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date: 05 May 2021

Introduction: Peacekeeping in the Twenty-First Century: 1999–2013

Abstract and Keywords

This section examines the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts during 1999–2013. It first discusses the impact of two major events on UN peacekeeping after 1999: the “war on terror” led by the United States in 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the financial crisis of 2008. It then considers three initiatives to reform the UN: the Brahimi Report of 2000, the development in 2008 of a new set of principles and guidelines for UN peacekeeping operations, and the New Horizon process aimed at improving UN peacekeeping. Finally, it analyses several trends and issues relevant to UN peacekeeping during the period 1999–2013, including the strong focus of peacekeeping missions on Africa, the emergence of broad and complex mandates that were supposed to be coordinated across the wider UN system of actors, and the UN’s increasing reliance on partnerships to help in its peacekeeping missions.

Keywords: United Nations, peacekeeping, war on terror, financial crisis, reform, Brahimi Report, New Horizon, Africa, partnerships

In the twenty-first century, UN peacekeeping reached new heights but also suffered from some serious failures, in large part because not all the problems evident in the 1990s were remedied. For the first time in its history, in 2010, the UN fielded over 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers, the vast majority of which were deployed to Africa. This period also saw a consistently high tempo of missions with the UN sustaining at least fifteen peacekeeping operations in the field every year except during 2003 (when it ran fourteen missions). Since 1999 the UN also allocated significantly more funds to its assessed peacekeeping budget than in all the previous years since 1948. While in 1999–2000 the annual cost of UN peacekeeping was $1.32bn, by 2008–9 it had risen to more than $7bn, peaking at $7.84bn in 2011–12. To put these figures in historical perspective, approximately 75 percent of the entire cost of UN peacekeeping since 1948 was spent between 1999 and 2013.1 UN peacekeeping also became more dangerous, with the deaths of over 1,500 peacekeepers from 1999 to 2013, that is, roughly one peacekeeper every three days and nearly half of all the UN peacekeepers killed since 1948.

In total, the UN deployed twenty-one new missions between 1999 and 2013, including the two operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (MONUC, chapter 56, and its successor, MONUSCO, chapter 68), and the two missions in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT 1 and 2, chapter 67). They began in 1999 with new missions in Kosovo (UNMIK, chapter 53), the DRC (MONUC, chapter 56), and East Timor (UNTAET, chapter 55), as well as a larger follow-on mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL, chapter 54). However, things did not start well. Major controversy surrounded the status of Kosovo after NATO’s military intervention in 1999 and the role that the UN should play in determining it. Similarly, violence around East Timor’s referendum on independence required the deployment of an Australian-led intervention force (INTERFET) to support the beleaguered UN political mission, UNAMET. In the DRC, MONUC’s planned deployment schedule was severely hampered by the lack of commitment to the Lusaka Accord displayed by the conflicting parties. Indeed, MONUC (p. 608) was unable to deploy in earnest until 2001 after the assassination of the DRC’s President Laurent Kabila. In early 2000, the UN mission in Sierra Leone also faced disaster when several hundred of its peacekeepers were taken hostage by rebels. This prompted Britain to deploy a parallel military force to the country which worked with the UN peacekeepers to relieve the situation.

At the time, these problems suggested the renaissance of UN peacekeeping might be short-lived and between 1999 and 2002 five UN missions ended: MONUA was withdrawn from Angola in February 1999 because the country’s civil war restarted (chapter 48); that same month UNPREDEP left Macedonia as a result of a Chinese veto on the mission’s renewal (chapter 41); in March 2000 the MIPONUH policing operation in Haiti was succeeded by a smaller civilian support mission (chapter 50); UNMOT was withdrawn from Tajikistan in May 2000 after successfully completing its observation tasks (chapter 40); and UNTAET was closed down in May 2002 with the independence of the new state of Timor-Leste (chapter 55).

UN peacekeeping after 1999 was also affected by the repercussions from two major events. The first was the declaration of the US-led “war on terror,” in 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan (starting in 2001) and Iraq (starting in 2003). The second was the financial crisis that plagued large parts of the world after 2008. These events severely restricted the contributions to UN peacekeeping made by most Western states and generated calls to place financial restraints on peacekeeping budgets. At the same time, UN peacekeeping saw a major increase in the number of personnel deployed from other parts of the world, most notably by African states, which were assisted by various external training programmes, most significantly the United States’ Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI).

