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International Peacekeeping and Positive Peace

International Peacekeeping and Positive Peace

Photo credit: UN Photo

This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Mironova, V., & Whitt, S. (2015). International Peacekeeping and Positive Peace Evidence from Kosovo. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 0022002715604886.

Talking Points

  • 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.


The demand for peacekeeping missions around the world provides the ongoing necessity for policy makers, practitioners, and academics to continue building on their understanding and evaluation of the effectiveness of various peacekeeping strategies. Peacekeeping missions can help combatant groups to commit to peace agreements that would otherwise be difficult to self-enforce. Peacekeepers can identify and intervene when groups try to ‘cheat’ the agreement by acting against the arranged terms, police against escalations of violence, and deter ‘spoilers’ of the peace process. These are the typical and very important roles of peacekeeping which fall into the category of ‘negative peace’, understood as the absence of physical violence. In this study, researchers examine how peacekeepers can work to promote ‘positive peace’ for average citizens, rather than in the high-level social or political groups the average citizen participates in.

The field research took place in Kosovo between 2011 and 2012, when tension between the Serbs and Albanians re-escalated. This was a unique opportunity to observe and evaluate peacekeeping intervention in real-time.

The researchers observed individual Kosovar Albanian and Serb citizens to determine their response and level of trust for two different forms of peacekeeping: a) interventions with the capability and mechanisms ready to enforce a peace agreement; and, b) interventions that monitor a peace agreement. The authors created a method of measuring the amount of trust civilians held for the two forms of peacekeeping intervention to see if one method enhanced public trust or deterred spoilers more than the other. The authors then performed their experiment without the presence of peacekeeping intervention to measure the two forms against the absence of intervention. Based on their research design and assumptions from previous research, the authors developed the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Positive peace between hostile groups is strengthened by the intervention of peacekeeping forces.

Hypothesis 2: Peacekeeper interventions promote positive peace by limiting spoiler activity

Hypothesis 2a: In the absence of peacekeeper intervention, spoiler activity will undermine positive peace

Hypothesis 3: Peacekeepers with enforcement mechanisms are better able to promote positive peace and deter spoilers than those with only monitoring mechanisms.

Hypothesis 4: Peacekeeper interventions enhance norms of positive peace through informational and reputational effects.

The study found that peacekeeping interventions with clear enforcement mechanisms are more effective in enhancing public trust and deterring spoilers than interventions that engage only in monitoring, and much more effective when compared to no peacekeeping intervention at all. These findings were increased even more when peacekeepers actively engaged in enforcing peace with a community at an individual level but decreased rapidly when peacekeepers pulled out from a community, thus providing opportunity for spoilers to disrupt the peace.

Another important finding of this study points to the potential limitations of peacekeeping once the peacekeepers depart. Even a small group of opportunists or spoilers have the ability to eliminate the advancements gained during the peace process. The authors point out that peacekeeping may be effective in restoring short-term social order and cooperation, but it should not be a substitute for peacebuilding methods that can foster a more sustainable, positive peace.

Negative peace is characterized by the absence of personal violence. In positive peace structural violence is also eliminated.

Peacekeeping: is the prevention or ending of violence within or between nation-states through the intervention of an outside third party that keeps the warring parties apart. Unlike peacemaking, which involves negotiating a resolution to the issues in conflict, the goal of peacekeeping is simply preventing further violence.

Spoilers: groups or individuals within a peacekeeping environment who wish to disrupt or halt the peace process.

Contemporary Relevance

This study helps increase understanding of various forms of peacekeeping and how their differing engagement mandates (monitoring vs. enforcement) can influence the amount of trust communities hold for third-party actors and each other. Peacekeeping is most commonly analyzed from high-level perspective, but the insight from this study provided more information on individual beliefs which are often dismissed due to the time and resources needed to analyze specific conflict scenarios.

The individual-level insight provided by this study can be replicated to assess other conflicts where peacekeeping missions may be useful. Even many peace advocates recognize a role of UN peacekeeping missions as a transitionary step toward building positive peace. International Relations scholar Joshua Goldstein argues that peacekeeping works well and that global efforts are part of winning the war on war. Of course, UN peacekeeping also opens to path toward increasingly unarmed civilian peacekeeping efforts (e.g. Nonviolent Peaceforce), which potentially would be even more effective assuming a broad acceptance, commitment and the availability of sufficient resources.

Practical Implications

This study indicates that peacekeeping approaches usually studied and performed at the group level can be effective when used on the individual level as well. The findings show the participants in this study were more likely to display behaviors of trust and fairness when peacekeeping missions work to spread these beliefs and discourage the behavior of ‘spoilers’, just like group-oriented peacekeeping.

The findings also indicate that monitoring, although more effective than the absence of peacekeeping, is not an adequate method in achieving positive peace. Thus, strategies allowing peacekeepers the ability to enforce peace agreements, such as the format often used by the United Nations, are in line with the conclusions of this study.

Peacebuilding practitioners have an opportunity to understand the potential, but also the limitations of peacekeeping operations and adjust their programs accordingly.

Continued Reading

Does Peacekeeping Work? By Virginia Page Fortna

What have been the successes and failures of UN peacekeeping missions?

United Nations Peacekeeping Not Always as Fast, Effective as Required in Responding to Conflict, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Jen Gerson: The myth of peacekeeping’s effectiveness

Peace Operations in Africa Peace Operations in Africa

United Nations peacekeeping and opportunities for reform

Keeping the Peace: Lessons from Data for Peacebuilding

Keywords: peacekeeping, positive peace

The above analysis is from Volume 1, Issue 3, of the Peace Science Digest.


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