United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in the Post-cold War world: Less Means More

  • Oldřich Bureš


This article provides an analysis of the of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping, one of the hottest topics in international politics of the post-cold war era. Numerous books, articles, and Ph.D. thesis have already been written about UN peacekeeping operations. Although differing vastly in their scope and quality, most of the recent critiques have pointed out the pressing need to re-define and strengthen the cold war era concept of UN peacekeeping so that it becomes a viable conflict resolution method in the 21st century. Some scholars have, however, expressed serious doubts about the actual conflict resolution capabilities of UN peacekeeping operations. They argue that premature, short-term and under funded UN peacekeeping operations may well do more damage than good. One of the few things the majority of conflict resolution scholars and practitioners can nowadays agree on is that no UN intervention can bring peace to a place where it is not wanted. This article aims to enrich the current peace research by introducing an alternative analytical approach to the study of the UN peacekeeping. It is divided into seven sections. The introduction is followed by a theoretical section where I briefly summarize two basic theoretical approaches to the study of the UN peacekeeping (Conflict Management & Conflict Resolution). The third section provides an analysis of the changing nature of armed conflicts in the post-cold war period. The fourth section deals with the adjustments that were made to the concept of UN peacekeeping operations in reaction to the changes in the nature of current armed conflicts. The analytical concept Capabilities versus Expectations Gap is introduced in the fifth chapter, followed by the core section of this article - the analysis of the United Nations peacekeeping using the analytical concept Capabilities versus Expectations Gap. The analytical concept Capabilities versus Expectations Gap was first introduced by Christopher Hill in 1992 as a handy tool for analyzing the evolving European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The unique advantage of this concept is that it provides a sensible assessment of both the actual and potential UN capabilities. By comparing these with the existing UN expectations, the Capabilities versus Expectations Gap analysis of UN peacekeeping enables us to sketch a more realistic picture of what the UN is capable of doing in the area of conflict resolution than that presented either by its more enthusiastic supporters or by the demanders among the UN Member States. Consequently, building further on this realistic picture of the UN conflict resolution capabilities, I attempt to answer the key research question of this article: Is the UN, with the current level of its conflict resolution capabilities, capable of providing high quality treatment to as many conflicts as it nowadays attempts to provide? Based on the findings of the Capabilities versus Expectations Gap analysis of the UN peacekeeping problematic, I argue that since the end of the cold war, the UN has several times attempted to carry out more peacekeeping operations than it was capable of performing well in light of the current level of its conflict resolution capabilities. In other words, the most important conclusion of this article is that there is a gap between the UN capabilities and expectations in the area of conflict resolution and that the only option how to bridge this gap in the foreseeable future is to decrease the excessive UN expectations to meet the currently available UN capabilities. As paradoxical as it may sound, in practical terms this means that the United Nations is nowadays more likely to succeed in meeting its basic function ("to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war") by carrying out fewer but high quality peacekeeping operations.

Author Biography

Oldřich Bureš



Research Articles