Armed Conflict

Armed Conflict

Preventing armed conflict, keeping peace, and rebuilding war-torn states remain the most difficult challenges for policy-makers and government officials throughout the world.

"The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation...It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States

Preventing Interstate War

Artist’s rendition of the Congress of Vienna, 1815. (Imagno/Getty Images)

Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe

Convened after the downfall of Napoleon I, the Congress of Vienna sought to reestablish the balance of power in Europe. The four major European powers at the time—Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain—made the chief decisions regarding redistribution of territory and the reinstatement of monarchies.

After the Congress of Vienna, the Concert of Europe was formed to enforce agreements, protect the ruling governments, and maintain territorial integrity. Although ultimately unsuccessful in preventing war on the continent, both bodies served as a model for the League of Nations and the United Nations in cooperating to achieve peace among members.

The Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, signed in 1864. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

First Geneva Convention

European and U.S. leaders gathered in Geneva to sign the First Geneva Convention—ten articles that protect civilians and medical staff providing assistance to wounded soldiers. The convention committed to international law the neutrality of medical ambulances, hospitals, and personnel, and the impartiality of "wounded or sick combatants" in receiving treatment and care.

The convention, which is closely linked with the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross, also recognizes the red cross as a symbol that is carried by emergency and medical personnel. Twelve countries signed the convention initially, the United States following suit in 1882.

A map shows Africa, 1862. (Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

New imperialism

As Europe industrialized and adopted mercantilist principles, European colonialism grew. States like Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia expanded their empires in search of raw goods and lucrative markets.

Chancellor Otto von Bismarck gathered major European powers for the Berlin Conference in 1885 to formalize free trade commitments made during the rapid colonization of the African continent, also known as the Scramble for Africa. The Berlin Conference helped legitimize much of the conquest and sought to alleviate future tensions between imperialist states. Colonial disputes, however, still helped trigger World War I.

German statesman Otto Furst von Bismarck. (AP Photo)

Congress of Berlin

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck gathered European leaders in Berlin to address issues that arose after the end of the Russo-Turkish War. The Treaty of San Stefano, which ended that conflict in March 1878, allowed Russia to extend its influence into southern Europe through the creation of a Greater Bulgaria autonomous region. This was unacceptable to Germany, Austria, and Great Britain, who all feared Russian expansion.

The Congress of Berlin returned much of Greater Bulgaria to the Ottoman Empire and denied Bulgaria genuine self-government. However, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia achieved full independence, and the Ottoman Empire guaranteed civil liberties for its non-Muslim subjects. The decisions made by the congress represent a culmination of several nationalist movements in the Balkans and European efforts to curb Russia.

Overview of the Great Hall of Justice at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, July 22, 2009. (AP Photo/Ermindo Armino)

Hague Peace Conferences

The two Hague peace conferences were peacetime efforts at preserving international security. The specific objective of both was to foster multilateral cooperation on disarmament. Although disarmament was not achieved, the first conference established the Permanent Court of Arbitration, better known as the Hague Tribunal, which was charged with making legally binding decisions on international disputes.

The second conference was unsuccessful in establishing a world court as proposed by the U.S. delegation. However, participants agreed to meeting at regular intervals, creating a precedent for international conferences to settle disputes. A third conference was never held because World War I intervened. The two that were held provided the foundation for the League of Nations at the end of the war.

The ocean liner Lusitania leaves New York on its last voyage on May 1, 1915. (AP Photo)

Second Geneva Convention

The Second Geneva Convention extended the main principles and protections from the First Geneva Convention to combat at sea. First adopted in 1906, it was significantly updated in 1929 and again in 1949.

An artist’s rendition shows the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Czech Countess Sophie Chotek, on June 28, 1914. (AP Photo)

Collapse of the balance of power

In 1879, Austria-Hungary and Germany agreed to protect each other from Russian aggression. Then, in 1882, the leaders of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy formed a defensive agreement known as the Triple Alliance. Seeking to counterbalance the Triple Alliance, France, Great Britain, and Russia formed the Triple Entente in 1907.

In 1912, violence in southeastern Europe destabilized the region, and on the eve of World War I, the network of alliances in Europe put the Triple Entente of France, Great Britain, Russia, and Russia’s ally Serbia on one side, and the Triple Alliance of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy on the other.

An undated photo showing German soldiers dug in on the front opposing the Russians during World War I. (AP Photo)

World War I

A war of attrition, World War I shocked the world with its magnitude of death and destruction. Nine million soldiers died, four empires collapsed, and the fighting devastated France, Belgium, and Russia. The war galvanized the international community to build a global security architecture that would preclude another great war.

World War I was in part caused by complex alliances between the major European powers. Initially, the United States adopted an isolationist approach toward the conflict, but after the United States intercepted an incriminating telegram from Germany to Mexico, the United States joined France, Great Britain, and Russia in 1917.

When the war finally ended in 1919, the Versailles Treaty laid the foundation for the first global collective security organization, the League of Nations. But many argue that the treaty also sowed the seeds of World War II by demanding disarmament and overly harsh reparation payments from Germany through war guilt clauses.

A man lights candles during a religious service marking the anniversary of mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 at a church in Tbilisi, April 24, 2008. (REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)

Armenian genocide

After Turkey entered World War I, its leadership—a triumvirate of army officers known as the Young Turks—launched a campaign against the Armenian population of eastern Turkey. The Young Turks allowed Armenians to be deported and their property to be confiscated, as well as the mass killings and use of concentration camps that followed.

More than two million Armenians lived in Turkey at the beginning of World War I, a population reduced to approximately 400,000 by 1922. Turkey only recognizes that 300,000 Armenians were killed, along with an equal number of Turks. The issue continues to feature prominently in Turkey’s foreign relations.

The first session of the League of Nations in the Salle de Reforme in Geneva, set up after the First World War to maintain peace. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The League of Nations

Stemming from the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I, the League of Nations (the League) was established as an international organization designed to prevent another world war. Its covenant committed signatories to collective security, global disarmament, and settling international disputes by negotiation and arbitration. Although the league failed to prevent World War II, it laid the foundation for its more successful replacement, the United Nations.

Despite the support of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for the League of Nations, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the covenant because of disagreements on Article X—interpreted as requiring the United States to commit military resources in instances of external aggression against another League member. The League also suffered from its inability to successfully mediate disputes stemming from the Great Depression, a lack of enforcement capacity, and the difficulty of unanimous decision making.

The HMS Renown, foreground, sails with the HMS Hood and HMS Iron Duke on July 16, 1935. (AP Photo/Staff/Putnam)

Washington Naval Treaties

In the wake of World War I, the United States gathered the world’s largest naval powers in Washington, DC. In three treaties—the Four-Power, the Five-Power, and the Nine-Power—they established a disarmament system that restricted each country’s navy by warship tonnage relative to that of the others. The Nine-Power Treaty also internationalized the Open Door Policy in China, attempting to check against Japanese expansionism in East Asia.

Although not successful in ensuring peace, the Washington Naval Conference was the first serious multilateral attempt at arms limitation.

Opening ceremony of the Permanent Court of International Justice, July 8, 1920. (AP Photo)

Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes

The Protocol for the Pacific Settlements of International Disputes proposed that states peacefully settle disputes through the Permanent Court of International Justice (the predecessor for the International Court of Justice). Any state that declined to use this mechanism would be labeled as the aggressor and subject to sanctions. The protocol was never adopted—largely due to British objection, but it is an important milestone in international legal norms against the use of force.

Germany created new fears for European peace, when some 10,000 troops marched into the demilitarised zone of the Rhineland. (AP Photo)

Locarno Treaty

The Locarno Treaty was signed by Great Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, and Italy to guarantee the "common boundaries" designated by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Germany refused to accept its eastern borders as permanent, but agreed to changes to its borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia through peaceful arbitration. Germany’s defiance of the territorial distribution as set by the Locarno treaty was a step toward World War II.

The signing of the Kellogg Briand Pact at the Quai d’Orsay, Paris, August 27, 1928. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Kellogg-Briand Pact

The Kellogg-Briand Pact, also known as the Paris Pact, was signed in Paris by Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The treaty "renounced recourse to war" and committed signatories to peaceful settlements of all conflicts.

Polish prisoners of war, captured by the Germans in the fighting on the Eastern Front are shown in 1939. (AP Photo/Paramount News)

Third Geneva Convention

The Third Geneva Convention deals specifically with the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs). First adopted in 1929 and significantly updated in 1949, it offers a concrete definition of prisoners of war and outlines various protections awarded to POWs during wartime. POWs are the responsibility of the detaining state, not the individuals or military units who have captured them. The detaining state is required to treat POWs humanely, ensure they receive medical treatment when necessary, and protect them from harm and abuse.

President Franklin Roosevelt signing a trade treaty designed to improve U.S. relations with Latin America, February 2, 1935. (AP Photo)

Antiwar Treaty of Nonaggression and Conciliation

The Antiwar Treaty was signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, and the United States (with reservations). The treaty condemned wars of aggression and pledged to use a conciliation commission, based on international law, to settle disputes among nations. This agreement is emblematic of U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy, in which he sought to exert U.S. influence over Central and South America through cooperation rather than force.

An allied correspondent stands before the shell of a building in Hiroshima, a month after the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare was dropped by the U.S. (AP Photo/Stanley Troutman)

World War II

The outbreak of World War II shattered all post-World War I illusions that diplomatic agreements could prevent violent conflict. An estimated 50 million people died in World War II, more than half of them civilians. Indeed, mass civilian casualties figured prominently in two of the war’s most important events.

First, the Holocaust occurred between 1939 and 1945. Six to ten million innocent civilians—mostly Jews—were systematically murdered by the Nazis under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. This atrocity moved Raphael Lempkin, a Polish lawyer, to coin the term genocide to describe the systematic killing of a targeted group with the aim of annihilating that group. The concept of genocide has been of international concern in conflict prevention and response efforts since World War II.

Second, the United States’ use of nuclear weapons against Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 fundamentally changed conflict in the twentieth century by establishing precedent for the use of weapons of mass destruction. Almost instantly, interstate conflict grew exponentially more dangerous, illustrating the need for robust conflict prevention.

Shaping a Postwar Institution

Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the United States, and Premier Josef Stalin of the USSR, meet at a palace on the Black Sea at Yalta, February 1945. (AP Images)

United Nations established

The Allies of World War II sought to enshrine their objectives in an international organization that would replace the League of Nations. The idea originated in 1941, when U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill called for a community of "United Nations," which China, the Soviet Union, and twenty-two other nations affirmed in 1942.

The next year, the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and China began to define the scope of the United Nations at the Moscow Conference. These four nations met again in 1944, where they outlined an organization that would include a security council, general assembly, and a secretary-general. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin solidified the proposed structure of the United Nations and called for a conference to prepare a formal charter.

Court proceedings against leading Nazi figures for war crimes at the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, Germany, 1946. (Raymond D’Addario/Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)

Nuremberg Trials and Tokyo War Crimes Trials

The Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Trials are the first time that the victors of a major war conducted trials of officials and leaders from defeated countries on the basis of new international legal norms.

In 1945, the Allies of World War II chartered an international military tribunal at Nuremberg to prosecute war criminals in Europe. For the first time, the charter codified "crimes against humanity," such as murder, extermination, enslavement, and deportation. Twelve Nazi leaders were ultimately hanged for their crimes.

In 1946, with the Nuremberg Trails as an example, the United States set up an international military tribunal for Asia. All twenty-eight Japanese political and military leaders tried were found guilty and indicted on fifty-five counts of crimes against humanity, crimes against peace, and conventional war crimes. Seven were sentenced to death.

Delegates to the United Nations security conference listen attentively to President Truman, whose radio address opened the First Plenary Session of the parley at San Francisco on April 25, 1945. (AP Photo)

Birth of the United Nations

The official birth of the United Nations (UN) on October 24, 1945, was a watershed moment in global governance.

In April 1945, representatives of fifty countries gathered in San Francisco to draft a charter for the organization. Delegates defined the power of the secretary-general and established an Economic and Social Council and Trusteeship Council. The UN’s decision-making structure was divided between the Security Council and the General Assembly. The International Court of Justice, which officially replaced the League of Nations’ Permanent Court of International Justice in 1946, became the UN’s judicial organ.

All UN members adopted the UN Charter as a binding treaty, which was to supersede all other treaty obligations. The UN Charter is also considered an important document in twentieth-century intellectual history because it advanced the ideas of peace through collective security, diplomacy, and respect for state sovereignty, economic and social development, and human rights.

Winston Churchill, former prime minister of England, speaks at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. (AP Photo)

Outbreak of Cold War

At the close of World War II, the Soviet Union began to consolidate its sphere of influence in eastern Europe, annexing Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Finland and Romania. Tensions mounted as the United States and Britain perceived a threat to their interests in western Europe. In March 1946, British prime minister Winston Churchill pronounced that an "iron curtain" had descended across Europe.

Before long, a diplomatic proxy war developed between the United States and the Soviet Union in the UN Security Council—political grandstanding and obstructionism hamstrung the United Nations in many cases.

U.S. soldiers engage the "enemy" on the outskirts of a town deep in the interior of Panama during maneuvers testing the Panama Canal defenses, April 19, 1942. (AP Photo)

Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security

With the fear of communism rising, the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security established the Rio Pact—an agreement aimed at protecting the Americas from external intervention. The treaty was binding, committing member states to collective security according to the idea that an attack on one Rio Pact state would be considered an attack on all American states.

Nevertheless, collective action required a two-thirds majority vote and gave dissenting states the opportunity to opt out of any action. The Rio Pact also stipulated that member states should settle disputes peacefully within the pan-American mechanism before requesting UN intervention. This was the first embodiment of Article 51 in the UN Charter, which protects the right of self defense.

Muslim refugees sit on the roof of an overcrowded coach railway train in trying to flee India, September 19, 1947. (AP Photo)

India-Pakistan mediations

After India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, the state of Jammu and Kashmir on the Indo-Pakistani border remained contested. The UN Security Council established the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) in January 1948 to help mediate the dispute.

Finally, on January 1, 1949, India and Pakistan negotiated a cease-fire with the assistance from UNCIP, with unarmed UN military observers tasked to monitor the agreement. The new team was formed under the umbrella of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which today still maintains an active role in monitoring the stability in the region.

Young Jews in Tel Aviv celebrate the proclamation of the new state of Israel, May 14, 1948. (AFP/Getty Images)

First UN peacekeeping mission

In 1948, a group of military observers, known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), was sent to the Middle East to mediate a truce between the Arabs and the Israelis over the establishment of the new Jewish state of Israel. UNTSO was the first UN peacekeeping mission deployed by the UN Security Council and oversaw four cease-fires when Israel reached armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Syrian Arab Republic. Since 1948, UNTSO has remained in the Middle East to observe, mediate, and support the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

Entrance to the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, January 1941. (AP Photo)

Genocide Convention

In the wake of World War II, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which both legally defines genocide and classifies it as a crime under international law. Drawing on the legacy of the Holocaust, the convention defines genocide as the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group."

Significantly, the convention conceptualizes genocide as a crime that could occur in peacetime as well as wartime, and provides for its punishment by trial in domestic or international court. The Genocide Convention entered into force in January 1951 and has 141 parties.

President Harry Truman terms the Atlantic pact a "shield against aggression" in a speech just before foreign ministers of twelve nations signed the historic document, April 4, 1949. (AP Photo)

North Atlantic Treaty signed, creates NATO

As the postwar rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union grew increasingly hostile, the United States sought to preserve its sphere of influence in Europe through a collective security agreement. In 1949, the United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom signed a treaty creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The treaty committed each country to the peaceful settlement of international disputes, maintenance of military readiness, and promotion of free institutions and economic collaboration. Most importantly, Article 5 of the treaty called for mutual defense, agreeing that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all."

Dignitaries gather to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Geneva Conventions, August 12, 1999. (AP Photo/Donald Stampfli)

Geneva Conventions

The revamped Geneva Conventions of 1949, with more than 190 signatories, are the cornerstone of international humanitarian law. Each of the four conventions addresses the protection of a different group in war, including the wounded and sick in armed forces in the field; the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked members of armed forces at sea; prisoners of war; and civilians. Since 1949, additional protocols have been added to elaborate on the conventions’ provisions. The Geneva Conventions were the basis for the Rome Statute of 1998, creating the International Criminal Court, as well as the war crimes trials for Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994.

Republic of Korea soldiers move in single file toward Korea’s east-central front on June 28, 1953. (AP Photo)

Korean War and Uniting for Peace Resolution

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union divided responsibility for the Korean Peninsula along the thirty-eighth parallel. The Republic of Korea (ROK) emerged out of elections in the south, and the communists proclaimed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north. In June 1950, the DPRK invaded the ROK, with the tacit support of the Soviet Union.

Viewing the invasion as an attack on U.S. interests, the United States sponsored UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 377, or the Uniting for Peace resolution, which gives UNGA authority on security issues if the UN Security Council fails to maintain peace and security. At the time, Russia declared this action illegal.

The United States also spearheaded a multilateral military response through a new unit called the United Nations Command. Despite the efforts, the Korean War continued until July 1953, until North Korea and South Korea agreed to an armistice. Ever since, an independent commission staffed partly by UN command has overseen the armistice and maintained the demilitarized zone across the thirty-eighth parallel.

Old soldiers take part in a parade, Wednesday, March 21, 1990 in Namibia to celebrate Namibia’s independence. (AP Photo/Adil Bradlow)

Namibia's struggle for independence

Namibia was the only one of seven African territories not transferred to the UN Trusteeship System—charged with supervising trust territories. Instead, South Africa retained administrative control over the country.

With mounting pressures from indigenous groups striving for independence, the UN General Assembly established the UN Council for Namibia to assume administrative duties for the territory until independence—the first time the United Nations had assumed direct responsibility for a territory. Despite repeated [PDF] protests [PDF] by the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice, South African presence in Namibia continued until 1978, when the UN Security Council called for [PDF] Namibian elections, with support from the UN Transition Assistance Group. Negotiations continued through the secretary-general’s good offices until 1987, when South Africa agreed to allow Namibian independence on the condition that Cuba also withdrew its troops from Angola. Namibia officially gained independence in March 1990.

A crowd surrounds the car of President Gamal Nasser of Egypt in Cairo following the nationalization of the Suez Canal, July 28, 1956. (AP Photo)

Suez Crisis and the first UN peacekeeping force

When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal Company in July 1956, Israel attacked Egypt with support from France and the United Kingdom. The conflict escalated until November 6 when Israel, France, and the United Kingdom accepted a UN-brokered cease-fire. To assist in upholding the cease-fire and maintaining a buffer between Israel and Egypt, the UN deployed its first armed peacekeeping force—the UN Emergency Force (UNEF). UNEF remained in Egypt until May 1967, when Egypt forced it to withdraw. A second UNEF mission was reestablished in 1973 and remained in Egypt for six years.

A small village of the Dani people of the Baliem Valley in West New Guinea is shown, May 1961. (AP Photo). (AP Photo)

Decolonization of West New Guinea

When the Netherlands granted independence to Indonesia in 1949, the parties failed to agree on control of West New Guinea (West Irian). Both Indonesia and the Netherlands claimed it, but whereas the Indonesians wanted to assimilate West New Guinea into Indonesia, the Dutch advocated for Papuan self-determination.

UN Secretary-General U Thant arranged for negotiations between the Dutch and Indonesians through his good offices, but Indonesia still sent paratroopers to West New Guinea. The Netherlands and Indonesia signed an agreement in August 1962 under which the United Nations would administer West New Guinea through a Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA), and eventually transfer authority to Indonesia. The UN Security Force was established to support the work of UNTEA and to enforce the cease-fire agreement.

Baluba Tribesmen wait to register at a United Nations camp, Katanga, Congo, September 2, 1961. (AP Photo)

Crisis in the Congo

After the Belgian invasion, the Congo appealed to the United Nations (UN) to help protect its sovereignty. The UN Security Council responded by authorizing a multidimensional peacekeeping operation—the UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC)—that included military and technical assistance until Congolese forces were capable of defending their own territory.

By mid-1961, the Congo also faced a secession crisis as the province of Katanga sought independence from the central government. The UN sided with the Congolese government, and, the following year, the ONUC commenced an operation to prevent Katanga’s secession. Katanga surrendered in January 1963 and ONUC withdrew in June 1964.

ONUC was a turning point in the history of UN peacekeeping because of its scale and robust mandate. ONUC was also a defining moment for the UN because its sitting secretary-general died in a plane crash while trying to mediate the crisis.

Royalist forces manning a recoilless gun on the crest of Algenat Alout during the civil war in Yemen. (Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Yemeni Civil War

After Imam Mohammed Al-Badr took the royal throne in Yemen, a military coup overthrew him and proclaimed the Yemen Arab Republic. The imam and his followers retreated to north Yemen, where they launched a guerilla campaign to regain power. Given Yemen’s poorly defined borders at the time, and the proxy involvement of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni civil war threatened to escalate into a broader regional conflict.

UN Secretary-General U Thant stepped in to mediate the war, and brokered a disengagement agreement between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The UN Security Council established the UN Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM) with a narrow mandate to monitor the disengagement agreement. UNYOM withdrew from Yemen in September 1964.

Refugees in Cyprus from the war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, 1964. (Ralph Crane/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Ethnic clashes in Cyprus

Clashes over the interpretation of the Cyprus constitution turned violent in December 1963, as Greek and Turkish Cypriots both complained that the other was encroaching on their rights. The UN Security Council responded with the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) to maintain law and order and provide some humanitarian response measures.

A decade later, in 1974, a coup by Greek Cypriots provoked Turkish military intervention, extending Turkish Cypriot control over northern Cyprus. The UN Security Council extended the mandate of UNFICYP to establish a buffer zone between Turkish and Greek Cypriot territories. In April 2004, a UN-brokered agreement was submitted to Greek and Turkish Cypriots for referendum. Although Turkish Cypriots approved the settlement, Greek Cypriots voted against it. UNFICYP currently remains on the island.

An Indian soldier mans a military post northeast of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, April 28, 2000.(REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli)

South Asian skirmishes

In summer 1965, clashes erupted between India and Pakistan over the Rann of Kutch, a stretch of land along their border. Secretary-General U Thant tried to consolidate the existing cease-fire, established in 1949, that was monitored by the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). The UN Security Council repeatedly strengthened UNMOGIP and extended enforcement of the cease-fire through the UN India-Pakistan Observation Mission (UNIPOM). Border skirmishes continued into 1966, when both parties agreed to the Tashkent agreement. Finally, with the withdrawal of troops according to UN specifications, UNIPOM was terminated in February 1966. However, UNMOGIP maintains its responsibilities in monitoring violations to the cease-fire.

Soviet-built Syrian tanks destroyed by the Israelis in a tank battle during the Yom Kippur War, October 1973. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Arab-Israeli conflict

In October 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, sparking the Yom Kippur War and reigniting tensions that had abated since the Six-Day War in 1967. After passing a series of resolutions demanding a cease-fire, the UN Security Council established the Second UN Emergency Force (UNEF II) to monitor the buffer zone between Israel and Egypt.

Five months after the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, Israel and Syria agreed to a cease-fire [PDF], establishing a UN buffer zone along their border in the Golan Heights. The UN Disengagement Observer Force oversaw the buffer zone and still monitors the Israel-Syria border.

One of the last Israeli tanks to leave south Lebanon driving back into Israel, June 10, 1985. (AP Photo/Max Nash)

Violence in Lebanon

In response to Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, the UN Security Council created the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), tasked with restoring peace and securing the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Israel initiated a partial withdrawal in 1985.

With ongoing fighting, for three years, the work of UNIFIL was effectively limited to purely humanitarian support and protection for local civilians. After Israel initiated a partial withdrawal in 1985, UNIFIL expanded its duties from patrol and humanitarian aid to include clearance of landmines.

In July 2006, fighting in the region escalated after Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political group with a militant wing, launched rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel. UNIFIL maintained its position in the region and continued to provide medical assistance and military observations, leading to the death of five and wounding of sixteen UN personnel.

In August 2006, the UN Security Council significantly expanded [PDF] the mandate and size of UNIFIL from 2,000 to 15,000 troops. The UN also deployed the Maritime Task Force—the first naval task force ever to take part in a UN peacekeeping mission. The expanded mandate proved extremely successful in large part due to the quick and coordinated deployment of reinforcements from France, Italy, and Spain. The result was a cessation of hostilities by both parties and the withdrawal of Israel from southern Lebanon. Today, UNIMIL remains in southern Lebanon, patrolling the border, providing humanitarian assistance, and preventing future hostilities.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, left, gestures as he speaks to Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir during a meeting, February 25, 1982 in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Foley)

U.S.-led multinational force in the Middle East

When the mandate of the Second UN Emergency Force (UNEF II) expired in 1979, the UN Security Council declined to consider renewing it. Instead, the United States mediated to establish a multinational, non-UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai.

A Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) was deployed in April 1982. Comprising troops from the United States, Fiji, Uruguay, Colombia, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, the MFO was the first multilateral peacekeeping operation outside of UN auspices.

End of the Cold War

Members of the United Nations peacekeeping force celebrate being awarded the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize, New York City, December 14, 1988. (AP Photo/Charles Wenzelberg)

UN peacekeeping forces receive Nobel Peace Prize

To acknowledge the contribution of UN peacekeepers to world peace, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize to UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and the UN peacekeeping force. The prize afforded greater prominence and prestige to the United Nations and its work.

UN peacekeeping forces dismantling a Contra base camp.

UN peacekeeping efforts in Central America

Violence and instability wracked Central America for much of the late twentieth century. Starting in 1983, the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua committed Central American states to peace, democracy, free elections, and rights for refugees and displaced persons.

To monitor demobilization, the UN Security Council established the UN Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA)-the first UN peacekeeping operation in the Western Hemisphere. It then expanded ONUCA's mandate to include armed personnel and to monitor the demobilization of the Contra resistance in Nicaragua. ONUCA was assisted by a joint support and verification commission by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations, and the UN Observer Mission for the Verification of Elections in Nicaragua.

When both of ONUCA's mandates were achieved, the mission transferred military observers to resolve the decade-long conflict in El Salvador. The UN Security Council created the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL), an integrated peacekeeping operation that investigated human rights abuses, supervised the execution of political agreements, and oversaw elections. The UN Mission in El Salvador later replaced ONUSAL as a peacebulding mission.

East German border guards on top of the Berlin Wall on the morning of November 10, 1989.

Fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent end of the Cold War greatly diminished the risk of global nuclear conflict. Because many of the conventional wars since the end of World War II had been framed and fought in the context of U.S.-Soviet tensions, it was widely assumed that conflict as a whole would abate as well. Although this has proven true of wars between states, intrastate conflict persists, placing continued burden on the international community.

Participants at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, November 19, 1990. (JONATHAN UTZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Paris Summit institutionalizes CSCE

Since 1975, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) has facilitated discussion among its members. But the Paris Summit in 1990 inaugurated a new era for the CSCE by creating a secretariat, a Conflict Prevention Center (CPC), and an office for free elections—the skeleton of what would become the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1994.

The CPC was a particularly important innovation as a multilateral body dedicated to preventing conflict. The operational role of the OSCE grew in the mid to late 1990s as it deployed peacekeeping missions to the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo. With the Charter for European Security in 1999, the OSCE created the CPC Operation Center to provide logistical and planning support for OSCE missions.

Rebels loyal to the warlord Charles Taylor pass bodies of soldiers loyal to President Samuel Doe in Monrovia, August 11, 1990. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

ECOWAS monitoring group in Liberia

Trying to end a bloody civil war in Liberia, a coalition formed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent an armed peacekeeping force to Monrovia, Liberia. The force, known as the Economic Community Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), negotiated a fragile truce between the warring groups.

But the country plunged back into civil war in October 1992. Plagued by language barriers, inadequate funding, and poor equipment, ECOMOG’s effectiveness was limited. Following the election of Charles Taylor as president in 1997, ECOMOG was tasked with restructuring the Liberian army. But Taylor ignored ECOMOG and its mandate in Liberia expired in February 1998, five years before Taylor’s reign ended.

Taylor was indicted in 2003, charged with eleven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. His trial by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone began in 2008; a verdict has not yet been reached.

Kuwaiti exiles in Dubai read a newspaper announcing the start of the Gulf War, January 17, 1991. (REUTERS/GREG BOS)

First Gulf War

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait to gain access to Kuwaiti oil reserves, nullify Iraqi debt to Kuwait, and expand Iraq’s regional influence. The UN Security Council called for Iraq to withdraw, banned trade with Iraq, and endorsed the use of force against Iraq if it did not remove its troops from Kuwait.

When Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, refused to withdraw, a UN-backed, U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq in January 1991. The United States proclaimed a cease-fire the following month, though it continued to levy economic sanctions. In April 1991, the UN Security Council deployed the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) to monitor the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait.

After the war, the Iraqi government attempted to subdue internal resistance from northern Kurds and southern Shiites. The UN Security Council condemned the Iraqi government’s brutality, instituting a no-fly zone over northern Iraq where the Kurdish population was concentrated. The Kurds had previously been the target of Saddam Hussein as well. In 1988, under Operation al-Anfal, Iraqi forces forcibly dispersed Kurdish populations, most notoriously launching a chemical weapon attack against the city of Halabja that killed 5,000.

UNIKOM troops remained on the Iraq-Kuwait border and the United States and the United Kingdom continued to police the no-fly zone until the Second Iraq War began in 2003.

A young Somali smokes and holds a weapon as he and his friends sit on a car, December 14, 1992 in Baidoa, Somalia. (REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Instability in Somalia

After the government collapsed in 1991, factional fighting engulfed Somalia. The UN Security Council placed an arms embargo on Somalia and, the following month, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali brokered a cease-fire between the factions. In April, the UN Security Council created the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) to monitor the cease-fire and ensure safe delivery of humanitarian aid.

Still, the security situation deteriorated. UN member states then deployed the Unified Task Force (UNITAF) in Mogadishu to create a secure environment for UNOSOM’s ongoing efforts. Despite some success by UNITAF, the violence continued. The UN Security Council created UNOSOM II in March 1992 to enforce security and deploy humanitarian aid. The various factions, however, violated the cease-fire and attacked UN peacekeepers. A constrained mandate, in addition to the deficient operational capabilities of peacekeeping forces, led to the mission’s eventual takeover by the U.S. military.

In October 1993, nineteen U.S. soldiers died in Mogadishu. This episode shocked the American public and resulted in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia. Faced with dwindling support and little success, the UN Security Council extended UNOSOM II’s mandate through 1994, but withdrew in March 1995. In total, 157 UN peacekeepers died—an unprecedented toll in the organization.

Refugees from Western Sahara await the arrival of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan near Tindouf, Algeria, November 30, 1998.

UN mission for the referendum in Western Sahara

Since Spain withdrew its troops in 1976, the Western Sahara has been plagued by conflict. In 1985, the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) brokered a set of proposals accepted by the leading factions, Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y de Rio de Oro (POLISARIO).

To implement the proposals, the UN Security Council created the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in 1991. MINURSO was designed to ensure repatriation, maintain a cease-fire, reduce Moroccan troop presence, ensure the exchange of prisoners of war, register qualified voters, and organize a referendum on independence from Morocco.

However, it became clear that the timeline for the desired achievements was too ambitious, especially after the fragile peace was interrupted by sporadic fighting in 1991. MINURSO's Identification Commission, created in 1993, encountered years of operational complications while attempting to identify voters. MINURSO's continued presence in Western Sahara has helped maintain peace, but issues over sovereignty and independence remain unresolved.

Popular Liberation Movement of Angola soldiers pose while guarding United Nations food convoys March 24, 1993 in Huambo, Angola.

Maintaining peace in Angola

After Angola declared independence from Portugal in 1975, civil war erupted between the government of Angola and its main opposition, Nacional para la Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA). In 1991, a peace accord was established and the UN dispatched the UN Angola Verification Mission II (UNAVEM II) to maintain the cease-fire. Elections occurred the following year, but UNITA rejected the election results. Two months later, the UN secretary-general declared that Angola had returned to a state of civil war and UNAVEM II was forced to downsize its scope.

After successful peace talks in Lusaka, Zambia, a comprehensive peace agreement was signed. Tensions remained high, forcing the UN Security Council to extend UNAVEM II's mission through February 1995. The UN Security Council created UNAVEM III in February 1995 and the UN Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA) in 1997 to pursue national reconciliation and humanitarian assistance. MONUA terminated its mission in 1999.

Over the course of the conflict, the UN Security Council twice imposed sanctions on UNITA-an oil embargo in 1993 and a diamond embargo in 1998-which were the first instance of UN sanctions against a nonstate actor.

Haitian anti-riot police hold down an Aristide supporter who started a fire at the headquarters of the coalition of opposition parties in Port-au-Prince, April 9, 2000.

Conflict and stabilization of Haiti

In September 1991, the first democratically elected president in Haiti was deposed by a coup and succeeded by a military junta, under which human rights violations escalated across the country. Soon after, the United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS) jointly launched an International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) to report violations. The UN Security Council also established the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH), but both UNMIH and MICIVIH left Haiti in October 1993.

In July 1994, the UN Security Council approved a multinational force to return Haiti to stable, democratic rule. As the multinational force deployed, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter brokered an agreement that would allow free elections in Haiti, disperse the military government, and return the former president to power. MICIVIH returned to Haiti, and UNMIH assumed the multinational force's duties in 1995.

The UN determined that its continued presence in Haiti would be beneficial to the country, and in 1996 established the UN Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH). UNSMIH assisted in reconstruction and reconciliation as well as in the creation of a competent police force. The goal of police professionalization, training, and reform continued with two subsequent missions, the UN Transition Mission in Haiti and the UN Civilian Police Mission in Haiti.

To maintain the peace, the United Nations left in place personnel and institutions committed to investigating human rights abuses and removing mines.

UN peacekeepers from Indonesia patrol the streets of Phnom Penh in an armored personnel carrier on August 27, 1993.

Ending civil war in Cambodia

Over four years, 21 percent of Cambodia's population died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime, led by former prime minister Pol Pot. When the regime finally collapsed in 1979, a civil war broke out. War continued through 1991, when Indonesia and France intervened and helped to facilitate a cease-fire.

In October 1991, the UN Security Council created the UN Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC), which was subsumed by the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in March 1992. Working in conjunction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNTAC oversaw the nation's defense, finance, and communication operations. Having spread knowledge about mine removal and successfully monitored a free and fair election, the majority of UNTAC personnel left Cambodia in 1993.

To maintain the peace, the United Nations left in place personnel and institutions committed to investigating human rights abuses and removing mines.

Forces from the Kulyeb region of Tajikistan wage war against remaining pockets of Islamic resistance, Tajikistan, December 1992. 

Promoting peace in Tajikistan

In 1992, Tajik rebels fought the communist government to establish an Islamic state. The United Nations brokered a cease-fire, but violence resumed by the end of the year. Russia and Uzbekistan provided munitions to procommunist forces as Tajik rebels in Afghanistan launched attacks from across the border.

In 1994, another cease-fire was brokered and the United Nations established the UN Mission of Observers in Tajikistan (UNMOT). Concurrently, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) launched a mission to Tajikistan to promote peace.

The OSCE mission has become the Office in Tajikistan, which now helps the government combat terrorism, counter extremism, develop democratic institutions, destroy small arms stockpiles, clear mines, secure the border with Afghanistan, promote human rights, improve resource management, fund enterprise development, and facilitate land reform.

Italian U.N peacekeeper soldiers listen at one of their bases in the village of Maaraka, Lebanon, October 20, 2007.

An Agenda for Peace

Recognizing the increased role for UN peacekeeping since the Cold War, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote An Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking, and Peacekeeping, which assessed the place of the United Nations in a post-Cold War security environment. The report represented a major conceptual leap in the UN’s thinking about its role in international conflict.

In the report, Boutros-Ghali defined a new kind of peacekeeping: peace enforcement. Unlike past UN missions, peace enforcement operations could be deployed without consent of the fighting parties, and would be empowered to use force to police a cease-fire or ensure delivery of humanitarian aid.

When UN missions to Somalia and Bosnia revealed the shortcomings of such an assertive approach, Boutros-Ghali revised the concept in 1995. Nevertheless, peace enforcement came to be known as "second generation" or "robust" peacekeeping. Perhaps more importantly, the Agenda introduced the notion of post-conflict peacebulding. Since the Agenda, the UN has absorbed peace-bulding into its mission, and created a peace-bulding Commission in 2005.

A young Mozambican boy collects discarded election pamphlets ahead of the country’s first multi-party elections in October 1994. (Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

UN operation in Mozambique

After gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, the government of Mozambique began a devastating civil war with the South African-sponsored Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). Following two years of dialogue, the two parties signed a peace agreement in Rome in 1992.

Part of the agreement allowed for the creation of a UN Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) to support the cease-fire, monitor the demobilization of forces, and oversee national elections. ONUMOZ was successful in repatriating refugees, demobilization, and disarmament. In 1994, civilian observers oversaw multiparty elections that culminated in a peaceful inauguration. ONUMOZ was terminated in January 1995 after having achieved all of its primary objectives.

The former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, appears before the International Criminal Tribunal October 30, 2001 in The Hague. (Michel Porro/Getty Images)

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established

Faced with mass atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the first war crimes tribunal since the World War II trials at Tokyo and Nuremberg. Since 1993, the ICTY has indicted 161 people, including high-profile leaders such as former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. On May 15, 2011, Serbian authorities captured Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general and one of the most wanted fugitives in the world after fifteen years at large. Mladic was transferred to The Hague to face trial for masterminding the massacre of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. The ongoing proceedings of the ICTY represent the crucial role of legal proceedings in addressing—and deterring—crimes against humanity in the midst of conflict.

The remains of Tutsi victims of genocide are displayed in the church where they were killed, Kigali, Rwanda, July 17, 2005. (Peter Van Agtmael/Polaris)

Genocide in Rwanda

In 1993, fighting broke out, once again, along the Rwanda-Uganda border between the predominantly Hutu Rwandan government and the Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). In response, the UN deployed the UN Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR) to prevent the RPF from using Uganda as a staging ground for cross-border attacks. In August 1993, the two parties reached an agreement—known as the Arusha Accords—establishing a transitional government. The UN set up the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) to support implementation of the Accord.

But in April 1994, the Rwandan president died in an airplane crash, catalyzing a massive wave of violence. About 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days—largely in the systematic killing of Tutsis by Hutus. As UN peacekeeping forces came under attack, the UN withdrew most of its troops in the country. When the RPF finally won control of Kigali in July 1994, it committed to abiding by the 1993 peace agreement.

The violence in Rwanda traumatized the international community. In the wake of the genocide, the United Nations established an international tribunal and investigated its own failure to prevent the genocide. The inquiry found that too few resources and too little political will, compounded by fundamental misunderstandings, contributed to the international community’s inadequate response.

Nigerian peacekeepers deploy into Monrovia and are met by cheering crowds, August 7, 2003. (Michael Kamber/Polaris)

UN in Liberia

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) dispatched an armed peacekeeping force to help subdue the Liberian civil war. Once the force brokered a peace agreement between the warring factions, the UN Security Council established the UN Observer Mission to Liberia (UNOMIL) to ensure compliance with the agreement.

UNOMIL arrived in Liberia in 1993, mandated with monitoring the cease-fire, overseeing an election, and investigating human rights violations. The mission marked the first time UN representatives worked in conjunction with a peacekeeping operation from a different international monitoring organization. Although the cease-fire was violated, order was eventually restored and Liberia successfully held democratic elections in 1990s.

Following the end of UNOMIL’s mandate, the UN established the UN peacebulding Support Office in Liberia (UNOL) to encourage reconstruction and reconciliation efforts after the elections. However, in 2003, fighting again broke out between government and factional forces, leading to the resignation and exile of former leader Charles Taylor. In response, the UN Security Council adopted UN Security Council Resolution 1509, creating the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to oversee a cease-fire and facilitate national transition processes. UNMIL’s mandate includes providing assistance in the governance of natural resources, including timber and diamonds. The combined UN and national effort have resulted in the lifting of international sanctions on Liberian natural resources.

A young boy walks past a makeshift U.S. Army base outside the northern Bosnian city of Tuzla, January 1996. (ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

peacebulding and state-building in Bosnia-Herzegovina

After enduring airstrikes from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Serbian military engaged in U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Dayton, Ohio. The resulting Dayton Accords divided Bosnia into a Bosnian Serb Republic and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. To implement the Dayton agreements, NATO established the Implementation Force (IFOR) to ensure the peaceful establishment of a new border.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Sarajevo, established under the Dayton Accords, was dispatched concurrently and mandated to restore peace and stability in the war-torn nation. The OSCE mission proved vital in strengthening the country’s security and defense, and was expanded to include twelve thematic programs ranging from community engagement and parliamentary support to arms control, school diversification, and judicial reform. The OSCE mission remains in the region today, continuing to support stability and reform.

The Stabilization Force (SFOR) replaced IFOR in December 1996 and was tasked with creating a security environment within which the country could rebuild its civil and political structures. SFOR also worked with the European Union Police Mission and the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina to assist with reconstruction of professional Bosnian police forces.

Muslim women pray by the coffin of a 1995 Srebrenica massacre victim identified by DNA testing, July 11, 2009. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Genocide in Srebrenica

The largest mass killing in Europe since World War II occurred in the town of Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, an area under the watch of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR). Approximately 8,000 innocent Muslim boys and men were massacred by Bosnian Serb militants.

UNPROFOR was created in February 1992 to demilitarize three Croatian UN Protected Areas (UNPAs)—regions with a significant population of Serbs and a history of armed conflict. As regional tensions reached a boiling point, UNPROFOR was expanded to serve Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a focus on securing the Sarajevo airport—the epicenter for coordination of personnel and supplies.

In 1995, UNPROFOR was restructured into three separate, but coordinated peacekeeping operations: UNCRO in Croatia, UNPROFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and UNPREDEP in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, known together as the UN Peace Force (UNPF).

UNPROFOR and UNPF were criticized for their slow pace, their inability to properly secure resources or areas of strategic importance, and their inability to ensure the safety of refugee populations within the UNPAs, as demonstrated by the mass murder of innocent Muslims in the UN safe haven of Srebrenica.

Guatemalan military police block the entrance to the main military police headquarters in Guatemala City, February 1, 1997. (AP Photo/Scott Sady)

UN Mission in Guatemala

After thirty-six years of war, the Guatemalan government and the rebel group Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca signed a peace accord in December 1996. To support the agreement, the UN General Assembly established a field operation primarily tasked with human rights monitoring; however, once a cease-fire was agreed upon, the UN Security Council added military observers to verify compliance. With its expanded mandate, the peacekeeping mission cleared mines and oversaw disarmament and demobilization among rebel fighters.

An Indian UN soldier watches as a British Chinook returns empty to the international airport at Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 9, 2000. (AP Photo/Peter Macdiarmid)

Multilateral response in Sierra Leone

In May 1997, unrest in Sierra Leone culminated in a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its armed peacekeeping force intervened and restored the government in March 1998.

In July 1998, the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) was created to monitor the country. Under the protection of ECOWAS forces, unarmed UNOMSIL personnel reported human rights abuses to the UN Security Council. In December 1998, the alliance against the government began an offensive. By January 1999, UNOMSIL personnel were forced to evacuate or retreat.

In May 1999, a UN special representative brokered the Lome Peace Agreement between the ruling government and the rebel coalition. Five months later, the UN Security Council set up the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to help implement the agreement, deliver humanitarian aid, preserve the cease-fire, and support fair elections. UNAMSIL successfully completed its mandate in December 2005 and was succeeded by the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), tasked with securing long-term peace in Sierra Leone.

A landmine victim in Afghanistan, May 2009. (Larry Towell/Magnum Photos)

Ottawa landmine agreement

Canadian leadership of an international campaign to ban landmines resulted in 122 countries signing the Mine Ban Treaty in 1996. Also known as the Ottawa Convention, the UN-backed agreement prohibits the use, development, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines by state parties. Signatories are also required to destroy land mines in their possession within ten years of accession to the treaty. The Ottawa Convention entered into force in 1999, and currently has 156 states party, with several prominent absences—including the United States, China, India, and Russia.

Children greet visiting UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs John Holmes, unseen, in Paoua, Central African Republic, March 29, 2007. (AP Photo/ Alfred de Montesquiou)

Peacekeeping to peacebulding in the Central African Republic

After a year of unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR), African leaders brokered a comprehensive resolution between the government and the military. In 1997, to ensure its implementation, the presidents of Gabon, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali deployed an inter-African force (MISAB), with logistical support from France. The UN Security Council approved the MISAB operation.

When France withdrew its support in 1998, the UN Security Council established the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINURCA). MINURCA oversaw the consolidation of peace in the CAR, as well as economic development and democratic institution-building. In 1999, the UN Security Council decided to gradually phase out MINURCA in favor of a greater focus on peacebulding. In February 2000, the UN peacebulding Support Office in the Central African Republic [PDF] (BONUCA) assumed responsibility for the CAR, carrying on MINURCA’s mission of democracy promotion, maintenance of peace and security, and economic reconstruction throughout the country. The CAR continues to be the subject of UN peacebulding efforts today.

Ratification materials for the International Criminal Court are exchanged at the United Nations in New York, April 11, 2002. (REUTERS/Peter Morgan PM/HB)

Rome Statute establishes ICC

The adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998 was a milestone in international law. Whereas previous tribunals—such as Nuremberg, Rwanda, and former Yugoslavia—were created on an ad hoc basis, the Rome Statute established a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC holds proceedings in The Hague, the Netherlands, and exists separate from any other international organization.

The Rome Statute entered into force in July 2002, after ratification by sixty countries. Since then, the ICC has officially taken up cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Sudan. Currently, 121 states are party to the ICC. The United States has not signed on, however, because of fears that the ICC would impede U.S. sovereignty and subject its military to prosecution.

A convoy of French NATO troops stops on the roadside near Mitrovica, Kosovo, June 21, 1999. (Wade Goddard/Polaris)

Kosovo reconstruction

Years of occupation by Serbia in the Kosovo region of the Balkans ended when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched a seventy-eight day campaign against Serb forces.

In 1999, the United Nations assumed an unprecedented amount of responsibility by agreeing to govern Kosovo through its own interim administration. In June, the UN Security Council authorized an Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and a NATO-led force. UNMIK was tasked with exercising administrative and executive authority in the province, maintaining law and order, coordinating humanitarian relief, supporting the reconstruction of infrastructure, promoting human rights, and assuring the safe return of refugees and displaced persons.

UNMIK was successful in supporting the people of Kosovo as they worked to establish an autonomous democratic government, and has since been able to downshift into a monitoring role.

East Timor’s president, Xanana Gusmao, inspects UN peacekeeping troops in Dili on May 29, 2005 (Lirio Da Fonseca/Reuters).

The UN in East Timor

After occupying East Timor for more than two decades, Indonesia decided to hold a referendum that allowed East Timorese to vote for independence. In response, the UN Security Council established the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) in 1999 to monitor the election process, which resulted in a resoundingly favorable vote for independence. However, forces loyal to Indonesia embarked on campaigns of violence. Eventually the Indonesian government accepted international assistance, resulting in the deployment of the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) [PDF] to restore order. By October, Indonesian forces began withdrawing from the region and handed power over East Timor to the United Nations.

To facilitate the transition, the United Nations created the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET provided support for humanitarian aid, rehabilitation, development, and self-government. UNTAET handed power to the new parliament in East Timor in 2002 and was replaced by the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), which oversaw security and stability throughout the post-independence period until it concluded its mandate in 2005.

A Rwandan African Union soldier patrols at Abushouk camp near El Fasher in northern Darfur, November 3, 2004. (Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters)

African Union established

In 1999, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was reconstituted as the African Union (AU)—becoming the premier regional organization for the African continent. Where the OAU adhered to principles of noninterference in states’ internal affairs, the AU commands nonindifference in the face of human rights or humanitarian emergencies.

The AU began its work in 2002 focusing on promoting economic development and ensuring security in Africa. The Peace and Security Council (PSC), established in 2004, is able to intervene in conflicts when continental security is at stake. To date, the PSC’s greatest accomplishments have been interventions in Darfur, Burundi, and—to a lesser extent—Somalia. Under the auspices of the PSC, the AU is also developing a Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), which seeks to identify early indicators of conflict, facilitating preventive action. The PSC hopes to have an AU Standby Force in the coming years.

A Ghanaian peacekeeper from the United Nations mission in the DRC stands guard in front of the local port in the northern province of Mbandaka, April 12, 2010. (Katrina Manson/Reuters)

Establishing the largest peacekeeping operation in the DRC

After a five-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the warring parties agreed to stop fighting in the 1999 Lusaka Accords. To support the agreement, the UN Security Council established the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).

MONUC’s mandate evolved to include implementing the cease-fire; overseeing the disarmament, demobilization repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration process; and ensuring fair democratic elections. Despite MONUC’s presence, widespread rape, murder, and displacement of civilians continued in the DRC. In 2010, the UN Security Council replaced MONUC with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). The mission is currently the largest-ever UN peace operation: 19,084 military personnel (including military observers and police), 2,828 civilian staff, and 983 international civilian personnel.

MONUSCO has a greater focus on civilian protection, stabilization, and peace consolidation than MONUC, though it is not yet clear whether MONUSCO will have greater success in stemming violence in the DRC. Indeed, the increasing incidence of sexual violence has prompted a UN investigation.

Children peek in a window at a church school at Mpati camp for internally displaced persons. (Kuni Takahashi/Polaris).

G8 declaration on conflict prevention

At the 1999 Cologne Summit, the Group of Eight (G8) reached an unprecedented agreement on the need to improve conflict prevention capacity, as well as the need to pay greater attention to the issue of conflict prevention.

As a result, the G8 convened an ad hoc session on conflict prevention in Berlin in December 1999. The next year, in July 2000, the G8 foreign ministers agreed on the G8 Miyazaki Initiatives for Conflict Prevention, which highlighted the threat posed by small arms and light weapons; the importance of economic development for conflict mediation; the destabilizing effects of illicit trade in diamonds; the tragedy of children in armed conflict; and the need for international civil police.

By taking up the issue of conflict prevention, the G8 raised the issue’s profile and affirmed the importance of preventive approaches in avoiding deadly and costly conflicts, creating a potential counterbalance to the United Nations on peace and security issues.

Conflict in the 21st Century

Members of the United Nations General Assembly gather at the 2005 World Summit, September 16, 2005. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Responsibility to protect (R2P)

At the end of the 1990s, the debate over intervention in humanitarian crises remained unresolved. The Canadian government launched an independent commission on the competing principles of intervention to prevent mass atrocities and the protection of state sovereignty.

The ensuing report used the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) as its conceptual foundation. The report argues that it is states’ responsibility to protect its citizens from preventable mass atrocities. When a state is unable or unwilling to act, however, the burden of action falls on the international community.

Over the past decade, R2P has gradually evolved and gained traction, and in the 2005 World Summit Outcome document, UN member states formally embraced the concept. However, countries still disagree on whether the international community should commit itself to decisive action when faced with mass atrocities or whether they should be restricted to supporting states’ attempts to protect its citizens.

The United Nations General Assembly building, foreground, and the Secretariat building, Saturday July 22, 2000. (AP Photo/Shawn Baldwin)

Brahimi Report on UN Peace Operations

The Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, or the Brahimi Report (named for the panel’s chair, Lakhdar Brahimi), was commissioned to address the failures of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s. The Brahimi Report outlined ways in which the United Nations could enhance its peacekeeping capacity.

Some of the most influential recommendations of the report include better alignment of resources and goals, greater integration of peacebulding and peacekeeping, enlargement and restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, creation of a designated peacebulding unit (now the peacebulding Support Office), and closer consultation with troop-contributing countries.

Despite a number of recommendations that fell by the wayside, the Brahimi Report is considered a successful attempt at UN peacekeeping reform, given the broad acceptance of most of the report’s recommendations by the United Nations and its member states.

A piece of art symbolizing the UN’s commitment to peace sits outside the organization’s headquarters in New York, September 24, 2008. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

UN action on small arms

Recognizing the role that the use and proliferation of small arms have in intensifying conflict, the UN developed the Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects. The plan compels countries to identify and track weapons, destroy surplus caches, administer end user certificates for arms transfers, and criminalize illicit stockpiling, possession, production, and transfer of arms. Yet implementation of the plan—along with addressing the illicit use of small arms on the whole—has been difficult.

Smoke billows from the twin towers of the World Trade Center–the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack. (Susan Watts/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

9/11 and the changing nature of conflict

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four U.S. airplanes, flying two into the World Trade Center towers in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The fourth was diverted by the passengers and crashed in Pennsylvania. The attack was the largest affront on U.S. soil by foreign entities. The incident highlighted the changing nature of conflict insofar that the United States was attacked by nonstate actors with no recognized ties to standing governments.

A U.S. soldier instructs a member of the Afghan National Police during target practice, April 26, 2010. (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

War and state-building in Afghanistan

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. president George W. Bush launched the global war on terrorism. A U.S.-led alliance invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban government, which had been sponsoring terrorist organizations.

The Taliban lost control of Kabul in November 2001, and the United Nations held talks on Afghanistan in Germany, the next month. The Bonn Agreement established an interim government for Afghanistan, and arranged for the drafting of a constitution and democratic elections. It also called for a tripartite partnership between the Afghan Transitional Authority, a UN mission, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Following the Bonn Agreement, the UN Security Council established the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority. ISAF continues to conduct security and stability operations, train the Afghan National Security Forces, and oversee reconstruction and development through Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

An SLA (Sudan Liberation Army ) combat unit on patrol near the northern Chadian border in Darfur, November 10, 2004. (Guy Calaf/Polaris)

Genocide begins in Darfur

In 2003, two Sudanese rebel groups began attacking government targets to protest the government’s preferential treatment of Arabs over black Africans. The government responded through proxy militias, known as the Janjaweed, which carried out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against black Africans in the Darfur region.

Twice in 2004, the Sudanese government committed to disarming the Janjaweed, but the killings continued. The UN Security Council repeatedly condemned the violence and threatened sanctions, and, in September 2004, the U.S. government declared the killings in Darfur to be genocide. The African Union deployed a small force in July 2004 to monitor the cease-fire agreement—the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS)—that proved woefully inadequate.

Finally, in 2006, the African Union brokered a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the largest rebel group. Shortly thereafter, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations adopted a plan to integrate AMIS into an augmented, hybrid AU-UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur. After extensive diplomatic overtures, Sudan accepted the African Union/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in June 2007. Despite this, UNAMID remains underresourced and the humanitarian situation remains dire.

An illegal dealer guards his identity while displaying a selection of diamonds in Manica, Mozambique, September 19, 2010. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Kimberley Process and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative developed

Increasingly alarmed by the role that the diamond trade had in financing internal conflicts in Angola and Sierra Leone, African diamond-exporting countries met in Kimberley, South Africa, to discuss conflict diamonds. Following a UN General Assembly resolution [PDF], negotiations among concerned states and the diamond industry culminated in the UN-supported Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which entered into force in 2003. The process requires an extensive certification regime for both importing and exporting countries that aims to exclude diamonds from conflict zones from international trade. Forty-eight states and the European Community have adopted the process.

A similar program developed in 2002, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), promotes disclosure between developing countries and companies regarding the trade of natural resources in an effort to reduce corruption and conflict. EITI provides independent oversight of these processes, and helps member and aspirant countries develop standards and procedures to counter resource exploitation.

However, Global Witness—a human rights watchdog that campaigns against natural resource-related conflict and corruption—withdrew from the Kimberley Process in December 2011. Citing an outdated, ineffective, and politically decrepit system, Global Witness’ withdrawal represents a major blow to the credibility of the diamond monitoring group.

