Recent trends in peacekeeping operations run by regional organisations and the resulting interplay with the United Nations system

This article is a revised and updated version of the article Organizações regionais: tendências recentes na descentralização das operações de paz e a interação com o sistema ONU (Guttry 2011).
Andrea de Guttry is Full Professor of Public International Law and Director of the International Research Laboratory on Conflict, Development and Global Politics at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy.


Peacekeeping and (at a later stage) peacebuilding (PK and PB) operations were ‘invented’ and ‘pioneered’ by the United Nations as early as 1948 and for a long period the UN has been the only organisation able and willing to deliver them. In the last decades, however, the quasi-monopolistic role of the universal organisation in this area has been seriously challenged by both regional organisations and by the so-called ‘ad hoc coalitions of the willing’. This new situation, with a good, sometimes excessive, presence of entities interested and available to deliver PK/PB operations, presents new challenges and new opportunities to the international community as a whole, and to the individual states requesting the deployment of a PK/PB operation. Against this background, the present article, after having defined its scope, presents a few statistics confirming the existing trend towards ‘decentralising’ the delivery of PK/PB operations, discusses why interest in playing a major role in PK has increased among states and regional international organisations, and outlines the consequences (both positive and negative) associated with such a trend.

1. Introductory remarks

Peacekeeping and (at a later stage) peacebuilding operations (PKOs and PBOs) were ‘invented’ by the United Nations (UN) in 1948 when the Organisation pioneered this kind of field operation by establishing the UN Truce Supervision Operation (UNTSO) in the Middle East. The role of the first mission was to monitor the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Since then the UN has run more than 60 similar operations worldwide, with varying and sometimes controversial results (Jett 1999; Krasno, Hayes and Daniel 2003; Durch 2006; Sitkowsky 2006; Bellamy, Williams and Griffin 2010). A peak period for UN PKOs was from 1989 to 1994, when the UN authorised a total number of 20 new missions, raising the number of peacekeepers from 11 000 to 75 000. In recent decades, in response to increased demand for more professional and complex missions and taking into consideration the changed international reality, the UN initiated an interesting and important process aimed at critically assessing the results achieved, and at developing new proposals to improve the quality and effectiveness of its field operations. To this end, significant changes were made in several key areas: decision-making procedures, including the sensitive issue of the definition of the mandate; chain of command; training of the personnel involved; preparation of a sophisticated rapid reaction capacity; reorganisation of the UN structures devoted to PK/PB operations; clarification of the financial aspects. Such valuable work has been codified in numerous documents. These include the 1992 Report of the UN Secretary-General (UNSG), An agenda for peace: Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping (United Nations 1992); the 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (The Brahimi Report) (United Nations 2000); the 2004 report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, A more secure world: Our shared responsibility (United Nations 2004); the 2005 UN General Assembly Resolution 60/1, 2005 World Summit Outcome (United Nations 2005); the 2006 report of the UNSG on the financing of the United Nations peacekeeping operations, in which the Secretary-General outlined, among other things, a reform strategy entitled ‘Peace Operations 2010’ setting out the policies and procedures to enable the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to support peacekeeping over the next decade (United Nations 2006); the 2008 United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and guidelines (United Nations 2008); the 2009 document prepared by DPKO, A New Partnership Agenda. Charting a new horizon for UN peacekeeping (United Nations 2009) and its subsequent implementation reports; and, finally, the 2010 Report of the Secretary-General on the Global Field Support Strategy (United Nations 2010).

The situation described, in which the UN was indisputably the main – if not the sole – player, has changed dramatically in the last two decades, and the quasi-monopolistic role of the universal organisation in this area has been seriously challenged by both regional organisations and by the so-called ‘ad hoc coalitions of the willing’. This new reality, with a good, sometimes excessive, presence of entities interested and available to deliver PK/PB operations, presents new challenges and new opportunities to the international community as a whole, and to the individual states requesting the deployment of a PK/PB operation.

Against this background, the present article, after having defined its scope, presents a few statistics confirming the existing trend towards ‘decentralising’ the delivery of PK/PB operations, discusses why interest in playing a major role in PK has increased among states and regional organisations and outlines the consequences (both positive and negative) associated with such a trend.

2. Terminological clarification

As a preliminary step it seems essential to limit the scope of this contribution to recent trends in PK/PB operations. The need for terminological clarification arises from overwhelming and sometimes surprising confusion in the use and the even more frequent abuse of terms. Peacekeeping, peacebuilding, peace-enforcing, regional peace-enforcing and peacemaking are concepts very often used in a loose manner, as if they were all synonymous. This is not the case, as each type of operation has its own characteristics which differ strongly from the others. It has been argued that the existing terminological confusion is created deliberately, as states and regional organisations very often prefer to depict missions in a particular manner, knowing that public opinion might accept, welcome or reject them, depending on how they are presented. There are no doubts, in reality, that while PK and PB operations are extremely popular and usually enjoy the support of mass media and public opinion, other missions such as peace-enforcing operations are less popular and do not enjoy significant support among ordinary people worldwide. The terminological confusion has become even more complex owing to the fact that field operations based on identical pre-requisites and characteristics are labelled in a different manner in different continents. As an example, we may recall that the wording ‘peacekeeping operations’ to identify missions with given characteristics is typical of the UN system, while in other regions almost identical operations, if carried out at regional level, are termed ‘crisis management operations’ (on the European continent) or ‘peace-support operations’ (on the African continent).

