The independent resource on global security

3. Peace operations: the fragile consensus


I. Introduction

II. Background

III. In search of a shared understanding

IV. Emerging powers and the peacekeeping consensus

V. Conclusions: towards a new consensus?


Read the full chapter [PDF]

Appendix 3A. Multilateral peace operations, 2010 [PDF].


The broad consensus on principles, purpose and methods of contemporary peace operations is ever more fragile. Key characteristics of United Nations peace operations are continually revised, while a shared understanding of what these operations should achieve is increasingly lacking. Peace operations suffer from a commitment gap between different categories of states, divergences on some of the key parameters of interventions, and a normative disconnect between established and new state actors.


After the surge in deployments of the past decade, UN operations seem to have reached a plateau, and the focus is now on consolidation. Yet needs for peacekeeping and peacebuilding remain high, even as the operations are increasingly contested by host countries and challenged in their efficacy by a combination of overstretch and weak political support. Simultaneously, the consensus that peace operations have enjoyed is undermined by the very nature of the liberal model that peacekeeping and peacebuilding actors promote. What is at stake is the question of how far the international community can go in trying to establish and sustain peace while maintaining the legitimacy of the intervention as well as a degree of acceptability at all levels in the host countries.


In this context, the consensus on peace operations is potentially challenged by the increasing engagement of emerging regional powers—in particular Brazil, China, India and South Africa. Their contributions represent a quantitative as well as a qualitative shift for peace operations but can also pose a threat to the Northern-dominated agenda. Emerging powers have a principled approach to peace operations, with conceptions of sovereignty, non-interference and local ownership that may impact the actual peace operation mandates.


However, if existing norms and practices have indeed been challenged by emerging powers, the clash of normative agendas with Northern countries has not yet materialized. Emerging powers have so far revealed a high degree of pragmatism, which has shaped their policies in line with current practices rather than along fundamentally different paths. The question arises whether peacekeeping, as a relatively low-profile activity, is for these countries worth the clash that normative divergences could imply—leading, in turn, to the question of what role emerging powers will play in building a new consensus on peace operations.



Thierry Tardy (France) is a faculty member of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP).