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Brussels, noviembre 2007

Classical peacekeeping and monitoring missions: character, goals, activities, outcomes, impact and conditions for success

Character and goals

Peacekeeping is usually considered to have emerged after World War II, although there were predecessors in the time of the League of Nations (1). As it is not mentioned explicitly in the Charter of the United Nations, peacekeeping, understood as the monitoring of cease-fires and buffer zones, has been described as being in the middle between Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 missions (Dag Hammersköld termed it “Chapter Six and a Half”) because it is said to have as much in common with peaceful settlement of disputes (Chapter 6) as with enforcement of UN decisions (Chapter 7). Peacekeeping troops were usually structured around light infantry battalions, not bringing heavy armour (e.g. usually no tanks or missiles), and consisted of up to a few thousand soldiers (2).

Classical peacekeeping missions were governed by five principles (3):

  • 1. Consent of the parties to the dispute for the establishment of the mission;

  • 2. Non-use of force except in self-defence (4);

  • 3. Voluntary contribution of troop contingents from smaller, neutral countries or middle powers (5);

  • 4. Impartiality;

  • 5. Day-to-day control of the operation by the Secretary-General.

The period of classical peace-keeping is considered to have lasted from 1948 or 1956 (6) to 1987 with a gap between 1966 and 1973 (7), when no new missions were deployed. Usually 13 (8) peacekeeping missions are counted in that time; five of these missions are still operational: UNFICYP (since 1964) in Cyprus, UNTSO (since 1948), UNDOF (since 1974) and UNIFIL (since 1978) in the Middle East, and UNMOGIP (since 1949) in India/Pakistan. There were also a few new missions created in the second half of the 1990s, including UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone and MONUC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The overall objective of these missions has been to discourage a renewal of military conflict and promote an environment in which the dispute can be resolved.

In the 1990s there has been one preventive deployment of a peacekeeping mission - UNPROFOR III - which in March 1995 became UNPREDEP. Although in composition (presence of a US battalion) UNPREDEP belongs to later generations of peacekeeping, its mandate centred around monitoring the border between Yugoslavia and Macedonia, with the possibilities of Yugoslav troops attacking Macedonia and unrest within Macedonia in mind (9).


The principal operational military objectives of traditional peacekeeping centred on the creation and occupation of a buffer zone to separate the parties in conflict (Israel - Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon). The peacekeepers usually monitor the voluntary withdrawal of the armies out of this buffer zone, then occupy and monitor it. The monitoring involves patrolling, passive monitoring by technical equipment (radar, etc), and sometimes the use of planes and Marines. In regard to these activities, they are much akin to observation missions (10).

But classical peacekeeping missions usually entail more than just watching military movements: they include also:

  • 1. Investigating ceasefire violations and other incidents;

  • 2. Stabilising measures, such as brokering local commanders’ agreements over demarcation of boundaries.

  • 3. Defusing incidents by means such as brokering a ceasefire when firing has broken out;

  • 4. Making possible communication between parties with no diplomatic relations and

  • 5. Engaging in peacebuilding activities. UNFICYP, on Cyprus, facilitates meetings of different groups from both sides (trade unions, media, women, youth, professionals) by providing them with space and protection to meet in a hotel at Nicosia, and even sets up TV-discussions of representatives from both sides in the hotel. UNFICYP facilitates contacts within the communities by regularly visiting enclaves on both sides (11), and helps the population maintain contact with their relatives on the other side by organising visits (in Cyprus between 90 and 1 700 persons participated in each of these visits). In addition, most classical peacekeeping missions include humanitarian activities: UNFICYP has engaged in the distribution of books to Greek Cypriots in the Northern area, presses Turkish Cypriots to allow burials of Greek residents in a certain area, supports the resumption of agricultural activities in the buffer zone, provides emergency medical services, assists displaced persons, assists isolated communities in maintaining their supplies of water and electricity, and for a long time provided the only - and much used - phone connection between the sides.

  • 6. In other peacekeeping mission UN peacekeepers have assisted in the exchange of prisoners of war, helped to repair local infrastructure and cleared minefields (12).