Within the UN system, the period was dominated by attempts to implement three reform initiatives. The first was the Brahimi Report published in 2000, which offered many recommendations on how to enhance the effectiveness of peace operations in light of the failures of the 1990s. The second was the development in 2008 of a new set of principles and guidelines for UN peacekeeping operations. The third was the New Horizon process: a Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) initiative announced in 2009 with the aim of enhancing the development of policy, capabilities, planning, and field support for UN operations. Overall, these initiatives resulted in considerable improvement in the professionalization of the UN’s peacekeeping bureaucracy.2

Reforming Peacekeeping: From the Brahimi Report to the New Horizon Process

The Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations (2000), known as the Brahimi Report after its chairman, Lakhdar Brahimi, was tasked with finding ways to enhance the effectiveness of UN peace operations in light of the failures of the 1990s. It made over (p. 609) eighty recommendations in four broad areas. First, there needed to be improvements in the decision-making processes at UN headquarters. This, the Panel concluded, could be facilitated by a better and more rapid flow of information among Security Council members and the UN Secretariat. Second, the gap between ends and means had to be closed in order to ensure that missions would not be deployed with unrealistic mandates or without the means to properly implement them. This would require the Secretariat providing the Council with frank advice and the Council agreeing clear and realizable mandates. It would also require missions to be given the requisite resources, including having a financial package available before they were deployed.

The third cluster of recommendations focused on enhancing the rapid and effective deployment of missions by reforming the UN Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS) and providing the Secretariat with greater planning and deployable logistics and communications capabilities. While the Panel’s goal was to equip the DPKO with sufficient capacity to launch one new multidimensional operation each year, the early twenty-first century saw DPKO having to cope with the start-up or expansion of about three field missions per year.

Finally, Brahimi’s Panel emphasized the need for deployed UN forces to be effective on the ground. Here the Panel made two important points in order to avoid repeating the mistakes made in the 1990s in Rwanda, Bosnia, Angola, Somalia, and elsewhere. First, the basic principles of peacekeeping—consent, impartiality, and minimum use of force—should be reasserted. In circumstances where these conditions did not apply, the Panel noted: “There are many tasks which United Nations peacekeeping forces should not be asked to undertake and many places they should not go.”3 Second, once deployed, the military component of a peace operation should be robust enough to defend itself effectively, “confront the lingering forces of war and violence” and protect civilians under its care. “Peacekeepers who witness violence against civilians,” the Report found, “should be presumed to be authorised to stop it” within their means.4 Moreover, UN peacekeepers must have certain basic skills and comply with “best practices” common to all UN missions. This referred not only to rank and file personnel but also the need for better training for senior civilian personnel.

Although the UN membership—including all five of the Security Council’s Permanent Members—welcomed the Brahimi Report, the Secretariat found it difficult to persuade member states to implement its main recommendations. One particularly controversial issue was the way in which the Panel defined impartiality. Specifically, the Panel concluded:

that consent of the local parties, impartiality and use of force only in self-defence should remain the bedrock principles of peacekeeping. Experience shows, however, that in the context of intra-state/transnational conflicts, consent may be manipulated in many ways. Impartiality for United Nations operations must therefore mean adherence to the principles of the Charter: where one party to a peace agreement clearly and incontrovertibly is violating its terms, continued equal treatment of all parties by the United Nations can in the best case result in ineffectiveness and in the (p. 610) worst may amount to complicity with evil. No failure did more to damage the standing and credibility of United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.5

Shortly after the Report was released, the UN had the opportunity to attempt to implement some of its recommendations, especially in relation to rapid deployment. In July 2000, the Security Council authorized a force of approximately 4,000 soldiers and civilians to monitor a cessation of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Conceived as a traditional peacekeeping operation, UNMEE was mandated to monitor the Temporary Security Zone between the two states’ armed forces and to observe and verify their withdrawal (see chapter 57). In this sense, it stood out as one of the rare cases of traditional peacekeeping during this period. A few years later, however, the UN was required to deploy a number of large, multidimensional operations. In 2002, UNMISET was tasked with assisting the newly created state of Timor-Leste across a wide range of sectors (chapter 58), while the following year, UNMIL was deployed to keep the post-war peace process in Liberia on track (chapter 59). In 2004, however, there was a flurry of activity as UNOCI deployed to Côte d’Ivoire to support a peace process and the partition of the country (chapter 60), MINUSTAH went to Haiti to help maintain a semblance of stability after the incumbent president was ousted (chapter 61), and ONUB deployed to Burundi to assist in the peace process following the departure of an African Union mission (chapter 62). In 2005, the UN embarked on a new mission, UNMIS, to assist in the implementation of the so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end Sudan’s long-running civil war (chapter 63). In 2006, the Security Council authorized the new missions in Timor-Leste and Lebanon to cope with the deteriorating security conditions in both countries: UNMIT had to deal with the collapse of Timor’s fledgling security institutions (chapter 64), while UNIFIL II was created to deal with the repercussions of the war between Israel and Hezbollah (chapter 65).