A U.S. Marine covers the face of a statue of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein with a U.S. flag in Baghdad, April 9, 2003. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

U.S.-led invasion of Iraq

In March 2003, the United States, supported by what was termed a "Coalition of the Willing," invaded Iraq, allegedly to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction. The government in Baghdad fell swiftly and the process of state-building began. In May 2003, the UN Security Council recognized Great Britain and the United States as occupying powers, called on both to stabilize Iraq, and established UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.

After years of fighting to turn the tide of civil war, Iraq and the United States negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in late 2008 that outlined a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. Adhering to this timetable, the last U.S. troops left Iraq on December 15, 2011, marking the official end to nearly 9 years of nation-building that left 4,487 U.S. soldiers killed, 32,226 U.S. soldiers wounded in action, tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties, and cost nearly $1 trillion.

A photograph taken in May 2008 by the Save the Children organization, shows "Elizabeth", who says she was raped by ten peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast in June 2007. (Ho New/Reuters)

Confronting sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers

Following reports of sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers, Prince Zeid of Jordan was appointed as the first special adviser on sexual exploitation and abuses. The Zeid Report expressed "grave concern" and outlined a set of guidelines for proper peacekeeper behavior.

The report led to the creation of Conduct and Discipline Teams, mandatory pre-deployment training courses, in-country campaigns to disseminate information to the public about peacekeeper conduct, and a contract ensuring appropriate behavior by all staff. Although national governments have the responsibility to prosecute the troops they contribute to peacekeeping missions, the UN also established punitive measures, such as judicial review, and financial compensation systems. Despite these efforts, reports of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers continue to arise.

The United Nations flag flies at half-staff outside UN headquarters in New York, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2003. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Peacebuilding Commission established

Created in 2005, the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) operates as an intergovernmental advisory body supporting nations emerging from conflict.

While advising parties on peacebuilding strategy, the commission also organizes resources and unites the relevant actors (including donors, troops, and humanitarian workers) in peacebuilding operations. Support for peacebulding efforts come from the Peacebuilding Fund, which is independent of the commission. In 2010, member states donated nearly $335 million to the fund for post-conflict assistance.

UN police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, remove barricades set up by Haitians protesting the validity of the December 2010 elections. (Kena Betancur/Reuters)

Capstone Doctrine

In 2008, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) tried to create an updated, comprehensive UN peacekeeping doctrine to be used by all personnel in peacekeeping operations.

The Capstone Doctrine, which replaced the 1995 General Guidelines on UN Peacekeeping, drew on reports by the secretary-general to create a strategy that better reflected the multidimensional nature of contemporary peacekeeping missions. The new DPKO doctrine includes detailed procedures and training for civilian, military, and police personnel working in peacekeeping operations.

ASEAN country foreign ministers hold hands during the Welcoming the Entry into Force of ASEAN Charter ceremony in Jakarta on December 15, 2008. (BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images)

ASEAN adopts new security focus

In December 2008, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) charter formalized the alliance of ten member states into a unified organization. The legally binding charter outlines norms and values, codifies rules, sets goals, and promotes accountability and compliance.

In 2009, ASEAN built on its charter and established an ASEAN Political Security Community (APSC) to ensure that all member countries conduct themselves peacefully and democratically, particularly when dealing with intraregional differences. The APSC works towards political development, conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebulding, and conflict resolution through the APSC Blueprint [PDF].

An Argentinean UN peacekeeper monitors the inauguration of a new road on Cyprus, October 14, 2010. (AFP PHOTO/PATRICK BAZ)

UN released New Horizon report

A joint report released by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) in July 2009, A New Partnership Agenda: Charting a New Horizon for UN Peacekeeping, describes a way forward for UN peacekeeping. Although the report is nonbinding, it is the largest UN peacekeeping review since the Brahimi Report in 2000.

It notes three types of partnerships: (1) partnership in purpose, meaning clearly defined goals, competent management, and good planning for peacekeeping operations; (2) partnership in action, which focuses on the UN’s ability to deliver results on the ground through rapid deployment and dynamic threat assessment; and (3) partnership for the future, which ensures the long-term sustainability of UN peacekeeping by ensuring resources and support for peacekeepers.

DPKO and DFS have subsequently released two progress reports in October 2010 [PDF] and December 2011 [PDF] that provided updates on their goals and identified remaining gaps and weaknesses.

European Union President Belgian Herman Van Rompuy arrives to give a speech during the ceremony to mark the entry into force of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, on December 1, 2009 in Lisbon. (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Lisbon Treaty enters into force

In December 2009, the new Lisbon Treaty entered into force, solidifying the European Union (EU) as a legal entity. Before this, the EU’s role in conflict prevention and response was primarily limited to peacekeeping efforts supported by willing member states. Under the treaty, the idea of a common defense is protected in a solidarity clause that encourages member states to contribute relevant resources and maintain a unified defense when another member state finds itself the victim of a terrorist attack or a (natural or manmade) disaster. EU member states can also formulate common foreign policy initiatives, including conflict prevention (through military assistance) and response.

Despite these provisions, the EU has been criticized for failing to articulate a common response to recent foreign policy crises. Most recently, EU member states were divided over their response to the conflict in Libya, as several member states withheld support for NATO’s military intervention.

Uzbek border guards help ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan cross a small land bridge. (Dalton Bennett/Polaris)

Responsibility to protect in Kyrgyzstan?

Ethnic tensions overflowed in Kyrgyzstan after widespread rioting led to clashes between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups in June 2010. The violence—which caused 400 casualties and displaced 75,000 people—prompted a humanitarian response from the UN, which airlifted emergency supplies and requested $71 million in aid from the international community.

The United States, which operates a military base in Kyrgyzstan to support troops in Afghanistan, contributed $48 million. The violence prompted UN special advisers to call on the international community to "operationalize its ’responsibility to protect.’" Their statement on Kyrgyzstan was among the first times that the responsibility to protect has been explicitly evoked in reaction to an ongoing crisis.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at Zarzuela Palace on July 16, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Carlos Alvarez/Stringer)

UN introduces Global Field Strategy

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined new measures to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness of staff support to UN field missions. The report recommended significant changes to this service delivery aspect of peacekeeping operations, including creating global and regional service centers, transitioning to mission-specific field support infrastructure, and shifting the UN Secretariat’s role from service delivery to strategy and oversight only. The UN General Assembly endorsed portions of the strategy and the UN Security Council has expressed its support, but significant progress has not yet begun.

People chant slogans against the government and military rulers after Friday prayers in Tahrir square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

The Arab Spring

In January 2011, in what is now called the Jasmine Revolution, massive public protests toppled longtime Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In October, millions of Tunisians voted in the country’s first democratic elections. Protests sparked again in April, however, and the government responded violently and imposed a new ban on demonstrations.

Following the Tunisian revolution, mass protests demanding political and legal reforms in Egypt led to the abdication of President Mubarak and the installation of military rule. International response has been bixed between support for reform and concern over regional stability. Former president Mubarak currently stands trial on charges of corruption and the killing of approximately 850 protestors during the uprising.

After months of protests and demonstrations against Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s autocratic rule, the president officially stepped down after thirty-three years of rule by signing a transfer-of-power agreement on November 23, 2011. Although violence has tapered somewhat, regional and international concerns over Yemen’s future stability persist.

Rebel fighters move across the desert in pursuit of forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi some 120 km (75 miles) east of Sirt in eastern Libya, March 28, 2011(Finbarr O’Reilly/ Courtesy Reuters).

Using force to protect civilians in Libya

After fierce fighting between Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi and rebel forces opposing his rule, the UN Security Council (UNSC) voted to allow "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya, leading to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led (NATO) intervention and bombing campaign. The decision followed an Arab League resolution, which called for a no-fly zone over Libya. The operation in Libya represents the first time the "responsibility to protect" norm has been implemented through a UN-endorsed military intervention. In June 2011, the International Criminal Court charged Qaddafi with crimes against humanity following "widespread and systematic attacks" on civilians.

After months of stalemate, in October 2011 Libyan rebel forces overtook Sirte, the last remaining pro-Qaddafi stronghold. Shortly thereafter, reports emerged that the elusive dictator had been captured and killed, ending his reign on power after forty-two years. One day later, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an inquiry into Qaddafi’s death amid allegations that it violated international law. On October 31, 2011, NATO formally ended military operations in Libya, although bursts of violence have persisted as the country transitions to a new government.

Soldiers loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara drive to the front line during fighting on the northern outskirts of Abidjan April 8, 2011 (Emmanuel Braun/Courtesy Reuters).

UN responds using force in Ivory Coast

In November 2010, Ivorian incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo lost an internationally certified presidential election to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, but Gbagbo refused to cede power. (There were conflicting reports, however, that the Ouattara campaign had rigged the vote. Several months of increasingly bloody internal strife followed and the international community exerted intense diplomatic pressure on Gbagbo to step down through "regional diplomacy," repeated UN Security Council resolutions (1962, 1967, 1968, 1975), and economic sanctions. These efforts failed, however, and it was not until French and UN helicopters conducted airstrikes against key Gbagbo positions that he relinquished power to Ouattara. On November 29, 2011, Gbagbo was unexpectedly arrested and flown to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, at the International Criminal Court.

In June 2012, reports emerged that seven UN peacekeepers, attempting to protect villagers, were ambushed and killed. The attackers remain unidentified, although the deputy defense minister blamed "militia men or mercenaries."

World Bank President Robert Zoellick (Courtesy Reuters/Yuri Gripas).

World Bank report on conflict, security, and development

In April 2011, the World Bank released a comprehensive report on the state of conflict governance, which frames violence, instability, and insecurity as critical roadblocks to development. It describes a constellation of global institutions and organizations designed to prevent interstate conflict and war that are increasingly irrelevent to the nature of twenty-first century violence. Incidences of interstate war are extremely rare; the overwhelming majority of conflicts are intrastate and involve nonstate actors. Research also shows that 40 percent of all postconflict socities experience a recurrence of violence within ten years. The report argues that strengthening domestic institutions and encouraging good governance are critical to ending cycles of violence.

Al-Shabaab’s military spokesman Sheik Abdul Asis Abu Muscab issues a statement south of Mogadishu (Feisal Omar/Courtesy Reuters).

African forces deploy forces to Somalia to battle terrorist group

On October 16, 2011, Kenya deployed hundreds of troops into Somalia to fight al-Shabab, a terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda; in 2010, the group claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings in Uganda that killed over seventy people and, in early 2011, it cut off food aid during the famine.

On November 20, 2011, witnesses reported Ethiopian troops crossing the border into Somalia to help fight al-Shabaab, although the Somali government initially denied the accounts. After almost two months of fighting, the Kenyan government agreed to integrate its troops into the forces of the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Sanctioned by UN Security Council Resolution 1744 [PDF], AMISOM currently has approximately nine thousand troops stationed in the Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. To assist and augment existing AMISOM troops, the AU renewed its request in December 2011 for the UN to impose a no-fly zone and naval blockade in Somalia. In September 2012, after al-Shabab lost control of the capital of Mogadishu about a year earlier, AMISOM booted them out of their last urban stronghold, Kismayo. Roughly three thousand AMISOM peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia since 2007.

A woman runs along a road during an air strike by the Sudanese air force in Rubkona, South Sudan, on April 23, 2012 (Courtesy Reuters/Goran Tomasevic).

Brokering a peaceful resolution between Sudan and South Sudan

After decades of fighting for independence, South Sudan officially celebrated its independence day on July 9, 2011. Less than one year later, however, tensions escalated between Sudan and South Sudan over the ultimate sovereignty status of the contested region of Abeyi and how to divide critical oil revenues.

Simmering tensions erupted in April 2012, when South Sudan occupied the oil-rich region of Heglig claimed by Sudan, which quickly reasserted control. The Sudanese government subsequently launched a series of aerial and ground attacks on South Sudan, as well as declared a state of emergency on the border regions. The UN Security Council called on Sudan and South Sudan to "immediately end hostilities and resume negotiations," and threatened sanctions if the two countries did not comply.

In March 2013, Sudan and South Sudan reached an agreement to resume oil production and withdraw troops from the border. While a positive step forward, the agreement failed to address outstanding border and security issues, posing serious risks for a resurgence of armed conflict.

M23 rebel fighters occupy Rumangabo, DRC, after government troops abandoned the town on July 28, 2012 (James Akena/Courtesy Reuters).

Renewed violence in the DRC

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—labeled as the “world’s worst war” by the New York Times with over five million dead since World War II—resurfaced in November 2012 when M23 rebels seized Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has insisted that his country is not involved, but UN experts have accused both the Rwandan and Ugandan governments of providing the rebels with financial, logistical and ground support. After two weeks of fighting, M23 rebels withdrew from Goma following the signing of a peace agreement in early December 2012, allowing government forces to retake the city. However, eastern Congo remains tense, and the relative ease with which the rebel group overtook government forces only increased the perception of official weakness and lack of legitimacy.

Australian soldiers serving with the International Stability Force (ISF) in East Timor wait to board an aircraft to return home on December 18, 2011(Lirio Da Fonseca/Courtesy Reuters).

UN withdraws from East Timor

In December 2012, the UN officially concluded its mission in East Timor, marking the end to what is widely considered to be one of the most successful UN peacekeeping missions after a long and uneven road to independence. UN and other development agencies will remain in East Timor for the foreseeable future to continue the work of building a strong and stable state.

Following a 1999 referendum—in which the vast majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia—fighting erupted between Indonesian-sponsored anti-independence Timorese militias and those advocating independence. From 1999 to 2002, the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) directly governed East Timor, ultimately handing over power to an elected government in 2002. Following the withdrawal of UN forces in 2005, violence broke out again in 2006, prompting the return of UN peacekeepers and the deployment of an Australian-led International Stabilization Force.

A Syrian boy living in Jordan takes part in a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in front the Syrian Embassy in Amman June 12, 2011 (Muhammad Hamed/Courtesy Reuters).

Civil war in Syria

Brutal suppression of nonviolent antigovernment protests sparked widespread fighting that, by the summer of 2012, engulfed Syria in a brutal civil war. Over the course of the conflict, approximately eighty thousand have been killed and over 1.5 million have fled the country—many of them unarmed civilians. At the same time, the civil war is increasingly taking on a transnational dimension as violence spills across the border into Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan and as both Hezbollah and Israel become increasingly involved militarily.

In response to the escalating conflict, the Arab League suspended Syria and the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), which deployed three hundred unarmed military observers to monitor the implementation of a peace plan crafted by former UN special envoy Kofi Annan, who was replaced by Lakhdar Brahimi in August 2012. Despite the steady increase in hostilities, stronger action against the Bashar al-Assad regime by the UN Security Council was blocked numerous times by Russia and China, and a stalemate persists.

A soldier sits with bullet rounds in Yopougon, Ivory Coast (Luc Gnago/Courtesy Reuters).

Historic UN Arms Trade Treaty adopted

The UN General Assembly adopted the first Arms Trade Treaty to govern the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms. Negotiations for an arms trade treaty began over ten years ago, with significant reluctance from leading exporting giants, Russia, China, and previously the United States, however in April 2013 the treaty was voted through by an overwhelming majority of 153 to three, with twenty-three abstentions. The treaty prohibits states from exporting conventional weapons in violation of arms embargoes and weapons that would be used for crimes against humanity or terrorism, and forbids states to allow conventional weapons to reach the black market.

Helmets belonging to soldiers of the Nigerian army are seen as part of preparations for deployment to Mali at the Nigerian Army peacekeeping center in Jaji (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters).

Robust UN peacekeeping mission in Mali authorized

Three months after the unilateral French attack on Islamist rebel groups in northern Mali, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to establish the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). MINUSMA's mandate allows for the use of "all force necessary," to "stabilize the key population centres, especially in the north of deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas."

Though the mandate has been authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Russia has expressed concerns that UN peacekeepers are assuming a more aggressive role than their tra'ditional monitoring of cease-fires. Like the new rapid-reaction force approved to "neutralize armed troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MINUSMA will have far-reaching authority under the purview of security enforcement, including anti-terrorist operations. These types of unrestrained mandates could create a new norm for peacekeeping missions that would have "unpredictable and unclear consequences" on the perceived impartiality and safety of UN personnel.

Residents and medics transport a Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what they said was a chemical weapon attack near Aleppo, to a hospital (George Ourfalian/Courtesy Reuters).

Allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria

The potential use of chemical weapons in Syria raised the prospect of a new level of escalation in the civil war that has plagued the country since the summer of 2012. Following allegations from Britain, France, Israel, the United States, and Turkey that chemical weapons had been used, the UN redoubled its appeal to the Syrian government to allow inspectors into the country. Nonetheless, a UN commission charged with investigating war crimes in Syria has reiterated that the current evidence for chemical weapon use is inconclusive.

The government has repeatedly claimed that it would never use chemical weapons on its own people and officially denies that it possesses such weapons. Syria is one of five countries that have not signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Issue Brief

Scope of the Challenge

Preventing armed conflict, keeping peace, and rebuilding war-torn states remain among the most intractable challenges facing the international community. Every year, at least 250,000 die in armed conflicts, most of which occur within, rather than between, states. Armed conflict and its aftermath corrode virtually every aspect of society: law and order, human rights, socioeconomic development, education, basic health services, and the environment. The World Bank estimates the global economic costs for all conflicts at upwards of $100 billion each year. At the same time, conflict prevention, mitigation, and response are global concerns, because instability often spills across borders and triggers piracy, drug trafficking, small-arms sales, environmental exploitation, and terrorism.

After the shocking mass atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, the United Nations (UN) and several regional organizations mandated new initiatives to address violence. The UN reforms improved its ability to monitor political developments, plan and support peacekeeping operations, and coordinate mechanisms charged with peace-building. Meanwhile, new arrangements within the European Union, African Union, Organization of American States, and other regional organizations have increased responsiveness to instability and violence within their regions—albeit with varying levels of engagement, capabilities, and effectiveness.

But these international instruments have had a mixed record of success. In many cases, international organizations lack the political consensus and financial resources to fulfill their mandates. Moreover, these institutions remain disproportionately reactive, and often neglect conflict prevention as a critical tool for managing armed conflicts. Most peacekeeping efforts still have insufficient manpower, money, or equipment to meet their overstretched mandates. And the international community frequently fails to foster peace and recovery in war-torn countries.

