The Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON) is a global research consortium of more than 40 institutions that are collaboratively undertaking research into the effectiveness of specific peace operations. In 2018 EPON undertook studies into the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the United Nations (UN) Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Further studies are underway into the UN-AU Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the UN Verification Mission in Colombia and the EU and OSCE missions in the Ukraine. More will follow. This paper identifies and discusses some of the cross-cutting trends and observations that have emerged from the first four studies that have been published.2 This paper is a first attempt to identify emerging cross-cutting trends and to make some overall observations.
Assessing the effectiveness of peace operations
First a note on methodology and epistemology. Lise Morjé Howard concludes that the vast majority of quantitative studies of UN peace operations come to a similar conclusion: peace operations are effective.3 Using different datasets and statistical models, leveraging different time periods, and measuring UN peacekeeping in different ways, Howard argues that these studies “have found that UN peacekeeping has a positive and statistically significant effect on containing the spread of civil war, increasing the success of negotiated settlements to civil wars, and increasing the duration of peace once a civil war has ended.”
However, the findings of these quantitative studies have been questioned on the basis that they show correlation but fail to identify the causal mechanisms that can explain these results in specific cases.4 Despite the positive conclusions of these statistical studies, not enough is known about how peace operations contribute to reducing violence and sustaining peace in specific cases.5 EPON is an attempt to address this gap by undertaking a large number of principally qualitative studies into the effectiveness of specific peace operations, where each operation is assessed in its own context. This network employs a shared methodology across these studies to enable comparative and longitudinal analysis.
EPON defines effectiveness as the overall strategic impact of a peace operation, understood as reducing conflict dynamics in the area of operation over a particular period of time, in the context of its mandate and resources. The network’s studies employ three analytical tools: a context analysis, an identification of effects, and a review of explanatory factors. The first analytical tool seeks to understand the context in which the peace operation is intended to produce positive effects. This requires an analysis of the conflict dynamics and the principal characteristics of the context in which the peace operation is taking place. The second analytical tool identifies and examines the effects that may be attributed to the contribution of the peace operation. This is done by reviewing the mission’s activities and considering how far it has achieved its mandate and the extent to which it has contributed to reducing conflict dynamics in the area of operation over a particular period of time – including by preventing violent episodes, increasing stability, protecting civilians, reducing sexual and gender-based violence and building and fostering sustainable peace, if so mandated. The third tool is used to help explain why these effects were generated by the peace operation. The EPON methodology employs a set of six explanatory factors:6 political primacy; mandates and resources; people-centred approaches; legitimacy and credibility; coordination and coherence; and women, peace and security. However, research teams are also encouraged to look beyond these factors and to identify any others that may be of relevance to their specific case.
The network pays significant, but not exclusive, attention to the intent of the authorizing organization – has the mission achieved what it was sent to do? But we also ask if there are other options for achieving the same effects and if the assumptions and expectations of the authorizing organization are valid and realistic – both at the political level where the mission has been tasked, and at the operational level where the mission is being planned and executed. EPON studies also attempt to consider the viewpoints of key stakeholder communities and how they experience and assess the effectiveness of the given peace operation. The network’s approach recognizes that different stakeholder communities will each have their own assessment of a mission’s effectiveness depending on their interests and perspectives. An EPON study is thus a strategic-level assessment of the overall impact and effectiveness of an operation, which reflects the complexity of the objectives of a peace operation, the means at its disposal, and the environment in which they are pursued.
One overall observation in this context is that the systematic collection, management and analysis of data on the actions and performance of peace operations, and its effects on the people and institutions they are meant to protect and support, would significantly improve the ability of these operations, their mandating organisations, their host institutions and external observers and researchers, to assess and analyse the effectiveness of these operations. Unfortunately, through our studies to date we have found that whilst some data is being collected, currently this data is not systematically organised, analysed and shared within the organisations responsible for deploying international peace operations. In this regard, the recent introduction of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment System (CPAS) in UN peacekeeping operations represents a positive development.7
Prevention of large-scale violent conflict
Three of the peace operations studied by EPON so far (AMISOM, MONUSCO and MINUSMA) have made significant contributions to preventing major civil war and large-scale conflict. A broad range of stakeholder communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali and Somalia agree that the level of violent conflict in these countries would have been significantly worse if these peace operations were not present. Their actions are thus widely understood to have had a deterrent effect and their presence has contributed to preventing larger-scale violent conflict.