For all these reasons it seems important to define more closely the typology of missions relevant to this paper, namely PK/PB operations. In order to do so we will be using UN terminology, as this Organisation has undertaken serious efforts at clarification to overcome the above-mentioned problems. According to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and guidelines (United Nations 2008), largely inspired by the already mentioned Agenda for peace (United Nations 1992) and adopted by the DPKO and the Department of Field Support (DFS), the two operations are defined in the following manner:

Peacekeeping is a technique designed to preserve the peace, however fragile, where fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the peacemakers. Over the years, peacekeeping has evolved from a primarily military model of observing cease-fires and the separation of forces after inter-state wars, to incorporate a complex model of many elements – military, police and civilian – working together to help lay the foundations for sustainable peace (United Nations 2008:18).

Peacebuilding involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development. Peacebuilding is a complex, long-term process of creating the necessary conditions for sustainable peace. It works by addressing the deep-rooted, structural causes of violent conflict in a comprehensive manner. Peacebuilding measures address core issues that affect the functioning of society and the State, and seek to enhance the capacity of the State to effectively and legitimately carry out its core functions (United Nations 2008:18).

These authoritative definitions, in use by DPKO and DFS, will be used in this article. They indeed allow us to highlight the following key features of peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations (which are useful in differentiating them from other field operations): deployment is decided only after a ceasefire has been agreed upon among the various factions, and only if there is a specific request by all the parties involved in the conflict (be it a civil or an international conflict). The mission will be ‘neutral’ and will not take sides with any of the factions of the previous conflict. These are the common features of both PK and PB, but it should be stressed that the main differences between these two categories of missions relate to their mandate and to the time of their deployment (always, in any case, only after a ceasefire has been agreed upon). In general terms PKOs are deployed immediately after the ceasefire, while PBOs are often deployed at a later stage, when the security situation in the country/ies is less tense. Finally, the mandate of a PBO addresses core issues that affect the functioning of society and the state, and seeks to enhance the capacity of the state to effectively and legitimately carry out its core functions, while the mandate of a PKO is generally less ambitious, as it aims mainly to preserve the peace in the short term and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the parties involved in the conflict.

3. Entities deploying PK/PB Operations: facts and trends

During the summer of 2011 there were more than 50 PK/PB operations deployed in the field: 26 were UN-led (14 PKOs and 12 PBOs), while about 24 were non-UN-led (about 20 run by regional organisations, 4 by ad hoc coalitions of the willing, and one jointly by the UN and the AU (which is UNAMID in Sudan). No precise figures are known, but the manpower involved in these operations is estimated at about 500 000 military personnel (about 100 000 working in UN operations and the rest in non-UN operations in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo); about 50 000 police officers (15 000 working in UN PK/PB operations); and about 30 000 civilians (about 15 000 working with the UN).

Several entities involved (or preparing themselves to be involved) in PK/PB are regional and/or sub-regional organisations: African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Organisation on Development (IGAD), Organization of American States (OAS), Arab League, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), European Union (EU), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Among these, the EU has been one of the most active, demonstrating a specific interest and capacity to put in place multifaceted, complex and multidimensional field operations in various parts of the world. The EU decided to become involved in these operations only in 2000 when, at the Feira European Council, the Union decided to develop the civilian aspects of crisis management in four priority areas: policing, strengthening the rule of law, strengthening civilian administration and civil protection. The specific capabilities in these four fields could be used in the context of EU-led autonomous missions, or in the context of operations conducted by lead organisations, such as the UN or OSCE. The emphasis on the active involvement of the EU in these operations was formally confirmed in the consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union (European Union 2010). While article 42(1) of this Treaty states that:

The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States…

the following article 43(1) clarifies that:

The tasks referred to in Article 42(1), in the course of which the Union may use civilian and military means, shall include joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation…

Furthermore, in order to enable the European Union to take up its responsibilities for crisis management to the fullest extent, the European Council (Nice, December 2000) decided to establish several permanent political and military structures such as the Political and Security Committee (PSC), the European Union Military Committee (EUMC), the European Union Military Staff (EUMS), the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) and the Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management (CIVCOM), which all contribute, with specific tasks and mandates, to the shaping and the implementation of the EU field operations. With some 20 missions on 3 continents, EU’s role in providing security is rapidly expanding (Merlingen and Ostrauskaite 2006).

Another entity with great interest in PK/PB has been the African Union. This regional organisation has given political attention to an African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), and has dedicated human and financial resources for its design and implementation. A central feature of APSA is the preparation for the active delivery of AU-led peace-support operations.