Outcomes and impact

While the immediate outcomes (such as cases of violent demonstrations or other incidents in the Cyprus buffer zone which UNFICYP dissolved) are at least partly captured in the mission reports, the longer-term impact is more difficult to measure, and it seems that scientifically sound research on such missions is not overabundant (13). Often assumptions seem to replace proof: In the literature on peacekeeping the fact that a war has not broken out again is often attributed to the peacekeeping mission’s presence. But researchers dealing with political negotiations might attribute the same fact to other events, such as successful mediation or negotiations, or a change in the world political situation. A researcher with good knowledge of the situation on Cyprus told me when I asked him about his opinion on the peacekeeping mission there: “Well, you know, they are not really needed. The Cypriots are so divided, they would maintain the buffer zone by themselves.” And there are conflicts where no peacekeeping troops are present but still a ceasefire agreement is being kept, as in the case of Nagorny Karabakh, a region disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where a ceasefire has now held for almost 7 years with only a few Russian military observers present.

What must not be forgotten, however, is that the monitoring function of peacekeeping missions may have a de-escalating effect beyond the immediate situation on the ground. In the spring of 1995 the rumour started that Serb units were concentrated along the border with Macedonia. UNPREDEP was able to confirm, based on its observations, that this was not so, and thereby contributed to the de-escalation of the situation (14).

Classical peacekeeping missions have never aimed at solving a conflict – insofar as criticisms of classical peacekeeping argue that they “did not solve the conflict”, such criticism is misleading because this has never been their intention (15). The best that may be expected of them is that they preserve the cease-fire in order to give time to politicians to work out a sustainable solution to the conflict (16).

Still, the lack of an exit strategy and of potential for conflict transformation is an issue taken more and more seriously by the UN itself (17).

Conditions for successful peacekeeping

It seems that the four main conditions are:

  • 1. Both parties in a dispute agree (even if reluctantly) to accept a cease-fire,

  • 2. Both parties consent to the presence of the peacekeepers, and

  • 3. Are willing to cooperate with them (18).

  • 4. There is a clear physical separation of the parties in conflict (a condition difficult to meet in situations of internal war.) (19)

Laurence (1999) lists additional conditions for success of peacekeeping missions:

  • 5. Broad agreement within the Security Council is essential. The operation should be clearly UN commanded or sanctioned to avoid objections that states might have to foreign troops being stationed on their soil;

  • 6. The peacekeepers must be seen to be impartial, and must be prepared to bring pressure to bear when either party violates an agreement (20);

  • 7. Any use of force must be based on principles of self-defence (21).

If these conditions are not met, the peacekeepers have little chance to fulfil their mandate. UNIFIL in Lebanon has never been able to prevent Israeli attacks in Lebanon, nor has UNFICYP in Cyprus prevented the occupation of Northern Cyprus by Turkey in 1974, nor was UNPROFOR I in Croatia able to stop the Croatian Army from forcefully reoccupying the UN Protected Zones (UNPA) in the Eastern parts of Croatia which was held by Serbian separatists from 1992 to 1995.

Among the defining criteria of classical peacekeeping (see above there is one element that might need further consideration - the identity of the troop-contributing states. The argument that middle states with the economic capacity to mount peacekeeping but without strong political or economical interests in the region are better suited to peacekeeping because they find it easier to maintain their neutrality in the conflict in question, is persuasive at first glance. On the other hand, in the case of UNPROFOR III/UNPREDEP in Macedonia many people think the presence of a US battalion was important exactly because it signalled an American military and political interest (22). That means that there are contradictory experiences in regard to the identity of the peacekeepers: On the one hand the acceptance as non-partisan of classical peacekeeping missions seems to have derived at least partly from the fact that they came from countries which were not considered as having a stake in the conflict at hand. On the other hand, there are indications that the presence of powerful players may lend credibility to a peacekeeping mission, specifically when its function is more that of a symbolic deterrent than of an actual military power with a mandate of enforcement.


  • (1) : After World War I, multinational military bodies were used to establish and monitor the new European frontiers that had been agreed upon in peace treaties. Specifically, the international administration of the Saar (Germany) between 1920 and 1935 is a clear analogy to peacekeeping missions after WW II. In the time of the preparation of a referendum to decide on the future political status of the region, British, Swedish, Italian and Dutch troops (3.300 men) were deployed to prevent violence (see Ramsbotham/Woodhouse 1999:xi, Laurence 1999:5f).

  • (2) : Hillen 1998:79

  • (3) : Ramsbotham/Woodhouse 1999:xi, Daniel/Hayes 1999, Urquhart 1990, Fetherston 1994:13, Weiss 1993:179. These five principles were laid down by the then Secretary-General Hammarskjöld and Canadian diplomat Lester Pearson.

