Reversed Roles, the Future of Partnership Peacekeeping?

Partnership peacekeeping – meaning the parallel deployment of United Nations (UN) and non-UN peacekeepers in the same conflict – has been a common and, as recent research shows, successful feature of international conflict resolution since the Cold War. However, the deployment of large and multidimensional UN peace operations (POs) by the UN Security Council (UNSC) is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the international community needs to find new ways to remain capable of acting in the face of threats to international peace and security. One solution to this problem could be reversed parallel deployments where smaller UN operations support larger non-UN missions. But can this work?

Status Quo The Era of Partnership Peacekeeping

While the term ‘partnership peacekeeping’ has been picked up by scholars and policymakers relatively recently, the UN has made frequent use of Chapter VIII of the Charter to call on regional organisations (ROs) and (coalitions of) states to reinforce UN POs since the early 1990s. Depending on definitions, as well as temporal and geographic coverage, relevant data shows that such simultaneous UN and non-UN deployments to civil wars constitute 30-60% of all peacekeeping cases in the last 30 years. In this constellation, the UN usually takes centre stage, deploying much more personnel and receiving more comprehensive mandates than non-UN partners. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, where most missions take place, a median UN PO consists of around 10,000 peacekeepers and is mandated with 14.9 different tasks, while a median non-UN PO comprises only around 500 peacekeepers with 4.4 mandated tasks. Recent research shows that deploying such large, multidimensional UN POs in combination with small, militarised non-UN missions significantly reduces conflict intensity.

However, multidimensional UN missions are currently being drawn down in several conflicts, including Mali and the DRC, and it appears unlikely that a new operation will be authorised anytime soon given the current geopolitical tensions in the UNSC. In addition, there seems to be little appetite for more UN involvement in todays’ conflicts on part of the UN Secretariat. In his New Agenda for Peace, for example, the Secretary-General proposes to scale down multidimensional UN mandates, primarily deploy in support of political processes, and refrain from peace enforcement or counter-insurgency actions. Instead, such missions should be led by African ROs under Chapter VII and guaranteed funding through assessed UN contributions. Moreover, these non-UN missions should receive mandates involving non-military activities addressing the root causes of conflict. However, can this model of partnership peacekeeping work? What can existing research tell us in this regard?

Reversing Roles and Responsibilities in Partnership Peacekeeping?

In the past two decades, systematic empirical research on peacekeeping effectiveness has been predominantly concerned with the UN, neglecting non-UN POs for the most part. Studies on partnership peacekeeping have been similarly sparse.

Research finds that UN POs are – on average – good at curbing conflict-related battlefield violence and violence against civilians, increasing the duration of negative peace, shortening the duration of conflict, and preventing its recurrence. In this context, multidimensional UN missions carry most of the explanatory power: They reduce conflict intensity, increase peace duration, and prevent renewed conflict. Other types of missions do not have a similarly multifaceted impact: UN enforcement missions are effective in shortening conflict episodes, whereas observer and traditional peacekeeping missions help prevent conflict recurrence. Research also finds that larger operations, and particularly those including larger numbers of armed troops, are better at managing adverse effects of conflict. Less research focuses on smaller or political UN operations. Special political missions (SPMs) have taken on a diverse array of roles in the past two decades, ranging from supporting the Afghan Interim Authority to overseeing the Colombian peace process. However, more research is needed to determine under what conditions SPMs are effective on their own and whether they would work well with multidimensional non-UN POs.

On that note, recent studies find that not only UN but also non-UN peacekeepers can decrease one-sided violence and prolong post-conflict peace. Similarly to UN POs, different types of non-UN operations have distinct impacts. Non-UN observer, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and peace enforcement missions are all able to reduce civilian victimisation by government forces, whereas only peacebuilding and peace enforcement missions also limit rebel violence against civilians. When factoring in mission size and personnel composition, it appears that more non-UN peacekeepers, especially armed troops, are better at reducing one-sided violence by government forces; this does not hold for civilian victimisation by rebels. Higher numbers of troops also prolong the duration of peace once achieved, but they are not significantly associated with shorter conflict episodes. Therefore, it appears that large non-UN operations can contribute to conflict resolution in similar ways as large UN missions. However, it is important to note that these findings are currently based on a very small number of studies.

When it comes to partnership peacekeeping, a recent study finds that military non-UN POs with higher numbers of armed troops are only able to curb battlefield violence when they are supported by large, multidimensional UN missions. Similarly, it has been observed that non-UN actors cannot effectively prolong the duration of post-conflict peace without a UN partner. In relation to the protection of civilians, the current division of labour in partnership peacekeeping seems to work out well: While UN POs are effective at curbing one-sided violence perpetrated by rebels, non-UN POs are good at shielding civilians from violence perpetrated by government forces.

In sum, existing research clearly finds that the current practice of deploying large, multidimensional UN POs, both alone and in partnership with military non-UN POs, has a positive impact on several indicators measuring violence reduction and peace duration. However, we have little data-driven research to rely on when it comes to evaluating how regional operations with multidimensional tasks supported by small UN missions with more specific mandates would work out. Cases such as the large, multidimensional African Union PO in Somalia, AMISOM, which was supported by a small UN mission, are instructive. In this ‘reverse’ case, partnership peacekeeping worked well, since AMISOM personnel were trained, equipped, and led well, while the logistical and financial support from the UN was arranged in a long-term and reliable manner. However, more empirical research on UN special political missions, envoys, and mediators in conflict settings is necessary to better understand how smaller UN contributions can support future regional multidimensional peacekeeping efforts.



Dr. Evgenija Kroeker is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Chair of International Organizations at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Potsdam. Her research focuses on intergovernmental security organisations, peacekeeping, and civil war.

Maurice P. Schumann is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for International Security at the Hertie School in Berlin. His research focuses on communication technologies and organised violence.