Student blog: How Does the UN Contribute to International Peace and Security by Means of ‘Peacekeeping’?

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Author Jade Trill 

This post (edited for publication) is contributed to our blog as part of a series of work produced by students for assessment within the module ‘Public International Law’. We offer this module in the second year of Bristol Law School’s LLB programme. It is led by Associate Professor Dr Noelle Quenivet. Learning and teaching on the module includes the use of online portfolios within a partly student led curriculum. The posts in this series show the outstanding research and analytical abilities of students on our programmes. Views expressed in this blog post are those of the author only who consents to the publication.

One of the United Nations’ main aims is to contribute to establishing international peace and security through peacekeeping (Article 1(1) UN Charter). The UN suggests that it is successful in these aims as research credits the UN’s peace operations to be a major factor behind a 40% decline in worldwide conflicts since the 1990s, having therefore significantly safeguarded international peace and security. A major method of peacekeeping employed by the UN is that of traditional peacekeeping operations (see United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. Principles and Guidelines (Capstone Doctrine), 2008, 18); these are financed through the regular budget of the UN as permitted by the ICJ Advisory Opinion on Certain Expenses.

In this blog I will be arguing that the UN does not contribute to international peace and security but instead creates everlasting stalemates between conflicting parties and allows continued fighting despite peacekeepers’ presence. To illustrate this I will be evaluating the role of traditional peacekeeping operations in attempting to create international peace and security. However I will not be commenting on conflict prevention and peacemaking, peace enforcement nor peace-building operations that the UN also partakes in. The reason for this choice is twofold. First, as traditional peacekeeping operations were the first style of peacekeeping introduced they should best illustrate the UN experience in contributing to international peace and security. Second, traditional peacekeeping operations offer the most interesting case studies for showing the extent the UN will or will not go to, to contribute to peace and security.

Traditional Peacekeeping

Within traditional peacekeeping operations, the methods used for establishing peace and security are: separating conflicting parties, peacekeepers acting as a presence and therefore a deterrent to parties attempting to resume the conflict, creating and monitoring a buffer zone between the conflicting sides or a troop withdrawal agreement as well as maintaining a ceasefire.

The principles that must be followed for a lawful peacekeeping mission to occur are found under Chapter VI UN Charter. These principles are: the consent of the State to allow for the presence of peacekeepers; the impartiality of the peacekeeping forces; and that no military force will be used except in self-defence (see discussion in Müller, ‘The Force Intervention Brigade – United Nations Forces beyond the Fine Line between Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement’ (2015) 20 Journal of Conflict and Security Law 359).

Buffer Zones and Ceasefires

I do not dispute that the methods deployed in traditional peacekeeping are crucial as an initial step to establishing international peace and security. However, surely, to be successful in achieving true peace and security in States where a conflict has occurred, this means that gradually with the aid of the peacekeepers the tension between the opposing sides reduces and the State starts to function independently and peacefully again. Unfortunately the UN does not seem to believe this is the case as it has ‘spearheaded a process of redefining peace in tight conjunction with respect for the continuing influence of militaries’ (see Kühn, ‘The Peace Prefix: Ambiguities of the Word “Peace”’ (2012) 19 International Peacekeeping 396) and as well as this, seems unable to work towards this successfully as in cases like Cyprus. In this case peacekeepers were sent in in 1964 after the Security Council adopted resolution 186 which established UNFICYP owing to fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The fact that peacekeepers have been in Cyprus for 53 years with renewed mandates every 6 months upon the advice of the Secretary-General, and that due to there being no formal ceasefire agreement the ‘UNFICYP has been confronted with hundreds of incidents each year’ along the buffer zone clearly shows that the UN are not actively pursuing peace and security for Cyprus.

Similarly, peacekeeping operations have been in place in the Golan Heights since the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 350 in 1974 which established UNDOF and, yet, despite the amount of time that peacekeepers have been in the area, there has been no noticeable improvement in attaining peace and security to the point where ending the mission has become a possibility.

Cyprus Peace Deal Close, Says UN Chief After Geneva Talks’, 12 January 2017
Syria Conflict: UN Peacekeepers Held in Golan Heights’, 29 August 2014

Self Defence

As stated before, UN peacekeepers cannot use force when partaking in tradition peacekeeping operations unless in self-defence (Chapter VI UN Charter). I argue that this limitation on the types of actions undertaken by ‘traditional’ peacekeepers dooms the UN to being unable to contribute to international peace and security as it allows for a conflict (potentially including acts of barbarity) to flare in front of peacekeepers, or to continue without their interference as traditional peacekeeping is not intended to ‘force belligerents to cease their hostilities’ (See Müller, ‘The Force Intervention Brigade – United Nations Forces beyond the Fine Line between Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement’ (2015) 20 Journal of Conflict and Security Law 359, 364) as in the context of Somalia and UNOSOM I when ‘continued fighting and insecurity’ hampered relief efforts. The fact that the UN allows continued fighting to occur without intervening simply on the basis that the peacekeepers were not directly attacked, therefore inhibiting regrowth and the stabilisation of the civilian population, unquestionably supports the idea that UN traditional peacekeeping does not contribute to international peace and security.


Therefore it seems that due to the UN’s failure to actively seek to eradicate tensions rather than simply keep them at bay as well as allowing continued fighting to occur in front of peacekeepers without permitting their intervention to protect civilians and therefore create greater security, traditional peacekeeping operations do not enable the UN to contribute to international peace and security.

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