On June 16, the UN secretary General’s High-Level Independent Panel released its eagerly awaited review of UN-mandated peacekeeping: ‘Uniting our Strengths for Peace’. A comprehensive assessment of the UN’s evolving role in conflict management and a detailed set of reforms to its peacekeeping architecture, the report has already generated thoughtful analysis, with many observers highlighting the Panel’s principal conclusion that “lasting peace is achieved not through military and technical engagements, but through political solutions” (Executive Summary). This post examines three significant trends in peacekeeping mandates – the use of force, state-building and criminal jurisdiction – which will likely remain contested aspects of UN-mandated conflict resolution going forward. Against the backdrop of the report’s main findings, it argues that the UN’s large-scale operations increasingly blur the lines between political mediation and classical peace-keeping on the one hand, and peace-building, peace enforcement and state-building on the other.
As is well known, peacekeeping missions have operated in increasingly hostile environments since the end of the Cold War. Beginning with the Balkans, Rwanda and Somalia in the 1990s, peacekeepers have often been deployed to areas with little or no peace to keep, while taking on a continuously expanding set of peace-building tasks. This trend has only intensified in the last few years, starting with the UN’s longstanding mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), its revamped mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), as well as newly established missions in Mali (MINUSMA) and in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
Yet, despite its expanding role in conflict-management, a striking feature of recent UN operations has been the Security Council’s practice of enshrining the classic principles of peacekeeping into mission mandates. Starting with the 2013 renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, the Security Council has consistently re-affirmed the ‘trinity of virtues’ – impartiality, host state consent and non-use of force beyond self-defence and defence of the mission mandate – in the preambles of its largest peacekeeping operations (DRC: 2013, 2014, 2015; Mali: 2013, 2014, 2015; CAR: 2014, 2015; South Sudan: 2014, 2015). Although their status under international law remains contested, the three classic principles are grounded in an (almost) by-gone era of conflict-management, where UN peacekeepers monitored mutually agreed cease-fires.