UNMISS is the exception in that a large-scale conflict or civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, and relapsed again in 2016 whilst the operation was deployed. Its presence and actions were thus not a sufficient deterrent to prevent the outbreak of war in South Sudan. After the conflict broke out, UNMISS protected hundreds of thousands of people in and around its Protection of Civilian (POC) sites and provided support to the IGAD-led peace agreement implementation process. However, it was prevented from, for instance, providing security in Juba via the Regional Protection Force, which could have contributed to an earlier return of opposition parties and more confidence in the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.
In the DRC, Mali and Somalia, however, the presence of the peace operations is widely credited with having made a significant contribution to preventing large-scale violent conflict, including inter-state conflict in the case of the DRC. A broad range of stakeholder communities expressed that the withdrawal of these operations is likely to result in a significant increase in violence. Local communities in eastern DRC or central Mali experiencing violence, or the risk of violence, are seeking the protection of the UN because they believe a UN presence will have a deterrent and preventative effect.
Ending violent conflict
The first four EPON studies – of the DRC, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan – suggest peacekeepers are not able to bring about an end to violent conflict in the countries where they are deployed, on their own. EPON has chosen to study ongoing peace operations, rather than those already concluded. Other peace operations, such as those in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Timor Leste, to mention a recent few, have successfully withdrawn after successfully implementing their mandates. However, one significant factor that is different in the DRC, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan cases, is the absence of a viable political, governance or peace process that can realistically be expected to bring about an end to violent conflict in these countries. Without such a process in place, the peace operations themselves cannot be realistically expected to end the wars in these countries. These missions simply do not have the political leverage and support, requisite mandates, resources and thus capacity to end or even successfully suppress violent conflict at the scale required. Sustainably bringing an end to violent conflict can only be achieved politically.
International peace operations and local security forces can contribute to creating the conditions for political solutions and improved governance but cannot end wars on their own. The UN Security Council and other authorising bodies can be more explicit about the contribution that peace operations are anticipated to make, and to give more attention to the political, governance and developmental dimensions required to bring about an end to violent conflict and achieve sustainable peace, as well as the inter-linkages between these dimensions.
Protection of Civilians
The peace operations in the DRC, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan have not met (local and international) expectations when it comes to protecting civilians. The operations have protected many civilians directly and indirectly, but they simply do not have the resources and capacity to protect all civilians at all times.
One aspect to note in this context is the important role that non-military, or means other than physical protection, has played in most of the peace operations studied to date. A range of conflict resolution, good offices and local peace initiatives have made a notable contribution to preventing violent conflict and reducing risks to civilians in many instances. The work of most of these operations in areas such as child protection (where the role of MONUSCO in the reduction of the use of child soldiers in the DRC is especially noteworthy), human rights and conflict-related sexual violence is commendable.
Women, Peace & Security
The effects of the efforts to promote the Women, Peace and Security agenda have been mixed. Whilst there have been modest gains in improving the participation of women in the peace operations and representation of women in the countries in question, the overall effect has been negligible to date. And whilst the overall number of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (SEA) allegations have been low and declining, the inability of these institutions to prevent SEA, despite their stated zero-tolerance policies, and their inability to find a solution to the issues of jurisdiction when it comes to punishing those guilty of offenses is disappointing and unsatisfactory.
Some work has been done within the mission to raise awareness of the link between gender sensitivity and gender mainstreaming on the one hand, and the effectiveness of peace operations on the other. However, the promotion of gender sensitivity and gender mainstreaming externally, i.e. in the countries in which the missions are deployed, has been very limited, in some cases due to a lack of mandate provisions in this area.
Coherent Political Support
All the peace operations EPON has studied have been more successful during periods when they enjoyed coherent political support, i.e. when there was alignment among a sufficient number of members of the UN Security Council or the AU Peace and Security Council, among key Troop/Police Contributing Countries, and between the host state, key stakeholders, regional organisations and the peace operation itself.
