Peacekeeping Faces New Dangers and Requires Rethinking, Scholar Contends

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

By Middle East Policy


States in conflict zones must be forced to bear the costs and resolve their issues, Dennis Jett argues in a new journal article.

Ahead of December’s UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, an article in Middle East Policy’s Fall 2023 issue explores the impact of its largest and longest peacekeeping missions since 1948. Dennis Jett argues that, despite billions spent every year, the operations have been ineffective at bringing about resolutions, and they have become far deadlier—especially for troops from the world’s poorer countries.

“UN peacekeeping has…become either endless or impossible,” contends Jett, a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University, often encouraging “intransigence and stalemate rather than an end to the conflict that created the need for intervention.”

With no permanent military, the UN derives its power through member states, limiting the organization’s effectiveness. The peacekeepers it sends to conflict zones, Jett writes, “have neither the carrots nor the sticks to effectively promote peace or punish those who are preventing it.”

Peacekeeping has been a pillar of the UN over the last 75 years, and the history of these missions can be broken down into the three types of conflicts they are designed to end: (1) territorial wars between states; (2) civil wars; and (3) extremism threatening civilians.

First-phase operations account for the oldest six of today’s active missions, with peacekeepers deployed to prevent violence in Jerusalem, Kashmir, the Golan Heights, southern Lebanon, Western Sahara, and Cyprus. Jett notes that all six started before 1991, and there are none in negotiation.

Second-phase operations have largely ceased or been offloaded, as is the case with NATO’s taking over the mission in Kosovo. But what Jett identifies as third-phase missions have been on the rise since 2010, with troops deployed to Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Jett laments the new UN directive of “robust peacekeeping” to protect civilians from violent extremist groups. This has forced troops “to become war fighters, something they will never be able to do effectively.” As result, these missions have become deadlier, averaging 16 deaths a year compared to only two for each of the first-generation operations.

Robust peacekeeping has also led to an inequality in burden sharing. Richer countries are picking up most of the tab of $6.5 billion per year to support the missions, but poorer countries are supplying the bulk of the troops and, therefore, facing more of the human and political costs.

Jett argues for rethinking “how peacekeeping is conducted, what it can realistically achieve, and what is necessary for peace.” This would include requiring states with peacekeeping operations on their soil to bear the cost of such missions and withholding aid to countries that do not attempt to resolve long-running conflicts.

Progress also requires a push for change from within the affected countries. Should it be lacking, “the international community should not reject walking away simply because of the false hope that the mere presence of peacekeepers will somehow make things better,” Jett concludes. “To improve the chances for peace, the member states must place international order above their national interests.”

Among the major takeaways readers can find in Jett’s Middle East Policy article, “Why Peacekeeping Does Not Promote Peace”:

  • UN peacekeeping since 1948 has been ineffective in achieving permanent solutions.
    • The 12 active missions cost $6.5 billion a year.
    • Five of them have been deployed for 45 years or more.
    • Peacekeepers aren’t given resources to reward or punish actors.
  • Historical phases of peacekeeping:
    • First: Territorial disputes/ wars between nations. There are no negotiations in any of today’s six sites of conflict (Jerusalem, Kashmir, the Golan Heights, southern Lebanon, Western Sahara, and Cyprus).
    • Second: Peacekeepers deployed to end civil wars. The goals are usually tied to specific developments, such as political transitions.
    • Third: Protecting civilians in areas suffering from violent extremism. These missions require peacekeepers to be fighters, which is something historically outside of their mandate.
  • After failures to protect civilians, as in Bosnia in 1995, a UN report called for more “robust peacekeeping” and an expansion of the use of force.
    • Missions to protect civilians from extremism are the majority of peacekeeping missions today and carry the most risk.
  • Robust peacekeeping bypasses the three previous UN principles:
    1. Parties involved in conflict need to consent to troops’ presence.
    2. Peacekeepers need to be unbiased.
    3. Force can only be used in self-defense.
  • This has made missions more dangerous, leading to inequality:
    • Rich nations finance the efforts.
    • Poorer nations supply the peacekeepers and take the risks.
  • These steps need to be taken:
    1. The nations involved should finance these missions.
    2. Countries refusing to address longstanding conflicts should face restrictions on economic, military, and even humanitarian aid.


You can read “Why Peacekeeping Does Not Promote Peace” by Dennis Jett in the Fall 2023 issue of Middle East Policy.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top