Multilateral action can be an effective response to outbreaks of armed conflict, but international and regional approaches need to be enhanced and coordinated if they are to effectively address the range of conflict management problems facing the global community.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Overall assessment

Overall assessment: Unprecedented attention and reform, yet patchy focus and uncertain goals

In recent years, multilateral institutions and governments have devoted increased attention to the challenges of international conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and postconflict peace-building. Over the past decade, the international community has begun to develop new tools and institutions to prevent and manage conflict. Partly as a result of such efforts, interstate and intrastate conflicts have declined by approximately 40 percent since 1992. Although high-profile conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan consumed the majority of international attention and resources over the past decade, there have been notable successes involving multilateral conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace-building efforts in less prominent conflicts, such as East Timor and Liberia.

Yet the international instruments designed to prevent the outbreak of conflict or end fighting remain unwieldy and, at times, ineffective.

Among the actors that exist to end conflict, the UN plays an indispensable role. Created in 1945 to "save future generations from the scourge of war," the UN enjoys universal legitimacy and legal status, thanks to its charter. During the Cold War, however, the UN found its practical role in international peace and security circumscribed. But the end of the bipolar confrontation and the increase in the number of intrastate conflicts in the early 1990s rejuvenated the UN’s role in global conflict management. In 1992, UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali released An Agenda for Peace, which outlined how the UN should assess and reform conflict prevention, mediation, and peacekeeping in a post-Cold War context. It also introduced the concept of postconflict peace-building to support conflict resolution and prevent a relapse into violence. Over the ensuing two decades, the UN created or strengthened many of its programs, departments, and agencies charged with anticipating, preventing, and responding to conflict.

Within the UN, the Security Council is charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, including the authority to establish peacekeeping operations, impose international sanctions, and authorize military action. However, due to deep-seated political and ideological differences among its permanent members, the Security Council is often slow to respond to unfolding crises. The UN also manages conflict through its secretariat, which includes the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (created in 1992) and the Department of Field Support (created in 2007). The Department of Political Affairs (established in 1992) is the secretariat’s focal point for conflict prevention, mitigation, and response.

Other UN departments, agencies, and programs have also adapted their mandates to operate more effectively in conflict environments. These include the UN Development Program (UNDP) and its Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Response; the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; the Office for Disarmament Affairs; and the World Food Program.

In the wake of the genocide and atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s, the UN implemented a series of new initiatives and reforms to improve conflict management. These included targeted sanctions to deter or end violence, expert panels to monitor the effectiveness of targeted sanctions on peace spoilers, and an increase in the use of special envoys and special representatives to the secretary-general. These advancements have been assisted by a relatively active [PDF] UN Security Council willing to authorize peacekeeping missions and sanctions to mitigate inter- and intrastate conflict. Most recently, in 2005, the UN created the peace-building Commission (PBC) to foster integrated strategies for sustainable peace and recovery in the aftermath of armed conflict by securing resources and coordinating political, security, and development actors. After seven years, however, the PBC only operates in six countries.

Regional organizations such as the African Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European Union, and Organization of American States (OAS) have also created and improved mechanisms to better respond to violence within their regions, albeit with mixed results. Most recently, NATO led a mission in Libya to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians, and the OAS successfully mediated territorial disputes between Guatemala and Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua, and Guyana and Suriname. The Arab League also played an unprecedented role in the ongoing Syrian crisis by suspending Syria, initiating and leading an observer mission, and supporting an ultimately failed UN Security Council resolution that called for stronger action against the Bashar al-Assad regime.

At the same time, other multilateral bodies have strengthened capacities for conflict management. In July 2008, the World Bank established a State and peace-building Fund to support peace-building projects in fragile, conflict-prone, and conflict-affected states. The International Monetary Fund has expanded its emergency assistance funding streams to cover postconflict assistance. It has also been more actively involved in building the capacity to establish financial and fiscal systems in postconflict countries, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia. Because such international financial institutions are not viewed as overtly political, states are generally more willing to accept monitoring, training, and assistance. Moreover, innovative partnerships between governments, the private sector, and civil society have established new norms and practices for conflict prevention and stabilization. The Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative and the Kimberley Process restrict governments and companies that exploit resources that fund and exacerbate armed conflicts.

Finally, a number of leading bilateral donors, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and the Netherlands, are investing in their own conflict management capabilities, such as enhanced early-warning systems, rapidly deployable civilian and military personnel, dedicated funding streams to conflict-prone and conflict-affected states, and interagency planning processes aimed at securing "whole of government" effort in conflict-plagued countries such as Afghanistan.

Despite the proliferation of multilateral and bilateral instruments, significant challenges remain. First, conflict prevention efforts—including early-warning systems—receive scant attention compared with peacekeeping and postconflict interventions. Second, UN peace operations—which have increased dramatically [PDF] in scope—are constrained by severe financial and personnel shortages. The UN Security Council contributes to this overstretch by authorizing and frequently extending the life of peace operations that lack adequate planning and realistic mandates. Aside from major troop-contributing countries [PDF] like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Ethiopia, the majority of UN member states do not commit the requisite number of troops and uniformed personnel. Finally, the international community’s efforts to foster peace and recovery in war-torn states leave much to be desired. Despite the creation of the PBC, the international community still struggles to build coherent and coordinated policies. These challenges are exacerbated by poor management, corruption scandals, charges of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers, and loose coordination among the UN, regional organizations, and other players involved in peace operations.

Conflict prevention

Conflict prevention: Strides in curbing interstate conflicts; major shortcomings in addressing intrastate conflicts

Success in preventing conflicts from emerging or escalating has been mixed. On the one hand, conflicts between countries have declined markedly over the past sixty years, largely as a result of collective security agreements, a balance in nuclear weapons, and increased economic interdependence. In 2011, the Uppsala Conflict database reported only one interstate conflict between Cambodia and Thailand.

However, conflicts within states (including those involving nonstate actors) have increased since the end of the Cold War, and they now constitute nearly all high-intensity conflicts. In 2011, Conflict Barometer [PDF] reported that over 75 percent—301 of the 388 conflicts monitored—were intrastate. At the same time, the recurrence of violence within ten years in approximately 40 percent of all postconflict societies further underlines the need for more robust conflict prevention.

The international community employs a variety of conflict prevention tools that target structural causes of conflict, conduct early warnings and assessments of emerging conflicts, promote cooperative measures such as mediation and dispute resolution, and act coercively. And yet, the multilateral tools currently available to reduce political instability and the likelihood of armed conflict within states are generally underdeveloped, uncoordinated, and deprived of the political authority necessary for effective application. For instance, there is currently no UN mechanism exclusively charged with aggregating, analyzing, prioritizing, and integrating early-warning reports of budding conflicts. In addition, when facing internal political crises, some member states invoke principles of state sovereignty and noninterference to deter international institutions from carrying out any effective role in conflict prevention.

The principal international body dealing with conflict prevention for interstate conflicts is the UN Security Council. However, by virtue of its political dynamics and the dependence on a convergence of political wills among member states, it remains deficient as an instrument for conflict prevention. Beyond the UN Security Council, the UN in general—as well as most regional organizations—has a poor record of preventing intrastate conflicts, such as civil wars, coups d’état, and state-sponsored mass killings. Over the past ten years, though, growing awareness of the costs of delayed intervention has mobilized UN efforts to prevent violence.

The primary UN body providing early warning assessment and mediation support is the Department of Political Affairs (DPA). The DPA produces analytical reports and briefing notes warning of incipient crises, and its specialized Mediation Support Unit (MSU) facilitates training of peacemaking mediators, supports specific mediation processes, and provides a databank of peacemaking experience. The MSU also deploys staff to work in individual crises at short notice through its Standby Team of Mediation Experts. In addition, the DPA manages twelve political missions that cross a range of activities, including preventive diplomacy and peace-building support. These missions vary in terms of mandate and capacity, but all aim to "provide a forward platform for preventive help prevent and resolve conflict, or to build lasting peace in nations emerging from civil wars." Due to a chronic lack of resources, however, DPA has a limited capacity to support missions in the event of unanticipated political crises.

The UN and regional organizations rely heavily on special and personal representatives (SRSGs), envoys, and high-profile leaders to inform and oversee negotiations specific to a nation or an issue, such as Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi handling the crisis in Syria. The UN has also experimented with establishing regional officers as platforms for SRSGs tasked with regional conflict prevention. The UN has had success using mediation resources in over a dozen conflict zones, ranging from border disputes between Nigeria and Cameroon to civil conflicts in Tajikistan to high-intensity conflict in East Timor. The African Union is working to develop a stand-alone mediation capacity, and has had some success in collaborating with other actors, as in helping to broker the Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

The UN has also managed a preventive deployment mission through the UN Preventive Deployment Force to Macedonia from 1995 to 1999. The mission monitored and reported on the security situation along the borders with Albania and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and is widely regarded as a success that led to sustained peace and stability in the region. The lack of a permanent, standing military force at the disposal of the UN, however, limits the establishment of more preventive deployment missions.

Several regional organizations have also developed early-warning systems. The European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe both have relatively advanced systems. The Organization of American States (OAS) has made some important strides toward playing a more active, preventive role by promoting democratic principles and leveraging various international dispute settlement mechanisms, such as the secretary-general’s "good offices" and use of "special missions." In a 2011 meeting, OAS member states proposed a formal early-warning system to prevent coups, although plans have yet to move forward. In Africa, the most developed [PDF] include the Economic Community of West African States Early Warning and Early Response Network and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Conflict Early Warning Response Mechanism in Africa. Despite updates, both systems remain limited in coverage and response. Increased bilateral support from major donors for early-warning and mediation efforts, including through U.S. Agency for International Development initiatives and the EU African Peace Facility [PDF], have strengthened preventive efforts. However, conflict analysis is still in its infancy and limited early warning is not adequately integrated with policy responses.

Strengthening peacekeeping operations

Strengthening peacekeeping operations: Expanded scope and pace, yet overstretched

Multilateral peacekeeping efforts have become simultaneously more common and complex in recent years. Over the past decade, the UN has been the largest actor in such efforts, having supervised a number of successful peacekeeping operations, including most recently Central Africa, Chad, and Sudan. Nevertheless, peace operations are inadequately resourced with overstretched mandates. Against a backdrop of growing transnational threats and competing agendas, the global demand for peacekeeping exceeds the global willingness and capacity to provide monetary or operational support for peace operations.

Multilateral peacekeeping has evolved significantly since its origins in the early post-World War II era. Although not mentioned in the UN Charter, peacekeeping was predominantly conceived as a way to keep peace between states by inserting observers or lightly armed military forces to maintain ceasefires between opposing sides. Over time, both the scope of peace operations and the relevant actors involved have expanded dramatically. Most peace operations today occur in the context of intrastate conflicts, including those that may be still ongoing, and have more extensive ambitions—namely, to help countries ravaged by conflict create the necessary conditions for a durable peace. Such multidimensional effortthes include humanitarian, military, political, and development actors who work toward intertwined goals of promoting security, advancing good governance and the rule of law, and paving the way for economic development.

Over the past fifteen years, the UN engaged in peacekeeping efforts in the midst or the aftermath of civil wars, genocide, mass atrocities, terrorism, and radical Islamist insurgencies. Ten years ago, twenty-seven thousand UN peacekeepers were deployed in fifteen operations. Today the UN oversees sixteen operations and over ninety-eight thousand peacekeepers around the world, managed by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). DPKO currently operates missions in Sudan, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, the Western Sahara, Haiti, Lebanon, and the DRC. Although the UN established a Department of Field Support (DFS) in 2007 to help bridge gaps between headquarters and field staff, coordination remains patchy.

The UN Security Council has the ultimate responsibility for authorizing and (at the highest level) supervising peace operations. The role of the UN Security Council implies that UN peacekeeping missions are—for better or worse—subject to political bias in terms of their mandates. In order to cement political consensus for a mission, the Security Council often enlists the support of regional organizations. More recently, the UN Security Council has authorized missions under Chapter VII, “Actions with Respect to the Threats, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression,” which allows peacekeeping operations to use force for defense.

For instance, it authorized or supported the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Economic Community of West African States to engage in peacekeeping efforts in Libya, Afghanistan, Liberia, the former Yugoslavia, and Sierra Leone. Several regional organizations like the European Union and the African Union (AU) also authorized peacekeeping missions (usually as a result of an UN-decreed mandate), and developed their own institutional capacity to plan, manage, and deploy peacekeepers. Increasingly, regional organizations are also acting in concert with the UN to form hybrid peacekeeping operations, such as the joint missions with the AU in Sudan and Somalia. Similarly, in the past seven years the first wholly military European Security and Defense Policy missions in Macedonia and Chad were all “bridging” missions where European soldiers made security and logistics preparations for the larger UN peacekeeping forces.

Despite notable successes, the UN and other multilateral and regional peacekeeping operations have suffered several major setbacks. The decade following the Cold War revealed serious shortcomings in Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. In response to these failures, the UN initiated a series of restructures and reforms under the auspices of the Report of the Panel on UN Peacekeeping Operations—otherwise known as the Brahimi Report— released in 2000. The report highlighted UN deficiencies in its conflict management capabilities and called for a robust doctrine with realistic mandates and the strengthening of information-collection and peacekeeping capabilities across UN agencies. In part because of these efforts, the UN improved its peacekeeping operations leading to successes in East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. However, a number of problems remain that hamper the success of peacekeeping operations.

First, UN Security Council mandates continue to be exceedingly difficult to implement with the forces and capabilities marshaled by troop-contributing countries, raising concerns that the mandates are unrealistic and suffer from mission creep. Given that the field commanders have too few forces, they are required to constantly prioritize which mandated tasks to attempt to implement within their area of operations. Correcting this problem will require the UN Security Council to rein in its ambitions and define clearly achievable peacekeeping goals.

Second, because the UN does not maintain its own standing army, it must rely on prospective troop-contributing countries to supply forces and equipment. Generating a full-fledged peacekeeping force takes nine to twelve months on average, although deployment times vary substantially based on political will (on receiving an expanded mandate, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon grew fourfold in two months, whereas the UN/AU Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) took more than three years to reach full deployment). In recent years, DPKO has led a campaign to enhance the UN’s rapid-deployment capability, but it has received little support even among member states with the most relevant capabilities.

Third, in addition to delays in deployment, member states—including the United States—have often proven reluctant or unwilling to provide the military hardware and equipment (referred to as high-demand enablers and force multipliers) needed for mission success. One notable example of this gap is the unfulfilled request for eighteen medium-utility helicopters to provide tactical mobility for UNAMID troops, some of whom died because they were not quickly transported to field hospitals.

Finally, the quality of peacekeepers has been mixed, with uneven training standards of peacekeepers among countries. Lack of common and professional training standards impedes progress and, in several cases, damages the reputation of UN peacekeeping. In 2010, reports emerged that UN peacekeepers from Nepal were the source of a deadly outbreak of cholera in Haiti, which has killed more than seven thousand civilians throughout the country. Equally disturbing have been instances of gross misconduct by UN peacekeepers in the field. The most alarming incidents pertain to sexual abuse cases in the DRC, Burundi, Haiti, and Liberia, where scores of women and children were allegedly raped by UN troops. Although the UN has adopted a policy of zero tolerance for such conduct, it relies on troop-contributing countries to hold aggressors accountable for crimes committed by their nationals.

Preventing mass atrocities

Preventing mass atrocities: Getting attention, but not enough action

International efforts to stop mass atrocities—genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes—remain inadequate. Although international treaties, legal innovations, and advances in transitional justice have provided the norms and tools to tackle mass atrocities, political principles of national sovereignty and noninterference often thwart action in this area. Despite former president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s pledges to “never again” stand by as atrocities are committed, they in fact continue in Syria and elsewhere. The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) lengthy indictment of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide serves as a stark reminder both of the stakes involved in the pursuit of international justice and the diplomatic and political obstacles to holding perpetrators accountable.

In the wake of the Holocaust, UN member states negotiated the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), which officially defined genocide and listed five specific crimes: killing; causing serious bodily or mental harm; deliberately inflicting conditions on a group to bring about—in whole or in part—its physical destruction; imposing measures intended to prevent births; and forcibly transferring children from one group to another. The convention, however, contained no triggers for international response to genocide, and instead invited signatories to “call upon the competent organs of the United Nations” to take action.

Although 142 countries have ratified the Genocide Convention, the world has witnessed repeated instances of genocide and other mass atrocities. These include the genocide in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979; the Rwandan genocide of 1994; the July 1995 massacre of unarmed Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina; ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999; and the slow motion mass killings and starvation in Darfur between 2003 and late 2009. In each case, the international community failed to unite behind a collective response.

Recent reports of atrocities and war crimes in Syria point to continued prevalence of these crimes. Since the outbreak of antiregime protests in March 2011, more than sixty thousand people have been killed and over six hundred thousand have fled the country. But despite the rising death tolls and displaced refugees, the UN Security Council remains deadlocked, and diverging political interests and entrenched views on sovereignty continue to be a major impediment to more coercive action.

There have been a number of efforts to set up tribunals—including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda—and hybrid criminal bodies—such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Crimes Panels of the District Court of Dili (East Timor Tribunal), and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia—that address particular conflicts. These initiatives have expanded the legal and judicial instruments available to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable.

In addition, the creation of the International Criminal Court in 1998 provided another legal tool to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable for their actions. The ICC has aggressively investigated and indicted high-profile criminals, such as Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In March 2012, the ICC issued its first verdict convicting Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga of recruiting and using child soldiers. However, the ICC has been criticized for its disproportionate focus on Africa--all the cases under official investigation are in Africa (although there are preliminary investigations in Colombia, Afghanistan, Georgia, and Honduras).

The UN has also strengthened its capabilities to fight mass atrocities through more diplomatic channels. In 2004, it created the Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) to collect information and provide recommendations to the UN Security Council. To date, the efficiency of the OSAPG has been mixed. OSAPG receives strong support from many UN member states for having acted proactively to release statements of concern in situations characterized by massive human rights violations, although it is limited by a lack of resources.

The evolving norm of the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) could provide a normative framework for redoubling international efforts to prevent genocide and other mass atrocities. The concept of R2P is based on three pillars: (1) states bear the primary responsibility of protecting its citizens; (2) the international community is encouraged to support states in this endeavor; and (3) in instances when states fail to meet their obligations, the international community should use diplomatic, humanitarian, and coercive pressures to intervene. In 2011, the multilateral response to the unfolding Libyan crisis proved to be an important step in implementing R2P. In the context of the ongoing civil war in Syria, however, R2P has not yet compelled a concerted international effort to prevent ongoing atrocities, casting doubt over whether R2P will remain a mainstream operational tool.

Several regional organizations have also made the prevention of mass atrocities a rhetorical priority. The AU Constitutive Act of 2000 includes “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” Still, the AU is hampered by the participation of members who have been the very perpetrators of mass atrocities.

