In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Peacekeeping

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Peacekeeping and the Protection of Civilians
  • Peacekeeping’s Effects on Conflict Contagion and War Recurrence
  • Effects of Peacekeeping on State Institutions, Democracy, and Civil Society
  • Qualitative and Critical Perspectives on Peacekeeping
  • Debates about the Use of Force in Peacekeeping
  • Gender and Peacekeeping
  • Non-UN Peacekeeping—the African Union, the European Union, and Others
  • Works by Peacekeeping Leaders and Practitioners

Military History Peacekeeping
Lise Morjé Howard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0201


Peacekeeping is unlike other forms of military intervention because of its founding three-part doctrine, comprising consent of the parties, impartiality, and the non-use of force except in self-defense (and, more recently, defense of the mandate). Peacekeeping is important to understand because it is the most frequent form of intervention today. As of March 2020, there were thirteen UN peacekeeping missions, mainly in Africa, and nearly 100,000 peacekeepers, including civilians and uniformed personnel (see Resources: Data Sources, Key Reports, and Policy Documents). This means there are more UN peacekeepers in conflict zones than any other type of multilateral troop (from, for example, the African Union, the European Union, ASEAN, or NATO). Moreover, despite media attention and arguments in the qualitative literature, peacekeeping is a highly effective type of multilateral action. This review focuses on the explosion of top-rate publications on peacekeeping beginning in 2015. It begins with (1) the general overviews and the classics. It then turns to discussions and debates in the current peacekeeping literature about the following: (2) the remarkably affirmative findings in the positivistic literature on the protection of civilians; (3) peacekeeping’s beneficial effects on conflict contagion and war recurrence; (4) other favorable effects on post-conflict state institutions, democratization, and civil society; (5) qualitative and critical perspectives on peacekeeping; (6) “how peacekeeping works” and debates about the use of force; (7) gender in peacekeeping and sexual abuse and exploitation; (8) peacekeeping by actors other than the UN; (9) works by peacekeeping leaders and practitioners; and (10) resources for peacekeeping research. Qualitative and quantitative scholars have very different approaches to the study of peacekeeping, and very different resulting analyses. Positivistic analyses (which, by definition, take into consideration both sides of the coin) generally find many positive effects from peacekeeping. In comparing situations with and without peacekeepers, they find that peacekeepers correlate with fewer civilian deaths, a geographic contraction of conflict, less return to civil war, better gender-balancing in security institutions, improved justice and security sectors, greater chances of democratization, increased robustness of civil society, and less sexual violence during conflict. Peacekeepers, however, do increase the risk of transactional sex and sex trafficking. In contrast, critical approaches are, by definition, critical. Critical and many qualitative scholars—often based on firsthand experience with the United Nations—see a peacekeeping world of cultural misunderstanding, Western arrogance, self-defeating practices, unintended consequences, and liberal cosmopolitanism gone wrong. Both perspectives hold merit: researchers have found numerous robust relationships between peacekeepers and positive outcomes, despite self-defeating practices. In order to understand contemporary peacekeeping, it is necessary to read widely in both literatures. This review takes into account publications by dozens of top scholars, analysts, and practitioners of peacekeeping.

General Overviews

There are many classics and excellent overviews in the peacekeeping literature, and the works listed below represent only a fraction of these. Moskos 1976 provides the first sociological analysis of the nature of peacekeeping. Durch 2006 is the final and third of the author’s three comprehensive, edited overviews. Diehl and Druckman 2010 provides the first exploration of how to assess the effectiveness of peace operations. Paris 2004, Howard 2008, Doyle and Sambanis 2006 and Fortna 2008 (both cited under Peacekeeping’s Effects on Conflict Contagion and War Recurrence) employ qualitative and mixed methods to assess the sources of success and failure. Bellamy, et al. 2010; de Coning and Peter 2019; Koops, et al. 2015; and Walter, et al. 2020 provide broad overviews of current missions and debates.

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

    Provides an important overview of the historical evolution from traditional, interstate peacekeeping to large, multidimensional missions. Also discusses transitional administrations, peace enforcement, and peace support operations. Includes many case examples as well as thematic chapters on regionalization, privatization, protection of civilians, gender, and policing. Represents a comprehensive textbook for undergraduate and graduate study.

  • de Coning, Cedric, and Mateja Peter, eds. United Nations Peace Operations in a Changing Global Order. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    A balanced, policy-oriented discussion of key challenges to UN peace operations, highlighting emerging trends in peace and conflict. Discusses what the rise of China may mean for the future of the peacekeeping. Includes chapters by academics and practitioners from both the Global North and South.

  • Diehl, Paul F., and Daniel Druckman. Evaluating Peace Operations. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010.

    The most comprehensive overview of how to evaluate peace operations.

  • Durch, William J., ed. Twenty-First-Century Peace Operations. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2006.

    Edited by one of the most respected, long-standing analysts of UN peacekeeping. A classic work that compares the key missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone.

  • Howard, Lise Morjé. UN Peacekeeping in Civil Wars. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    What are the sources of success and failure in UN peacekeeping? In assessing the ten most similarly mandated, complex, completed missions—four cases of success, six of failure—Howard argues that ground-level organizational learning is one of three key ingredients for success in peacekeeping.

  • Koops, Joachim, Norrie MacQueen, Thierry Tardy, and Paul D. Williams, eds. The Oxford Handbook of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    An authoritative and comprehensive overview of every UN peacekeeping operation from 1948 to 2013.

  • Moskos, Charles C., Jr. Peace Soldiers: The Sociology of a United Nations Military Force. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

    The first study to explore and explain the sociological and practical differences between war fighters and peacekeepers. Based on eight months of observational research in Cyprus.

  • Paris, Roland. At War’s End: Building Peace after Civil Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790836

    An important, critical assessment of fourteen peacekeeping missions. Argues that promoting swift political and economic liberalization can have detrimental long-term effects.

  • Walter, Barbara, Lise Morjé Howard, and V. Page Fortna. “The Extraordinary Relationship between Peacekeeping and Peace.” British Journal of Political Science (2020): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.1017/S000712342000023X

    A comprehensive overview of the last 15 years of peacekeeping literature, focusing on major quantitative findings.

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