Devolution and Future of United Nations Peacekeeping

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Devolution and Future of United Nations Peacekeeping


He Yin[i]


Peacekeeping is an important approach for the United Nations (UN) to maintain international peace and security. Since the first UN peacekeeping operation in 1948, the philosophy and methods of UN peacekeeping have been changing. Such changes, however, are not always the result of evolution. After decades of evolution, UN peacekeeping has undergone a marked devolution especially in the last decade, which is manifested primarily by situations where peacekeeping operations have deviated from their basic principles, and therefore there is no peace to keep and no chance to withdraw in some areas. With this devolution, any improvements at the operational level such as the use of advanced technology and equipment, the strengthening of intelligence capacity-building, and the conduct of robust operations could hardly compensate for the shortcomings of UN peacekeeping at the political level. Therefore, studying this devolution and its reasons is of major theoretical and practical significance for UN peacekeeping reforms and China’s better support for and participation in peacekeeping affairs.


Devolution of UN Peacekeeping


Inter-state conflict was a major factor affecting international peace and security during the Cold War. The United Nations played a limited role in conflict management in this period, often by deploying peacekeepers and/or military observers and by monitoring the implementation of a signed ceasefire/armistice agreement to buy time for a political settlement of the conflict. Peacekeeping operations during the Cold War were known as traditional peacekeeping, and their core mission, as Johan Galtung put it, was to maintain a negative peace featuring the absence of violence.[ii] The UN strictly adhered to three principles to avoid conflicts, namely consent of the parties, impartiality, and no use of force except for self-defense.

After the Cold War, there was no more confrontation between superpowers, and the major powers at the UN Security Council were easier to reach compromises than before. The UN thus played a bigger role in international conflict management. At the same time, intra-state conflicts over ethnical, racial and religious identity issues have become a major factor affecting international peace and security. A new paradigm in UN peacekeeping came into being, that is, peacekeeping while peacebuilding. It helps host countries to address root causes of conflicts for a lasting peace, or positive peace.[iii] For an effective interference in complex intra-state conflicts, the UN has become more flexible in practice and, when necessary, delegated tasks of peacemaking featuring peace enforcement to regional or subregional organizations to better avoid direct involvement in conflicts.

After half a century of exploration, the UN had established an institutional framework for conflict management by the beginning of the 21st century with four elements: conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. We can easily find that UN peacekeeping has followed a linear evolution from traditional peacekeeping focusing on maintaining negative peace during the Cold War to a multidimensional way which combines peacekeeping and peacebuilding in the post-Cold War era. The evolution reflects the UN’s exploration and innovation in conflict management at different times and has energized UN peacekeeping. In the second decade of the 21st century, however, UN peacekeeping has been off track towards devolution mainly in the following two aspects.

First, security operations have replaced political operations as a primary approach of UN peacekeeping. The greatest innovation of UN peacekeeping is the transformation of troops, the conventional instrument of war, into an instrument of peace. Military power is merely an adjunct to political operations in peacekeeping. The UN intervened in a civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the early 1960s by military means and attempted to disarm local warlords forcibly in Somalia in the early 1990s, but both operations failed. The lessons therein reminded the UN and the international community that peacekeeping operations should be fundamentally political, which was true for most traditional peacekeeping operations during the Cold War and even multidimensional peacekeeping operations after the Cold War.[iv] However, since the establishment of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in 2010, UN peacekeeping has increasingly been oriented towards security operations.

Stabilization was previously a military concept of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which originated with the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia in 1995 to achieve peace by coercive military means. Although the UN established a stabilization mission in Haiti as early as May 2004, its mandate was to build a police system and maintain social stability in Haiti, thus remaining the political nature of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In July 2010, the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) was renamed the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), marking the formal introduction of a NATO military concept into UN peacekeeping. In accordance with the Security Council Resolution 1925, the MONUSCO may use all necessary means to carry out its mandates of protecting civilians and supporting the DRC government in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.[v] In particular, the MONUSCO conducted more security operations when it started to disarm anti-government armed groups in eastern DRC after the establishment of Force Intervention Brigade in March 2013.