Finally, one cannot fail to notice that in the last two decades a new type of PK provider appeared on the international scene fairly suddenly, alongside the traditional UN presence and the recent increase in operations led by regional organisations: the ad hoc coalition of states (sometimes called ‘Coalition of the Willing’) or even a single state. Although one of the first significant PK/PB operations run by a group of states was launched as early as 1981 when the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) was deployed with an ambitious mandate1 along the borders between Israel and Egypt, it is only more recently that this new trend has become very popular. Today there are several PK/PB operations run in a totally independent manner by ad hoc coalitions which sometimes have the task of providing support, and work in close co-ordination with UN PK/PB missions operating in the same area. Examples of such missions are ISAF in Afghanistan (co-operating with UNAMA), the International Coalition Force in Iraq (co-operating with UNAMI), KFOR in Kosovo (co-operating with UNMIK and EULEX Kosovo), and the French Forces in Ivory Coast (co-operating with UNOCI). As indicated above, the number of personnel involved in this new type of PK/PB operations has become very significant: about 400 000 personnel, mostly military, are currently deployed in this framework.

Comparing the present situation and figures with those existing 20 years ago, it is apparent that during the last two decades there has been a significant increase in the number of missions run by entities/coalitions other than the UN. While in the past the UN almost monopolised the field of PK/PB operations, the situation has now dramatically changed and the PK/PB ‘market-place’ has undoubtedly become multi-polar, with many more actors than in the past. The reasons for this shift and its consequences will be dealt with in the following paragraphs.

4. Reasons for a mounting interest in becoming PK/PB providers

The trend described in the last section developed mainly in the last two to three decades. It is very often analysed in close connection with the consequences of the end of the Cold War. Various international organisations (and not only those dedicated to providing security, such as NATO and the Western European Union) were prompted or even forced to reconsider their strategy and to redefine their mandate by the sudden and almost unexpected fall of communist regimes in various Central and Eastern European countries. In those years the concept of security, whether national or international, underwent a major shift, and various international actors had to reshape their national and international security strategy. A more detailed examination of the internal discussions and events which characterised several of the relevant regional organisations during those years clearly demonstrates that almost all of them considered a more significant and active presence in the PK/PB area a priority for the years to come. These discussions sometimes resulted in formal revision of the statutes and treaties defining the mandate of the various organisations (see for example the innovations introduced into the EU Treaty); in other cases, new international treaties were adopted to enlarge the mandate of the organisation (see for example two of the numerous treaties signed on the African continent: ECOWAS 1999; ECOWAS 2002). In a limited number of other cases (for example NATO) no changes to the treaties were considered feasible or advisable, and therefore the goal of enlarging the mandate was pursued simply through political documents, adopted at the highest level, indicating the new priorities of the organisation itself. Whichever mechanism was chosen to widen the mandate to include the delivery of international field operations (including, but not limited to, PK and PB operations), the result was very significant, as the number of organisations legitimised, legally or politically, to become active PK/PB providers increased to a marked extent. In this context it must be noted that during these years several states, until then considered ‘security consumers’, suddenly transformed themselves into ‘security providers’, offering their services worldwide in an area where for a long period the UN had been actively engaged almost in an exclusive way.

The reasons for this new and increased interest by regional organisations and ad hoc coalitions of states in providing peacekeeping operations are manifold: the need to find a new and credible role in the changed international scenario; the desire to ‘show the flag’ and to make the organisation more visible; the desire to respond to the increasing pressure of public opinion, horrified by certain events occurring in faraway countries, with the request for an active role in the stopping of the massacres; the need to pursue, through these operations, national (or regional) key interests in foreign policy (for example, to secure areas and countries along the borders of the sending organisation/coalition, to prevent massive outflow of refugees and illegal immigrants).

5. Changing nature and key features of contemporary PK/PB missions

While new international actors were preparing for active engagement in PK/PB operations, these operations were undergoing major changes, a few of them being so significant as to put in doubt whether the traditional pillars on which PK/PB operations were based still existed. From the very first time they were deployed, PK and then PB operations were based, as mentioned above in section 2, on three basic pillars: a ceasefire had been signed; all the states (if there has been an international armed conflict) or all the parties involved (if it was a civil war) had expressed their consent for the deployment of a PK/PB operation; and the operation was to be conducted in an impartial manner (i.e. without the aim of favouring any of the parties involved). These rules were respected for a long period – till very recently, but there have been dramatic changes in the environment in which PK/PB operations are requested to be deployed, the mandate of the mission, the manner in which the operation is to carry out the mandate, and the way in which PK/PB operations can be undertaken without the consent of the host state.

5.1 The changing environment in which PK/PB operations are deployed

While during the earliest period PK operations were mainly deployed in places where an international armed conflict had occurred, in more recent times PK/PB operations have been deployed mainly at the end of civil wars. The different deployment scenario has had a significant impact on the activities of the mission leaders and their dealings with the local stakeholders (Diehl and Druckman 2009).

