International Relations theory and the study of UN peace operations
UN peace operations have, since their inception, touched on core issues and concepts at the heart of the study of international relations: conflict and cooperation; sovereignty and intervention; norms and norm diffusion; the use and utility of military force; and the changing character of armed conflict. To study UN peacekeeping, therefore, is also to study international politics and, by extension, to engage in debates about the bases for international order and the prospects for international society. Although the scope and scale of UN peace operations have evolved over time, the study of UN operations needs to factor in not just discontinuities but also important elements of continuity in the history and practice of UN peacekeeping. The experience of UN operations is rich, diverse, and multilayered. The investigation and deeper understanding of that experience are certain to benefit – as the present volume demonstrates – from the application of different theoretical lenses and a range of methodological tools.
This chapter describes constructivism’s distinguishing features and how it has informed existing research on UN peacekeeping. Focusing on core constructivist concepts like norms, culture, and identity, the chapter explains that peacekeeping scholars within this approach tend to focus on ideational influences emanating from outside the UN system or on the role of intersubjective knowledge within the UN. The chapter then draws on evidence from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to identify areas where constructivism can further improve our understanding of UN peace operations. These include the process by which peacekeepers interpret and implement norms at the micro level; the ways in which peace operations reshape local norms, identities, and cultures, and vice versa; and, finally, the relationship between contemporary peacekeeping practices and shifting normative and political dynamics at the macro level.
This chapter explores what a critical approach to UN peacekeeping entails and highlights the valuable contributions of Critical Security Studies (CSS) to capture the nature and significance of peace operations in international politics. It shows how CSS questions the values and representations that inform UN peacekeeping and the political order that peacekeeping interventions shape, promote, or sustain. It further discusses how CSS unpacks peacekeeping (often mundane and daily) practices and their political and social implications and takes into account non-traditional security issues. The chapter then relies on CSS theoretical and methodological tools to study the specific case of the rise of environmental practices in UN peacekeeping. Drawing on the concepts of securitisation and environmentalisation, it demonstrates how UN peacekeeping has been framed as relevant to environmental policies, while contributing to a broader process of securitisation of the environment.
Feminist institutionalism aims to understand and explain how power is distributed within institutions. As a political project, feminist institutionalism (FI) seeks to disrupt existing power settlements within institutions and facilitate change by identifying and challenging institutional barriers that sustain gender inequalities and other forms of discrimination. This chapter explores how FI contributes to explaining how peacekeeping is a gendered enterprise in the context of the global racialised and classed power relations that underscore the contemporary international security system. The chapter first discusses the key assumptions of FI and considers how the theory can help explain why contemporary peace operations take the shape that they do. Applying an FI approach to the study of institutional change and institutional reproduction, the chapter then examines how the implementation of gender equality initiatives in the Ghana Armed Forces impact on the way in which female military peacekeepers from Ghana are deployed to UN peace operations. Two institutional barriers that are known to prevent women’s meaningful participation in peace operations are examined: recruitment processes and deployment criteria.
Although UN peacekeeping fits the definition of an ‘international institution’, liberal institutionalism has not been the dominant theory in the literature. However, several aspects of UN peacekeeping – coalition-building in the UN Security Council, domestic pressures for intervention, and troop contributions – have been studied by drawing on liberal institutionalist concepts and insights. A particular difficulty is presented by the consensual and secretive nature of Security Council negotiations, which makes its voting record less informative than in other international organisations and requires other sources of data, such as on the sponsorship of peacekeeping resolutions. The analysis of sponsorship behaviour reveals that the dominant coalition consisting of the US and European states has drafted the majority of peacekeeping resolutions. The coalition has been quite successful at ensuring the smooth adoption of the resolutions. Yet recently, more states – including Russia and China – have abstained on peacekeeping resolutions, suggesting a weakening of the dominant coalition’s position. As new sources of data emerge (for example, on the content of peacekeeping resolutions), we can expect further applications of liberal institutionalism.
The chapter discusses how practice theories have informed analyses of peacekeeping. Following a brief overview of practice theories, a theoretical agenda that has started with relying on the works of Pierre Bourdieu but has since diversified, the chapter argues that such approaches lend themselves particularly well to integrating practitioner perspectives into academic writing on peacekeeping. The chapter also surveys how practice theoretical approaches have benefited from close conversations with constructivism and examines this by summarising research making understandable considerable differences in implementing the protection of civilians. It closes by arguing that practice theories promise innovative and often micro-level accounts of peacekeeping dynamics just as peacekeeping operations become increasingly varied and experimental.
This chapter takes a rational-choice institutionalist approach to UN peacekeeping and shows that the principal-agent model can offer valuable heuristic insights for analysing the most pressing challenges to date. It highlights the importance of studying preference heterogeneities among UN Security Council (UNSC) members, information asymmetries between the UNSC, the UN Secretariat and troops in the field, and the capacity and willingness of the involved principals to install credible and effective monitoring mechanisms. The chapter particularly focuses on the value of conceptualising so-called chains of delegation to get grip on the politics of control in the increasingly complex web of agents in UN peacekeeping. In doing so, it focuses on two challenges in particular: first, information flows between the UN headquarters in New York and the missions in-theatre; and, second, the difficulty that comes with the increased involvement of regional organisations in peace operations.
Realist scholarship and peacekeeping scholarship are rarely brought together, and this is to the detriment of both fields, suggests this chapter. This chapter shows how IR realism would help to enrich and boost the study of peacekeeping, and, conversely, how the study of peacekeeping may provide fertile new ground for realist investigations of world politics. The chapter reiterates the fact that peacekeeping concerns some of the most fundamental questions of political science such as peace, war, and order, and that realism may help significantly to broaden the scope of peacekeeping studies to macro-political questions. The chapter discusses different varieties of realism, and suggests that, if there is to be a new distribution of power within the international system, then realism may offer particularly timely insights to study the future development of peacekeeping operations in a multipolar world.
This chapter applies a sociological institutionalist frame to UN peacekeeping and explains the role of norms, rules, and culture in shaping the behaviour of peacekeeping actors. More specifically, sociological institutionalism focuses on actors as social agents whose behaviour is culturally specific and constructed around ideas of appropriateness; we can thus better understand not only why UN peacekeeping takes the form that it does but also how and why it changes over time through an examination of the internal institutional environment of the UN and the self-images and values of UN staff. These dynamics are illustrated empirically with a discussion of local ownership in UN peacekeeping that demonstrates how UN staff engage in inefficient or contradictory behaviours because of their need to perceive that their actions are appropriate and legitimate and to remain aligned with their own institutional standards.
UN peacekeeping is a core pillar of the multilateral peace and security architecture and a multi-billion-dollar undertaking reshaping lives around the world. In spite of this, the engagement between the literatures on UN peacekeeping and International Relations theory has been a slow development. This has changed in recent years, and there is now a growing interest tin examining UN peacekeeping from various theoretical perspectives to yield insights about how international relations are changing and developing. The volume is the first comprehensive overview of multiple theoretical perspectives on UN peacekeeping. There are two main uses of this volume. First, this volume provides the reader with insights into different theoretical lenses and how they can be applied practically to understanding UN peacekeeping better. Second, through case studies in each chapter, the volume provides practical examples of how International Relations theories – such as realism, liberal institutionalism, rational choice institutionalism, sociological institutionalism, feminist institutionalism, constructivism, critical security studies, practice theory, and complexity theory – can be applied to a specific policy issue. Applying these theories enhances our understanding of why UN peacekeeping, as an international institution, has evolved in a particular direction and functions the way that it does. The insights generated in the volume can also help shed light on other international institutions as well as the broader issue of international co-operation.