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date: 24 June 2017

The Effectiveness of Peacekeeping Operations

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

Peacekeeping has been one of the main conflict management tools used by the international community to restore or safeguard peace and security. Since 1948, UN peacekeeping has substantially evolved and adopted a more comprehensive approach to peace that goes beyond purely military concerns. Indeed, the promises of peacekeeping as an effective instrument of conflict reduction, as outlined in the 2000 Brahimi report, might explain to some extent the evolution toward multidimensional missions and the unprecedented number of blue helmets deployed in the last decade. As a consequence, these growing expectations of peacekeeping effectiveness have ushered in a new strand of research that empirically investigates whether and under what conditions UN peacekeeping works. The main goals of this article are (a) to discuss how the concept of “effectiveness” in empirical studies on peacekeeping has been conceptualized and operationalized; (b) to review and summarize the major theoretical contributions and empirical findings on the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions; (c) to provide descriptive and graphical representation of cumulative empirical knowledge on peacekeeping operation; and (d) to elaborate necessary and future empirical challenges for the study of effectiveness of peacekeeping operations.

Peacekeepers are mostly deployed in conflict or post-conflict environments where violence is either ongoing or lingering; violence is thus a priority for peace missions. Consequently, peacekeeping is deemed successful or effective according to whether it curbs conflict on several dimensions. Effective missions are responsible for decreasing the intensity of battle violence, protecting civilians, and containing conflict diffusion and recurrence in the post-war phase. Each mission, however, is deployed to different contexts and operates under different conditions that affect its ability to avoid conflict. Concerning mission features, peacekeeping success is more likely when large contingents are deployed under robust mandates—that is, they have the authorization to pro-actively tackle violence. The type of mission is also a predictor of success, with multidimensional peacekeeping ensuring more durable peace in the aftermath of civil wars. A mission’s type, size, and composition signal credible commitment and enable peacekeepers to halt violence while also guaranteeing the implementation of peace agreements. These advancements in our understanding of peacekeeping stem from the availability of new data on both conflict and peace operations at the national and sub-national level of analysis. Empirical results from observational studies have prompted a consensus on the conflict avoidance capacity of peacekeeping. This approach has been flanked recently by simulation-based forecasting, and by field experiments and surveys investigating local-level outcomes of peace missions.

Unsurprisingly, the focus on violence and conflict outcomes as indicators of success is debated. First, in dealing with violence, peacekeeping produces spill-over effect on other conflict-related outcomes that are largely neglected, such as refugee flows and resort to terrorist violence. Second, given the wide range of functions performed by UN peacekeepers, including electoral assistance, economic reconstruction, and state building, it is reasonable to expect that these aspects enter the definition of effectiveness. Third, and relatedly, we lack an assessment of short versus long-term implications of peacekeeping for the political, social, and economic development of host countries. While reducing infant mortality, inequality, and crime are not necessarily tasks for peacekeepers, it is no less important to study whether and how UN missions may have shaped the quality of peace in host countries.