5.2 The changing mandate of PK/PB operations

In the early period of PK the tasks of these operations were mainly linked to typically military activities (such as monitoring the ceasefire, monitoring the disarmament and demobilisation of the military forces, facilitating the exchange of war prisoners); after the end of the Cold War, however, these tasks increased and diversified. New tasks, such as monitoring human rights, providing humanitarian assistance, protecting civilians, taking care of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) as well as capacity building, are mentioned in most of the recent mandates of these operations (Murphy 2007). A clear-cut signal about the increasing relevance of this expanded mandate is reflected in the decision by the UN to create the Peacebuilding Commission. With the enabling resolutions establishing the Peacebuilding Commission, UNGA resolution 60/180 and Security Council resolution 1645 (2005) of 20 December 2005, the United Nations specifically mandated this new body to: a) bring together all relevant parties to marshal resources and to advise on the proposed integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery; b) to help ensure reliable financing for early recovery activities and sustained financial investment over the medium to long term; and c) to develop best practices to deal with issues arising in the areas of politics, security, humanitarian aid and development, in collaboration with actors in these areas.

The immediate consequence of the widening of the mandate was the need to have more diversified human resources involved in these operations. Traditionally, only military personnel were involved in PK activities, but with the expansion of the mandate, new categories of human resources, including civilians and police officers, were becoming essential for the implementation of the new mandate. The UN and regional organisations faced an enormous challenge, namely to find and recruit thousands of civilians able to perform in a professional manner all the new tasks assigned to field operations. In a first phase, sending organisations did indeed encounter substantial difficulties in the recruitment of these new categories of personnel; in more recent times, however, the situation has constantly improved owing to various strategic decisions adopted by the sending organisations. In this context, it might be worth recalling a few measures which materially contributed to improving this situation: the organisation of specific training opportunities for this personnel; the creation of worldwide and regional rosters to facilitate the matching of offers and demands; the establishment of specific job profiles; the consolidation of new PK/PB architecture to reflect the role of the different components; a better defined division of labour among the various components; efforts to define and to apply a common organisational culture based on improved reciprocal knowledge and a new team spirit. The expanded mandate of PKOs contributed to the development of the so-called ‘multifunctional operations’ or complex operations involving personnel from a wide range of nationalities, backgrounds, disciplines and professional cultures.2

5.3 New trends in the way PK/PB operations are carried out

PK/PB operations have traditionally been considered as instrumental in consolidating reciprocal confidence and in monitoring the effective respect of the ceasefire by the parties who signed it. To that end, peacekeepers were usually armed only with light weapons to be used solely for self-defence, i.e. in the case that peacekeepers were attacked. In recent decades PKOs have been deployed in countries where security remained a critical issue, and as these traditional PKOs were repeatedly confronted (in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, for instance) with major human rights violations without having the means to stop them, the UN decided to launch a new ‘generation’ of PK/PB operations – the so called third generation of PK (also known as ‘muscular’ PKOs).3 In such cases, peacekeepers (or rather, the military components of PKOs) are authorised to use force not only if directly attacked, but also whenever necessary (always as a last resort) in order to achieve the mission’s mandate. In most of the more recent UNSC Resolutions providing for the deployment of a new PKO to a troublesome area, the Council authorised the PKO to ‘use all necessary means within the limits of its capacity and in the areas where its units are deployed, to carry out its mandate’ (UN Security Council 2010). The UN Security Council authorised the PKOs to carry out their mandates in a muscular manner in the following cases, amongst others: MONUSCO (DRC) and UNOCI (Ivory Coast). In other instances, which will be the focus of our attention in the next section, the UNSC authorised regional organisations and/or ad hoc coalitions of the willing to carry out a peacekeeping mandate in a muscular manner.

For the sake of clarity, it has to be stressed that the actual use of force by peacekeeping forces beyond cases of self-defence has been quite rare. One of the most recent cases in which UN peacekeeping forces and PK operations run outside the UN did have recourse to force, clearly beyond self-defence, was in Ivory Coast in 2011, when both UNOCI and the French Licorne forces stationed in Ivory Coast actively took part in the military operations against the forces loyal to the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo, which ended on 11 April 2011 with the arrest of Gbagbo himself.

Apart from the issue of ‘traditional’ as opposed to ‘muscular’ ways of carrying out a mandate, there may also be significant differences in the level of intrusiveness in the way the operation’s mandate is implemented. The mandate may be drafted in such a way that the tasks of a PK can be performed in a very soft manner, for example using the mentoring, monitoring and advising techniques which imply a more active role for the local actors, while the international personnel carries out its duties in a more restrained fashion. Conversely, the mandate can also request the operation to perform in a very intrusive manner which could even involve, in specific situations, the replacement of local actors (so-called ‘substitution missions’); which implies that the implementing organisation will physically replace local authorities for a given period, taking over all the relevant functions traditionally carried by the public administration.4 A similar model was applied in Kosovo by the UNMIK Operation in the first period of its activities: the number of civilians working with the mission was extremely high compared with the civilian presence in other UN PK/PB operations. In addition, running an operation of such kind was very expensive, owing to the number of officers recruited by the mission in order to carry out all the tasks assigned to it.