Also in 2006, the Council authorized UNMIS to expand its mandate and deployment to the Darfur region of Sudan to relieve a struggling African Union mission which had deployed in mid-2004. However, Security Council Resolution 1706 (31 August 2006) authorizing the operation invited the consent of the Sudanese government. When the authorities in Khartoum refused, this meant that the resolution could not be implemented and no UN mission was deployed to Darfur. Instead a deal was brokered which saw the first ever African Union–United Nations hybrid operation, UNAMID, take over from the African Union mission in Sudan (AMIS) on 1 January 2008 (chapter 66). In September 2007 the UN deployed another mission, MINURCAT, to deal with the spillover effects of the war in Darfur in Chad and the Central African Republic (chapter 67).

In light of the surge in demand for UN peacekeeping, in 2007 the new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, proposed a more radical restructuring of the UN Secretariat to cope with the expansion and complexities of peace operations. Specifically, a separate Department of Field Support (DFS) was established, headed by (p. 611) an Under-Secretary-General with a remit to administer and manage field personnel, finances, and information/communications technology. DFS was intended to provide an institutional home for officials whose sole focus would be to find the logistical support and solve the supply chain issues necessary to make peace operations function efficiently. It soon became apparent that part of the new department’s role would entail providing something of a reality check to the UN Security Council’s political decisions by informing the Council of what was actually possible, given logistical constraints. This was also something the Brahimi Panel had emphasized when it noted that the Secretariat “must tell the Security Council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear, when formulating or changing mission mandates.”6

Another important aspect of these reforms was the creation of a separate office overseeing the “Rule of Law and Security Institutions” in recognition of the increasing importance of civilian policing and the rule of law in peace operations. This office would coordinate tasks, including managing and overseeing the judiciary, and running and reforming national prisons in areas of peacekeeping operations.

Also during 2007 the UN Secretariat worked on developing what was initially called the “Capstone doctrine,” although this label was subsequently dropped from the final document, United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines, which was published in early 2008. This document rearticulated the three core principles of peacekeeping and added three further ingredients that were vital to the success of missions. First, UN peacekeepers should only be deployed “with the consent of the main parties to the conflict” (emphasis added) and should be capable of engaging in effective consent management among the main parties.7 Second, “United Nations peacekeepers should be impartial in their dealings with the parties to the conflict, but not neutral in the execution of their mandate.”8 Following on from the Brahimi Report, the Principles and Guidelines document suggested that UN peacekeepers should act as impartial referees between the local conflict parties in an attempt to ensure their compliance with the relevant conflict settlement. Third, UN peacekeepers should continue to only use force in self-defense and defense of the mandate. As the document emphasized, “United Nations peacekeeping operations are not an enforcement tool. However, it is widely understood that they may use force at the tactical level, with the authorization of the Security Council, if acting in self-defense and defense of the mandate.”9 In addition to these core principles, the Principles and Guidelines document also listed three factors that were critical to the success of operations.10 Specifically, UN operations should be seen as legitimate by important local and international audiences, they should be credible—able to rapidly deploy, be properly resourced, and able to deter spoilers and manage expectations—and they should promote national and local ownership of the peace process.11

The next major reform initiative for UN peacekeeping came in mid-2009 with the release of a document called A New Partnership Agenda: Charting A New Horizon for UN Peacekeeping.12 As the title suggested, the effort was focused on ensuring that there were effective and coordinated partnerships between the various actors both within and (p. 612) outside the UN system that were required to provide peace operations. Specifically, the paper was meant to kick-start a process along three dimensions:

  • To create “a shared vision of the purpose of UN peacekeeping and a more inclusive approach to designing, planning and managing UN peacekeeping missions.”

  • To agree on “approaches and capacities required to implement this vision on the ground and to deliver critical tasks, as well as manage crises.”

  • To ensure a “collective dedication to building and sustaining the right capabilities for UN peacekeeping into the future, by examining new ways of drawing on global resources and flexible, innovative measures to deploy, support and sustain peacekeepers in the field.”13

In addition, the various partners for peacekeeping were encouraged to develop a common set of goals in all of these areas.