In 2013 and 2014, the UN successively set stabilization missions in Mali and in the Central African Republic (CAR), two countries engulfed in civil strife. In Mali, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) helped the weak central government in Bamako to advance its authority in the northeastern region where tribal separatists and terrorists were entrenched. In the Central African Republic, the local UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA) helped to combat illegal armed groups and warmongers hiding in Bangui.

UN peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and Abyei (a disputed region along the borders between Sudan and South Sudan) are also, to some extent, stabilization missions. Following the independence of South Sudan in 2011, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was established for the country’s capacity-building via peacebuilding. After the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in December 2013, many South Sudanese with complex political backgrounds flocked to UN camps seeking protection. The UN Mission in South Sudan was then forced to change and abandon its peacebuilding mandate, instead establishing protection of civilians (PoC) sites. Due to the prolonged political and military stalemate between the two parties in South Sudan, the PoC sites became a political sanctuary jangling nerves of the country’s peace process. It can only buy time for a political solution to the civil war by maintaining stability in the camps. In the disputed Abyei region, the UN established an Interim Security Force (UNISFA) in 2011 in the hope of maintaining stability and protecting civilians under imminent threat of violence through security means.

The above five stabilization missions, though at varying degrees, not only allow for the use of “all necessary means” to accomplish their mandates, but the use of force has become a common and even first option rather than a last resort. The UN has taken some extraordinary measures to improve the capacity of stabilization missions in security operations. For example, the Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC is equipped with heavy weapons such as artillery, shoulder-fired launchers and Falcon gunships. Western European countries led by the Netherlands have brought NATO military intelligence and techniques to the MINUSMA in Mali and established an All Source Information Fusion Unit (ASIFU) equipped with Apache gunships and high-definition imaging drones, as well as specialized intelligence personnel. These operations are large in scale, with 76.7 percent of all peacekeepers in the 13 current operations.[vi] Thus, UN peacekeeping has been more about conducting security operations since 2010.

John Karlsrud, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, points out that these stabilization missions are given peace enforcement mandates instead of peacekeeping operations, suggesting a war paradigm in UN peacekeeping.[vii] In his view, the two vital factors determining the nature of a peacekeeping operation are whether the use of force is targeted and whether it becomes the norm.[viii] While many peacekeeping operations prior to 2010 mandated the use of force, they rarely target the application of force at any specific party. Even robust security operations only took a short time, remaining the political nature of UN peacekeeping.[ix] The UN stabilization missions in the DRC, Mali and the CAR, on the other hand, have not only clarified the target for the use of force, but often took a longer time for their robust operations.

Second, there is no peace to keep. According to the history of UN peacekeeping, a key prerequisite for a successful peacekeeping operation is that there is peace to keep. In other words, basic peace is required. Peace in post-conflict countries is usually created through mediation and conciliation, and sometimes even by peace enforcement. The desired outcome would be the signing of a peace agreement between parties to the conflict and their agreement to UN peacekeeping operations. But since 2010, there has been no peace to keep in all of the five peacekeeping operations in the DRC, Mali, the CAR, South Sudan and Abyei.

In the DRC, the competition for power and resources has kept the country in a civil war for the past two decades. More than 70 armed groups, including the March 23 Movement (M23), the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are active in the eastern provinces.[x] They possess modern weapons and mostly refuse to join the peace process. The MONUSCO is actually caught up in intra-state conflicts with a complex international context.[xi] In Mali, the UN for the first time deployed peacekeeping operations in an area under the scourge of terrorism with tribal separatists and the branch of two major terrorist organizations, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, in the Sahel region of Africa. The CAR has seen an increase in violence by armed groups, militias and perpetrators, and the MINUSCA can hardly improve the country’s security situation. In South Sudan where a civil war looms, the UNMISS is struggling to maintain stability in the PoC sites. In Abyei, the competition for oil resources between Sudan and South Sudan lies behind ethnic violence, to which the UNISFA is of limited relevance in responding.