5.4 PK/PB without the consent of the host state: A new approach?

In recent times a new significant change in the key characteristics of PK/PB has been observed. We refer to the fact that there have already been two instances (one concerning Sudan and the other one concerning Somalia) where the UN Security Council decided to launch or to authorise the launching of PK operations without the request from or the prior consent of the host nation.5 In the case of Sudan (UNSC Res 1706/2006), the UN Security Council, in order to support the early and effective implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement, decided to expand the mandate of the mission to be deployed in Darfur and ‘therefore invites the consent of the Government of National Unity for this deployment…’.

This new trend, although for the time still fairly isolated in UN practice, deserves comment on account of its potential impact on the whole issue. The request/consent of the host state/s for the deployment of the mission was traditionally considered, as mentioned earlier, one of the basic pre-conditions which the very notion of PK/PB is founded on. The decision to launch a PKO without the consent of the host state risks transforming the nature of the mission, which could be perceived, locally, as a peace-enforcing operation, because the relevant decision has been taken without the necessary prior consent of the local state. This was probably not the precise intention of the UNSC at the time it adopted the two resolutions concerning Sudan and Somalia. It is worth mentioning that in one case (Somalia) the effective deployment of the mission never occurred, while in the case of the mission in Darfur the expanded mandate and deployment occurred only at a later stage, when the consent of the host state had been obtained.

On the basis of these two cases it seems advisable to approach the innovative nature of this new trend in the UN Security Council with caution. What appears very clear is that the decision by the SC to launch or to authorise the launching of a PK/PB operation without the host state having (yet) granted its consent is to be seen as a means of putting this state under political pressure, thus accelerating the giving of consent. A further decisive element emphatically confirming that this recent practice does not deviate significantly from the previous one is the fact that the actual deployment of the missions in both cases never occurred, or was postponed till consent was obtained. This is a clear indication that the UNSC did not want to undermine the basic rules which PK/PB operations are built on.

6. Regional PK/PB and the UN: A continuously evolving relationship

The new scenario described in the above paragraphs seriously affected the UN as it faced an unprecedented situation. If, in the past, the UN was the only PK/PB provider, in more recent times it has been challenged by new ‘competitors’ aiming at replacing6 it in providing this kind of service. The UN reacted at first by ignoring the new reality while, later on, it changed its attitude and tried to see the new challenge as an opportunity. Before entering into the details of the evolution of the relations between the UN and regional organisations in the area of PK/PB operations, it might be wise to consider briefly the more general aspects of the modality of co-operation between the UN and regional organisations as envisaged in the UN Charter. During the international conference in San Francisco which discussed and approved the UN Charter, the issue of the relations between the UN and regional organisations had already received special attention. In 1945 the drafters of the UN Charter showed a very innovative approach to this issue, especially if one considers that at that time regional organisations were almost non-existent and ineffective. Notwithstanding this, the UN Charter (United Nations 1945) contains an important article dealing with this specific issue. Article 52 states that:

  1. Nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action, provided that such arrangements or agencies and their activities are consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations.
  2. The Members of the United Nations entering into such arrangements or constituting such agencies shall make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.
  3. The Security Council shall encourage the development of pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies either on the initiative of the states concerned or by reference from the Security Council.

This first paragraph clearly indicates that the UN had no negative attitudes towards regional organisations, provided of course that they did not conflict with the UN Charter. But, even more importantly, article 52 goes beyond this preliminary statement of friendly co-existence: paragraphs 2 and 3 clearly indicate that regional organisations should be the first and preferred fora for the peaceful resolution of local disputes, which should only be referred to the SC if this first attempt proves unsuccessful (Walter 2009). Should there be a need for a peace-enforcing operation (an issue which is beyond the scope of the present article), the Charter clarifies, at article 53, that these operations can be carried out by regional organisations, but only with the prior authorisation of the UN Security Council and under its authority.7 In other words, there is a clear indication in the UN Charter that regional organisations are to play a significant role in co-operating with the UN Security Council in the difficult and sensitive domain of protecting and promoting peace and security. To ensure proper co-ordination of activities, article 54 of the UN Charter (United Nations 1945) further states that:

The Security Council shall at all times be kept fully informed of activities undertaken or in contemplation under regional arrangements or by regional agencies for the maintenance of international peace and security.

It is precisely in this more general context that the whole issue of the relationship between the UN and regional organisations in the area of PK/PB operations has to be addressed and examined.

At first, when this trend of organising regional PK/PB operations began, the UN had an attitude which could be interpreted as implicit acknowledgment of this new reality: in various cases the UN did not express any opinion at all about this new situation. On a few occasions, however, the UN decided to offer some assistance to the regional organisations (including financial assistance, logistical support, political support, and sharing of relevant information). Although the level of co-operation varied significantly, depending on the specific situation, the role of the UN was quite limited and in most cases almost invisible, which made this form of co-operation not very attractive to the UN itself.