One implication of this observation is that operations have only weak leverage on one of the most important factors that will influence their effectiveness, as a large portion of the work necessary to bring about and sustain such coherent political support needs to happen in the political bodies that have mandated these missions, and at the level of the strategic headquarters that have deployed these operations. Much more attention needs to be devoted to building and maintaining coherent political support for any given operation if that mission is going to be effective. Effectiveness is thus not something that can be assessed only at the level of the mission. Others at the political and strategic headquarters levels that are responsible for mobilising and sustaining political and material support for a given operation have at least an equally important role, and should thus also be held accountable for the political coherence, or lack thereof that influences the effectiveness of that operation.
Peace operations are just one instrument among many, and several others are equally or perhaps more influential than peace operations in many contexts. Several international actors, including the World Bank, IMF and regional development banks, multilateral donors, bilateral partners and donors, and regional organisations each play an important role alongside national and local actors.
It is the combined and cumulative effect of all of these national and international actors together that constitute the larger political project. Peace operations need to understand their role in this larger political project, and they need to have the capacity to support the effort necessary to coordinate, track and take stock of this larger political project. The performance of peace operations should not be judged only on the ability of the mission to achieve its own civilian, police, and military objectives. Nor is it enough to be integrated with the rest of their respective systems. Effectiveness also depends on the degree to which a peace operation and their strategic headquarters contributes to shaping and maintaining the strategic political coherence of the larger national and international effort to sustain the peace in a given country or region.8
Primacy of Politics
It is thus of concern that all the operations EPON studied to date – in the DRC, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan – lack a clear political project aimed at resolving their respective conflicts. Instead, all these operations have a conflict management mandate, focussed on stability, and in some cases on the protection of civilians. The bulk of their efforts are devoted to essentially keeping the situation from deteriorating further. Ironically, the more effective these operations, the less incentive there is for the political elites in power to seek a political settlement.
Other actors – major powers, the Councils, special envoys and mediators – are expected to pursue a political settlement. While development and humanitarian actors such as the International Financial Institutions, international donor partners, UN agencies, NGOs and philanthropists are expected to improve overall human and economic development. To a limited degree, the missions in the DRC, Mali and Somalia also have some responsibilities for reforming and strengthening governance, especially in the security and rule of law sectors, but these lines of operation are not undertaken at a level of intensity and scale that have been able to bring about significant changes in the periods that the missions have been deployed.
Peace operations theorists will need to reconsider how the contemporary focus on the protection of civilians and stabilization can be sustained without trapping peace operations in situations where this conflict management approach serves to entrench political elites, undermine the social contract and serve as a disincentive for long-term settlement. From an end-state or exit-strategy perspective, it is difficult to see how the necessary changes can come about in the short- to medium-term that will enable these countries to provide sufficient protection to their own citizens, without significant political transformation.
People-Centred Peace Operations
One of the four key recommendations of the UN High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) in 2015, was for a shift to more people-oriented peace operations. The Panel argued for ‘a renewed resolve on the part of UN peace operations personnel to engage with, serve and protect the people they have been mandated to assist.’9 This is also one of the central lessons that has emerged from the critical peacebuilding literature over the last two decades, namely that many peace interventions failed because they were too top-down and template driven. They failed to take local context into account, and they did not leave sufficient space for local ownership and self-determination.
The peace operations EPON has studied are all still predominantly state centric. Most are focussed on supporting the host government and state institutions, or threats to them. Although Protection of Civilians mandates have brought about more engagement with local communities, these efforts are mostly concentrated around managing risk. Apart from the Civil Affairs function, missions are very weakly connected to the people whom they are meant to protect, and whose lives the missions are meant to influence.
All the operations were very weak when it comes to involving social and civic representatives in assessments, analysis, planning, coordination and evaluation or performance assessments. Missions rarely make an effort to assess their impact on the societies they are meant to protect and serve. The operations remain primarily accountable to their member state bodies. Much more needs to be done to operationalise and implement the HIPPO call for peace operations to become more people-centred.
Political and Strategic Headquarters Accountability
When assessing the effectiveness of peace operations a distinction has to be made between, on the one hand, the effectiveness of a given operation – given that it has a specific mandate, limited resources and an evolving context – and, on the other hand, the role of the authorising and deploying bodies at the political and strategic headquarters levels. In the case of the missions studied to date these are the UN Security Council and the African Union’s Peace and Security Council and their respective secretariats.