There is no peace to keep for the above peacekeeping operations, mainly because they have neither waited until a resolution of conflicts nor obtained the unanimous consent of the parties to conflicts, thus seriously deviating from the two peacekeeping principles of consent and impartiality. Scholars have pointed out that UN stabilization missions were originally deployed to support legitimate governments against insurgents and thus to help host countries restore order and protect vulnerable civilians from violence.[xii] The status quo in many countries and regions in conflict, however, is more complicated. The turmoil in the DRC, Mali and the CAR has complex national and international causes, and efforts of UN stabilization missions in peacekeeping will inevitably be misinterpreted as an impediment to the pursuit of their legitimate interests.

Peace enforcement operations have not only failed to implement the mandates to stop conflicts and protect civilians, but also exposed peacekeepers to high security risks. Practice shows that the more robust a peacekeeping operation is, the more peacekeepers lose their lives due to hostile acts. Three peaks in the number of peacekeepers killed since 1948 are all associated with peace enforcement operations: the first two occurred in the early 1960s and early 1990s during peace enforcement operations in the DRC and Somalia;[xiii] the third peak is associated with UN operations with stabilization mandates in Africa since 2010.[xiv] Unlike the first two peaks which ended after two to three years with the termination of peace enforcement operations, the third one has lasted about a decade so far. This suggests that peacekeeping in areas with no peace to keep can be an institutionalized practice in UN peacekeeping.

The lack of necessary security for peacekeepers has affected the UN stabilization missions’ morale and the political will of some troop-contributing countries to obey UN orders, leading to a rare phenomenon in UN peacekeeping—peacekeepers are often forced to huddle in heavily-guarded camps. In the DRC and Mali, peacekeepers are often under terrorist attack even in their camps. In South Sudan, peacekeepers can only patrol in limited areas near their camps, and even then, their daily peacekeeping activities are still challenged by both government forces and armed opposition groups. These facts show that UN peacekeeping is losing a basic function—to demonstrate the presence of peace. Whether in traditional peacekeeping operations whose mandate is to monitor ceasefire agreements, or in multidimensional peacekeeping operations with peacebuilding as the priority, there is a similar picture: peacekeepers wear blue berets or helmets and move freely around the mission area in white vehicles with black letters, bringing hope for peace to post-conflict countries and peoples. However, when the visible markings of peacekeepers are no longer a guarantee of security and their movement is restricted, UN peacekeeping has been captured in serious devolution.


Reasons for Devolution in UN Peacekeeping


Peacekeeping is an important mechanism in global security governance. Its concepts and methodologies are affected by multiple factors, including the world’s power structure, the system of international institutions, the form of conflicts, and the UN’s exploration in practice. Over the past decade, UN peacekeeping has undergone a devolution from peacekeeping before peacebuilding to peacemaking before peacekeeping for four main reasons.

First, the new wave of hotspots and conflicts in Africa pose a serious challenge to the UN in its conflict management. The security situation in Africa from 2010 onwards has been the most volatile since the 1990s. In North Africa, countries previously in a rather stable situation, such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, submerged into civil war during the “Arab Spring” movement, among which Libya was plunged into regime change and prolonged civil war with forceful intervention by the US and other Western countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, there have been years of unresolved conflicts in Somalia, the DRC and the Darfur region in Sudan, while coups and civil strife have occurred in Mali, the CAR and Burkina Faso. As noted earlier, peace has not come to South Sudan since its independence, and ethnic conflicts continue in Abyei. In addition, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, the world’s two major terrorist organizations, are competing to expand their geographic reach in Africa. Boko Haram, a local terrorist organization, is active in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Niger and Chad. It is not difficult to conclude that this wave of conflicts and hotspots in Africa share the following features: large in number, involving more than ten African countries; wide in distribution, including the Maghreb, the Sahel belt and the Great Lakes region; and varied in the type of conflicts, ranging from inter-state to intra-state conflicts and even terrorist activities.

