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Multilateral peace operations in 2023: Developments and trends

Acting military adviser visits UNMISS. Photo credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis
Acting military adviser visits UNMISS. Photo credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

Ahead of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, SIPRI presents its latest data on multilateral peace operations in 2023. SIPRI has published this topical backgrounder that summarizes the key findings of the new data along with important developments related to multilateral peace operations during the year. In addition, SIPRI has issued a map that covers all multilateral peace operations that were active as of May 2023. Click here to access the map.

In 2023, 63 multilateral peace operations were active in 37 countries or territories around the world. This was one operation less than in 2022 (see figure 1). The largest number of multilateral peace operations, 20, were conducted by the United Nations. Another 38 operations were conducted by different regional organizations and alliances. The other 5 were conducted by ad hoc coalitions of states. Of the 63 operations, 24 were in sub-Saharan Africa, 19 in Europe, 14 in the Middle East and North Africa, 3 in Asia and 3 in the Americas.

A total of 100 568 international personnel were deployed to multilateral peace operations as of 31 December, 13 per cent fewer than at the end of 2022 (see figure 2). This marked both the largest decrease and the lowest total seen in the past decade. The overall decrease in personnel numbers was primarily due to an 18-per cent drop in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, sub-Saharan Africa still accounted for the vast majority, with 76 372 international personnel deployed (see figure 3). 

The year saw new operations opening in Armenia, Moldova and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while operations closed in Mali, Sudan, the DRC and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Three overall trends identified in 2022 continued and intensified in multilateral peace operations in 2023: the increasing effects of geopolitical rivalries; the growing tensions in relations between peace operations and their host countries; and the increasing regionalization of peace operations.

New operations in Armenia, Moldova and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Three new multilateral peace operations started in 2023, deploying approximately 800 personnel.

The European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) was established on 23 January 2023. It succeeded the temporary EU Monitoring Capacity to Armenia (EUMCAP), which was deployed between October and December 2022 following renewed hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. EUMA’s mandate is to observe and report on the security situation along the Armenian side of the international border with Azerbaijan. The objective of the mission is to decrease risks for people in conflict-affected areas and support confidence building between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The EU Partnership Mission in the Republic of Moldova (EUPM Moldova) was established on 24 April 2023 at the request of the Moldovan government, as the country had been severely affected by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Among other things, Moldova had experienced security challenges such as an influx of refugees, an energy crisis and violations of its airspace by Russian missiles. EUPM Moldova aims to contribute to strengthening the country’s crisis management structures and to support enhancing the resilience of the country to hybrid threats.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) was established on 8 May 2023, and was officially deployed on 15 December 2023. The main task of the mission is to support the Congolese army in fighting armed groups in eastern DRC. The mission is expected to take over tasks previously handled by the East African Community (EAC) Regional Force in the DRC (EACRF-DRC).

The security situation and violence in eastern DRC have worsened since the resurgence of the March 23 Movement (Mouvement du 23 mars, M23) armed group in late 2021. Despite the deployment of SAMIDRC, M23 made advances in North Kivu province in late 2023, taking several villages in the surroundings of the provincial capital, Goma, in early 2024. The toll on civilians has been high, with areas surrounding Goma facing massive waves of displacement. Moreover, the killing of SAMIDRC troops has engendered concerns about the mission’s capacity to defeat M23, which increasingly uses military-grade weaponry. On 4 March 2024, SAMIDRC’s mandate was endorsed by the African Union Peace and Security Council.

In October 2023, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of the Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission in Haiti by an ad hoc coalition of states. The mission’s task is to is to support the Haitian National Police in addressing the security crisis in the country, but it has not yet been deployed.

Operations terminated in Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Four multilateral peace operations terminated in 2023. On 30 June 2023, after a decade of operations in Mali, the UN Security Council terminated the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and ordered its full withdrawal, at the request of Mali’s transitional governmentThis request reportedly caught UN Security Council members by surprise, although relations between the host government and MINUSMA had been deteriorating, marked by incidents such as the expulsion of UN personnel and the temporary arrest of newly arrived peacekeepers. Tensions were further exacerbated in Mali by the activities of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC), after December 2021, leading several troop-contributing countries to announce their withdrawal from MINUSMA. The missions high casualty rate also made contributors increasingly hesitant to deploy troops.

