The evidence is mounting. Academic studies are finding that the presence of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations correlates with reduced violence, including violence against civilians. Despite these studies, there is considerable political and financial pressure to downsize and withdraw UN peacekeeping operations from contexts where civilians continue to be targeted. Other stakeholders are suggesting that the era of big peacekeeping is over.1 Day, Adam. UN University. Realism Should Guide the Next Generation of UN Peacekeeping. Retrieved from https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/realism-should-guide-the-next-generation-of-un-peacekeeping. These policy positions may, in part, be fueled by the perception that peacekeeping operations are expensive and don’t work. As UN Member States gear-up to review and negotiate peacekeeping budgets in the spring of 2020, they should pause to consider what aspects of peacekeeping are working and how to better support these operations.

Evidence from nine studies shows that as the number of uniformed personnel increases, violence against civilians decreases. In the article “United Nations Peacekeeping and Civilian Protection in Civil War,” authors Hultman, Kathman, and Shannon find that “on average, deploying several thousand troops and several hundred police dramatically reduces civilian killings.”2Hultman, L., Kathman, J., & Shannon, M. (2013). United Nations Peacekeeping and Civilian Protection in Civil War. American Journal of Political Science. The study explores how peacekeeping operations are able to protect civilians by separating combatants and reducing the activities that can pose harm to civilians. By patrolling, policing, and monitoring, peacekeeping operations make it more costly for combatants to harm civilians.

In a separate article, “Managing Mistrust: An Analysis of Cooperation with UN Peacekeeping in Africa,” authors Ruggeri, Gizelis, and Dorussen say that rebel groups and local government actors are more willing to cooperate when the UN mission is larger.3Ruggeri, A., Gizelis, T.-I., & Dorussen, H. (2012). Managing Mistrust. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 57(3), 387–409. The study also finds that the number of peacekeepers has an impact on the cost-benefit assessment of using either a violent or more cooperative approach.

The research shows that the type of uniformed personnel, not just the number, also matters. The article “Beyond Keeping Peace: United Nations Effectiveness in the Midst of Fighting,” also by authors Hultman, Kathman, and Shannon, finds that military troops rather than police are more likely to prevent battlefield violence because “they offer the strongest means by which the UN can guarantee security and increase the cost of fighting.”4Hultman, L., Kathman, J., & Shannon, M. (2014). Beyond Keeping Peace: United Nations Effectiveness in the Midst of Fighting. American Political Science Review, 108 (4), 737–753. Additionally, the composition of the missions should be diverse in terms of nationality, as this actually decreases the level of violence against civilians according to authors Bove and Ruggeri in their article “Kinds of Blue: Diversity in UN Peacekeeping Missions and Civilian Protection.”5Bove, V., & Ruggeri, A. (2015). Kinds of Blue: Diversity in UN Peacekeeping Missions and Civilian Protection. British Journal of Political Science, 46(3), 681–700.

More research is still needed on the effect of UN peacekeeping operations on violence against civilians. First, the studies mentioned above focus on military and police, but peacekeeping missions are not simply comprised of uniformed personnel. Missions are multidimensional and integrated, meaning they are also made up of civilian units that implement a number of mandated tasks, such as community-based protection projects, brokering and monitoring peace agreements, supporting elections, and monitoring human rights. There has been little quantitative research on the effect of civilian components on protecting civilians.

Second, the studies show there is correlation, not causation, between peacekeeper presence and a reduction in violence. Identifying the impact of any one intervention on a conflict is difficult given the number of variables out of the control of the peacekeeping operation. UN stakeholders and external experts must continue to strive to identify the links.

Are there still serious cases of underperformance and egregious failures by UN peacekeeping missions to protect civilians? Yes, and Member States and the UN Secretary-General need to continue to take prompt and transparent steps to address those failures. Are there other steps that the UN Secretariat and Member States need to take to make UN peacekeeping more effective and efficient? Yes, and the reforms that are needed are well known. The UN Secretary-General and Member States need to redouble efforts to deliver on commitments to implement those reforms.    

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council authorizing a UN peacekeeping operation to protect civilians. Before accelerating the drawdown and withdraw of UN peacekeeping missions, policy-makers should consider these studies and others to help determine what is working to reduce violence and how to ensure these efforts are financially and politically supported.


[1] Day, Adam. UN University. Realism Should Guide the Next Generation of UN Peacekeeping. Retrieved from https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/realism-should-guide-the-next-generation-of-un-peacekeeping.

[2] Hultman, L., Kathman, J., & Shannon, M. (2013). United Nations Peacekeeping and Civilian Protection in Civil War. American Journal of Political Science.

[3] Ruggeri, A., Gizelis, T.-I., & Dorussen, H. (2012). Managing Mistrust. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 57(3), 387–409.

[4] Hultman, L., Kathman, J., & Shannon, M. (2014). Beyond Keeping Peace: United Nations Effectiveness in the Midst of Fighting. American Political Science Review, 108 (4), 737–753.

[5] Bove, V., & Ruggeri, A. (2015). Kinds of Blue: Diversity in UN Peacekeeping Missions and Civilian Protection. British Journal of Political Science, 46(3), 681–700.

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