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Best Practices Overview
Evolution of Peacekeeping
Peacekeeping Best Practices
Capstone Doctrine


A: General Definitions

B: Peacekeeping Abbreviations

C: Abbreviations Specific to Peacekeeping

The Ongoing Evolution of Peacekeeping

The evolution of peacekeeping is frequently described in terms of generations. Accordingly, traditional peacekeeping is cited as first generation; multidimensional peacekeeping in the early-to-mid 90s is referred to as second generation;  following the Dayton Peace Accord and difficult UN experience in Bosnia 'peace support operations were briefly cited as third generation; complex multidimensional operations after the millennium (2000) are viewed as fourth generation peacekeeping. While this conceptual distinction may be helpful, it largely serves to clarify temporal trends and approaches, rather than the more enduring determinants, which continue to influence UN operations.  As such, this section is structured to emphasise the two current categories of contemporary UN peacekeeping, in a manner consistent with the official UN interpretation. 

Peacekeeping remains a work in progress, with ongoing pressure to adapt and modernise. Developed in response to crisis, it continues to evolve in response to new crises and, from a continuous reform process driven primarily by persistent challenges.

Although collective security was the central organising principle in the formation of the United Nations, it proved to be an elusive goal when great power competition overrode efforts to develop a more cooperative system.  Peacekeeping arose largely from an urgent need to manage violent conflicts. Two innovative UN responses were in the development of unarmed military observers (the Balkans in 1947) and the use of armed multinational forces (the Sinai / Suez Crisis in 1956).1 These initial efforts at UN peacekeeping were emulated and revised in an ad hoc, hastily improvised manner to address subsequent deadly conflicts. Over a sixty year period, peacekeeping would adapt to shifts in the global system and new patterns of armed conflict. Although more ambitious expectations have been scaled back, it has become a more sophisticated and institutionalised practice. This process continues. Two distinct approaches are characteristic of peacekeeping in different contexts and eras.

Traditional Peacekeeping

UN peacekeeping operations were initially conceived to contain and manage inter-state wars, which had the potential to become global conflicts. In a high-risk era marked by Cold War competition amid violent decolonization and self-determination struggles, it was imperative to at least, limit the involvement of the two dominant powers. A central, yet seldom officially acknowledged, objective was to stem escalation of smaller wars into a larger, possibly thermonuclear, war. 

UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold and UN General Assembly President Lester Pearson defined the 3 basic principles of peacekeeping (in developing UNEF I), which would endure until the mid-1990s: (1) the consent of the conflicting parties; (2) the non-use of force, except in self defence; (3) political neutrality [not taking sides], impartiality, [commitment to the mandate] and legitimacy [sanctioned and accountable to the Security Council advised by the Secretary-General].2

Notably, peacekeeping was not mentioned in the UN Charter. While the Security Council authorised operations under Chapter VI (peaceful settlement of disputes), traditional peacekeeping resided in a grey area between Chapter VI and VII, which prompted references to it being a "Chapter VI and a half" approach.

The scope and range of related activity was relatively narrow. With one exception (ONUC, 1960-64) UN peacekeeping forces were used to monitor borders and establish buffer zones following cease-fire agreements. These missions were largely composed of lightly armed soldiers in national troop contingents provided by small, middle and neutral member states.  

Representing the combined will of the UN Security Council, multinational contingents were usually promptly deployed into a zone between opposing parties to monitor and report on their activities while serving as a deterrent or 'trip-wire' to stem further hostilities. As UN peacekeeping was demanding and dangerous, it was often described as a job" only a soldier could do".


Some popular definitions of traditional peacekeeping

[Operations] involving military personnel, but without enforcement powers…to help maintain or restore international peace and security in areas of conflict. These operations are voluntary and are based on consent and cooperation…they achieve their objectives not by force of arms, thus contrasting them with the 'enforcement action' of the United Nations under Article 42. (UN 1990: 4)

Field operations established by the United Nations with the consent of the parties concerned, to help control and resolve conflicts between them, under United Nations command and control, at the expense collectively of the member states, and with military and other personnel and equipment provided voluntarily by them, acting impartially between the parties and using force to the minimum extent necessary. (Golding 1993: 455)

Peacekeeping operations are generally undertaken under Chapter VI of the UN Charter with the consent of all the major parties to a conflict to monitor and facilitate the implementation of a peace agreement. (HMSO 1999: 1.1)

…the imposition of neutral and lightly armed interposition forces following a cessation of armed hostilities, and with the permission of the state on whose territory these forces are deployed, in order to discourage a renewal of military conflict and promote an environment under which the underlying dispute can be resolved. (Diehl 1994: 13)

Source: Alex Bellamy, Paul Williams, Stuart Griffin, Understanding Peacekeeping, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p.96.