Civil activism in developed countries has also helped raise awareness and galvanize support among key policymakers. For instance, efforts by faith-based organizations (FBOs), humanitarian agencies, and groups such as the Save Darfur Coalition (which consists of nearly two hundred organizations) have been highly effective in mobilizing support and urging governments to stop the “ongoing genocide” in Sudan. The Enough Project—a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, FBOs, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees—has similarly focused attention on genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa. However, support of the civil-society groups has also been selective and numerous high-intensity conflicts—such as in the DRC and Sri Lanka—have suffered from disengagement.

State-building and peace-building

State-building and peace-building: Stagnant resources, unrealistic mandates

When the killing ends or is reduced, efforts to rebuild war-torn states and societies begin. Despite the creation of new institutions and processes, the international community’s record on this front has been inadequate. According to the Center for International Development and Conflict Management’s Peace and Conflict 2012 report [PDF], most conflicts over the past decade occurred in relapsed countries. Iraq, Sudan and South Sudan, and Afghanistan serve as somber reminders of how complex the task of postconflict reconstruction can be, particularly in cases of ongoing insurgency and political division.

Effective and comprehensive strategies are required to ensure that peace is sustainable (peace-building) and that capacity and legitimacy of institutions is enhanced (state-building). Strong institutions help prevent the recurrence of violence by providing public goods and enhancing the perceived legitimacy of institutional arrangements. However, both state-building and peace-building efforts suffer from similar shortcomings: complex mandates for international missions, financial and resource constraints, a lack of national ownership in the design and implementation of reconstruction and peace-building efforts, and short-term commitments from donors that limit opportunities to stabilize and promote long-term economic development.

The international community has undertaken efforts to fill such gaps. In 2005, the UN created the Peace-building Commission (PBC), the Peace-building Support Office, and the Peace-building Fund (PBF) to coordinate activities and mobilize resources for postconflict countries. To date, the PBC has coordinated country-assistance strategies and allocated over $100 million in direct aid for the postconflict states of Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and the Central African Republic. It remains modest in scope and mandate, however, and operates only as an advisory body. In addition, the PBC is currently limited from adding complex postconflict cases to its agenda—such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.

At the same time, concerted efforts to achieve state-building objectives are sluggish in many postconflict countries. In Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) shifted from focusing on combat to training the Afghan National Security Forces, and plans to withdraw altogether by December 2014. Other major state-building initiatives like Haiti lack financial support in spite of donor pledges and newly created trust funds to assist reconstruction efforts.

Several international financial institutions have undertaken steps to mainstream peace-building and state-building support. The contribution of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on this front has been mixed. Some IMF critics contend that IMF loans that come with strict austerity programs that can cause economic hardship that could trigger armed violence to break out along socioeconomic fractures. Additionally, although peace-building and state-building activities are not formally included within the IMF mandate, the institution is capable of influencing activities indirectly. Others view the IMF more charitably, as an organization that can help nations address structural precipitators of conflict by making loans conditional upon much-needed political and economic reform.

More recently, the World Bank has supported reconstruction efforts by creating a group working on states prone to or affected by conflict and establishing the State and Peace-building Fund [PDF]. Created in 2007, the Fragile and Conflict-Affected States Group coordinates the World Bank’s work in such states or zones. The State and Peace-building Fund has the twin objectives of improving governance and institutional performance, and supporting the reconstruction and development of countries prone to, in, or emerging from conflict. The UN Development Program’s (UNDP’s) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery also established a trust fund to mobilize resources for recovery needs.

Moreover, regional organizations have established their own financial development institutions. The African Development Bank (AfDB) places importance on assisting states as they transition out of fragility through the Fragile States Facility enhanced engagement plan, which aims to “strengthen capacity and accountability in economic and financial governance.” Two examples of the AfDB’s intervention were in Rwanda and Mozambique, both transitioning out of a fragile, postconflict environment toward greater stability and economic prosperity. In Rwanda, AfDB is promoting economic infrastructure and enterprise development; in Mozambique, it is focusing on good governance and economic and human capital development.

There has also been a marked growth in informal ad hoc coalitions to support specific postconflict countries—commonly known as "groups of friends." The most recent example of such informal diplomatic coalitions is "Friends of Syria," which has convened three times since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011. Aiming to resolve the crisis diplomatically, the group works to engage the Syrian opposition in negotiations with the Assad regime, although to little avail thus far.

U.S. and International Policy Issues

Support for peacekeeping operations

Should the United States provide greater financial and other support for peacekeeping operations?

Yes: Proponents note that the entire budget for peacekeeping operations led by the United Nations is $7.23 billion, or less than 1 percent of global military expenditures in 2011. In addition, only 20 U.S. troops served in peacekeeping operations in 2012, with an additional 120 in police training and 10 as military observers. Appropriating the $2.2 billion in international peacekeeping requested in the FY2011 budget and having the Pentagon provide the UN and regional organizations with military support would be a cost-effective way to address U.S. international security interests for only a small fraction of the overall defense budget.

No: Critics point out that the United States already provides 27 percent of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ annual budget—$2.2 billion [PDF]—as well as $50 million annually for the African Union-led peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and the Multinational Force and Observers mission in the Sinai Desert between Egypt and Israel. And while U.S. troops largely do not take part in UN-commanded deployments, large numbers are involved in UN-mandated operations, particularly in Afghanistan. In addition, the United States continues its Global Peace Operations Initiative, which trains foreign military and police forces. These contributions demonstrate that the United States has accepted more than its fair share of the international peacekeeping burden. In addition, peacekeeping operations mandated by the UN Security Council may be inefficient or prove unsuccessful, wasting American taxpayer dollars.

State-building missions

Should the United States be engaged in state-building missions?

Yes: Poor governance structures in weak and conflict-ridden states allow terrorism and other transnational issues, like crime and disease, to prosper and spread regionally and internationally. Legitimate and effective institutions are necessary for sustained peace, and proponents argue that, as such, they are an appropriate target for U.S. foreign policy efforts. State-building provides both a cost-effective measure to ensure the future security and stability of failed and weak states, and an unparalleled opportunity for advancing U.S. national interests with regard to security, diplomacy, and cultural and humanitarian concerns. Moreover, rather than directly confronting extremism through force, state-building offers an alternative to military action and the nurturing of democratic institutions helps develop permanent bastions of cooperative states with like-minded agendas, essentially acting as a conflict-prevention tool.

No: Critics contend that state-building, rather than fostering stability, has the potential to exacerbate conflict and endanger U.S. national interests. Effective methods of state-building are not well established, and the practice depends heavily on potentially uncontrollable aspects of the local political and security environment. Exercises in state-building often prove detrimental to U.S. long-term interests, and may cause regional destabilization, provoke insurgency, and disquiet the international community. State-building is not a quick fix: patience and long-term resources are required that may not be politically palatable with regard to domestic opinion. At the same time, state-building cannot be achieved without security, and in most cases requires a prolonged and expensive military action—exactly what advocates seek to avoid. Legitimacy in state-building operations requires multilateral support and consensus, vital factors that have been unachievable with regard to the most recent U.S. endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, critics argue that not all weak or failed states present security risks to the United States, and forays into such countries would exhaust national resources at a time of severe strains on the U.S. budget.

Membership in the International Criminal Court

Should the United States become party to the International Criminal Court?

Yes: Proponents contend that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is the only permanent international body that provides global jurisdiction over mass atrocities when other means of prosecution fail or do not exist. To ensure the continued respect for the rule of law, and solidify its moral position as a global leader in international justice efforts, the United States should sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC. The United States already actively cooperates with the ICC—it attended the Kampala review conference and continues to support the referral of the Darfur case to the court. Moreover, participation in an institution that shares the values of international law and order fits with the broader U.S. foreign policy of engagement with international institutions. Finally, resistance to crimes of aggression is unwarranted because the United States signed an amendment that does not allow prosecution of U.S. citizens without UN Security Council referral.

No: Critics believe that granting an international court the legal authority to try U.S. citizens for crimes committed in the United States would infringe on the established purview of U.S. national courts and significantly undermine the U.S. Constitution. As such, ratification of the Rome Statute would require a constitutional amendment to ensure concordance with U.S. law. Moreover, the ICC would grossly interfere with U.S. sovereignty, inherently limit power to choose judges, influence the direction of trial proceedings, and thus further undermine U.S. national interests.

Sharing peace operations with emerging powers

Can management of peace operations be shared among traditional and emerging powers?

Yes: UN peacekeeping operations already consider the input of emerging powers, including China—a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Other countries, such as India and Brazil, also provide invaluable support as major troop-contributing partners. As emerging countries grow wealthier, they should continue to increase their engagement—even financially—to meet their (informal) obligations as responsible stakeholders in the global security space. A larger group of members with capability would enlarge and diversify the resources available for conflict-management efforts.

In addition, sharing responsibilities will enhance the UN Security Council’s credibility and legitimacy for conflict prevention and response. Armed conflict more often directly affects developing nations than it does the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and a more proportional participation scheme would better address the problems of countries in need of intervention. Likewise, a wider representation will allow the UN Security Council to make decisions on budgets and mandates that consider regional dynamics and shed a more analytical lens on the effectiveness of peace operations.

No: Managing UN peace operations is complex and incorporating more actors might lead to more gridlock and red tape, diminishing the effectiveness and response time for conflict management. The current format gives priority to the world’s most capable and responsible actors, and adding less-capable states may confuse the UN Security Council’s agenda and process. Additionally, more participants do not necessarily mean a proportionate expansion of the resource pool or heightened capabilities. Finally, emerging powers have security interests (for example, Brazil on Iran, and South Africa on Zimbabwe) distinct from those of the United States and its Western allies, and incorporating their position would undermine U.S. national interests.

The promise of R2P

Does the R2P doctrine offer a promising normative foundation for curtailing mass atrocities?

Yes: Proponents believe that the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) doctrine is a valuable tool for humanitarian intervention, enhancing both the international community’s motivation and prospects for successful operations geared toward ending mass atrocities. Foremost, the doctrine affirms that sovereignty involves the obligation to protect a country’s civilians—further asserting that a failure to protect transfers the responsibility to intervene from a national government to the international community. Without the cloak of sovereignty to hide behind, state leaders will be less likely to commit or allow atrocities within their borders. Likewise, with such a normative mandate, the international community, led by the United Nations, will have a broadly recognized basis to take action. Furthermore, the R2P concept has already been successfully engaged, with the international community responding to protect civilians during the outbreak of violence in Kenya after elections in 2008 and during civil war in Libya in 2011.

No: Staunch opponents of R2P argue that it is not the job of the United States to intervene in the problems of another sovereign nation, or to coordinate a group of states to do so. The R2P doctrine does not establish new concrete obligations under international law and therefore will not create an environment that motivates outside actors or compels national leaders to protect populations. The primary mechanism for leveraging collective action in protection under R2P continues to be the UN Security Council, limiting a supposed global responsibility to the purview of a few nations. The Security Council gridlock over Syria underscores the inefficacy of a such an approach to international intervention. Without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council, individual countries may still be unwilling to intervene unilaterally. The doctrine also advocates swift action to prevent mass atrocities but does not expand existing mechanisms for monitoring, evaluating, or facilitating action.

Recent Developments

African intervention in CAR

December 2013

On December 5, nearly one year after the Seleka (“Alliance”) group of militias launched a campaign to overthrow the Central African Republican (CAR) Government, the UN Security Council  authorized MISCA, the African-led International Support Mission in the CAR. Shortly thereafter, France bolstered African peacekeeping efforts with 1600 troops. However, by January 2014, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that escalating violence might result in genocide.

UN uses drones in the DRC

December 2013

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations launched its first two unmanned aerial vehical (UAVs) for surveillance purposes over the Democractic Republic of the Congo on December 3.  UAVs promise to provide information on the movements of armed groups without endangering the lives of peacekeepers. More UAVs are expected to be launched in April 2014. 


Chemical weapons in Syria

June 2013

Two months after initial allegations from Britain, France, Israel, and Turkey, the United States confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Having stated that the use of chemical weapons would be a “game changer,” the Obama administration has said that it will send military aid to the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, the UN has not yet confirmed the allegations that chemical weapons were used and continues to urge the Syrian government to allow full access to the country for the UN’s fact-finding mission. The government has repeatedly claimed that it would never use chemical weapons on its own people and officially denies that it possesses such weapons. Syria is one of five countries that have not signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Over the course of the conflict, approximately 93,000 have been killed and over 1.5 million have fled the country—many of them unarmed civilians. At the same time, the civil war continues to take on a transnational dimension as violence spills across the border into Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

Kenya leaves ICC

September 2013

On September 5, 2013, Kenya’s parliament approved a motion to withdraw its membership from the International Criminal Court following the indictment of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto on charges of crimes against humanity. Kenya’s withdrawal marks the first time a country has left the ICC and carries with it strong implications for other African countries to follow suit. Still, the ICC plans to continue investigating the cases. 

China commits troops to UN

July 2013

China pledged to commit four hundred peacekeepers to the current UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), including 170 combat troops. While China has supplied peacekeepers in the past, contributions have been limited to non-combat personnel such as engineers and medical assistants. China’s pledge to provide infantry is the first of its kind [PDF] and marks a clear policy shift away from China’s traditional non-interventionist position.

More robust mission in Mali

April 2013

Three months after the unilateral French attack on Islamist rebel groups in northern Mali, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to establish the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). MINUSMA’s mandate allows for the use of “all force necessary” to “stabilize the key population centres, especially in the north of Mali… to deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas.”

Though the mandate has been authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, Russia has expressed concerns that UN peacekeepers are assuming a more aggressive role than their traditional monitoring of cease-fires. Like the new rapid-reaction force approved to “neutralize armed troops” in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MINUSMA will have far-reaching authority under the purview of security enforcement, including anti-terrorist operations. These types of unrestrained mandates could create a new norm for peacekeeping missions that would have “unpredictable and unclear consequences” on the perceived impartiality and safety of UN personnel.

Policy Options for Strengthening Armed Conflict Prevention


U.S. and international action are needed to ensure that conflict-prevention, conflict-response, peace-building, and state-building efforts are supported and provided with ample resources. These recommendations reflect the views of Stewart M. Patrick, senior fellow and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) program, and Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action.

Enhance Conflict Prevention

Enhance global architecture for conflict prevention

Together, norms, institutions, regimes, operating procedures, and capacities of international organizations constitute the architecture of conflict prevention. The United States can undertake global risk-reduction initiatives by endorsing norms that promote state responsibility in the interests of peace and security, such as those in the United Nations (UN) Charter and the emerging norm of the responsibility to protect. In support of these norms, core global governance institutions, such as the UN, must be bolstered so that they can continue to defend essential norms through collective action, including the use of force. The United States should also work with international organizations to strengthen global crisis-prevention initiatives—such as early-warning systems, governance reform, mediation support, and electoral assistance—through sharing best practices and funding. Finally, the United States can contribute to the international management and mitigation of crises through pre-crisis capacity-building in the UN and regional organizations, as well as its preparedness to provide timely operational support during a crisis.

Improve UN peacekeeping and peace-building planning

Improve planning of UN peacekeeping and peace-building missions

United Nations (UN) peace operations suffer from poor planning in the design phase and actual implementation and enforcement on the ground. A greater focus on integrated mission planning that considers the roles and responsibilities of all relevant actors is essential to strengthening the effectiveness of peace operations. Released in July 2009, the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations New Horizons report offered recommendations to rectify these issues. In 2010, some of the suggestions have been incorporated [PDF]—namely, greater dialogue and consultation among the host of actors involved in establishing and implementing a UN field mission. However, less headway has been made in creating an accountability framework that delineates a clear division of labor between headquarters and the senior mission leaders. These parameters have to be clarified and used to ensure the long-term success of peace operations.

Increase peacekeeping budgets

Increase budgets for UN and regional organizations

Lack of funding and personnel remain critical concerns for international institutions. Pressure to do more with less has increased during the global financial crisis, shrinking the funds available to the United Nations. As a consequence, officials prioritize the few countries and regions that demand immediate support, fostering a narrow and near-term focus that may neglect quieter emerging crises on the horizon. Although some institutions are expanding their capacity—the European Union dedicated funds for mediation for the first time this year—these organizations should attempt to increase their funding from within their normal budget processes. If this is difficult, the alternative solution is to turn to funding sources outside of the institution, namely voluntary contributions from sympathetic states (primarily from Western Europe, Canada, and Japan).

Regional capacity-building

Coordinate capacity-building efforts with regional organizations

Presently, coordination between the various governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in capacity-building of many regional organizations is, at best, scant. For example, the United States provides assistance via private contractors to the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on a range of apolitical issues including mining, customs, market integration, standards, and information systems. Several other governments also work with the secretariat in Indonesia to build capacity on these and other areas. Unfortunately, all of these outside actors do not coordinate or prioritize their efforts, other than attending a monthly meeting in which several governments refuse to participate.

Within the African Union Secretariat in Ethiopia, a similar situation has unfolded, where parallel and overlapping projects are being implemented by outside groups. The willingness and capacity to share intelligence and resources will undoubtedly provide significant hurdles to any comprehensive effort; however, to ensure the maximum impact for their projects, governments and NGOs should adopt a joint capacity-building approach that promotes greater coherence and coordination.

Enhance early-warning

Enhance early-warning and -action efforts

Although several regional organizations have mandates and some capacity for early-warning systems and assessment, there is no formal information-sharing even for joint political or peacekeeping missions, and only a vague idea among them of what each is doing through informal meetings. Work plans are needed to promote broader cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations that goes beyond simply building capacity and includes formally sharing timely and relevant early-warning information, analytical reporting, and best practices. Early warning must also be better integrated into the decision-making processes of states and international organizations that are committed to preventive action.

Clarify mandates and exit strategies

Clarify mandates and exit strategies for peace operations

UN missions suffer from overstretched mandates that often cannot be achieved with the allocated resources. To ensure that resources are maximized, the UN Security Council should establish criteria for the deployment of a UN Peacekeeping mission, matching mandates to conflict circumstances. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations should work with the UN Security Council to review the mandates for existing operations and provide greater clarity so that mandates are feasible on the ground. A review of mandates should also consider a more coherent strategy toward sequencing and exiting missions, particularly from the peacekeeping stage to the peace-building stage.

Develop rapidly deployable military forces

Develop rapidly deployable military forces to prevent mass atrocities

The U.S. military maintains the world’s preeminent rapidly deployable power-projection capabilities. As one notable example, the Army’s 82nd Airborne-Ready Brigade can deploy as many as 3,600 troops anywhere in the world within eighteen hours notice. However, U.S. military officials demonstrate little enthusiasm for mobilizing this impressive capability to prevent or curtail ongoing mass atrocities. The U.S. military has the capabilities to intervene quickly to prevent genocide when directed by the appropriate civilian authorities, but does not have the clear national policy, doctrine, plans, and training to make that mission a Pentagon-wide priority. The Obama administration must provide specific guidance to the military in its National Security Strategy to plan and train its rapidly deployable forces for genocide- and mass-atrocity-prevention missions.