In practice, attempts to implement the New Horizon process coalesced around four main issue areas, which at the time of writing remain works in progress:

  • Policy development: clarifying the critical roles and responsibilities of peacekeepers and developing practical guidance in specific areas, including the protection of civilians, peacebuilding roles of peacekeepers, and effective and robust response to threats.

  • Capability development: filling critical capability gaps in peacekeeping missions in a forward-looking and sustainable manner and ensuring peacekeepers are prepared, equipped, and enabled to deliver against reasonable performance expectations.

  • Global field support strategy: transforming service delivery in the field through efficient and effective support arrangements and improved accountability and resource stewardship.

  • Planning and oversight: bolstering consultations among peacekeeping stakeholders and ensuring more effective and inclusive arrangements for planning, management, and oversight of missions.

In light of these reforms it is notable that the process of deploying the UN’s subsequent missions generally saw significant improvements. MONUC’s transition into MONUSCO in mid-2010 at the behest of President Joseph Kabila went smoothly and even pushed back against some of Kabila’s initial demands (chapter 68). The deployment of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei, Sudan (UNISFA, chapter 69) and the transition from UNMIS to UNMISS (chapter 70) after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011 also went well. Although the transition from the African force in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN’s operation (MINUSMA) was marred by a series of political controversies, the logistics of the handover in the field worked relatively well (chapter 72). And even the ill-advised deployment of the military observer mission to Syria (UNSMIS) occurred relatively quickly, although the mission struggled to have any impact on the ground (chapter 71).

(p. 613) However, it was also apparent that the UN was struggling to meet its peacekeeping commitments and that divisions had begun to resurface between member states over the division of labour of meeting the UN’s peacekeeping responsibilities. In mid-2011 this led the UN Secretary-General to warn that while “those who mandate [UN] missions [the Security Council], those who contribute uniformed personnel [principally states from the global South] and those who are major funders [principally the OECD states] are separate groups … tensions and divisions are inevitable, with potentially negative impacts on our operations.”14

Key Issues

The period from 1999 to 2013 was characterized by several important trends and issues. First, it was notable that the political geography of these deployments was heavily focused on Africa. Fourteen operations were deployed into some of the continent’s most difficult terrain, compared to three missions in Southeast Asia (all of them in Timor-Leste), two missions in the Middle East, and one each in Central America and Europe.

A second key trend was towards broad and complex mandates that were supposed to be, in UN jargon, “integrated”—the organization’s term for coordination across the wider UN system of actors, not just among peacekeepers themselves. With the exception of UNMEE’s monitoring role between the Ethiopians and Eritreans, the operations created during this period were multidimensional—embracing military, police, and civilian personnel—and were given complex and multifaceted mandates. These mandates generally tasked the peacekeepers with supporting the post-settlement authorities in extending and consolidating their authority and capabilities across a wide range of sectors from reconstituting the rule of law, assisting security sector reform, bolstering democratic institutions, and protecting civilians.

This last task—civilian protection—was an innovation of this period inasmuch as from 1999 almost all the UN’s new multidimensional operations were explicitly given civilian protection as one of their mandated tasks. In some cases, notably MONUC in the DRC and MINURCAT in Chad and the Central African Republic, it was supposed to be the mission’s priority. In all cases, however, these mandates came with several important caveats: it was only civilians who were facing the “imminent threat of physical violence” who were to be protected; the peacekeepers were only to take responsibility in their areas of deployment and its immediate environs; and only if the tasks could be conducted within the peacekeepers’ existing capabilities.15 These mandates were controversial for a variety of reasons including their impact on the mission’s impartiality, the difficulty of meeting the expectations of the local populations in need of protection, and the lack of relevant training and capabilities provided to the peacekeepers themselves.

(p. 614) A related trend was the increasing calls, especially after 2008, from within DPKO and some members of the C-34 for a more “robust” conception of peacekeeping in which personnel were better equipped and could use force effectively in defence of mission mandates, including to protect civilians from “spoiler” groups. Although these calls generated some resistance, especially from within the Non-Aligned Movement, both the 2008 Principles and Guidelines document and a new DPKO concept note on “robust peacekeeping” were evidence of moves in this direction.16 Some Western states justified this push as a necessary part of UN peace operations becoming militarily credible and also, partly as a way of ensuring massacres like Srebrenica did not happen again. In the field, several missions had their mandates strengthened in this manner, including MONUC-MONUSCO, UNOCI, UNIFIL II, MINUSTAH, and MINUSMA. The culmination of this trend came in the DRC in March 2013 when an “Intervention Brigade” comprising some 3,000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi was integrated into MONUSCO in response to the latest round of rebel attacks on the city of Goma in the east of the country. The Brigade pursued a number of proactive offensive operations against the M23 rebels, which led to their capitulation in November.