The traditional troop contributors in this era were a relatively small group of approximately twenty-six member states. The majority of participants were provided by countries in the Northern hemisphere.

Traditional peacekeepers did not pursue political solutions, but worked to establish conditions conducive to political settlements. The attempts at 'peacemaking' (to resolve the larger disputes) were managed by senior UN officials and by diplomacy between governments with a capacity to influence those governments involved in a serious conflict.

As peacekeeping was only viewed as a global security priority on very brief occasions it seldom influenced international security planning or national defence priorities. Member states with advanced armed forces continued to prepare to fight or deter war, limiting the attention, resources and support allocated to peacekeeping.

For many participants, peacekeeping was a secondary, ancillary task, which would have to be improvised according to the mission-specific requirements of each operation, irrespective of hasty, last-minute pressure to do 'something'. During the first thirty years, there were few, if any, serious efforts to consolidate expertise or build a solid, professional foundation within the member states or the UN. When time permitted, lessons learned from experience might be passed along by word of mouth, by publications that were little more than pamphlets or in brief mission-specific instructions.

Efforts to prepare, train and develop specific doctrine for UN peacekeeping were sporadic at best. Similarly, there was insufficient financial and political support for doing more to institutionalize related UN efforts.  A traditional pattern of response would encounter very different circumstances in the aftermath of the Cold War; increasingly complex conflicts that had not been anticipated nor prepared for.

Yet traditional peacekeeping would survive and adapt to the new inter-state challenges, while a new approach to peacekeeping was developed under intense pressure to deal what initially appeared to be a dramatic shift in the pattern of armed conflict.


Contemporary UN Peacekeeping: Complex Multidimensional Operations

Complex multidimensional peacekeeping arose in response to the additional demands of violent intra-state conflict and civil wars within weak or poorly governed states suffering from identity, resource and power struggles.

The strategic context for UN peacekeeping shifted abruptly in the early 90s, prompting a corresponding Organizational shift to complex "multidimensional" operations designed to ensure the implementation of comprehensive peace agreements and assist in laying the foundations for sustainable peace.

Freed from the binding constraints of the super-power rivalry into a period of unparalleled cooperation, the Security Council authorised larger, complex operations with expanded mandates to implement increasingly comprehensive tasks. 

From 5 traditional UN operations in 1988, the UN was hastily pushed to deploy 11 operations by 1992 and, 17 by 1994. The problems associated with this dramatic growth during the early 1990s were compounded by fundamental changes in the nature of conflicts, the need for new approaches, new functions and skills, as well as more resources and participants.

With the broader range of objectives, UN operations promptly became multifunctional. The multiplicity of tasks first expanded to include security, humanitarian and political objectives.  Environmental developmental and socio-economic objectives were appended as the need for even more comprehensive responses became increasingly evident.

This broader range of objectives also demanded a new multidimensional approach that included civilians and police, as well as military participants. Given such diversity, it became critical to develop a unity of effort and purpose among various participants. A broader partnership is now reflected in the composition of all UN peacekeeping operations.

Further, a broader array of peacekeepers now undertake a wider variety of demanding tasks, from helping to maintain security, restoring law and order,  monitoring human rights, building  sustainable institutions of governance, coordinating elections, reforming the security sector, to disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating former combatants. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations reports that,

Although the military remain the backbone of most peacekeeping operations, the many faces of peacekeeping now include administrators and economists, police officers and legal experts, de-miners and electoral observers, human rights monitors and specialists in civil affairs and governance, humanitarian workers and experts in communications and public information.3


In fact, this is a short-list, which could easily cover pages. Depending on their mandate, complex multidimensional peacekeeping missions may now be required to:

  • Deploy to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spill-over of conflict across borders;
  • Stabilize conflict situations after a cease fire, to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
  • Help to restore law and order and appropriate judicial processes;
  • Monitor and advise on human rights and international humanitarian law;
  • Liaise with host nations, internal and external parties, including regional organisations and NGOs; 
  • Monitor and report on developments within or in proximity to the area of operations;
  • Protect civilians;
  • Promote human security, confidence-building measures and power-sharing arrangements;
  • Assist in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
  • Lead states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance and economic development.4

The recent mission statement of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations notes that, "each peacekeeping operation has a specific set of mandated tasks, but all share certain common aims - to alleviate human suffering, and create conditions and build institutions for self-sustaining peace. The substantial presence of a peacekeeping operation on the ground contributes to this aim by introducing the UN as a third party with a direct impact on the political process."5

Over the past eighteen years, peacekeeping also became far more multinational and multi-cultural. The number of member states contributing personnel and resources jumped from the small groups of 26 traditional troop contributors to include over 100 countries.

