Political Science Peace Operations
Kai Michael Kenkel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0146


Peace operations (POs)—the deployment of military, police, and civilian personnel by multilateral organizations with a view to preventing and terminating conflicts and reconstructing societies in their wake—are the most visible tool of collective security today and constitute a major field of debate and inquiry among academics and practitioners. Just as peace operations have progressed from a limited ad hoc practice to complex multidimensional undertakings, so too the literature on peace operations has undergone significant changes since the end of the Cold War. The field retains evidence of its origins in empirical, policy-oriented writings; it still harbors a penchant for case studies and a focus on solving specific policy problems. However, as time has passed, analysis of peace operations has gained theoretical sophistication, from more conceptually oriented approaches to its institutional framework to a prolific questioning of liberal peacebuilding practice grounded in critical, constructivist, and postmodern social theory. In a reversal of the trend that began with the policy-relevant harnessing of concepts as the basis for analyses of specific missions, peace operations now serve as testing grounds for a variety of higher-order analytical approaches. The products of these approaches range from gendered analyses to philosophical critiques of liberalism to treatments of the normative and material motivations of belligerents, contributing states, and great powers to participate in what will remain a key international practice in the foreseeable future. The categorizing terminology used here follows partially the practice established by the United Nations in An Agenda for Peace, dividing operations into traditional (low-force) peacekeeping, (high-force) peace enforcement, and peacebuilding. Peace operations are identified as those deployed by the United Nations Security Council and multilateral bodies it recognizes, reserving separate nomenclature for other types of intervention.

General Overviews

Bellamy, et al. 2010 and Diehl and Balas 2014 are the two primary general analytical works on peace operations, with the former being more comprehensive in scope and offering more detailed case studies. The other works cited trace the move from early research focused on organization or effectiveness to later cultural and bottom-up perspectives. Durch 1993 lays the groundwork for understanding the UN’s functioning as an organization, a topic that was for long the focus of much of the literature. MacQueen 2006 provides a case-study focus on Africa within this tradition. Rubinstein 2008 moves beyond this to an anthropological analysis of the culture of interventions. Pouligny 2006 leaves the top-down focus behind to adopt an approach from the viewpoint of local populations who interact with peace operations.

  • Bellamy, Alex, Paul Williams, and Stuart Griffin. Understanding Peacekeeping. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010.

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    The definitive analytical work on peace operations. Navigates between analysis and examples to situate POs in international relations (IR) literature, provide a historical progression, and give a useful categorization of mission types. A must for students, and an excellent volume that can serve as a structuring reference for research at all levels.

  • Diehl, Paul, and Alexandru Balas. Peace Operations. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199686049.013.3Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Revised edition of another crucial general work. Particularly suited for syllabi, with longer chapters and a discursive style. The chapter on the organization of POs within the UN is a primary reference on the topic; it further outlines the main challenges facing POs in the future.

  • Durch, William, ed. The Evolution of UN Peacekeeping: Case Studies and Comparative Analysis. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.

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    A key early work aimed at graduate and advanced undergraduate students that, beyond case studies, gives a clear overview of UN functioning, the challenges facing POs, and the utility of missions as a conflict resolution practice.

  • MacQueen, Norrie. Peacekeeping and the International System. London: Routledge, 2006.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203306116Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Couples a predominantly chronological conceptual analysis of the historical progression of POs with case studies and a longer section on the specificities of POs in Africa. An excellent starting point for mission case studies, though not the very latest.

  • Pouligny, Beatrice. Peace Operations Seen from Below: UN Missions and Local People. London: Hurst, 2006.

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    Deconstructs certain assumptions that pervade UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding practice by adopting the perspective of the local actors with whom they interact. For researchers, an excellent transition from introductory references to detailed case studies.

  • Rubinstein, Robert A. Peacekeeping under Fire: Culture and Intervention. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008.

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    An ethnographic analysis of POs as a conflict resolution practice. Unites IR and anthropological analysis to focus on the culture of POs, combining the micro and macro levels of the functioning of missions. Useful as a precursor to studies of why POs succeed or fail, as well as more generally on how the UN operates.

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