A fourth key trend during this period was the increasing diversity of the UN’s peacekeepers. This diversity came in several senses. As noted, not only was a much greater percentage of the UN’s peacekeepers drawn from Africa, but these missions had a much larger police presence than operations in previous decades. Whereas at the start of the twenty-first century the UN had deployed about 2,000–3,000 police officers in its missions, by 2010 there were approximately 15,000 police on mission. The period was also notable for the creation of formed police units, or FPUs—national contingents of between 120–140 police officers capable of conducting important rule of law functions such as crowd control and public order tasks. Finally, this period saw a big relative increase in the number of female peacekeepers, both at the level of rank and file and senior leadership. In relation to senior leadership, the period from 1999 to 2013 saw 33 of the 37 occasions when women served as either head or deputy head of a UN peacekeeping operation since 1948.17 In terms of rank and file personnel, the number of female peacekeepers climbed from around 1 percent of personnel at the start of the 2000s to nearly 4 percent, or some 4,000 individuals by the end of 2013. Although this falls well short of the targets set by the UN Secretary-General, the presence of greater numbers of women in the UN’s missions as well as increased efforts to adopt gender-sensitive perspectives on issues of war and peacebuilding had many positive impacts on the UN’s operations in the field.

The final trend noted here was the increasing reliance on what can be called “partnership peacekeeping,”18 that is, the UN adopting various collaborative relationships and mechanisms with regional arrangements and other actors. This was a worldwide phenomenon but it was particularly prevalent in Africa where the African Union and the continent’s Regional Economic Communities engaged in a large number of collaborative peacekeeping endeavors.19 These collaborative relationships assumed a variety (p. 615) of forms. In some cases the UN missions worked alongside bilateral forces—such as UNOCI and French troops in Cote d’Ivoire; UNAMSIL and British troops in Sierra Leone, or MONUC and EU troops in the DRC. At other times, the partnership was sequential with UN missions following a previous regional deployment—as in UNAMID taking over from AMIS in Darfur, or MINURCAT taking over from the EU force in Chad and the Central African Republic. Sometimes, the collaboration was primarily with local partners, as in MONUC’s decision to directly supply certain elements of the Congolese army to defeat several rebel groups operating in eastern DRC. Alternatively, the partnership was largely based on the UN providing financial and logistics support to a regional operation—as in UN support to AMIS in Darfur or the UN Support Office to the African Union mission in Somalia (UNSOA). While these partnerships did not always run smoothly, by the mid-2000s they had become increasingly common, particularly in Africa.


(2.) For a good overview see Thorsten Benner, Stephan Mergenthaler, Philipp Rotmann, The New World of UN Peace Operations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(3.) Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (New York: General Assembly, A/55/305 S/2000/809), para. 1.

(4.) Report of the Panel, A/55/305 S/2000/809, para. 62.

(5.) Report of the Panel, A/55/305 S/2000/809, para. 48.

(6.) Report of the Panel, A/55/305 S/2000/809, para. 64d.

(7.) United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Principles and Guidelines (UN DPKO/DFS, 2008), 31.

(10.) It was notable that earlier drafts of the document had legitimacy, credibility, and local ownership listed as three of the six core principles of peacekeeping. However, after stiff resistance from member states reluctant to augment the traditional principles of peacekeeping, the final version downgraded these three elements from “principles” to “other success factors.” See United Nations Peacekeeping Operations Principles and Guidelines (Capstone Doctrine Draft 3) (UN DPKO: 29 June 2007).

(14.) Speech to the UN Security Council, 26 August 2011, at <>.

(15.) See Victoria Holt and Glyn Taylor with Max Kelly, Protecting Civilians in the Context of UN Peacekeeping Operations (New York: UN DPKO/OCHA, November 2009).

(16.) DPKO-DFS Concept Note on Robust Peacekeeping (New York: UN Office of Military Affairs, 2009).

(17.) Sahana Dharmapuri, Just A Numbers Game? Increasing Women’s Participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations (New York: IPI Providing for Peacekeeping Project, no. 4, June 2013), 4.

(18.) The phrase is taken from Norrie MacQueen’s, Peacekeeping and the International System (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006).

(19.) For an overview see Paul D. Williams, Peace Operations in Africa: Lessons Learned Since 2000 (Washington, DC: National Defense University, Africa Security Brief no. 25, July 2013).