The United Nations Organization was established after the end of the Second World War with an aim to prevent any future wars. Keeping its core purpose in mind, the United Nations has installed various Peacekeeping Missions across the globe, which helps the conflict-ridden areas to restore and maintain peace. The U.N. peacekeepers are usually referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of the light blue helmets they wear. The organization has been in existence since 1948 and is currently active with 13 U.N. Peacekeeping Missions across 3 continents. In 1988, United Nations Peacekeeping Forces also received the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution “to reducing tensions where an armistice has been negotiated, but a peace treaty has yet to be established.” For 73 years the U.N. Peacekeeping mission has been lauded for its efforts and conducting successful peacekeeping missions in many countries like Tajikistan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia, etc. It provides security services and efficient crisis response that supports political transitions or new institutions that are still fragile and prone to conflict with a hope to reduce violence during a conflict, reduce the duration of a conflict, limit the spreading of conflict and restore peace. In a 2014 study of U.N. missions between 1980-2010, it was found that these missions increased GDP per capita by 1.08% to 1.92%.


In a study titled ‘Evaluating the Conflict-Reducing Effect of U.N. Peacekeeping Operation’ by Havard Hegre, Lisa Hultman, and Havard M. Nygard published in the Journal of Politics, they found that in the short run, peacekeeping missions, to some degree, limit the amount of violence. For example, in Sierra Leone, the United Nations deployed its peacekeepers in 1999 due to prolonged conflict in that area. The level of violence not only dropped, but three years later, the conflict ended altogether. Therefore, they not only transform a major conflict into a minor one but consequently reduce the total amount of conflicts in the world.

“In a hypothetical, historical scenario where the U.N. completely shuts down its peacekeeping practice from 2001 onward, we estimate that three to four more countries would have been in major conflict in 2013 relative to what the world saw, given the actual level of peacekeeping activity.” (reference) (reference2)

Photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash


Perhaps the most successful mission was from Liberia (UNMIL) during the first and second Liberian civil wars that left over 200,000 people dead, 500,000 internally displaced, and 850,000 refugees. From December 2003 till October 2004, UNMIL was able to disarm and demobilize 101,496 active combatants. In the 2006 U.N. public opinion survey, 94% of Liberians believed that UNMIL was able to ameliorate the security situation of the country. Another success story is of East Timor, where from 1957 to 1999, Indonesia occupied East Timor, resulting in over 100,000 deaths of Timorese. In August 1999, 78% of voters voted for freedom from Indonesia in a referendum that was supervised by the United Nations. Later, peacekeeping operations were set up in the region, which also helped the area conduct its first presidential elections in 2002. One of the recent missions completed in 2017 at Cote D’Ivoire also proved to be a success. They were able to disarm 70,000 combatants and bring back around 250,000 refugees. The inter-communal conflicts were decreased by 80% and strengthened the National Commission on Human Rights (with only 88 reports on human rights violations in 2016 as compared to 1,726 in 2011).


But, even though there are many stories to share, the United Nations peacekeeping missions have been criticized for not fulfilling their duties as countless wars still occur. Millions of people have been killed and displaced since the foundation of the U.N. in 1945. One major criticism from the community is the U.N.’s inability to effectively take important decisions on time. For example, thousands of people have died in Syria, and more than four million refugees were produced due to a seven-year-long conflict. Many believe that the story could have been very different had the UNSC been efficient in decision making and had come to an agreement to deploy a peacekeeping operation during the early years of the conflict. Another severe criticism that comes is against the arbitrary powers of the five permanent members to veto at the UNSC. In Palestine, at least 15,000 Palestinians were killed, and 1.9 million were forced to take refuge as a result of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Today, Israel controls 85% of the total area of Palestine, where it continues to construct illegal settlements even when the United Nations released various resolutions to end such activities. The United Nations has made use of its Veto-Power many times to counter UNSC resolutions that went against Israel. In Rwanda, in only 3 months, the Hutu-dominated regime killed 800,000 Tutsis and raped 250,000 women while the U.N. troops deployed there were of no help. Similar are the cases with Somalia where the failure of the U.N. Peacekeeping mission has caused about 500,000 civilian deaths in the country. It has also been noticed that the peacekeepers cannot, by themselves, end violence in a country as it can only be achieved politically, and these missions generally do not have political leverage, mandates, or adequate resources to end. The U.N. has also been accused of imposing its liberal democratic peace ideology upon the nations. For example, in Afghanistan, the focus on establishing government institutions on western ideals collapsed soon as they were not mapped out correctly, and the government was neither representative nor accountable.


Whether we debate about the effectiveness of U.N. Peacekeeping Missions or not, we have to agree that it has done some commendable work over the years and has helped restore peace in many parts of the world. However, even though these missions can protect many citizens directly, they lack the resources to protect all of them at all times. In fact, with the increase of interstate wars in the 1990s and the increasingly complex nature of wars in recent times, there is a need for more complex responses, thus making the peacekeeping missions are becoming less and less effective. Therefore, the United Nations could have put more effort, with a greater budget for these missions and more missions with a stronger mandate.

by Aashna Verma

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