  • (4) : Hillen (1998:101) quotes a report that in the beginning of UNEF II (the mission which was to separate the Israeli and Egyptian armies in 1973) Finnish peacekeepers even used nonviolent methods to prevent advancing Israeli forces: They put down their guns, linked arms and challenged the forces to barrel through them. Other peacekeepers allegedly were involved in fistfights with soldiers.

  • (5) : States such as Canada, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Chile. See Hillen 1998:22

  • (6) : 1948 the first (un-armed) UN observer mission UNTSO was deployed to the Middle East with 100 observers. But it was the 1956 Suez crisis which led to the deployment of the first real peace-keeping forces (UNEF I) with 6.000 soldiers. See Ramsbotham/Woodhouse 1999, Fetherston 1994, Weiss 1993, Kühne 1993, Kühne 2000 for the history of peacekeeping.

  • (7) : The reason was a deadlock in the Security Council after the Soviet Union had threatened to leave the UN during the Congo Mission. (Fetherston 1994:13f)

  • (8) : Hillen (1998:22 pp.) counts only eight altogether until 1998 the others he puts into the category of Observer Missions: UNEF I and UNEF II (Suez, 1956-67 and 1973-1979), UNSF (West Irian, 1962-63), UNFICYP (Cyprus, since 1964), UNDOF (Golan, since 1974), UNIFIL (Lebanon, since 1978), UNPREDEP (Macedonia, 1995-99), UNOSOM I (Somalia, 1992-93.

  • (9) : Woodhouse/Ramsbotham 1999; Moeller 1997

  • (10) : Hillen 1998:100f

  • (11) : There are 432 Greek Cypriots and 159 Maronites in the Northern area, and 310 Turkish Cypriots in the South. Source: Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus for the period from 1 June to 27 November 2000; Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus for the period from 30 November 1999 to 31 May 2000; Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus for the period from 10 June to 27 November 1999. These and earlier reports can be found under:

  • (12) : Hillen 1998:104f

  • (13) : What should the criteria for evaluating the impact of peacekeeping missions? From the criteria Weiss (1998:32f) has proposed for complex missions, reduction of number of casualties/fatalities is one. Another might be whether or not the fact that the number of violent incidents went down over the years of the presence of a peacekeeping force indicated that there was reduced willingness from the sides in conflict to use violence against each other, and whether this reduction was attributed by people in the conflict themselves to the presence of the peacekeepers. Another criterion could be if the politicians involved on both sides credited the peacekeeping mission with having been an important factor in the peace process.

  • (14) : Woodhouse/Ramsbotham 1999:150

  • (15) : Kühne (2000:1355) suggests that the reason is that during the Cold War the superpowers were only interested in freeing conflicts, not in solving them.

  • (16) : Laurence 99:18. In Cyprus, the UN Secretary-General is conducting mediation between the two sides, but there has been little improvement in the situation.

  • (17) : Brahimi Report, No 17

  • (18) : Laurence 99:18. John Mackinlay (1989:230) noted: “The important factor of success in a peacekeeping operation seems to be the effective nature of the political agreement which underpins the deployment and the task of the peacekeeping force itself. If this agreement fails to provide for a workable armistice, cease-fire, or discontinuation of hostilities, then, no matter how well conceived and excellently conducted the peace operations may be, the peace force on its own cannot forestall or improve upon the conditions which may lead to its failure.” (quoted after Hillen 1999:85)

  • (19) : The failure of UNPROFOR II in Bosnia to protect the safe zones in Eastern Bosnia (e.g. Srebenica) is explained as mainly a lack of the fourth condition plus the problems the peacekeepers had maintaining their neutrality. See Gordon 2001.

  • (20) : “Peacekeepers are instruments of diplomacy - not of war. They are part of an agreement between parties that have been in conflict and are protected by that agreement. They operate in the open as an expression of their international neutrality - this gives them acceptability and great strength. When they are used for enforcement, they lose their neutrality, are stripped of their political protection, and the wavering international support for whatever new objectives are chosen will make the command weak and vulnerable.” . (Sanderson 1994:24)

  • (21) : Self defence has been interpreted since 1964 to include use of force against armed persons who attempted to prevent peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.

  • (22) : Woodhouse/Ramsbotham 1999:150