Discussion 19610450

Instructions: Your initial post should be at least  500 words

Questions are often raised about the effectiveness of the United Nations in conflict resolution and peace operations. To what extent has the UN  been successful in mitigating or preventing conflict? Under what conditions are peace operations likely to be successful?

Reading and References


  Since 1945, “the UN has been involved in nearly every major international conflict”
(Bercovitch and Jackson 2009, 67)

This fact begs the question: Do international organizations (IOs) effectively build peace and prevent conflicts within and among states? This question of conflict management is the core of this lesson’s discussion and reading.  Our focus is on the United Nations (UN) as a global IO.

There are debates among scholars and practitioners concerning the ability of the UN to prevent conflict. On the one hand, supporters point to certain successes, such as the UN-sponsored referendum that led to the independence  of East Timor in 2002 after almost three decades of Indonesian occupation.

On the other hand, however, critics often point to the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide in 1994; further, UN peacekeeping in Bosnia failed to stop the genocide there. They argue  that the UN faces significant challenges that cause it to struggle when it comes to its mandate of protecting civilians. 

It is worth mentioning here how the UNSC’s mandate has evolved over time from dealing with the risk of war to working on issues such as humanitarian interventions in internal conflicts. This was possible only after the collapse  of the Soviet Union, which facilitated the development of a more activist Council and “brought the UNSC into the mainstream of international security affairs” (Hurd and Cronin 2008, 13-14). The question is, then, has the UNSC been more or less effective with  this expanded mandate?

The UN is in a difficult and complex situation in having to deal with a record number of peacekeeping missions, in part due to its expanded mandate. Today, the UN reports that there are over 100,000 peacekeepers serving in 16  different operations across the globe; this activity comes at a cost of $8 billion a year. UN peacekeepers, in addition, are facing significant resource constraints, making it difficult to fulfill their mandates. Moreover, critics point out that the Security  Council is increasingly divided (particularly among Russia and the United States), resulting in a general lack of political support. Challenges

In part, the challenges facing peacekeepers can be attributed to the changing nature of peacekeeping missions themselves. In the early days of peacekeeping (from its inception in 1948 through the end of the Cold War), peacekeeping  missions were undertaken in areas where peacekeepers filled a non-armed military observer role, which included enforcing treaties and cease-fire agreements between states. Toward the end of the Cold War, however, the number of peacekeeping missions started  to increase significantly, and the UN began sending peacekeeping forces to step in and intervene in intrastate conflicts. Over the last few decades, peacekeeping missions have been undertaken to help mediate conflicts in areas experiencing civil war, including  Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The nature of peacekeeping mandates is changing to include the protection of civilian populations, yet UN peacekeepers often lack adequate funding and political support to effectively carry out their  mandates.

Overall, there are a variety of factors responsible for peacekeeping failures, a lack of resources being one of the most important. Another factor to consider is poor communication between the peacekeepers on the ground and UN  leadership. As you complete the reading, consider which other factors are preventing UN peacekeepers from effectively protecting civilian populations.This map summarizes the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/bnotelatest.pdf



Given all of these considerations, the question is, do IOs succeed in mitigating or preventing conflict? In the academic literature, IR scholars have posed many specific research questions in an attempt to measure whether and  how IOs prevent or mitigate conflict, and how the answer to these questions can be measured. 

For example, Shannon, Morey, and Boehmke (2010, 1124) asked in our assigned reading, “do international organizations decrease the duration of conflict?”

and tested the question by looking specifically at militarized interstate dispute duration in a defined timeframe.

Their analysis tells us that, although joint IO membership may not be able to prevent conflict outright, it should decrease the duration of a conflict. One might interpret this assessment as a beacon of hope for the UN, since  “organizations end disputes more quickly by helping members overcome commitment problems, particularly enforcement mechanisms that compel states to sign and uphold agreements” (Shannon, Morey and Boehmke 2010, 1124).

However, there are often multiple actors involved in a conflict situation, so we also have to consider the role of third party actors as well (including non-state actors). These “third parties may increase the duration of fighting”  (Shannon, Morey and Boehmke 2010, 1125), and this can significantly slow down the UN’s efforts at establishing peace. 


In “Security Council Reform: Past, Present, and Future,” Shashi Tharoor argues that Security Council reform is needed to preserve the credibility of the United Nations itself. As you read this and the other articles, consider  what specifically needs to be reformed. For example, perhaps the veto power of the permanent members should be reformed rather than the number of permanent members who hold veto power (Tharoor 2011, 400-401). Tharoor contends that “the multiplicity of actors on the international scene…could fragment the international system and reduce international cooperation”
(Tharoor 2011, 405)

On the other hand, others have argued that reforming the actual number of veto players is an essential component of Security Council reform since the distribution of power in the world looks very different today than it did in  1945. The current permanent members of the Security Council are often gridlocked in their use of the veto power, as is evident from the recent conflict in Syria. The question is, would adding more countries to the pot only make it that much harder to ever  have a consensus on future security action, or would it enable better decision-making by incorporating a wider range of interests?

Many studies have attempted to tally and analyze the UN’s mediations, successes, and failures since 1945. For example, in their study, Bercovitch and Jackson (2009) include statistical data on several aspects of UN effectiveness  compared to other actors. One aspect they examine is the success of mediation efforts by different actors, comparing the UN to individual mediators, regional organizations, NGOs, states, and more.

They find that the UN has a mixed success rate, coming in at approximately 36%, compared to a success rate of about 45% for regional organizations, which score the highest. They also find that the UN accounts for about 23% of  all mediation efforts; while states account for the highest proportion at 46% of all mediation efforts. UN Mediation Effectiveness


The authors further examine UN mediation efforts to determine when and where the UN is most likely to get involved. In terms of conflict type, interstate conflicts (that is, conflicts between states) comprise 71% of all UN mediation  efforts, while intrastate conflicts (i.e., conflicts within states) comprise 29% (Bercovitch and Jackson 2009: 68). As you can see, most UN mediations concern conflicts occurring between states. Moreover, their data shows that the UN has a worse success rate  when intervening in intrastate conflict (conflicts within states), yet this has become the more common type of conflict since the 1990s (Bercovitch and Jackson 2009: 68). This raises questions concerning how the UN could increase its efficacy in mediating  conflicts within states since these are the types of conflicts that are likely to occur more frequently.

Lastly, UN mediation efforts have taken place in every region of the world, but the success rate varies by region. According to Bercovitch and Jackson (2009, 68), the highest success rates of UN mediation have been: Conclusion

Taking this data on UN mediation effectiveness and the readings from this lesson as our starting point, our last discussion will focus on the extent to which the UN has been successful in mitigating or preventing conflict, and  the conditions under which peace operations are likely to be successful.

Thanks for all your work this semester! This class gave us an opportunity to debate the key issue related to the study of international organizations while also learning about the areas in which they operate. Our course objectives  aided your continued mastery of the International Relations Program Objectives as well.


Doyle, Michael and Nicholas Sambanis.  2000. “International Peacebuilding: A Theoretical and Quantitative Analysis.”  American Political Science Review 94(4): 779-801.




Shannon, Megan, Daniel Morey, and Frederick J. Boehmke. 2010. “The Influence of International Organizations on Militarized Dispute Initiation  and Duration. International Studies Quarterly 54(5): 1123-1141.


Tharoor, Shashi. 2011. “Security Council Reform: Past, Present, and Future.” Ethics and International Affairs 25(4): 397-406.


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