A U.S. mediation support team

Create a dedicated mediation support team

American diplomatic officials called on to mediate between parties in conflict have long complained that their efforts are hampered by having little support in the way of political analyses, regional and issue-area expertise, logistics, and communications. Within the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, the Obama administration should develop a strategic vision and fund and staff a Mediation Support Unit that could be rapidly deployed to bolster U.S.-sponsored mediation.

Useful lessons can be drawn from the United Nations Department of Political AffairsMediation Standby Team, created in 2008. Consisting of a team leader, as well as experts in constitutional arrangements, human rights and transitional justice, power sharing, and security arrangements, the team was ready to be deployed within three days for a period of up to one month to support the mediation efforts by the United Nations, regional organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. In its first year, the team was deployed twenty-six times to ten countries to support ongoing mediation efforts, and conducted capacity-building seminars in thirteen countries.

UN Core Documents



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

UN Charter (1945)

Collective security organization dedicated to promoting peace, justice, and human rights. Creates post of UN secretary-general and two decision-making bodies: the UN General Assembly (of which all parties are members) and the UN Security Council (UNSC) (five permanent members and ten rotating nonpermanent members). Gives UN Security Council authority to investigate any dispute and determine appropriate measures to resolve conflict.

Convention on the Nonapplicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity (1968)

Lifts restriction on time frame for prosecution of a war crime or crime against humanity after it has been committed.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1318 (2000)

Defines UN Security Council’s role in international peace and security. Expresses determination to exercise better leadership in UN peacekeeping. Reaffirms importance of stopping small arms flows, prosecuting crimes against humanity, cracking down on resource-based conflicts, and sensitizing peacekeepers to HIV/AIDS prevention. Promotes cooperation between UN and regional organizations.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1373 (2001)

Lays out obligations by UN member states to combat international terrorism. Establishes UN Counterterrorism Committee under auspices of UN Security Council to monitor implementation. Voices concern over close connection between nuclear proliferation and transnational organized crime. Emphasizes need to enhance coordination at national, subregional, regional, and international levels to prevent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism.

Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change (2004)

Calls for UN to enhance preventive action through development, preventive diplomacy, and mediation; avoid spread of weapons of mass destruction; develop a counterterrorism strategy; and adopt the responsibility to protect (R2P) norm.

UN Secretary-General Report: In Larger Freedom (2005)

Encourages stronger collective security, especially preventing terrorism; moving toward disarmament and stopping spread of weapons of mass destruction; preventing war and promoting Peacebuilding. Promotes greater respect for human rights, rule of law, and democracy.

2005 World Summit Outcome (2005)

Offers strong support for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), condemnation of terrorism, UN management reform, increased commitment to global health. Creates the Peacebuilding Commission; develops standing police capacity for peace operations; and agrees to bolster secretary-general’s good offices. Promotes greater collaboration between UN and African Union. Affirms the Responsibility to Protect.

UN Secretary-General Report: An Agenda for Peace (1992)

Outlines role of UN peacekeeping after the Cold War. Defines scope of new type of peacekeeping missions as peace enforcement. Lays foundation for postconflict peacebuilding and greater cooperation with regional organizations.

Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations (Brahimi Report) (2000)

Comprehensive review of UN peacekeeping with recommendations in three categories: doctrine and strategy, operational capacity, and rapid deployment: recommends UN standby arrangements system to include several brigades with an on-call list of experienced military personnel deployable within a week.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1327 (2000)

Commits UN Security Council to giving peacekeeping missions clear and achievable objectives that can be undertaken immediately after approval. Allows for greater consultation between UN Security Council and troop-contributing countries through direct dialogue with civilian, military, and police personnel. Stresses importance of HIV awareness and significant female role in peacekeeping operations.

Strengthening Cooperation with Troop-Contributing Countries (2001)

Statement by the UN Security Council president creating a working group to improve transparency between UN Secretariat, UN Security Council, and troop-contributing countries. Urges member states to pay their share of financial burden in full and on time.

UN Secretary-General Report: No Exit Without Strategy (2001)

UN secretary-general report highlighting mandates for peacekeeping missions that include peacebuilding, institution-building, and state-building provisions. Established criteria for conclusion and exit of a peacekeeping mission.

Peacekeeping Mission Mandates and Resources (2004)

Statement by the UN Security Council president acknowledging occasional need to equip peacekeeping operations with "robust rules of engagement." Stresses the importance of full financial and political support by member nations to every mission.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1645 and General Assembly Resolution 180 (2005)

Established a Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) to coordinate resources and actors inside and outside UN system. Intended to concentrate focus on postconflict rebuilding. Outlines committee procedure. Requests that secretary-general establish a Peacebuilding Support Office and Peacebuilding Fund within the UN Secretariat.

Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations (Zeid Report) (2005)

Outlined set of guidelines and best practices for UN peacekeepers. Establishes systems of judicial review, punishment, and financial victim compensation.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1590 (2005)

Creates UN mission in Sudan and mentions allegations of sexual abuses by UN personnel. Affirms zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation of civilians by peacekeepers and urges UN Security Council and member states to develop a prevention strategy.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1719 (2006)

Acknowledges the first country-specific meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission in Burundi. Takes Peacebuilding Commission into account when outlining mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB). Mandate includes promoting peace and good governance; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration; security sector reform; and human rights.

UN Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines (Capstone Doctrine) (2008)

Incorporates lessons learned throughout history of UN peacekeeping to provide normative and operational guidelines for UN peacekeeping operations. Defines three principles of peacekeeping: consent of the parties, impartiality, and use of force only in self-defense and defense of operation’s mandate. Defined three success factors: credibility, legitimacy, and local support.

UN Secretary-General Report: Peacebuilding in the Aftermath of Conflict (2009)

Identifies challenges to Peacebuilding in the immediate postconflict period (first two years) and presents recommendations. Identifies ways to improve UN capacity to help postconflict societies transition toward lasting peace, including (1) on-site leadership teams; (2) clear priorities; (3) support for national ownership; (4) building UN partnerships with other groups well-equipped to assist postconflict states; and (5) enhancing cooperation with member states and donors.

A New Partnership Agenda: Charting a New Horizon for UN Peacekeeping (New Horizon Report) (2009)

Builds on the Brahimi Report and Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) restructuring, calls for more efficient peacekeeping. Offers three facets to a new "global partnership" between the UN Secretariat and member states, especially troop-contributing countries, for the peacekeeping agenda.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1990 (2011)

Establishes the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) in the disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan. Charges UNISFA to monitor the demilitarization of the region and authorizes the mission to take "all necessary actions" to protect civilians in danger and ensure the security of the region.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2043 (2012)

Establishes the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) for an initial period of ninety days to supervise the implementation of the Annan peace plan.

Importance of a Culture of Conflict Prevention in UN (1999)

Acknowledges early warning, preventive deployment, preventive diplomacy, preventive disarmament, and postconflict peacebuilding as necessary and interconnected elements of conflict prevention. Affirms importance of UN Security Council-initiated action to confront threats to international peace and security. Commits to pursuing preventive action.

UN Secretary-General Report: Prevention of Armed Conflict (2001)

First comprehensive UN report on conflict prevention. Emphasizes conflict prevention as a core mission of the UN. Defines conflict prevention role for UN organs and the UN secretary-general. Defines role of UN agencies and programs in conflict prevention activities. Charts course for cooperation with regional organizations, and outlines means to enhance international preventive action.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1625 (2005)

Strengthens conflict prevention by promoting preventive diplomacy and regional mediation; encouraging UN secretary-general reports on emerging crises; supporting regional and subregional early warning functions; and fighting illegal arms trade. Affirms need for comprehensive conflict prevention strategies, which address governance, human rights, resource competition, transnational crimes, and culture.

UN Secretary-General Report: Enhancing Mediation and its Support Activities (2009)

Advocates strengthening regional capacity for mediation. Supports initiatives to strengthen national and local capacity for conflict prevention. Sets out lessons learned, including principles on when to act and the need to act early, importance of a lead actor, mediation team selection, managing spoilers, respect for criminal justice, crafting implementable peace agreements, and role of UN Security Council.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)

Defines genocide as the systematic destruction of a group based on race, nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Criminalizes genocide under international law and clarifies that genocide could occur during peace or war.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 (2000)

First UN Security Council resolution directly addressing the plight of women in conflict. Calls for recognizing special needs of girls and women during conflict with regard to repatriation, resettlement, reintegration, and postconflict reconstruction.

Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000)

Urges states to ensure that no child under eighteen, unless already defined in national legislation, be recruited or coerced (voluntarily or not) into armed conflict.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1460 (2003)

Compels parties engaged in conflict to stop recruiting and employing child soldiers. Calls for member states to commit to ending sexual abuses committed by peacekeepers as well as to any illegal small arms trades.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1612 (2005)

Highlights documented connection between the use of child soldiers and illicit small arms trafficking. Condemns recruitment, use, and abuse of child soldiers in armed conflict. Calls on UN member states to protect rights and well-being of children exposed to armed conflict.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1674 (2006)

Condemns torture, gender based and sexual violence, violence against children and the use of child soldiers, forced displacement, and trafficking. Requests that postconflict reconciliation processes include measures geared toward stopping attacks on civilians, providing humanitarian assistance, and creating acceptable conditions for return of refugees.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973 (2011)

Mandates a no-fly zone over Libya and authorizes participating UN member states totake "all necessary measures" to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 255 (1968)

Classifies use of nuclear weapons as an act of aggression, and indicates that collective security clause of UN Charter would be activated in the event of a nuclear attack on a nonnuclear member state.

Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCWC) (1983)

Series of protocols aimed at limiting "excessively injurious or indiscriminate weapons" adopted since the creation of the convention. Includes bans on land mines, booby traps, incendiary weapons, and blinding weapons against civilians.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Antipersonnel Land Mines (1999)

Mandates destruction of all antipersonnel mines by state parties within ten years of accession to the treaty. Prohibits use, development, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines.

Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons (2001)

States agree to develop or adopt laws and regulations at the national and international levels to control the illicit manufacture and trafficking of small arms. Encourages cooperation with regional organizations and development of regional mechanisms to stop spread of weapons and support disarmament and demobilization programs in postconflict situations.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 (2004)

Establishes binding obligations on all UN member states to enact, implement, and enforce legislation to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction (WMD). States must criminalize proliferation, prohibit transfer of WMD-related material to nonstate actors, impose export controls, secure WMD materials, and prohibit financial or other support to nonstate actors attempting to acquire WMD. States can request assistance in implementing provisions.

UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime: Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking of Firearms (2005)

Aims to enhance cooperation among state parties in order to stop illicit trafficking and manufacture of firearms, their parts, components, and ammunition. Pushes state parties for criminalization of the acts, confiscation, destruction, and tracking of illegal arms.

Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008)

State parties agree to never develop, use, stockpile, or transfer cluster munitions; destroy current caches of cluster munitions and remnants; and provide assistance to victims of cluster munitions. Defines cluster munitions as "a conventional munition that is designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions."

Cooperation Between UN, Member State Coalitions, and Regional Organizations on Peace and Security (1998)

Statement by the UN Security Council president recommending improved monitoring between the UN Security Council and peace operations conducted by member states and regional organizations—including civilian monitors and codeployments. Encourages development of a framework for cooperation between UN and regional operations in the field.

Importance of Strengthening the African Union’s Conflict Prevention and Response Capabilities (2004)

Expresses support for African Union (AU) and establishment of Peace and Security Council. Calls for UN-AU cooperation to strengthen AU’s ability to address peace and security challenges, including conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding. Calls on international community to provide additional support.

UN Security Council (UNSCR) 1631 (2005)

Promotes greater cooperation between UN and regional organizations on conflict prevention and peacekeeping. Encourages states to support conflict prevention capacity in regional and subregional organizations, especially in Africa. Encourages greater counterterrorism cooperation between and among UN and regional organizations.

UN Secretary-General Report: Relationship between the United Nations and Regional Organizations (2008)

Stresses an increase in consultation between regional organizations, particularly between the UN Security Council and the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council. Calls for strengthening the Department of Political Affairs to enhance conflict prevention and recommends establishing a working group on Peacebuilding.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1809 (2008)

Strengthens UN’s relationship with international and regional bodies, and calls on them to prevent conflict through cooperation.

Core Documents



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

Final Act of the International Peace Conference, The Hague (1899)

Established set of conventions for peaceful resolution of international differences, laws and customs of war, and condition of the wounded in maritime warfare. Prohibited use of certain weapons, such as balloon-borne bombs and poison gas.

Final Act of the Second Peace Conference, The Hague (1907)

In addition to affirming the articles of the 1899 conference, established set of conventions on the opening of hostilities, the rights and duties of neutral powers in land and naval war, the status of enemy merchant ships, the use of antisubmarine mines, and the right of capture in naval war.

Treaty of Versailles (1919)

Officially ended World War I. Stripped Germany of its colonies and divided 10 percent of its territory among other nations. Restricted German military and prohibited it from manufacturing war materiel. Demanded that Germany pay reparations for war. Established League of Nations. Article Ten of the League of Nations charter calls for collective security in protecting member states from violations of sovereignty or territorial integrity.

Protocol for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (1924)

Amended Covenant of the League of Nations to accept authority of Permanent Court of International Justice; to outline the process of League arbitration of disputes; and to establish procedure for implementing sanctions and collective use of force.

General Treaty for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy (Kellogg-Briand Pact) (1928)

Parties renounced war against each other and committed to peaceful dispute resolution.

Anti-War Treaty (Non-Aggression and Conciliation) (1933)

Condemned wars of aggression and territorial acquisition by force. Committed to dispute resolution through formal, multilateral mechanisms and established conciliation commissions to serve this function.

Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) (1947)

Signatories pledged to resolve disputes through inter-American mechanisms before referring them to the UN. Pledged to defend security of signatory states, as well as hemispheric peace. Amended by Protocol of San Jose in 1975.

North Atlantic Treaty (1949)

Created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Signatories agreed to peaceful settlement of international disputes, maintenance of appropriate levels of military readiness, promotion of free institutions, and economic collaboration.

Geneva Conventions (1949)

Comprised of four conventions that extend protection: (1) during wartime to any wounded or sick persons in the field; (2) to the sick and wounded at sea; (3) to prisoners of war; and (4) to all civilians (medics, chaplains) caught in a war zone.

Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property (1954) and Second Protocol to The Hague Convention (1999)

Prohibits demolition of cultural sites, as well as destruction, occupation, or export of another party’s property during wartime.

Warsaw Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance (Warsaw Pact) (1955)

Defense pact for communist states, pledging mutual defense for an attack on any state party. Created joint military command, which translated to Soviet troop stationing in all Warsaw Pact states. Encouraged economic and cultural collaboration among parties. Provided for dissolution given creation of a pan-European security agreement.

Treaty of Mutual Cooperation Security between Japan and the United States of America (1960)

Recognizes an armed attack against either party is a threat to the other party. Parties commit to development of international relations by strengthening institutions, and promoting stability. Allows for use of force in defense of Japan.

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe Final Act (Helsinki Accord or Helsinki Final Act) (1975)

Treaty among western democracies and communist states aimed at easing Cold War tensions. Provisions addressed: (1) European security--respect for sovereignty and territory, pacific dispute settlement, avoiding use of force, respect for human rights, and right to self-determination; (2) cooperation on commerce, industry, trade, science and technology, and environment; (3) humanitarian and cultural cooperation; and (4) follow-up after conference.

Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and Protocols I & II (1977)

Additional Protocol I addresses victims of international armed conflict. Prohibits deliberate attacks on civilian populations and resources, and outlaws excessive weaponry. Additional Protocol II asserts that victims of non-international conflicts (conflict occurring within the borders of a single territory) also deserve to be cared for.

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998)

Established the International Criminal Court (ICC), based at The Hague, a permanent court that prosecutes individuals accused of mass atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.

African Union Constitutive Act (2000)

Established African Union (AU). Expresses respect for borders and sovereignty; upholds noninterference in other states’ internal affairs; affirms AU’s right to intervene in a member state in the event of genocide and crimes against humanity. A member state may also request intervention to restore stability.

European Security Strategy (2003)

Identifies security challenges to EU and defines strategy for addressing them. Five key challenges: terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation,regional conflicts, state failure, and organized crime. Three strategic objectives: vigorously responding to threats, bolstering security in the EU neighborhood, and promoting effective multilateralism in the international system.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) New Strategic Concept (2010)

Reaffirms commitment to collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security while recognizing and adapting to new security challenges. Pledges to work toward a world without nuclear weapons. States open-door policy to all European democracies, and calls for the bolstering of partnerships with the United Nations, European Union, Russia, and others.

International Organizations



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

UN Security Council (UNSC) (1945)

Primary UN decision-making body charged with maintenance of international peace and security. Oversees dispute resolution, economic sanctions, use of military force and UN peace operations, and regulation of armaments. Mandates UN peacekeeping operations and authorizes use of military force. Imposes sanctions on noncooperative states under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Department of Political Affairs (DPA) (1992)

Main UN arm focused on peacemaking and preventive diplomacy. Manages political missions and peacebuilding support offices, supports electoral assistance efforts, provides political analysis, advises secretary-general on best methods for promoting peace, and backs UN peace envoys.

Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) (1992)

Organizes and executes UN peacekeeping operations with military and civilian forces to limit conflict by establishing conditions for durable peace.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (1993)

Forum for determining and establishing a response to global human rights issues. Administers technical assistance to national institutions and programs concerned with justice, legislation, and elections. Provides a point of convergence for research, education, advocacy, and information dissemination.

Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA) (1998)

Agenda includes disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, land mines, and small arms. Maintains UN Register of Conventional Arms.

Office of the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide (2004)

Promotes awareness of root causes of genocide, informs necessary actors of potential genocide situations, and helps mobilize a response.

Department of Field Support(DFS) (2007)

Created in 2007 to support peacekeeping operations from headquarters.

UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) and Peacebuilding Support Office (2005)

PBC gathers peacebuilding and postconflict recovery actors to arrange financing and provide advice on efforts. Peacebuilding Support Office is a coordination point for peacebuilding efforts of UN agencies and other international actors.

UN Development Program(UNDP) (1965)

UN development arm. Efforts include developing conflict-conscious development programs; working to control small arms, mines, and cluster munitions; and fostering disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, through legal and technical capacity building, financial support, and advocacy.

