The Militarization of Peacekeeping

The Militarization of Peacekeeping
This article was part of the Briefing Book prepared for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations by IPI and CIC.

UN peacekeeping has come to dominate the field of international conflict resolution and the mediation of peace settlements, to the extent that the UN has even grown accustomed to boasting about how it deploys more military forces globally than any country except the US. But why should the US “empire of bases” be considered a legitimate comparison for an international organization supposedly devoted to peace? This speaks to just how far militarization and imperial ambition has overtaken peacekeeping. UN peacekeeping is in danger of being locked into perpetual expansion: the more it does, the more it is expected to do. It is high time this blue helmeted leviathan was scaled back, in order to allow alternative, more authentically pacific peace-providers and peace-making entrepreneurs to emerge, and for greater political experimentation and creativity to flourish in the provision of peace-making services. Why should the peace-making potential of good offices functions, technical commissions and ceasefire observation missions be monopolized by this aging relic of the Second World War?

In the post-Cold War world, the impartiality of UN peacekeeping has been hollowed out as it has been scaled up into nation-building and become the military arm of the Security Council. This is shown by the fact that UN and its assorted agencies and peacekeepers are increasingly considered targets in the world’s war zones. In such a world, it is likely that there will be other actors – states and non-state peace-providers – who could develop a more credible reputation for authentic neutrality, which could in turn make for more effective and less domineering peace-making. UN peacekeeping is too centralized and too compromised by its subordination to the antiquated power structures of the UN Security Council and the agendas of the P5. In an increasingly multi-polar world, the militarized practice of UN peacekeeping has allowed the (mostly fading) great powers of the Security Council to boost their power and police international order on the cheap by roping the security forces of developing countries into peacekeeping.

The two most immediate ways of scaling back the peace leviathan is to begin by first, demilitarizing peacekeeping – enough drones, special forces, intervention brigades and attack helicopters – and second, by uncoupling peacekeeping from nation-building and the provision of humanitarian aid.

Philip Cunliffe is a Senior Lecturer in International Conflict at the University of Kent