equipment.”  

At the level of coordination, there is evidence of regular meetings between the various civilian missions in Kosovo and Mali, though not in Armenia (at least in the area of SSR). As for synergy or exchanges of capabilities among the organizationsthe authors find a few examples but nothing extensive. There is some evidence of political and diplomatic support. For example, the EU and UN supported the authority of the OSCE as the mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the UN and OSCE were often strategic about which organizational logo was used in which locale in Kosovo, depending on how the organizations were perceived by the various parties. The EU provides a measure of financial support to other agencies, especially the OSCE, as it often sees itself mainly as a donor who therefore partners with other organizations to implement projects. There is only limited evidence of organizations sharing mission support capabilities on an ad hoc basisFor example, the EU would draw on UN intelligence in Mali or on UN and OSCE field monitoring and reporting in Kosovo. The authors did not find any evidence of personnel exchanges between the organizations. In short, while some exchanges of capabilities occur, they are usually “unidirectional,” “ad hoc,” or “informally coordinated,” and the organizations seem to operate mostly on parallel tracks. The authors suggest that there remains much more room for the creation of systematic synergies between EU, UN, and OSCE civilian crisis management missions. 

Informing Practice

Before discussing the specific findings of this research regarding possible synergies between international organizations on the ground, it is worth taking a step back and noting the significance of this research in its focus on civilian crisis management. Often the assumption is that although civilian actors can be useful for long-term peacebuilding and development work, more immediate crises involving security concerns require a military response. The concept of civilian crisis management unsettles this view, as it suggests that civilian actors have a key role to play in addressing crises and immediate threats to security. Put differently, the tools often associated with long-term peacebuilding can also function as means to immediate violence reduction. That said, a few activities examined in this research are ones that tend to be addressed in militarist fashionanti-terrorism, riot control, or, obviously, support to armed forcespotentially blurring the distinction here between military and civilian response. The activities examined also do not include several peacebuilding activities that could effectively contribute to violence reduction, like inter-group dialogue, nonviolent resistanceanti-war activism, or unarmed civilian protection (UCP). In other words, policy-makers and practitioners serious about responding meaningfully to crisis situations should consider a whole range of civilian-led activities that are well-equipped to address the underlying causes of violence, often with immediate as well as long-term effects. 

With regards to the specific focus of this research on opportunities for synergies between the EU, UN, and OSCE’s civilian crisis response, the clear recommendation is for these organizations—and others working on the ground amidst armed conflict and other crises—to take stock of their capacities and those of other organizations to be more strategic about working together to maximize not only efficiency but also effectiveness in preventing further violence.  Although doing so is clearly important, it is also worthwhile to highlight the background assumptions that inform a focus on international organizations engaged in war zones. As others have argued, in the context of armed conflict, there is a tendency to see the problem as “local” (produced by the local political or cultural context) and the solution for addressing it as “international” (with representatives of the international community intervening in various ways). Many if not most of the armed conflicts raging today, however, have their roots in colonial history and/or present-day international geopolitics, forces that have shaped “local” politics in crucial ways. At the same time, as the emerging body of research on the “local turn” in peacebuilding has argued, solutions, to be sustainable, must be locally led. These points are not meant to negate the findings here on more effective collaboration between international organizations but rather are only meant to put such efforts into perspective—not as the centerpiece of a crisis management and peacebuilding strategy but as one facet of it.  

Continued Reading

Tardy, T. (2017, January). Recasting EU civilian crisis management. Retrieved February 24, 2020, from 

Batora, J., Osland, K., & Peter, M. (2017, March). The EU’s crisis management in the Kosovo-Serbia crisis. Retrieved February 25, 2020, from 

Reeve, R. (2018, July). Mali on the brink: Insights from local peacebuilders on the causes of violent conflict and the prospects for peace. Retrieved on February 25, 2020, from 


European Union External Action Service 

OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe): 

United Nations 

Keywords: international organizations, civilian crisis management, peacebuilding, Mali, Kosovo, Armenia, EU, UN, OSCE

The following analysis appears in the Special Issue on Peacebuilders in Volume 4 of the Peace Science Digest. 

Next article BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS: What Contributes to a Successful Business-Peace Initiative?
Previous article FEMALE RELIGIOUS ACTORS: Religious Knowledge as a Source of Legitimacy for Women Peacebuilders in Afghanistan