MINUSMA was established in 2013, following a French intervention that reversed the advance of armed groups towards the south of Mali. It had a mandate to support political processes in the country and carry out a number of security-related tasks.

UN Security Council members expressed concern that MINUSMA’s termination might lead to intensified conflict between armed groups and Malian forces, potentially jeopardizing the 2015 Algiers peace agreement. Indeed, after an eight-year ceasefire, hostilities resumed in northern Mali between some signatories of the peace agreement and government forces in August 2023. In January 2024, shortly after MINUSMA’s departure, the Malian junta ended the Algiers peace agreement.

In November 2023 the Sudanese government demanded the termination of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) with immediate effect, claiming the mission’s performance in implementing its objectives had been disappointing. The Security Council complied with this request, and UNITAMS ceased its mandate delivery on 4 December 2023.

The mission was established in 2020, with a mandate to support Sudan's transition to democracy—a mandate that was called into question following the 2021 coup d’état in the country. With the deterioration of the security situation that took place when fighting erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in April 2023, communication disruptions and security risks hampered the activities of UNITAMS. Additionally, in June 2023 the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the head of UNITAMS, Volker Perthes, was considered persona non grata in the country. In September 2023 Perthes resigned and warned of the risk of a full-scale civil war in Sudan.

The EAC Regional Force in the DRC (EACRF-DRC) was terminated on 8 December 2023. In October 2023 the Congolese government announced that it would not seek the operation’s renewal, having criticized its effectiveness, particularly in combating the armed group M23 in eastern DRC. Local civil society organizations also perceived the operation as ineffective and several public demonstrations against the operation took place in Goma, similar to those held against the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).

Even though the EACRF-DRC’s leadership expected the termination to coincide with the deployment and handover of the mandate to SAMIDRC, when the latter started to deploy on 15 December the EACRF-DRC had already withdrawn from some areas. In the meeting where the operation’s exit plan was agreed by chiefs of EAC defence forces and staff, concerns were raised about ongoing fighting in areas where the EACRF-DRC was deployed. Following the termination of the operation, its leadership expressed regret that armed groups had reoccupied areas that it had vacated.


There has been little information regarding the closure of the AU Military Observer Mission to the CAR (MOUACA), but the mission appears to have ceased operating by 2023. The mission was established in July 2020 to support the monitoring of the implementation of the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the CARIn October 2022 the AU Peace and Security Council directed the AU Commission to initiate the gradual withdrawal and eventual closure of MOUACA, transferring its mandate responsibilities to the AU Mission for the CAR and Central Africa (MISAC). This decision was influenced by the precarious security conditions in CAR and the uncertain financial support for MOUACA. 

In addition to the closure of the missions above, two peace operations faced significant constraints on their operations in 2023 and were eventually terminated in early 2024. The Russian–Turkish Joint Monitoring Centre (RTJMC) in Azerbaijan was established in 2021 to monitor a ceasefire agreement between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces signed in the aftermath of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war (2020). The RTJMC closed on 26 April 2024. After a months-long blockade of the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azerbaijani military offensive in September 2023 quickly overwhelmed local defences and forced the de facto authorities of the enclave to accept a ceasefire. Shortly afterwards, over 100 000 residents fled the region for Armenia and the de facto government signed a decree to dissolve all state institutions by 1 January 2024.

The EU Capacity Building Mission in Niger (EUCAP Sahel Niger) also faced difficulties following the coup d’état in Niger in July 2023 and the subsequent suspension of the EU’s development and military cooperation with the countryThe mission was established in 2012 with a mandate to assist in the implementation of Niger’s security strategy, strengthen the rule of law and support the sustainability of the Nigerien security forces. On 4 December, the new junta formally withdrew its consent for EUCAP Sahel Niger by revoking its status-of-mission agreement, giving it six months’ notice to withdraw. By May 2024, the mission had withdrawn all international personnel from Niger and ceased its activities.

Geopolitical rivalries affect peace operations 

Political agreement on how to manage armed conflicts became increasingly difficult in 2023, due to escalating geopolitical tensions. While many multilateral peace operations were apparently able to continue business as usual, there was frequent disagreement in the UN Security Council and in the AU Peace and Security Council on the establishment of new operations and changes to existing mandates. At the same time, the attention of most Western governments was on supporting Ukraine against Russia and strengthening their own capacities for collective defence and deterrence. In particular, these governments made less military capacity and funding available for multilateral peace operations in Africa, as illustrated by the focus of the European Peace Facility on Ukraine. Simultaneously, Russia increased its engagement in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, offering governments the use of PMCs to combat armed groups.

