Cate Malek

Based on a longer essay on Peacekeeping, written by Julian Oeullet and the Conflict Management Program at SAIS for the Intractable Conflict Knowledge Base Project

Updated May 2013 by Sarah Cast and Heidi Burgess



When a ceasefire has been negotiated, but conflict remains, peacekeeping forces come in to try to reduce tensions between conflicting parties and prevent violations of the ceasefire.


Anyone wishing to support a peace process in a violent conflict.


Violent conflicts that require U.N. intervention generally have three phases. First, violent conflict between parties is ongoing. In this stage, peacemakers attempt to end the violence. In phase two, a ceasefire has been established, but peacekeepers are needed to enforce it. In phase three, peacebuilding efforts attempt to rebuild infrastructure, political institutions, and trust in order to prevent future conflict. These phases can overlap-peacekeeping and peacemaking, for example, can go on at the same time. But generally, peacekeeping occurs after a cease-fire, at least has been negotiated.

Peacekeeping forces have six characteristics:

  • neutrality (impartiality in the dispute and nonintervention in the fighting)
  • light military equipment · use of force only in self-defense
  • consent from all parties
  • prerequisite ceasefire agreement
  • voluntary contribution of troops and other peacekeepers

Peacekeeping operations (PKOs) usually perform the following missions:

  • Preventive deployment to conflict zones
  • Verifying cease-fire agreements, safe areas, and troop withdrawal
  • Disarming and demobilizing combatants
  • Clearing mines
  • Providing security for humanitarian aid and peacebuilding efforts

No PKO has a chance at success without all parties agreeing to participate. To promote peace, combatants must be willing to consider peace as an option, and external powers to consider peace as valuable and worthwhile. There is evidence that if major powers will it, then warring parties can be pushed towards  the bargaining table. Thus, the role of the international community is to create peace and the role of the conflicting parties is to legitimize it.

Peacekeeping has not been an overwhelming success. The United Nations is the most experienced in peacekeeping missions. Since 1945, the U.N. has deployed 68 PKOs. Depending on one's criteria, the number of successful U.N. missions ranges from none to almost all of them. A standard evaluation of success is based not just on peacekeeping, but also on peacebuilding. Peace, according to these criteria, is first, the temporary absence of violence, and second, the possibility that it will last. Most people agree that peacekeeping forces are effective for the first criteria, but have difficulty with the second.

The ideal peacekeeping mission would have a clear entry plan, establish a lasting peace, and leave behind a set of stable institutions for ensuring that peace, all in about three years. As of 2013, of the 68 U.N. peacekeeping operations, 14 are ongoing. Six of these operations have been going on for more than 20 years. Of the remaining cases, very few qualify as unmitigated successes.

Nevertheless, peacekeeping is generally superior to what would have happened without any such efforts. The goal of PKOs is admirable and even partial successes in violent conflicts are desirable. However, the goal of PKOs should not be to establish an unstable, short-lived peace, e.g.,. Liberia or Zimbabwe, but to provide a stable environmental for peacebuilding, which will ultimately establish a lasting peace, e.g., Mozambique. The only hope for successful peacekeeping operations requires sustained interest from the international community, along with detailed plans for peace and state building. These ideals were clearly set out in the Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace, but have yet to be realized.


Cyprus is a good example of how difficult it is to judge a peacekeeping mission. Civil war broke out in Cyprus in 1963. In 1964 a U.N. Peacekeeping Force was deployed. Besides a coup d'etat in 1974, the peacekeeping force in Cyprus has kept the peace, but hasn't reconciled the combatants. The peacekeeping force remains today.


Peacekeeping is widely utilized in the international sector after a peace agreement has been signed in highly visible conflicts. But since it costs a lot of money and the costs are generally borne by countries who do not stand to benefit directly from the peace, it can be hard to raise the necessary forces. The lack of apparent success of PKOs also makes their establishment and maintenance a challenge.

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