At a later stage, the UN undertook serious and extensive internal reflection about how to deal with this new trend, and as a result, the UN focused its efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of UN PK/PB operations. Several documents and reports have been adopted in the last two decades suggesting important innovations and changes to make the UN system more competent and efficient in the delivery of PKOs. The numerous documents adopted within the UN are mainly those already quoted in section 1 above.

In more recent times, relations between the UN system and regional organisations in the area of PK/PB have been enhanced by a new practice whereby the UN Security Council formally adopts ad hoc resolutions in which it ‘authorises‘ regional organisations (and/or ad hoc coalitions of the willing) to deploy a peacekeeping operation in a given area. This was the case, for example, in two operations: KFOR (run by NATO and its partner in Kosovo) and authorised by UNSC Resolution 1244/1999, and ISAF (run nowadays by NATO and its partners in Afghanistan) authorised by UNSC Resolution 1386/2001.

This practice deserves a few comments. First of all it has to be emphasised that in all cases the host states expressed their agreement to the deployment of the operation. (This is an important aspect which clearly indicates that the operations authorised are PK operations and not peace-enforcing operations, the latter being operations against the will of a state.)

Secondly, the legal basis on which the UNSC based its decision to authorise the deployment of a regional PKO is usually traced back to Chapter VII. Indeed, in most cases the UNSC explicitly makes reference to this Chapter of the UN Charter as the legal basis on which the enabling resolution is based.

Thirdly, the request to obtain prior authorisation by the UNSC before deploying a regional (or an ad hoc coalition) PKO originated from the sending organisation (and not from the host state/s, although usually the formal request is presented by the host state/s). This procedure presents some unique features which deserve additional legal analysis. As a general principle, the sending organisation would not be required, formally speaking, to obtain prior authorisation from the UNSC provided that, as has always happened so far, the host state/s requested the deployment. In other words, the PK operation run by a regional organisation can legally be deployed without any prior authorisation by the UNSC whenever there is a specific request made or consent given by the competent authorities of the interested host state/s. On the other hand, if an authorisation to deploy is formally requested from the UN, this implies, arguing in strictly legal terms, that the mission cannot be deployed unless authorised by the UNSC. All this highlights the fact that there is a contradictory element in this international practice, and this is not easy to explain.

The concept of ‘authorisation’ implies that the activity for which the authorisation is requested cannot be carried out unless the authorisation is formally received. A good example of this is offered by the rule governing the deployment of peace-enforcing operations by regional organisations: the legality of these operations is only permitted, according to the explicit wording of article 53 of the UN Charter, provided that the regional organisation obtains prior authorisation by the Security Council itself. The deployment of a regional peace-enforcing operation without the prior authorisation of the UNSC would clearly be in conflict with the UN Charter and therefore illegal. But applying these conclusions to the case under scrutiny, namely PKOs, there would be a clear contradiction with the general, widespread and accepted legal and political opinion according to which the consent/request of the host state/s is sufficient for the deployment of a PKO, and no other authorisation has to be obtained by any party.

Taking a closer look at the missions for which prior authorisation by the UNSC was requested, it appears that this occurred mainly (if not almost exclusively) in the case of deployment of PKOs ‘with muscles’ (i.e. for those missions in which the operation was requested to carry out the mandate employing all necessary means, including, where necessary, the use of force). Even in these cases, the consent of the host state/s would be sufficient to legitimise the deployment of the regional PKO. Therefore, we must seek the rationale for the request of a prior UNSC authorisation elsewhere. The following explanations present themselves:

  1. the indication of some formal ‘political blessing’ from the international community which might be useful to prevent the deploying organisation being perceived as a non-neutral intervener (although in such a case a UNSC resolution expressing the political support to the sending organisation – without any reference to the notion of ‘authorisation’ – would serve this purpose, avoiding the complications resulting from the request of a formal ‘authorisation’);
  2. the clearly apparent willingness of the sending organisation/coalition to fully co-operate and co-ordinate with the UN (formally speaking, this goal could be achieved, once more, through a resolution in which the UNSC expresses its political support for the deploying institution and its readiness to co-operate with it);
  3. the need to take into account and/or accommodate public opinion of the member states of the sending organisation/coalition, on the assumption that PKOs under the UN are more popular and more easily accepted by public opinion than other kinds of PK operations run by the sending organisation/coalition;
  4. the desire to have the UN more closely associated with the mission from the very beginning, perhaps with the idea of requesting the UN at a later stage to replace the regional operation with a UN operation (which happens quite often: a recent case relates to Chad and the Central African Republic8);
  5. the desire to avoid the negative impact of the potential reaction of the host state should it be necessary to make use of force beyond self-defence. In such a case the local state might easily be tempted to withdraw the consent it had given to the sending organisation/coalition to deploy the PK operation, especially if force has been directed against its own personnel/supporters. In such circumstances the legality of the deployment of the international mission would be under close scrutiny and the mission would most probably be requested to leave the country. In order to avoid this situation, which would represent a major defeat for the sending organisation/coalition, the existence of the UNSC enabling resolution could represent a legal argument to be used in reaction to such a request from the host state/s. The sending organisation could argue that the legality of its presence in that state is based upon the authorisation given by the UN Security Council, and therefore the mission will remain till the expiry of the authorisation. The authorisation would increase the credibility of the mission, and could be used as a tool in any negotiations with the hosting state, the basis of negotiation of the host state being significantly reduced.

