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Considerations for peacemaking and peacekeeping

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been an increasing amount of attention paid to peacekeeping. Consequently, peace has generated considerable interest in the areas of education, research, and politics. Peacekeeping developed in the 1950s as part of preventive diplomacy. It has since become an essential component of conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Peacebuilding has become embedded in the theory and practice of national governments, nongovernmental organizations, and regional and global intergovernmental organizations. Most regional intergovernmental organizations now have departments for peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.

The proliferation of international peacebuilding was accompanied by a series of questions about peacebuilding ethics within International Relations.

Using the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of International Studies, we’ll examine some of the challenges and questions facing peacebuilding.

Peace Operations

Peace operations are the most visible face of the United Nations (UN). In fact, the UN declares in the first bullet point of the purposes of the UN is to “maintain international peace and security.” However, the UN is not the only actor involved in peace operations; peace operations have been authorized and undertaken by other international organizations, coalitions of states, and individual governments.

But what is a peace operation exactly? There is no uncontested definition of what constitutes a peace operation. In general terms, all definitions have consequences that lead analysts in certain directions and produce different conclusions about the number, type, and success or failure of peace operations. The central dilemma with defining the term involves deciding what makes some military activities worthy of the label “peace operations” but not others. Another approach would be to examine the different ways in which actors have justified certain military activities as “peace operations” as opposed to some other sort of action, such as counterinsurgency, limited war, humanitarian intervention, or self-defense. Peace operations come in many different shapes and sizes, and deploy for many different purposes.

While it is difficult to define what makes a peace operation, it is also difficult to define a successful peace operation. There are three key issues that must be addressed in answering this question. First, success for whom? Any peacemaking operation involves multiple parties and each one could interpret success differently. Second, what timescale should be adopted? Perceptions of success may vary depending upon whether one adopts a short- or long-term perspective. Third, what baseline standard should be used against which to assess peacekeeping’s effects?

Durability of Peace

Since the end of World War II, most armed hostilities have been civil wars, many of which have been serial conflicts. The costs associated with these ever-present wars—the loss of lives, the destruction of infrastructure, and a host of other ills—have galvanized researchers into identifying the conditions that can help countries establish a durable peace once a war has ended. Scholars have studied various conflicts in order to better understand why peace proved durable after some conflicts but not others.

How can third party actors engage in peacebuilding in good ways? Are there certain obligations that peacebuilders must follow?

Several studies have devoted attention to a variety of factors that affect whether peacekeeping and peacebuilding help ensure a durable peace. After several discouraging outcomes of the UN’s conflict management in the early 1990s (e.g., Somalia and Rwanda) some scholars argued that the UN was achieving, at best, short-term goals like reducing hostility and preventing outside actors from encouraging continuation of the conflict. Other scholars claimed that intervention was actually making the situation worse by creating incentives that led conflicts to persist and that it would be better to see one party defeated and the fighting ended. Several scholars have recognized that the UN will assist in more intense conflicts, which may be more difficult to resolve.


The proliferation of international peacebuilding efforts has been accompanied by critical analysis and calls for accountability, which have fed into a rich and growing literature on peacebuilding ethics. How can third party actors engage in peacebuilding in good ways? Are there certain obligations that peacebuilders must follow? Are peacebuilders doing the right things? Because there are different definitions to what peacebuilding and peace operations are, it proves difficult answering these questions.

Moral judgements ask if whether the lives of those who live in areas in which peacebuilding occurs are better or worse off because of the intervention. Many of the critiques aimed at the “liberal peace” highlight the problematic pursuit of unjust ends through peacebuilding. Many have warned that international efforts in peacebuilding and state building were not only ineffective but were potentially doing further harm by imposing state and market models that were premature, did not fit, and perhaps even undermined the generation of locally rooted peace initiatives in conflict-affected areas. While others argue that there are ethical imperatives for certain types of states to engage in post-conflict support.

While there are challenges facing peacemaking efforts, it is worth examining the causes and possible solutions. We are in an increasingly interdependent world and our efforts to cooperate will only serve to better life around the world.

Featured image credit: Bolivian Army 2nd Lt. Mauricio Vidangos stands guard at the entry control point of an Observation Point during training, Oct. 21, 2002, by Senior Airman JoAnn S. Makinano. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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