Experience in the first decade of the 21st century shows the UN needs strong support from the international community to play a role in managing conflicts in Africa, which, however, has waned significantly since 2010. On the one hand, Africa has limited capacity for conflict management. The 2008 financial crisis impacted African economies at the lower end of the global industrial chain. The then low price of mineral resources including oil had put several export-dependent economies such as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia, who have long played a leading role in regional security affairs, in financial difficulties with less spending on security matters. Against this backdrop, there has been a lack of will and capacity of the African Union (AU) and several subregional organizations to engage in conflict management, not to mention cooperation with UN peacekeeping in Africa. On the other hand, the European Union (EU) is less active in handling conflicts in Africa. From 2000 to 2010, the EU was proactive in African security matters: in 2003 the EU joined the France-led peacekeeping operation in eastern DRC, paving way for the establishment of the MONUSCO; in 2008 more than ten EU member states sent 3,700 peacekeepers to the areas in Chad and the CAR that border the Darfur region in Sudan to vigorously support UN peacekeeping in Darfur. However, the setbacks in European integration have eroded the EU’s willingness to tackle extraterritorial conflicts. It is particularly difficult for the UN to handle the new wave of conflicts and hotspots without the support of burden-sharing partners such as the African Union and the European Union.

Second, the devolution of UN peacekeeping is heavily affected by the rise of new interventionism. During the Cold War, interventionism did not significantly affect the UN peacekeeping mechanism except for the UN’s strong intervention in the DRC’s civil war in the 1960s. With their dominant position after the end of the Cold War, the US and other Western countries began to frequently promote interventionism based on the UN peacekeeping mechanism in the name of humanitarianism. After the UN peace enforcement operation in Somalia failed in the early 1990s, humanitarian intervention gradually faded out of UN peacekeeping discourse and practice for its rather broad scope. However, the Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990s triggered profound reflection by the UN and the international community.[xv] Since then, new interventionism has emerged in the peacekeeping mechanism.[xvi] In 1999, protection of civilians was first included in the mandate for UN peacekeeping as the Security Council authorized a peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was adopted in 2005 at the UN World Summit, authorizing intervention by force should peaceful means be inadequate to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.[xvii]

However, the R2P concept was increasingly questioned after some NATO countries led by the US took military action in Libya for regime change.[xviii] In this context, protection of civilians is the best justification for interventionism. It cannot be denied that civilians are the most vulnerable in conflicts and the UN should take its responsibility to protect them. But R2P has become a concept of “political correctness” especially in the sphere of Western-led public opinion and thus placed an unbearable moral burden on UN peacekeeping. There are often unrealistic expectations on peacekeeping operations with fresh conflicts and humanitarian crises which the UN has to frequently intervene in for the protection of civilians. The five peacekeeping operations featuring peacemaking before peacekeeping since 2010 all have protection of civilians as a core mandate. Nevertheless, forceful interventions in places with unsettled conflicts and no peace to keep can hardly avoid the harsh reality of failing the mission given by the Security Council while wasting precious resources for peacekeeping. The UN Mission in South Sudan devotes three quarters of its resources to protecting more than 200,000 people in over ten PoC sites but cannot protect the millions of vulnerable civilians outside the sites.[xix]

Third, the UN Security Council has been hasty on mandating peacekeeping operations. Over the past decade, the Western powers led by the United States have become less willing to join multilateral frameworks for security cooperation and to promote the peaceful settlement of international conflicts with their own advantages. As protection of civilians becomes politically correct, no permanent member would easily oppose a peacekeeping operation even in places with no peace to keep. Therefore, the Security Council can be hasty on resolutions for political unity and shift the burden to the Secretariat on thorny security issues, as reflected in its longer and longer list of peacekeeping mandates.

For example, the MINUSMA has a mandate covering dozens of items in seven areas, from the implementation of a peace agreement among all parties, to protection of civilians and promotion of human rights. Missions assigned to the MINUSCA are more than a hundred in over ten areas from protection of civilians to reform of the security sector.[xx] When there is no peace to keep, and protection of civilians and peacemaking consume the bulk of peacekeeping resources, the Security Council has still rashly issued even longer mandates for the UN missions and ignored their capacity constraints and the reality of the mission areas, indicating a devolution of UN peacekeeping in strategic decision-making.

