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Unintended Consequences of “Robust” UN Peace Operations

Unintended Consequences of “Robust” UN Peace Operations


An upcoming policy forum by the International Peace Institute will explore tensions between the pursuit of political solutions and the protection of civilians in the context of UN peacekeeping missions. Peace Science shows how the “robust” turn in UN peacekeeping has resulted in unintended consequences to civilians and the peacebuilding process.

In the News:

“UN peacekeeping missions are often mandated to protect civilians in challenging environments where the peace process has stalled and political solutions seem out of reach. In these contexts, protecting local populations from physical violence may appear to be an operational imperative for the mission and a priority over engagement in protracted and uncertain political processes. This policy forum [May 24th] will provide an opportunity to discuss situations where there is a risk of competition between the primacy of politics and the centrality of protection, as well as where they are complementary and mutually reinforcing. While the two objectives are hardly mutually exclusive, in practice pursuing both can raise challenging questions. In South Sudan, Darfur, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN mission’s political role may seem elusive, and its protection goals may appear to detract from its political effectiveness. The political stance of UN missions intervening in support of host states may also be an important limitation for peacekeepers mandated to protect civilians from all threats of physical violence—including from host-state forces.”

“In these situations, where civilians are clearly at risk, how should peace operations reconcile political strategies and the protection of civilians? In the absence of viable political processes at the strategic level, what political measures and strategies can be used in parallel with military operations to protect civilians on the ground?”

On Thursday, May 24th, IPI together with the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations are cohosting a policy forum entitled “The Primacy of Politics and the Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping Operations.” This policy forum will explore the perceived and actual tensions between the pursuit of political solutions and the protection of civilians in peacekeeping contexts. The event will follow the 2018 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians organized by Poland (#United4Civilians).

Insight from Peace Science:

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.

-United Nations. (2008). United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines “Capstone Doctrine”. New York: United Nations Secretariat. http://www.

  • 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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