Finally, in some instances, relations were clearly affected by some level of reciprocal mistrust. We refer to those cases in which the UN decided to deploy a mission in a country in which a PK operation was already being run by a regional organisation/coalition. What confers the ‘special nature’ on the UN PKO in such cases is related to the mandate of the mission itself: to monitor the behaviour and the activities of the peacekeepers sent in by the regional organisation.9

7. From competition to co-operation? New models of co-ordination and division of labour in the delivery of PK/PB missions between the main international actors

After a period in which relations between the UN and regional organisations deploying international field operations were fairly static, as described in section 6 above, in recent years there have been substantial innovations and changes which represent a significant departure from the traditional way of interpreting mutual co-operation. It is the opinion of the present writer that the relationship between the UN and regional organisations in this specific area has moved from a ‘competitive’ to a ‘co-operative’ one. There are two main innovations, both with a significant impact on the efficacy and efficiency of the PKOs.

7.1 The UN ‘outsourcing’ the security component of a mission to a regional organisation

The first innovation represents an attempt to find a credible and realistic solution to one of the major problems met during recent PKOs: the question of guaranteeing security to the local population, the local authorities and the PK mission members. In recent years, the issue of security has reached pivotal importance in most operations, as they have been deployed more and more often in areas with significant problems. One way of facing this situation has been to authorise the peacekeepers to use any necessary measure to deal with the situation (including, as seen in section 5 above, the use of force beyond self-defence).

This choice has not always been very successful, especially in those areas presenting significant security concerns and in those cases where the military component of the UN operation was considered not credible enough owing to the excessive number of national contingents taking part in the mission, the differences (in training, education or armament available) existing among those contingents, and the difficulties in organising a credible chain of command in such situations. Considering these aspects, the UN decided in several recent cases to ‘outsource’ the security component of the mission to a regional organisation. This was the case, for instance, in Ivory Coast (UNOCI and the French Licorne Forces), Kosovo (UNIMK and KFOR, run by NATO), Afghanistan (UNAMA and ISAF, run by NATO), Iraq (UNAMI and the International Coalition Forces under US co-ordination), and in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT and EUFOR Chad/CAR, run by the EU). The deployment of these operations (almost always ‘muscular operations’) is usually authorised in a UN Security Council Resolution which also defines the precise mandate. It must be emphasised here that the regional organisation will provide its ‘security services’ in an autonomous manner and is in no way under the control of the corresponding UN PKO: the relationship is based on co-operation. The tasks conferred upon the regional organisation are, generally speaking, those relating to the protection of the local civilians, the protection of especially vulnerable groups such as IDPs and refugees, the protection of the UN mission members and infrastructures, and sometimes even the protection of the mission’s military component, where it exists. (For example UNMIK, UNAMA and UNAMI do not have any significant military component and rely heavily on the security provided by the regional organisations co-deployed in the respective countries.) This model of ‘outsourcing’ the military component to another international actor, be it a regional organisation or a coalition of the willing, presents advantages and disadvantages. Among the advantages is the level of security provided by regional organisations/coalitions of the willing, which is certainly higher in this new model. Those involved in these operations are well trained, equipped and organised, allowing them to perform at an almost optimal level. On the other hand, however, this model can produce positive effects only if there is perfect co-ordination between the political agenda of the UN mission and that of the regional organisation’s mission running the security component. If this is not the case, the institutional architecture will be extremely fragile and the UN mission risks on a daily basis being, de facto, under the control of the regional organisation providing the security. In circumstances where security is the main issue, there is no doubt about who has the last word and who really holds the power and takes the decisions. This is certainly the weak point of this model of organising co-operation between the UN and regional organisations in the delivery of PK operations.

7.2 The UN and a regional organisation jointly running a PK operation

The second innovation is based on a totally different strategic approach and implies the joint running by the UN and the regional organisation of a PK operation. So far the most significant examples are the joint United Nations-OAS International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) which was deployed in February 1993 in Haiti, and the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID). The latter mission, which started at the end of July 2007,10 has already been commented on by various experts who have reached different conclusions about its efficacy and impact on the ground. In any case it has to be emphasised that UNAMID is the first comprehensive operation run jointly in an extremely difficult setting by the UN and the African Union. It is the opinion of the present author that it is still too early to reach any definitive conclusion about the impact of this type of co-operation between the UN and a regional organisation in the field of PK Operations.