Fourth, France has exerted much influence on UN peacekeeping affairs. The Department of Peace Operations (DPO), formerly the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) created in 1992, is now charged with UN peacekeeping affairs. The French has led the department since Jean-Marie Guéhenno, an official at French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, became the UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations in January 2000. During his term of ten years, Guéhenno managed to balance between France’s national interests and his responsibilities as a UN senior official. But after Hervé Ladsous, former French Ambassador to China and an experienced politician, took over from Guéhenno in 2010, France began to more actively pursue its own interests through UN peacekeeping. During Ladsous’s five years at the DPKO, the UN delegated operations of peace enforcement in three francophone countries, namely the DRC, Mali and the CAR. These three operations accounted for more than half of the 13 current operations in both the number of peacekeepers and budgets. Some Western scholars have also noted France’s control of peacekeeping operations by regional and subregional organizations in francophone Africa.[xxi] In the DRC, France opposed the separate peacekeeping operation by the Southern African Development Community and advocated the integration of peacekeepers in this subregion into an armed brigade under UN command. In Mali, France facilitated the takeover of the AU-led International Support Mission by the MINUSMA. After further deterioration of the situation in Mali in 2016, France actively promoted the establishment of an international force by five French-speaking countries of the Sahel region for counter-terrorism outside the MINUSMA framework. Over the past decade, France, for its own interests in francophone Africa, has encouraged the UN’s forceful intervention in conflicts and hence UN peacekeeping is conducted in places where there is no peace to keep, which is also a main reason for the devolution of UN peacekeeping.


Reflections on the Devolution of UN Peacekeeping


The devolution of UN peacekeeping happened mainly during Ban Ki-moon’s tenure as Secretary-General from 2007 to 2016. Ban had no prior experience in the UN system and was not well versed in peacekeeping politics. A reform would be difficult even if Ban recognized the problems with UN peacekeeping, when the main UN bureaucracy responsible for peacekeeping was dominated by the West.

In January 2017, António Guterres succeeded Ban as Secretary-General of the UN. Guterres’s previous experience as Prime Minister of Portugal and as UN High Commissioner for Refugees has provided him with two vital competencies required for this unique position: a thorough understanding of international politics and its rules and the ability of communicating with leaders and handling international affairs; and a keen awareness of the UN’s bureaucratic culture and the ability of maximizing internal and external resources while managing this large organization.

Guterres adopted a series of reforms soon after taking office, including: prioritizing conflict prevention and reforming the UN Country Team; reorganizing agencies of the Secretariat in charge of peace and security affairs; launching the Action for Peace (A4P) initiative;[xxii] downsizing peacekeeping operations such as the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur, and ending operations in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Haiti.[xxiii]

Yet Guterres has led reforms without addressing the most significant problem—the devolution of UN peacekeeping, after more than three years into his tenure.[xxiv] The mandate and size of UN peacekeeping in the DRC, Mali, the CAR, South Sudan and Abyei have not changed significantly. Instead, the Secretariat launched an expert panel report entitled Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers: We need to change the way we are doing business, which proposes to update the technology, equipment and concepts of peacekeeping and to eliminate security threats through proactive and preemptive strikes.[xxv] This in effect underscores the validity of the devolution of UN peacekeeping. These circumstances confirm the complexity of the devolution and UN peacekeeping politics. The devolution of peacekeeping deviates from the three peacekeeping principles and is not in the interests of the UN and most of its member states. UN peacekeeping must return to the path of evolution. To address the devolution of peacekeeping, efforts should be focused on the following areas.

First, the UN should oppose interventionism and acts of aggression that create conflict. As an important actor in global security governance, the UN has a responsibility to stop conflicts and protect civilians through different mechanisms including peacekeeping. However, it is not a permanent cure. There are many causes of conflict, a vital one being interference and even invasion by external forces against sovereign states. The examples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria show that countries can be plunged into long-term conflict, and become a breeding ground for international terrorism or an enduring threat to global security that UN peacekeeping cannot resolve, because of intervention or even invasion for the purpose of regime change but under the guise of counter-terrorism or protection of civilians. The lessons from civil wars in South Sudan and Kosovo illustrate that instigating and supporting separatist forces may create a more serious and long-lasting humanitarian and security crisis, not to mention the resolution of intra-state conflict. The solution to the devolution of peacekeeping therefore requires, first and foremost, the opposition to interventionism and acts of aggression. We should not tolerate some member states and military alliances to intervene and even invade other countries and create conflicts and humanitarian crises, while looking to the UN to successfully sort out the mess.

