What is Peacekeeping?

Peacekeeping is all about creating and maintaining lasting peace. The idea is that effective peacekeeping should stop a war from being renewed thus preventing the continued killing of civilians and soldiers and the destruction of a country. Research has found that peacekeeping missions have a positive effect as long as the belligerents on both sides are in agreement on ending hostilities and have a desire for peace. There have been successful peacekeeping missions (The United Nations missions in the Ivory Coast and Liberia are considered successes) but there are others where the outcome is yet to be realized. As the world progresses conflicts become more complex and peacekeeping missions need to adapt to ever-changing and often more hostile situations than ever before.

Peacekeeping in the past involved the deployment of a neutral third party military force within a conflict zone — with the consent of the belligerents — to enforce hostility ending treaties agreed on by the two sides. Today, it also involves Peace-enforcement (Acting with or without the consent of the belligerents to maintain peace), Peace-making (Providing mediation services to broker peace) and Post-conflict reconstruction (rebuilding the affected country, its institutions, military, and police services). Currently, there are multiple organizations involved in peacekeeping and most of them receive the mandate to do so by the United Nations Security Council. Each organization has its own experience and expertise in providing peacekeeping and the type of situation determines which one is best suited for deployment. Whether it be an existing organization such as the UN, NATO, the African Union (AU) or whether a new organization (such as the MFO in the Sinai) is formed to keep the peace.

The United Nations (UN)

The United Nations is the largest and also the oldest peacekeeping force. Its first intervention was in 1948 where it was charged by the United Nations Security Council with sending unarmed peacekeepers to the Middle East to prevent the renewal of hostilities between Israel and her Arab neighbors. In 1956 the UN deployed its first armed peacekeepers to the Sinai during the Suez Crisis. Since then there have been countless armed and unarmed UN peacekeepers deployed to various missions around the world. Where two warring parties seek a cease-fire but don’t trust each other, the presence of a buffer zone watched by UN peacekeepers has proven to be mostly effective. The UN is also actively involved in restoring law and order to war-torn regions by deploying police officers and civilians with expertise that can help rebuild the affected regions and hopefully return them to a once again self-sufficient existence. When one thinks of peacekeeping it is hard to do so without seeing the blue helmets or blue berets of UN peacekeepers. However, while the United Nations Security Council is the entity that usually decides where peacekeeping missions are needed, it is often not the United Nations peacekeepers who are deployed to these missions.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

NATO was founded in 1949 and it consists of 29 North American and European Countries. The task of NATO is to implement the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in 1949. In short, this means that all NATO states will defend a member state that finds itself under attack by a non-NATO member. The combined military spending of NATO members makes up over 70% of global defense spending. Its military capabilities are much more extensive than those of the United Nations and this was proven vital in the Yugoslav Wars where the UN found itself in a situation where the hostilities were coming from within a sovereign country ( the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), and not from outside enemies. This was a new situation that the United Nations did not know how to handle at the time. Out of options, and a rapidly deteriorating situation, the UN requested the assistance of NATO.

NATO was well equipped to take an active, non-neutral role in bombing targets that were preventing the end to hostilities and then maintain security while the region rebuilt itself. It was also very good at preventing warlords and criminals from taking advantage of the unstable situation. This was a completely new level of peacekeeping but today most wars are as complex as the Yugoslav Wars but NATO’s peacekeepers are well equipped to handle these kinds of situations.

More recently when Somalian pirates were terrorizing ships and their crews in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa (Somalia), the United Nations called once again on NATO to assist. NATO claims that piracy has now been successfully eliminated in these waters and considers its mission off the coast of Africa as one of its great successes.

The European Union Force (EUFOR)

EUFOR is the European Union’s military contribution to the stabilization and integration in conflict zones. It consists of European countries (including Switzerland and Turkey) and while it has a small footprint it can quickly mobilize reserves from its member states. EUFOR is not an organization per se but a combination of European defense forces under the name EUFOR followed by the mission name such as European Union Force in BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – Operation ALTHEA. EUFOR may be involved in missions where a potential future European Union country (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina) finds itself in need of peacekeeping but this is not always the case (EUFOR RD Congo – EUFOR’s 2006 mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Its main role is to support the local military in meeting NATO standards, deter threats to the stabilization process and to create and maintain a safe environment.

The African Union (AU)

The AU consists of 55 African member states. It was officially launched in 2002. Its objective is “Promoting Africa’s growth and economic development by championing citizen inclusion and increased cooperation and integration of African states.” The AU has a lot of key program areas such as infrastructure and agricultural development, as well as a plan for Visa-Free travel between African countries, but it also addresses Conflict Resolution, Peace & Security in Africa. It does this through the Department of Peace and Security which is charged with Conflict prevention and early warning (such as signs of potential genocide, one of the AU’s main concerns), Crisis management and post-conflict reconstruction, Defense and security and Peace Support Operations.

The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO)

The MFO has one mission and that is “To supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace and employ best efforts to prevent any violation of its terms.” Once peace was signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979 there was a need by both sides to have a UN peacekeeping mission to safeguard the agreed peace terms. However, the United Nations Security Council was not able to approve a UN peacekeeping mission in the Sinai. Through the efforts of Egypt, Israel and the United Stations the MFO was formed. The unique situation of the MFO means that both Egypt and Israel are liable for its expenses, however, the US, Finland, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom contribute financially. Thirteen countries contribute military personnel. Today 1,152 soldiers are serving with the MFO, however, in the past the number was double. Most soldiers serving presently are from the US, Colombia, and Fiji.

The Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP)

The NP was founded by David Hartsough – a Quaker proponent for non-violent activism – and Mel Duncan who had seen during the Contra War in Nicaragua that villages with foreigners present were not attacked. They met each other at The Hague Peace Appeal in 1999 and decided to work together to create NP. NP’s model is to deploy trained unarmed peacekeepers to create a space for non-violent conflict resolution. NP spent $13,974,832 USD last year on its missions. 55% on South Sudan alone. 78% of its budget comes from government grants.


Logically it makes sense that peacekeeping should work, however little actual research has been done to find out if this is truly the case. The research that has taken place and continues to take place is showing a trend that it does appear to work but the research is still inconclusive. The larger organizations such as the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have been around long enough to see some great successes which can be testaments to the effectiveness of peacekeeping. But a small, newer organization such as The Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai has seen continued peace and cooperation between Egypt and Israel. Today the relations between the two countries are the best that they have ever been before. Surely this could be considered a testament to the MFO’s success? With time as more research becomes available on peacekeeping, the facts will be revealed. Until then every time there is a conflict you will see peacekeepers from one or more of these great organizations deployed with the mission of doing what they do best, keeping the peace.