Peacekeeping operations: is a reform needed?

Photo's credits: (Togolese Permanent Mission)
Photo’s credits: (Togolese Permanent Mission)

It is difficult to realize that, at this moment, an average of 35 armed conflicts are killing hundreds of people in every corner of the world. If we also consider riots and crises, that number increases tragically. To maintain a certain degree of order and assure some security during these crises, currently there are 15 peacekeeping operations and one additional special political mission working in the bloodiest and most dramatic humanitarian emergencies of our time.

The mainstream information system does not give many details about peacekeeping, usually all we know about this crucial aspect of international relations is that peacekeeping operations are sent by the United Nations and carried out by the so-called Blue Berets and we are eventually able to recognize them thanks to their unique uniform.

It may seem like there is nothing nobler than a peacekeeping mission sent to establish peace in a war-torn country. However, there are several controversial points related to peacekeeping operations and perhaps it is time to unveil some of them and begin a debate on reform possibilities. Lets start from the beginning.

As is stated in Article 1 of the UN Charter, the main aim of the United Nations is “to maintain international peace and security”. Having said that, the UN recognizes that, even if it seems like a contradiction, the use of force is sometimes needed to safeguard the world from new wars. Following Article 42 of the UN Charter, the Security Council can adopt measures involving the use of force when provisional measures and measures not involving the use of force fall short. Article 43 specifies that, in implementing measures involving the use of force, the Security Council can use the “armed forces, assistance, and facilities” of all the UN Member States through the creation of specific ad hoc agreements. Once the Security Council decides to intervene with an official resolution, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations has the responsibility to monitor and report on the mission and follow the implementation of the signed peace agreements- if there are any. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is also responsible for the recruitment and allocation of the peacekeepers (the aforementioned Blue Berets) that are offered by the Member States of the UN from their own national armies to become part of these missions. At this point it is important to underline that these peacekeeping missions and the Blue Berets are not the “army of the UN”, as many mistake them to be.

Even though the UN had meant well with the creation of this elaborate system, there have been many problems related to the Blue Berets from the start of their very existence and first mission, conducted in the Suez Canal area and the Sinai Peninsula during the years of 1956-1967. In that occasion a very controversial turn of events led to the UNEF I (the peacekeeping mission present) withdrawal from the location after Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt at the time, explicitly requested it.

As the years went by, Blue Berets were accused of killing civilians by accident or of starting strife between different national armed corps taking part in operations. In addition to this, they have been accused of terrible crimes on different occasions. For instance, this happened in Somalia in 1993 when Belgian soldiers, recruited in the Blue Berets, killed and tortured innocent civilians. One of the last examples of a long list of regrettable events was on the table in the Security Council just few months ago, in regards to the possible involvement of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in deliberate bombings on Rwandan territory. Moreover, one of the most alarming discoveries surrounding this topic of controversy is that different studies, such as the report “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children” written by Graça Machel for the United Nations and the UNICEF, have affirmed that “the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution”.

Photo's credits: AP Images. One of the many children turned into soldiers during an armed conflict.
Photo’s credits: AP Images.
One of the many children turned into soldiers during an armed conflict.

Taking all of these aspects into consideration, over the past several years many reform proposals on the topic have been presented to both the General Assembly and the Security Council. An example of this is the proposal for the creation of a United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS), that would be in charge of rapidly intervening in case of an international crisis- but the list of the proposals made by experts is endless. The main concern regarding possible reforms of UN peacekeeping is to ensure a balance between the international nature of the operations and the Member States’ contribution to them. On one hand independent UN peace-corps would ensure impartiality but, on the other hand, some countries could perceive their intervention as an invasion that would be violating the sovereignty of the Member State itself.

This is why it is so difficult to find a solution to the questionable behavior that Blue Berets have shown on several occasions. It is not an easy task to determine what could be the best peacekeeping system, capable of taking everyone’s needs into consideration and, for time being, the Blue Berets seem to be the lesser evil. However, the UN should do better than that.

Within the UN system, the first report in the field of peacekeeping reforms was the so-called “Brahimi Report” of 2000, but the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations is constantly focusing on possible developments of peacekeeping. More recently, the latest reform-related document is the so-called “New Horizon”. The New Horizon document addresses 5 main challenges connected to peacekeeping:

  1. supporting a ceasefire agreement between two or more parties;
  2. supporting a peace process and national authorities after civil conflict;
  3. extending initial security and stability gains into longer-term peacebuilding;
  4. providing security and protection in response to conflict;
  5. supporting other peace and security actors, also through capacity building.

Specifically, in regards to the points 5 and 6, the document underlines the lack of willingness that characterizes the major parties involved in the crises and the necessity of creating a “new” form of peacekeeping that would involve regional organizations. The document further emphasizes that the new agenda for peacekeeping should take into consideration how to “enhance the credibility of UN peacekeeping”, a clear message for Member States participating in peacekeeping operations. In fact, the UN is urging Member States to work on this common ground in order to strengthen the power of the UN in crisis management and offer a better future to the citizens of the whole world. Perhaps one day a UN Peacekeeping reform will effectively allow us to live in a world without the massacres that we witness today.


For those of you interested take a look at the UNSC statement on peacekeeping missions, of December 2012 at


Agnese Cigliano




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