Second, the Security Council should be more prudent in authorizing peacekeeping operations. The Council should refrain from authorizing more large-scale peacekeeping operations when the existing stabilization missions have become a heavy burden on the UN peacekeeping mechanism. Peacekeeping operations is only one of the many tools available to UN peacekeeping. The Council should fully utilize its legitimacy and authority in global security governance and make flexible use of mediation, coordination among major powers and soft pressure, to facilitate conflict resolution or peacemaking and avoid as far as possible the use of coercive means. A conflict should be resolved by regional or subregional organizations if it requires intervention of multilateral operations. When peacekeeping operations are necessary, their feasibility should be demonstrated and the bottom line should be held—avoiding long lists of peacekeeping mandates and ensuring an exit strategy when there is peace to keep. Moreover, it is important to avoid peacekeeping mandates being manipulated by some powers as a tool to defend their interests in former colonies.

Third, peacekeeping reform and innovation should be accelerated. Though there is no peace to keep for several large-scale peacekeeping operations in Africa, there may still be resistance to seeking change in the short term by, for example, scaling down operations or changing mandates. France would not welcome a reduction in UN involvement in peacekeeping operations in francophone Africa, nor would it welcome the involvement of regional, subregional or other countries in security issues of former French colonies. Moreover, since protection of civilians became a concept of political correctness, the UN is bound to face pressure from international opinion to abandon stabilization operations when violence is still frequent without significant progress in the peace process. In this context, the UN can, on the one hand, contribute to the peace process in the host countries and, on the other, encourage the involvement of regional and subregional organizations in peacekeeping operations, including by authorizing and supporting their establishment of peacekeeping forces to undertake security operations. In the long run, the UN should be more flexible in conflict management, for example, by replacing large, costly and inefficient peacekeeping operations with small and cost-effective operations or special political missions.[xxvi]

Fourth, the UN and the AU should strengthen partnership on peacekeeping. The African Union has cultural, linguistic and geographic advantages in conflict management and resolution in Africa. There is a need to effectively implement the recommendations from the report of the Independent High-Level Panel on Peace Operations, and to strengthen the UN-AU partnership in peacekeeping. The UN and the international community should continue to provide financial, material and training assistance to the AU and help it establish rapid reaction brigades in Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central Africa. Regarding the AU’s peacekeeping experience in Darfur and Somalia and its political will and flexibility in the use of force, the Security Council can entrust the AU with the necessary security operations to build peace and restore stability, so that the UN can better leverage its strengths in peacekeeping and peacebuilding.




Over the past decade, UN peacekeeping has been mired in devolution and burdened with politically correct mandates including the protection of civilians. This devolution is hard to be reversed in the short term, but may be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has profoundly altered international politics, economy and security, and posed a serious challenge to UN peacekeeping. Nearly all UN stabilization missions have been paralyzed during the pandemic. For example, peacekeepers are out of rotation for long periods of time and have to work from home, thereby affecting daily peacekeeping activities such as patrols, convoy escorts, static guarding and protection of civilians. The pandemic has also created new challenges for UN peacekeeping: on the one hand, a prolonged pandemic may worsen the security situation in vulnerable countries and regions and create hotspots and conflicts in urgent need of UN peacekeeping; on the other hand, the pandemic has plunged the world economy into recession, and some major troop-contributing and donor countries may reduce their support for UN peacekeeping while having too much on their own plate. In this context, the UN needs to change its mindset and turn these challenges into opportunities for reform. For example, it can descale existing stabilization missions and even change their mandates, and promote efficient, flexible and small peacekeeping operations, which will not only change this devolution but also help UN peacekeeping adapt to the new international situation in the post-pandemic era.

The devolution of UN peacekeeping runs counter to the basic principles of international relations which China adheres to, as China is a core UN member state and the backbone of peacekeeping operations. China should actively promote the return of UN peacekeeping to the path of evolution. In the Security Council, China should continue to oppose interventionism and acts of aggression, adhere to the basic principles of peacekeeping, and maintain peace when there is peace to keep. It should also support experts, scholars and non-governmental organizations to be involved in international discourse and policy advisory related to peacekeeping, and contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions to the reform of UN peacekeeping.[xxvii]



[i]He Yin is Associate Professor at China Peacekeeping Police Training Center, China People’s Police University.