Relations with host countries

Among donor countries and financial contributors to UN peacekeeping operations, discussions about value for money and effectiveness are nothing new. However, in 2023 the governments of countries such as the DRC, Mali, Niger and Sudan increasingly questioned whether the peace operations they hosted were fit for purpose, considering these governments’ expectations that the operations would directly combat terrorist and armed groups. Indeed, several peace and other multilateral operations such as the EACRF-DRC, the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (JF-G5S), SAMIDRC and the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) were deployed to fulfil those expectations.

In a geopolitical environment in which host governments have more conflict management options outside of the framework of peace operations to respond to their security concerns, they feel more confident to withdraw their consent for peace operations when they no longer serve their purpose. This was the case for the EACRF-DRC, MINUSMA and UNITAMS.

The regionalization of peace operations

A move away from the UN had already started before 2023, as there has been no new UN peacekeeping operation since the establishment of MINUSCA in 2014. Furthermore, over the past decade the number of multilateral peace operations deployed by regional organizations has increased while the number of active UN peace operations has decreased. 

In 2023, two policy developments clearly supported this trend towards the regionalization of peace operations. In ‘A New Agenda for Peace’, UN Secretary-General António Guterres describes his vision for the future for multilateral peace and security architecture. This entails a form of ‘networked, inclusive and effective multilateralism’ in which the UN has strong peace operation partnerships with regional organizations. Strengthening the role of regional organizations was also the purpose of UN Security Council Resolution 2719 on the financing of AU peace support operations authorized by the UN Security Council. Moreover, in the lead-up to the Summit of the Future and the annual UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, both taking place in September 2024, further discussions will be held in which such a partnerships approach is likely to be at the top of the agenda.

Prospects for peace operations

The implications of the trends outlined above for future peace operations and conflict management are uncertain. However, extrapolating from these trends suggests four potential ways they could play out in future peace operations and broader conflict management.

1. Inaction. The continued regionalization of peace operations, based on a partnership between the UN and regional organizations, assumes that there are at least two functioning partners. Despite the renewal of all UN and AU peace operation mandates so far, growing polarization may continue to challenge consensus and decision-making within both the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council. This ongoing discord could lead to increased inaction in peace operations and conflict management, and negatively impact the functionality of the partnership between the UN Security Council and regional bodies like the AU Peace and Security Council.

2. Fragmentation. Such inaction may result in increasingly fragmented approaches to peace operations. CAR, Kosovo and Mali have hosted complex constellations of multilateral peace operations within the same mission areas; and in Libya and Syria, different international coalitions have supported opposing sides through distinct conflict management approaches. If international polarization worsens, such fragmentation could raise the cost and compromise the effectiveness of operations and, in extreme cases, lead to confrontations between competing conflict-management interventions within the same territory.

3. Deinstitutionalization. If international and regional organizations become deadlocked and fail to agree on future mission mandates, we may see an increase in conflict management outside established institutional frameworks. Governments may turn to creative solutions, potentially fostering the growth of ad hoc coalitions or multilateral operations other than peace operations, such as the JF-G5S. These ‘creative solutions’ have already included the use of PMCs in countries like CAR, the DRC, Mali and Mozambique. Additionally, Bilateral operations like the Rwanda Defence Force and National Police joint effort in Mozambique might also become more common.

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4. Militarization and securitization. As multilateral peace operations face increasing demands from host governments, conflict management is likely to become more militarized and securitized. This is evident from the closure of MINUSMA and the pressures on MONUSCO to either fight armed groups or close. Similarly, the establishment of forces such as the EACRF-DRC, SAMIDRC and SAMIM, along with the expanded use of PMCs to counter terrorist or rebel activities, highlights this shift. As a result, multilateral peace operations may be slowly pulled towards more militarized approaches and away from multidimensional peacekeeping. 


Dr Claudia Pfeifer Cruz is a Researcher in the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme.
Dr Jaïr van der Lijn is a Senior Researcher and Director of the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme.