Since the end of the Cold War the UN has completed complex peacekeeping missions in 16 conflicts. Of these, 11 successfully implemented mandates and departed the countries. None of those countries has returned to civil war. That is a two-thirds success rate.
The most notable failed missions are the ones people remember vividly — in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and, more recently, Haiti. As tragically as those missions ended, they are not the norm.
More frequently — such as in Namibia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Liberia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Eastern Slavonia/Croatia and Timor Leste — the UN’s state-building missions have succeeded at fulfilling complex mandates and departing.
Years later, these countries are not all perfect democracies, but neither are they at war.
The future of peacekeeping
Peacekeeping is not war fighting.
The doctrine of peacekeeping has three parts: consent of the parties, impartiality and the limited use of force.
It is fundamentally unlike counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism missions, which deploy without consent, take the side of the government and often employ offensive force to achieve military gains.
Though UN peacekeeping has been effective, it is not figuring in diplomatic efforts to end conflicts or assist in major transitions, such as those in Ethiopia, Sudan or Libya.
Third-party peacekeepers are not at the table, despite academic research over the decades demonstrating that the promise of peacekeeping helps parties agree to peace.
Recently, in Mali and Somalia, in contexts with violent extremist actors, African troops have been asked to fight wars. Refocusing on what has worked in the past — peacekeeping — may be warranted.
Lise M Howard is president of the Academic Council on the UN System and professor of government and foreign service, Georgetown University.
This article was first published by The Conversation.