8. Concluding remarks

The quasi-monopolistic role of the United Nations in delivering peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations has been severely challenged, in last decades, by both regional organisations and so-called ‘ad hoc coalitions of the willing’, which expressed a clear interest and availability to deliver such operations on their own. As a consequence, the number of non-UN PKOs has significantly increased: only 50% of the missions currently deployed are led by the UN while the remaining 50% are led by regional organisations or by ‘ad hoc coalitions of the willing’. Due to a significant – someone suggests ‘excessive’ – presence of entities interested and available to deliver PK/PB operations, more and more often some subtle competition among various ‘service providers’ has been noticed. Yet this latent antagonism only emerged with respect to missions with good prospects of success. When operations had to be deployed in very difficult environments and presented a high risk of failure, the UN was again asked to take the lead.

However, having said this, it has to be reaffirmed that reinforcing mutual co-operation between the UN and regional organisations in the delivery of field operations should be perceived as an extremely positive and promising trend which will most probably be further expanded and applied in future missions. The advantages and improvements brought by this co-operation are significant and are likely to have a real impact on the field, for the benefit of the local population suffering the negative consequences of instability. Mutually beneficial co-operation, division of labour, greater knowledge of the regional situation, credibility of the actors involved, more significant regional actors involved in the operation and in its aftermath, greater political support for the mission, a more synergetic approach among the relevant international actors are just a few examples of the reasons why joint deployment will most probably continue to be used in the future – and this notwithstanding that, at least for the time being, the evaluation of the outcomes of the first years’ experience of the joint UN-AU Deployment in Darfur is not entirely positive and highlights the problems arising from the different organisational cultures which quite often make it difficult to take the right decision at the right time.

But the way ahead in the relations between the UN and regional organisations/coalitions of the willing in the delivery of PK/PB operations seems marked out already: it is moving from competition to co-operation, in the primary interest of the affected population.


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  1. The mandate of the MFO has been, since the very beginning of the Mission: to operate checkpoints, reconnaissance patrols, and observation posts along the international boundary, and to ensure the freedom of navigation through the Strait of Tiran. Under Agreed Arrangements signed on 1 September 2005, the MFO took on the additional responsibility of monitoring the deployment of Border Guards along the Egyptian side of the border between Egypt and Gaza.
  2. More on this in Cellamare 1999.
  3. See more in Frulli 2001:347 and Findlay 2002.
  4. More on this issue in Caplan 2005, Gomez 2008 and Wilde 2008.
  5. The two resolutions of the UNSC are respectively 1706/2006 concerning Somalia and 1725/2006 concerning Sudan. In its Resolution 1725/2006 the SC decided ‘to authorize IGAD and Member States of the African Union to establish a protection and training mission in Somalia, to be reviewed after an initial period of six months by the Security Council with a briefing by IGAD, with the following mandate drawing on the relevant elements of the mandate and concept of operations specified in the Deployment Plan for IGASOM:
    1. To monitor progress by the Transitional Federal Institutions and the Union of Islamic Courts in implementing agreements reached in their dialogue;
    2. To ensure free movement and safe passage of all those involved with the dialogue process;
    3. To maintain and monitor security in Baidoa;
    4. To protect members of the Transitional Federal Institutions and Government as well as their key infrastructure;
    5. To train the Transitional Federal Institutions’ security forces to enable them to provide their own security and to help facilitate the re-establishment of national security forces of Somalia’.
  6. A good example of this may be drawn from the events which occurred on the European continent. While in the past there were several UN operations deployed (especially in the Balkans), they have been replaced step by step by EU-led missions (for example in Bosnia and in Kosovo). This sometimes happened smoothly with the full agreement of the two institutions (UN and EU) such as in Bosnia, but sometimes there has been friction and tension, such as in the case of Kosovo where nowadays two International Missions (UNMIK and EULEX Kosovo) are deployed with similar mandates. On the reasons of this unique situation, please refer further to Guttry 2007.
  7. Cf. Art. 53 of the UN Charter: ‘The Security Council shall, where appropriate, utilize such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement action under its authority. But no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorization of the Security Council …’.
  8. In 2007 the UNSC decided (Resolution 1778/2007) to deploy a PK operation in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) (MINURCAT) and authorised, in the same Resolution, the deployment of EUFOR Chad/CAR, a European Union military operation with the mandate to protect civilians in danger and even UN personnel. In Resolution 1861/2009 the Security Council decided to expand the mandate of its MINURCAT Operation and to transfer to it the task previously assigned to EUFOR Chad/CAR.
  9. This was the case, for example, in the UN Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). According to UNSC Resolution 937/1944 the mandate of the mission included ‘(b) To observe the operation of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] peace-keeping force within the framework of the implementation of the Agreement’.
  10. UNAMID was established on 31 July 2007 with the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1769/2007. On 30 July 2010, the Security Council extended UNAMID’s mandate for a further 12 months to 31 July 2011 (UNSC Resolution 1935/2010).