The dominant troop contributors to UN peacekeeping also changed markedly as member states from the Southern hemisphere, particularly Asia and Africa assumed a lead role. In 2009, the ten major contributors to UN peacekeeping are Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Nepal, Rwanda, Ghana, Jordan, Uruguay and Italy.6

Notably by 1997, the absence of many experienced contributors and the more powerful P-5 members, pushed a heavy burden onto many new, less experienced contributors. While their help remains critical, the shortage of well-trained, well-equipped personnel also strained the UN, particularly those in the DPKO. In addition to their primary tasks in planning, managing and supporting peace operations, they continue to work in training and advising new participants and, on developing higher standards for training and conduct.

Aside from the operational difficulties to be expected in working with so many diverse cultures and customs co-located in areas of high risk, serious problems also arose with numerous incidents of sexual misconduct, which demanded a higher priority be accorded to gender, humanitarian law and codes of conduct.

The risks of participation in complex multidimensional operations also increased. While personnel working in austere war zones are always face a higher incidence of accidents and illness, the number of malicious acts leading to fatalities rose to 127 peacekeepers in 1993, 71 in 1994, 34 in 1995 and resumed again in 2003 with 30 and 25 in 2005.7

As civilian police (CIVPOL) became essential in the majority of operations, it became critical to attract and train thousands of individuals from within national police services. By 2001, this effort generated wider support and recognition of Police Contributing Countries (PCCs). 

Similarly, a higher priority was accorded to preparing very large numbers of civilian peacekeepers, leading both the member states and the UN to develop on-call lists of personnel, with the requisite skills and training to fill numerous positions in operations world-wide.

While widely viewed as cost-effective, UN peacekeeping operations are far from cheap as large numbers of people must be prepared, transported or deployed into remote locations, housed, fed sustained and equipped to work in, and move through, vast areas.8 The annual costs of UN peacekeeping vary according to the size, nature and number of operations deployed, by 1993 the UN was faced with a peacekeeping budget of $3.6 billion; by 1998, just under $1 billion; in 2005, $5 billion; and, in 2009 an estimate of $7.8 billion. The financial expense of peacekeeping now exceeds all other areas of UN activity combined. This growing burden has been shared by the more affluent member states as the following remain at the forefront of financial contributing countries (FCCs): the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, China and the Netherlands.

Confronted by so much that was new, even distinctly different, the results of complex, multinational peacekeeping have been viewed as 'mixed' and, in a few cases exceptionally discouraging.  Of the 63 UN field operations launched, it is seldom recognised that the vast majority have succeeded in saving lives and costs.  Five traditional operations remain in protracted conflicts, which may appear dated yet they still serve to stabilise war-prone areas. The UN has also recognised very serious failures, most evident in the Rwandan genocide and in the massacre of civilians in Srebrenica.9

Of the 16 current peacekeeping operations now deployed, there have been indications of meaningful progress in 10 of the 11 complex operations. That they continue, suggests problems within each conflict that are not easy to manage or resolve and that thousands of lives are dependent on the UN maintaining a presence.

With 2 additional missions being authorised in recent months, there will be inevitable challenges to do more with less.  Although this may appear to be in stark contrast to lessons learned, explicit warnings and smart practice, notable progress has been made, particularly in developing best-practices into a system, which should help in many areas, if not all.


1 See William J. Durch, (ed.), The Evolution of UN Peacekeeping: Case Studies and Comparative Analysis, (New York: St. Martins Press, 1993).

2 Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse, Hugh Miall, Contemporary Conflict Resolution: The prevention, management and transformation of deadly conflicts, [2nd edition], (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005). p 134.

3 United Nations, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Home-page of DPKO web-site. Available:

4  This list expands on another provided by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations on their home-page, under "mission statement". Available:

5 Ibid.

6 UN, DPKO "Ranking of Military and Police Contributions to UN Operations", February 28, 2009. Available:

7 Notably, the highest previous level of malicious acts leading to fatalities was the loss of 105 personnel in 1960, primarily from a hot war in ONUC. See, UN DPKO, "Fatalities Statistics: Year and Incident Type Summary", Available:

8 For thoughtful reviews exploring the cost-effectiveness of recent UN peacekeeping operations see: Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, The Challenge of Reducing the Global Incidence of Civil War, Center for the Study of African Economies, Department of Economics, Oxford University, March 2004;   Human Security Report 2005 War and Peace in the 21st Century, Human Security Centre, University of the British Columbia , Canada , 2005;  James Dobbins et al, The UN's role in Nation-Building: from the Congo to Iraq , Rand Publications, 2005.

James Dobbins et al. The Beginner's Guide to Nation-Building, RAND Corporation, 2007; William J. Durch et al., The Brahimi Report and the Future of UN Peace Operations, The Henry L. Stimson Center, 2003.ii.

9 See for example, United Nations, Report of the Independent Inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,  S/1999/1257, 16 December 1999. Also see, Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 53/35: The fall of Srebrenica, A/54/549, 15 November 1999.




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