Conflict Trends 2005/2

Book Review

Understanding Peacekeeping

By Stuart Griffin, Paul Williams, Alex Bellamy, 2004
Polity, Cambridge, 376pp
ISBN: 978-0745630588

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Bellamy et al start their book with a quote by Alan James: “the fullest perspective on peacekeeping… is one which places it firmly in the context of international politics.” Understanding Peacekeeping provides a comprehensive introduction to the theory and practice of contemporary peacekeeping and attempts to contextualise peacekeeping in both the historical and contemporary international political systems. The authors argue that peacekeeping is “contemporary international society’s most sustained attempt to manage violent conflict” and that understanding the theory and practise of peacekeeping should therefore shed “significant light upon important trends and developments in global politics.” They argue that peacekeeping has always been an ad hoc response to particular problems, and that is why the concept defy simple categorisation based on the tasks peacekeepers fulfil in different historical periods. This is also why they feel an approach that focuses on the role that peacekeeping plays within wider processes of global politics is needed. The authors identify two key questions at the outset which they aim to answer in this book, namely: “what are the chief characteristics of the contemporary political environment in which peacekeepers operate, and how have peacekeepers come to understand their role within it?

Understanding Peacekeeping‘s core theoretical argument is that the ongoing and unresolved tension between those that see peacekeeping’s role in global politics in Westphalian terms, and those who see it in more ambitious, post-Westphalian terms, lies at the heart of many of the theoretical and practical difficulties that today’s peacekeepers are experiencing. The authors see the Westphalian liberal-democratic thesis as defined by its belief in the primacy of sovereign autonomy and non-intervention. A Westphalian approach to peacekeeping would limit its role to ensuring the peaceful settlement of disputes and orderly relations between states. In contrast, a post-Westphalian liberal-democratic thesis suggests that “liberal relations between states require liberal-democratic societies within states”. Threats to international peace and security may also be caused by “violent conflict and illiberal governance” within states and need to be countered by fostering liberal democratic societies within states. Post-Westphalian peacekeeping thus goes beyond monitoring a cease-fire agreement between states to take on the role of managing the transition within a state from a violent past to a liberal-democratic future. The authors believe that the processes of globalisation are shifting the debate in favour of a post-Westphalian interpretation of the role of peacekeeping in global politics.

Bellamy et al argue that globalisation is altering the environment in which peacekeepers operate, and has encouraged three particularly important developments. The first is the increasingly important role played by non-state actors. The second is the hegemonic role of the United States (US), especially in the post 9-11 context. And the third is the emergence of a new type of conflict which the authors refer to as ‘new wars’ that reflect the ongoing erosion of the state’s monopoly on legitimate organised violence.

The structure of the book reflects the authors’ attempt to consider these developments and place them in the context of the relationship between peacekeeping operations and wider processes and trends in global politics. Part 1 provides an overview of the concepts and issues relevant to peacekeeping and global politics. Part 2 charts the historical development of the theory and practise of peacekeeping from 1945 to the present. In Part 3, separate chapters are devoted to different types of peacekeeping operations: traditional peacekeeping; managing transition; wider peacekeeping; peace enforcement; and peace support operations. Part 4 looks forward and examines developments in global politics that are presenting serious challenges to the concept and practice of peacekeeping, namely, globalisation, the privatisation of security, preventing violent conflict, and the establishment of protectorates.

Understanding Peacekeeping argues that United Nations (UN) peacekeeping has not developed in a neat linear progression and that the UN undertook a variety of different types of peacekeeping operations at different times and in different parts of the world. In Part 3 the authors make a bold attempt to address this ambiguity by developing a conceptual framework that tries to identify the distinctive characteristics of different type of peacekeeping operations. The authors suggest that five different types of operations can be identified: Traditional Peacekeeping, Managing Transition, Wider Peacekeeping, Peace Enforcement and Peace-support Operations [sic]. They argue that the primary distinction between these different types of peacekeeping operations lies in the desired ends they are meant to achieve rather than the means that are employed to achieve them. The authors admit that there is no neat chronological division that accurately reflects the practical reality and history of peacekeeping operations, and perhaps more importantly, that these different types of operations are not mutually exclusive. Even with these caveats however, any attempt at such a categorisation would always be a simplification of this very complex and constantly evolving environment, and this attempt has not managed to rise above this basic dilemma. Their analysis suffers from their proximity to the prevailing doctrinal debates in the United Kingdom, as reflected in the choice of two of their five categories, namely Wider Peacekeeping and Peace Support Operations. The authors would have benefited from a more rigorous interaction with comparative schools of thought in the UN, European Union, US, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, African Union, etc. Nevertheless, Part 3 is a truly thought provoking and challenging section, ideal for the class-room environment, because disagreeing with their categorisation requires engagement with their conceptual framework and the wide range of historical and contemporary case studies, including: Afghanistan; Cambodia, Cyprus; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; East Timor; El Salvador; Haiti, Liberia; Rwanda; Sierra Leone; Somalia; and the former Yugoslavia, the authors employ to build their argument.

Understanding Peacekeeping concludes by reflecting on the likely future trajectory of peacekeeping operations. The authors argue that the UN is likely to continue to conduct Traditional Peacekeeping operations and its most successful type of peacekeeping operation – Managing Transition – in cases where political settlements have been reached and outside assistance has been requested. However, they feel that the UN is likely to delegate significant military tasks to regional organisations and alliances in future. In such cases the UN will form only one pillar of a broader operation rather than enjoying overall control. The authors argue that although such a development may provide functional advantages it raises serious concerns about the wider accountability of peacekeeping operations. Bellamy et al conclude by recognising the influence US hegemony is likely to have on peacekeeping. They argue that the influence the US has on the way UN peacekeeping operations is funded will continue to put a break on undertaking operations in places that the US Government considers peripheral to its interests. They warn that this may result in the prospect of two-tier peacekeeping: “top-tier operations”, conducted in areas seen as important by the US and its core allies, and “lower-tier” operations conducted by the UN and regional organisations with limited funds elsewhere.

Understanding Peacekeeping is very well suited as a core text for any course or module on peacekeeping because it evaluates the changing characteristics of the contemporary environment in which peacekeepers operate, what role peacekeeping plays in wider processes of global politics, the growing impact of non-state actors, and the major challenges facing peacekeepers in the future. It should be essential reading for all students and scholars of peace and conflict studies, security studies, and international relations.

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