[ii]Johan Galtung put forward the concepts of positive peace and negative peace. See Johan Galtung, “Twenty-Five Years of Peace Research: Ten Challenges and Some Responses,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol.22, No.2, June 1985, p.141.




[iv]“Report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations on Uniting Our Strengths for Peace: Politics, Partnership and People,” UN document A/70/95 & S/2015/446, June 2015, p.10.


[v]“UN Security Council Document S/RES/1925,” May 28, 2010,


[vi]According to the UN Department of Peace Operations,


[vii]John Karlsrud, “The UN at War: Examining the Consequences of Peace-Enforcement Mandates for the UNPeacekeeping Operations in the CAR, DRC and Mali,” Third World Quarterly, Vol.36, No.1, 2015, p.42.


[viii]Ibid., p.41.


[ix]United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines, New York: Peace Operations Training Institute, October 16, 2008, pp.34-35.


[x]Jason K. Stearns and Christoph Vogel, “The Landscape of Armed Groups in the Eastern Congo,” Congo Research Group, CIC, December 2015,


[xi]Tatiana Carayannis et al., “Competing Networks and Political Order in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Literature Review on the Logics of Public Authority and International Intervention,” DRC Synthesis Report, Conflict Research Programme, The London School of Economics and Political Science, July 2018.


[xii]Cedric de Coning, “The Changing Global Order and the Future of Peace Operations,” presentation at the webinar hosted by the International Forum for the Challenge of Peace Operations, April 29, 2020.


[xiii]Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers: We Need to Change the Way We Are Doing Business,” December 19, 2017,


[xiv]He Yin, “Rethinking Safety and Security Management in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” World Economics and Politics, No.5, 2018, p.74.


[xv]Ronald Hatto, “From Peacekeeping to Peacebuilding: The Evolution of the Role of the United Nations in Peace Operations,” International Review of the Red Cross, No.95, 2013, p.513.


[xvi]RuanZongze, “Responsible Protection: Building a Safer World,” International Studies, No.3, 2012.


[xvii]UN General Assembly, “2005 World Summit Outcome,” UN doc. A/60/L.1, September 20, 2005, p.31.


[xviii]Liu Tiewa, “The Development of Responsibility to Protect as an International Norm: Debates in China,” UN Studies, No.1, 2014, p.55.


[xix]The data is based on the author’s interview with personnel from the UN Mission in South Sudan, which was conducted in Juba on December 4-16, 2018.


[xx]UN, “MINUSMA: Mandate,”


[xxi]John Karlsrud, “The UN at War: Examining the Consequences of Peace-Enforcement Mandates for the UN Peacekeeping Operations in the CAR, DRC and Mali,” p.50; Bruno Charbonneau, “Intervention in Mali: Building Peace between Peacekeeping and Counterterrorism,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Vol.35, No.4, 2017.


[xxii]United Nations, “Action for Peace: A Declaration of Mutual Commitments on UN Peacekeeping,” September 2018,


[xxiii]The information is based on the author’s interview with officials from the UN Department of Peace Operations in New York, March 2019.


[xxiv]Guterres recognizes the devolution of peacekeeping. He said, “I urge Security Council members … put an end to mandates that look like Christmas trees. Christmas is over, and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan cannot possibly implement 209 mandated tasks. By attempting too much, we dilute our efforts and weaken our impact … A peacekeeping operation is not an army, or a counter-terrorist force, or a humanitarian agency. It is a tool to create the space for a nationally-owned political solution.” See “Secretary-General’s Remarks to Security Council High-Level Debate on Collective Action to Improve UN Peacekeeping Operations,” March 28, 2018,


[xxv]He Yin, “Rethinking Safety and Security Management in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations.”


[xxvi]Center on International Cooperation, “Peace Operations Review 2018,” 2018, p.5,


[xxvii]He Yin, “China’s Peacekeeping Diplomacy: An Analysis from the Perspective of National Identity,” West Asia and Africa, No.4, 2019, pp.42-43.







Source: China International Studies, No.85, November/December 2020.

The views expressed herein are not those of United Nations Association of China.

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