These Councils have the option of changing an operation’s mandate and enhancing its resources. The Councils options are informed by a specific geo-political context, and the resources they can allocate are not unlimited. However, the extent to which they have been able to mobilise and sustain political and material support for a given course of action has varied considerably over time. Some missions have been deployed at a much more significant scale and with much greater political clarity and sustained attention than others. In assessing the effectiveness of specific peace operations, it is thus not sufficient to only analyse the operation. Not enough attention is given to the role and responsibility of the Councils and to the role of the strategic headquarters that provide guidance and support, both of which are critical to the ability of a given mission to be more effective.
Most of the peace operations EPON has studied to date have made significant contributions to preventing major civil war and large-scale violence. However, these peace operations are not able to bring an end to these violent conflicts on their own. They simply do not have the political leverage and support, requisite mandates, resources and thus capacity to end violent conflict at the scale required. Sustainably ending violent conflict can only be achieved politically.
The peace operations EPON has studied to date have not met local and international expectations when it comes to protecting civilians. The operations in the DRC, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan have protected many civilians directly and indirectly, but they simply do not have the political backing, resources and capacity to protect all civilians at all times. Expectations that these operations can protect civilians at scale, with the political leverage and support and level of resources currently mobilised are, at best, misplaced.
All of the peace operations EPON has studied have been more successful during periods when they enjoyed coherent political support among most of the key stakeholders, especially between the Councils, host government and key neighbouring and regional stakeholders. One implication of this observation is that operations only have weak leverage on one of the most important factors that can influence their effectiveness, as a large portion of the work necessary to bring about and sustain such coherent political support needs to happen at the level of the strategic headquarters that have deployed the operation, and at the political level.
All the operations EPON studied lack a clear political project aimed at resolving their respective conflicts. Instead, all these operations have a conflict management mandate, with a focus on stability and the protection of civilians. The bulk of their efforts are devoted to essentially keeping the situation from deteriorating further. This also means that they lack a clear end-state and a strategy they can pursue to achieve it within a reasonably timeframe.
The performance of peace operations should not be judged only on the ability of the missions to achieve their own civilian, police, and military objectives. Nor is it enough, for instance for a UN peacekeeping operation to be integrated with the rest of the UN system. Effectiveness also depends on the degree to which a peace operation and their strategic headquarters contributes to shape and maintain the strategic political coherence of the larger national and international effort to sustain the peace in a given country or region.
The peace operations EPON has studied are all still predominantly state centric; focussed on supporting the host government and state institutions, or threats to them. Much more needs to be done to operationalise and implement the HIPPO call for peace operations to become more people-centred. Other areas where the effectiveness of these operations can be further improved included especially Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) and the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
- Cedric de Coning is a Senior Research Fellow with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) where he co-directs the NUPI Center on UN and Global Governance. NUPI serves as the secretariat for the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network (EPON).
- The studies are available on the network’s website: https://effectivepeaceops.net
- Lise Morje Howard, Power in Peacekeeping (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
- Howard, 2019; Richard Caplan, Measuring Peace (Oxford University Press, 2019) and Paul F. Diehl and Daniel Druckman, Evaluating Peace Operations (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2010).
- Charles T. Call, Why Peace Fails: The Causes and Recurrence of Civil War (Washington D.C. Georgetown University Press, 2012); Oliver Richmond, Failed Statebuilding: Intervention, the State, and the Dynamics of Peace Formation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).
- The six explanatory factors were developed and discussed in the EPON methodology working group and validated through multiple consultations. They are based on factors widely held to contribute to effectiveness in policy documents such as the UN Capstone Doctrine (2008) and the report of the UN High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (2015).
- Cedric de Coning and Emery Brusset, Towards a Comprehensive Performance Assessment and Reporting Framework for UN Peace Operations, NUPI Report 4/2018.
- Cedric de Coning (2019), How UN Peacekeeping Operations Can Adapt to a New Multipolar World Order, International Peacekeeping, DOI: 10.1080/13533312.2019.1677286
- United Nations (2015), Uniting Our Strengths for Peace: Politics, Partnerships and People. Report of the High-level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. New York: United Nations, p. viii.