World Bank (1944)

Promotes economic development in world’s poorer countries through advice, long-term lending, and concessional grants. The Fragile and Conflict Affected Countries Group (OPCFC) seeks to enhance development aid to countries in conflict or prone to conflict. Operates the State- and Peacebuilding Fund (SPF), which promotes reconstruction, governance, and institutional reform in countries with conflict.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) (1945)

Promotes international monetary cooperation, exchange rate stability, and temporary financial assistance for countries facing balance-of-payments problems. Provides postconflict countries with emergency assistance loans, advice, and technical support for reconstructing government institutions.

League of Arab States (1945)

Seeks economic, defense, and political cooperation among primarily Arab states in the Middle East.

Council of Europe (1945)

Promotes human rights, regional cooperation, and democratic governance in Europe through international law.

Organization of American States (OAS) (1948)

Seeks to maintain security and democracy, advance development, and resolve disputes among member nations. Operates OAS Peace Fund, to disburse funds for crisis response; Inter-American Defense Board, to develop collaborative approaches on common defense and security issues; and Inter-American Democratic Charter, to promote democracy, poverty alleviation, and human rights.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (1949)

Collective defense alliance among European and North American nations. Crisis management responsibilities include deployment of peacekeeping forces, enforcing sanctions and no-fly zones, and humanitarian missions. Has engaged in these activities in countries outside of its membership since the end of the Cold War.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (1961)

Forum for discussing economic policy and a think-tank that monitors, analyzes, and forecasts global economic trends. Development Assistance Committee (DAC) provides arena for experts and member nations to discuss best practices for development in fragile and conflict-prone states, with aims of poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (1967)

Aims to promote economic and social development, maintain peace throughout the region, and provide a forum for regional issues and interests.

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) (1976)

Focused on advancing regional economic cooperation. Standby force available to intervene in conflict situations. Community Court of Justice rules on issues of human rights. Operates warning and response program and small arms control project.

South African Development Community (SADC) (1980)

Seeks to foster economic cooperation, as well as peace and security.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) (1985)

Seeks to boost economic and social development. Recent activities have focused primarily on free trade among South Asian nations, combating drug trafficking, and counterterrorism.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (1990)

Largest regional security organization in the world. A forum for negotiations and action for conflict intervention, management, and reconstruction. Conflict Prevention Center acts as advisory body for field operations and the OSCE chairman, and fosters coordination among member states.

European Union (EU) (1993)

Regional partnership promoting economic and political interdependency and cooperation. Can call on member states to provide humanitarian aid, crisis assistance, and peacekeeping forces.

Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (1996)

Originally founded to combat drought, currently has a larger mandate including security and regional development. Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution division has been involved in brokering peace deals in conflicts in Sudan and Somalia. Developing Early Warning and Early Response Mechanism secretariat. Involved in Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005) that ended war between North and South Sudan.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (1996/2001)

Originally founded to resolve border disputes. Activities now include military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and counterterrorism drills. Organization generally believed to be a counterbalance to U.S. interests in the region.

Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) (2002)

Mutual defense organization among former Soviet republics.

African Union (AU) (2002)

Regional organization seeking to represent the continent’s economy and address internal social, economic, and political issues. Peace and Security Council and African Standby Force provide humanitarian, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding assistance. Working to develop a Continental Early Warning System for Africa. Panel of the Wise acts as a conflict resolution mechanism.

Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) (2008)

Regional organization aimed at establishing more open borders and shared economic development programs. Encourages regional defense cooperation and security.

International Court of Justice (ICJ) (1945)

Main judicial wing of United Nations. Settles disagreements between member states when an issue is referred. Gives UN legal advice on compliance with international law.

International Criminal Court (ICC) (2002)

Independent court responsible for trying those who commit crimes of international interest, such as war crimes and genocide. Investigates and attempts to prosecute those responsible for inciting and carrying out conflict. Operates on complementary basis: takes on a case only when member nation’s court cannot proceed with prosecution.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993)

UN court tasked with adjudicating war crimes committed in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Can claim primacy over jurisdiction of national courts as regards crimes under its mandate.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994)

UN court tasked with adjudicating crimes against humanitarian and international law in Rwanda in 1994. Jurisdiction covers crimes committed by Rwandans and non-Rwandans, in Rwanda and the neighboring countries, and those of "genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II."

Special Court for Sierra Leone (2000)

A joint court set up by UN and government of Sierra Leone to try crimes against humanitarian and international law committed since 1996 in Sierra Leone.

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (2003)

Tasked with trying crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979.

Special Tribunal for Lebanon (2009)

Established jointly with the UN. Seeks to bring justice to those responsible for killing former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-two others on February 14, 2005.

UN Missions



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) (1948)

UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 39 (PDF) and 47 (1948) established a commission, later supported by unarmed military observers, to monitor ceasefire between India and Pakistan. Resolutions demanded military withdrawal from Jammu and Kashmir, restoration of peace and order, and resolution of disputed territory by plebiscite vote. Following the cease-fire that ended the 1971 war, UNSCR 307 (1971) called for both states to observe the cease-fire line as supervised by UNMOGIP.

UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) (1948)

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 50 (1948) authorizes military observers to assist the UN Mediator in Palestine and the Truce Commission in monitoring the cease-fire in Palestine (originally for a period of four weeks following first Arab-Israeli war, later extended). UNSCRs 236 (1967) (PDF) and 338 (1973) following outbreaks of hostilities called for a return to peace and prompts UNTSO observers to monitor new cease-fire arrangements.

UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) (1964)

Established under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 186 (1964) with a mandate to prevent a return to fighting and to restore law and order. Resolutions following a return to hostilities in 1974 authorized the mission to monitor a de-facto cease-fire and a corresponding buffer zone.

UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) (1974)

Created by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 350 (1974), mission has the responsibility to monitor the cease-fire, disengagement, and lines of separation of Israeli and Syrian forces.

UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (1991)

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 690 (1991) (PDF) establishes responsibility to monitor cease-fire, observe troop movements, verify troop reduction commitments, and promote a peaceful transition through referendum.

UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) (1999)

United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244 (1999) authorized creation of an interim government body to provide institutional, administrative, and reconstruction functions and support until power can be transferred to an effective self-governing Kosovar body.

UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) (2002)

Current mandate under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1917 (2010) focuses mission on facilitating 2014 elections, developing political dialogue and engagement, coordinating aid, and fostering regional cooperation.

UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) (2003)

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1509 (2003) (PDF) authorizes support for the cease-fire agreement, peace process, and security reform. Also allows for the protection of UN personnel and civilians

UN Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) (2004)

Monitors armed groups and a weapons embargo, protects civilians, disseminates public information, and supports humanitarian assistance efforts and elections, including facilitating a census. Responsible for demilitarization, reforming the security sector, and reestablishing state justice institutions.

UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) (2004)

Post-2010 earthquake resolutions authorized immediate recovery, stability, and rebuilding operations. Before the disaster, UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1542 (PDF), under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, provided for security and stability efforts, disarmament and reintegration programs, and maintenance of the rule of law. Authorizes protection of UN personnel and assistance to transitional government.

UN Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNMIT) (2006)

Original mandate, established by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1704 (2006) (PDF), called for supporting government institutions and election mechanisms to achieve stability and bolster internal security and human rights monitoring capacity. After an attempt on the president of East Timor’s life and continued security issues, UNSCR 1802 (2008) (PDF) authorized further support for internal security forces.

UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) (2006)

Scaled-down peacebuilding operation in Burundi that replaces peacebuilding mission aimed at supporting government in good governance reform, achieving justice, supporting human rights, and assisting with national policies.

African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) (2007)

Hybrid peacekeeping operation aimed at restoring security to facilitate return of humanitarian assistance, protect civilians, ensure compliance of previous agreements, and to support political, economic, human rights, and rule of law development. Authorized to take whatever action necessary to protect its personnel, humanitarian workers, and implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) (2008)

Peacebuilding mission in Sierra Leone with mandate, under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2005 (2011), for supporting government in constitutional reform, fighting corruption, and becoming a stable, peaceful, and democratic country.

UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (2010)

Civilian protection, stabilization, and peace consolidation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1896 (2009) (PDF) established an arms embargo.

UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) (2010)

Peacebuilding operation in Guinea-Bissau that strengthens national institutions and the rule of law, fosters political dialogue, supports government efforts to implement security reform, prevents against human trafficking and small arms proliferation, and protects human rights.

UN Interim Security Force for Abeyi (UNIFSA) (2011)

Established by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1990. Operating in the disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan. Charged with monitoring the demilitarization of the region and authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to take "all necessary actions" to protect civilians in danger and ensure the security of the region.

UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) (2011)

Established by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1996. Charged with supporting the new government of South Sudan through the provision of good offices, and securing the consolidation of peace in the region.

UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) (2012)

Established by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2043 to supervise the implementation of the Annan peace plan brokered with the Assad regime.

Conflict Initiatives



For more information, including membership; mandate; gaps and weaknesses; implementation, compliance and enforcement; and U.S. policy stance, download the full report. 

International Committee of the Red Cross (1863)

Provides impartial and independent protection and assistance for prisoners, the sick or wounded, and civilians affected by conflict. Promotes humanitarian law.

International Rescue Committee (1933)

Provides on-site humanitarian response within seventy-two hours of a crisis, including health care, refugee resettlement, and assistance.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) (1946)

Three categories of operations. (1) Humanitarian activities such as building homes and schools, distributing food aid, counseling and legal assistance, refugee camp administration, and education. (2) Advocacy and monitoring of the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons. (3) An emergency stand-by force that can deploy within seventy-two hours to conduct humanitarian relief, peacekeeping, election monitoring, and human rights observation.

The Carter Center (1982)

Independent foundation established by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Promotes democracy and human rights, peace, and global health.

International Alert (1985)

Conducts both international advocacy and on-the-ground engagement in issues of postconflict peacebuilding. Thematic work addresses gender, climate change, aid effectiveness, peace and economy, and security.

Saferworld (1989)

Advocacy, research, and policy development to promote conflict prevention. Its projects focus on stemming arms flows, promoting peaceful development, and improving security and judicial institutions in developing nations.

International Crisis Group (ICG) (1995)

Focuses on conflict prevention and response. Publishes reports and briefing papers and monthly newsletter, CrisisWatch, drawing on its broad network of international field workers. Conducts high-level advocacy with policymakers in government and at intergovernmental organizations.

Center for Humanitarian Dialogue (1999)

Independent, private mediation organization. Promotes dialogue based on international law and humanitarian principles. Provides resources and supportóincluding mediation support to parties engaged in conflict.

International Stability Operations Association (ISOA) (2001)

Trade association for private security contractors. Promotes ethical conduct by private sector actors in peace operations while facilitating communication between members and policymakers.

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (2003)

Global network of civil society organizations, with programming headed by a global secretariat at the European Center for Conflict Prevention and run through fifteen regional networks. Raises awareness about conflict prevention and peacebuilding; facilitates cooperation among civil society, governments, and the UN; promotes early-warning and response.

Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (2007)

Seeks to inspire action toward implementing the 2005 World Summit outcome document on the responsibility to protect through advocacy and publications.

International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (2009)

Promotes the responsibility to protect norm through advocacy, consensus building, and coordination among nongovernmental organizations.

Fund for Peace (1957)

Nonprofit educational and research organization.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Sweden (SIPRI) (1966)

Researches conflict and cooperation on international security.

International Peace Institute (formerly International Peace Academy) (IPI) (1970)

Research institution that focuses primarily on three regional areas--Africa, Asia, and the Middle East; and three thematic areas--fragile states, coping with crisis, and the Responsibility to Protect.

Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University(UCDP) (1971)

Conducts interdisciplinary peace and conflict research.

Ploughshares Fund (1981)

Supports research and advocacy on mitigating, and ultimately eliminating, the risk of nuclear war.

United States Institute of Peace (USIP) (1984)

Promotes conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and increasing capacity for conflict management. Provides education and training, research, and information services to the U.S. public and government.

Center for International Development and Conflict Management(CIDCM) (1987)

Takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying conflict: how to prevent it, its transformation over time, and its impact on societies and their sustainable development.

Henry L. Stimson Center (1989)

Promotes international peace and security through research and outreach. Focuses on three program areas: transnational threats, regional security, and effective multilateral institutions. One major program is the center’s initiative on the Future of Peace Operations.

Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (1991)

Focuses on research, documentation, and analysis of conflict.

International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centers (1995)

Voluntary association of programs dedicated to training, research, and training for peace operations. Facilitates contact between groups and institutions involved in peacekeeping; encourages research and training in the peace operations field.

Center on International Cooperation (CIC) (1996)

Conducts research and policy engagement on enhancing international capacity to address humanitarian and security threats. Programs focus on international security institutions, peace-building, peace operations, conflict prevention and United Nations reform.

The Partnership for Effective Peacekeeping (2001)

Supports peacekeeping and peacebuilding capacity through working group sessions focused on policy formulations that promote improved international peacekeeping capacity and increased U.S. support for peacekeeping.


Conflict Prevention - Cameroon/Nigeria Border

For almost one hundred years, Nigeria and Cameroon clashed diplomatically—and, in the 1990s, militarily—over ownership of the Bakassi peninsula. The neighbors disagreed over the land and maritime demarcations of the peninsula, which contains oil reserves.

After a 2002 verdict from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled that the Bakassi peninsula belongs to Cameroon, the UN established the Cameroon/Nigeria Mixed Commission to oversee the implementation of the ICJ decision. The UN was critical in mediating the crisis through its conflict prevention activities, which consist of the secretary-general's good offices, special envoys, and dispute resolution specialists.

Peacekeeping - Democratic Republic of Congo

Ongoing violence and ethnic tensions between the rival Hutu and Tutsi groups continue to threaten peace and stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN has maintained a presence in the DRC for more than ten years, but its current mission, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, demonstrates the limited effectiveness of UN troops in peace enforcement. Despite the presence of over fifteen thousand peacekeepers, new and disturbing reports emerged that hundreds of civilian, mostly women and children, were massacred by rival armed groups in April 2012.

As UN peacekeeping operations grow more complex, troops have struggled to carry out their expansive mandates without sufficient resources to meet their needs.

Peacekeeping - Haiti

Years of political instability, violence, and a massive earthquake have crippled Haiti's path to development and durable peace. The UN has been active in Haiti since the early 1990s, and established its most recent mission in 2004. Originally, its mandate entailed stabilizing the country by promoting rule of law, strengthening political institutions, and promoting human rights. After the January 2010 earthquake, the UN Security Council expanded MINUSTAH's mandate to include more troops tasked with recovery and reconstruction.

MINUSTAH reflects how UN peacekeeping operations often blend security and humanitarian mandates. Given dynamic in-country situations, UN mission mandates can shift to reflect new priorities.

Peacebuilding - Burundi

At the end of its civil war in 2005, Burundi began a process of reconstruction and institution-building. To help in these efforts, Burundi has received support from the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) to improve good governance and the rule of law and to implement capacity-building projects. Although some activities have made strides toward achieving Burundi's priorities, other projects have been less effective and suffer from insufficient guidance. After violence peaked in 2011, the number and frequency of political killings decreased in early 2012.

The UN established the PBC in 2005 and the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) in 2006 to promote sustained involvement in fragile states recovering from conflict. Bearing in mind the high global rate of conflict recurrences, their goals are to support programs that stabilize and bolster institutions in postconflict nations.

Hybrid Peace Operations - Sudan

Since 2003, tensions between the Sudan government and rebel groups have led to massive violence and internal displacement of the people in the Darfur. In response, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was set up in 2008 as the first "hybrid" operation—signifying a division of responsibility among two or more organizations. The ongoing involvement of the African Union stems from Khartoum's request that the mission maintain an "African character." UNAMID's primary focus has been on civilian protection and humanitarian assistance in Darfur.

However, the mission still suffers from inadequate troops and military equipment, reflecting difficulties in generating robust commitments for peace operations.

Preventing Mass Atrocities - Yugoslavia

After the violence in the Balkans in the 1990s, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993 to prosecute war criminals. Thus far, sixty-four people have been sentenced and fifteen cases are ongoing. In addition to enforcing international law, the ICTY has facilitated the reconciliation process in the former Yugoslavia, setting a strong precedent for tribunals in other postconflict countries. Similar war crimes tribunals are under way in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and East Timor.

A critical aspect of preventing mass atrocities is ensuring that the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide cannot act with impunity. Starting with the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, tribunals have emerged as an important way to bring war criminals to justice.

State-building - Afghanistan

After a multinational force arrived in 2001, the international community began the process of state-building in Afghanistan through two multilateral missions mandated by the UN Security Council. The first is the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), a political mission with more than 1,600 civilian staff. The second is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has approximately 130,000 troops from 50 nations.

ISAF is primarily concerned with security, whereas UNAMA focuses on governance, development, and enabling regional cooperation. Although ISAF and UNAMA have made substantial gains in the security, governance, and development sectors in Afghanistan, elusiveit remains unknown whether such progress can be sustained once international troops withdraw by 2014.



Meghan L. O’Sullivan, Adjunct Senior Fellow

Stewart M. Patrick, Senior Fellow and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program

Paul B. Stares, General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action

Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow


Carnegie Corporation Report: Preventing Deadly Conflict

Center on International Cooperation: Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2012

Council Special Report: Enhancing U.S. Preventive Action

Council Special Report: Partners in Preventive Action: The United States and International Institutions

Foreign Affairs: "Leading Through Civilian Power"

International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty Report: The Responsibility to Protect

International Crisis Group Bulletin: Crisis Watch

The Economist: "The Perils of Peacekeeping"

The Washington Quarterly: "Weak States and Global Threats: Fact or Fiction?"

Report of the UN Secretary-General: Towards Security, Development, and Human Rights for All

Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute: Yearbook 2012: Armament, Disarmament, and International Security

United States Institute of Peace Report: Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers

World Bank: World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security, and Development


Paul Collier, V. L. Elliott, Havard Hegre, Anke Hoeffler, et al., Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy (World Bank, 2003).

Roméo Dallaire and Samantha Power, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (Da Capo Press, 2004).

Bruce Jones, Shepard Forman, and Richard Gowan, Cooperating for Peace and Security (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (Holt Paperbacks, 2002).

David M. Malone, ed., The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2004).

Donald Rothchild, Francis M. Deng, I. William Zartman, Sadikiel Kimaro, and Terrence Lyons, Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa (Brookings Institution Press, 1996).

Barnett R. Rubin, Blood on the Doorstep: The Politics of Preventive Action (The Century Foundation and the Council on Foreign Relations Press, 2002).

Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth M. Cousens, eds., Ending Civil Wars: The Success and Failure of Negotiated Settlements in Civil War (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003).


Center on International Cooperation

International Crisis Group

International Peace Institute

Peace Dividend Trust

Stimson Program on the Future of Peace Operations

United States Institute of Peace

Uppsala Conflict Data Program

Center for International Development and Conflict Management

George Mason University Institute for Conflict Analysis and Research