The future of peacekeeping

Peace operations do not necessarily have the support of all the belligerants, and so they will be more difficult and dangerous than many peacekeeping missions

By David M Last

There is now great potential to use peacekeeping in the pursuit of just and lasting peace. If this fails, peacekeeping may be replaced by violent international enforcement, by "imperial policing," by civil war in multi-ethnic states, and by inter-state war. What can preserve and enhance peacekeeping?

What Is Peacekeeping?

Peacekeeping is "an operation involving military personnel, but without enforcement powers, established by the United Nations to help maintain or restore peace in areas of conflict."(f.1) The provisions for enforcement under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter do not constitute peacekeeping. There are two types of peacekeeping operation: observer missions in which unarmed officers provide the eyes and ears of the U.N., and peacekeeping forces in which units provide a range of services to the belligerents. Neither type uses force except in self-defence; they do not interfere in the internal affairs of the host state, and are neutral. There must be an international consensus supporting their mission. The belligerents must cooperate with the peacekeepers, whose mandate must be explicitly supported by the belligerents. Finally, every chance of peaceful settlement must be taken. This traditional view of peacekeeping evolved during stable years of bipolar hostility, when the superpowers tried to reduce local conflicts not in their interests. It is based upon an interpretation of Article 36 of the U.N. Charter, which is in Chapter VI, on the pacific settlement of disputes-hence the emphasis on the consent of the parties.

Peace Operations

An alternative view derives the authority for peacekeeping from Article 40, Chapter VII: Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression. Since Chapter VII deals with enforcement, this new interpretation needs a new name. Boutros-Ghali has referred to "peace operations" and "peace support operations" to denote the new, more vigorous interpretation of peacekeeping. Peace operation falls between enforcement and peacekeeping, just as peacekeeping falls between Chapter VI and Chapter VII.

Peace operations do not necessarily have the support of all the belligerents, and so they will be more difficult and dangerous than many peacekeeping missions. They may include preventive deployments, as suggested in An Agenda for Peace; internationally executed "internal security operations" to support beleaguered civil authorities; interposition between belligerents unwilling to negotiate; and enforcement of safe havens or protection of humanitarian missions. At the top of the intensity scale, operations such as "Desert Storm" represent enforcement of U.N. resolutions under Chapter VII of the Charter. The expanded concept of "peace operations" has more potential than traditional peacekeeping, but also more pitfalls. They are not for weak or lightly armed forces; they require robust, well-trained forces with all the tools of combat if they are not to fall victim to the violence they are trying to stop. Once powerful forces are deployed, they sometimes create the illusion that military solutions are possible, even preferable to difficult conflict resolution and social reconstruction.

Peace operations present old political problems in a new light. Veterans of liberation struggles will recognize the potential for imperialism under a different name. There is already a track record of international intervention in areas of big-power interest, but not in marginal conflicts where the human costs are just as great. How can we avoid these pitfalls? Any third party can have only one justification for intervening in a conflict: to move quickly to a just and stable peace. Thus the new peace operations must support democracy and social justice, not just stability; they must aim to resolve conflicts, not just stabilize them; and they must convert opposing forces into collaborators, not just separate them. The answer cannot lie in "making peace" through superior firepower.


Enforcement under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter should remain distinct from peace operations and peacekeeping. Peacekeepers and soldiers in peace operations wear blue berets. Soldiers engaged in enforcement do not wear blue berets. Each is a phase of intervention with the ultimate aim of conflict resolution. Since military forces take the lead in intervention, they must take the lead in moving away from violence. This aim requires a shift in the way soldiers view the world: the "enemy" is the conflict itself. Our allies in combating the conflict are the belligerents-whether they are shooting at us or not! Strong military forces are deployed on peace operations during the defensive phase, when the intensity of the conflict is minimized. Traditional peacekeeping missions such as Cyprus have become good at defensive operations-stifling conflict. Oncethe violence has died down, the peacekeeping force must go on the offensive against the conflict, building trust and confidence between the belligerents, creating opportunities for contact, and enhancing security in each community. For these purposes, commanders and military staffs must develop skills in fostering cooperation and contact, and learn to integrate their efforts with those of civilian agencies and non-governmental "Track Two" initiatives.

Levels And Military Planning

There are different implications for each level at which military forces operate. At the strategic level, broad interpretation of Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace is called for. This will mean more peace operations and more peacekeeping. Occasionally it will mean enforcement that will demand all the military skill and all the military equipment developed over the unproductive Cold War years. These pressures will run counter to calls for disarmament, which must be measured and cautious for conventional weapons and bold for weapons of mass destruction. The Secretary General will require competent military staffs to plan and execute operations. The nucleus is already in place under a Canadian General. We can see the beginning of this evolution in NATO and the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (made up of NATO and the former members of the Warsaw Pact.) Amongst this group of former adversaries, the growth industry now is regionally sponsored peacekeeping operations and techniques of conflict resolution.

At the tactical level, armies must develop the techniques to move beyond segregation of opponents and toward constructive engagement and eventual reintegration. These include: negotiating skills; close collaboration with opposing military forces (training, consultation, confidence-building, problem solving), civilian agencies (development, meeting basic human needs) and groups involved in "Track II" diplomacy (education and attitude change, problem solving, consultation on communal security requirements). In the post-conflict peace-building phase military forces are essential in verifying arms control and disarmament agreements, and in training military forces for a constructive role.

To say that peace is the aim of armies is not to call for an end to guns, tanks, and battleships. These are tools for the control of violence, just as scalpels and poisonous drugs are tools for the control of diseases. Hospitals with few of the basic tools are not in the forefront of teaching medicine, and weak armies with antiquated equipment are not convincing. Tools are necessary, but the crucial element is intellectual: military training must include educating officers for peace.


1 United Nations, The Blue Helmets: A Review of United Nations Peacekeeping (New York: United Nations, 1985), p. 3.

David Last recently commanded Headquarters and Services Battery, First Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1993

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1993, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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