Research: Publications

Fighting for Peace: The Tricky Business of Using Greater Force in UN Peace Operations

March 4, 2015 | Policy Brief

By Nicole Ball

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The authority granted by the United Nations Charter to use force to protect international peace and security has long lain dormant. The end of the Cold War, the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica and the ‘Brahimi report’ put discussions on the need for greater use of force on the UN’s agenda in the early 2000s. Much has changed since, but in general the increased political willingness by UN member states to authorise the use of force has developed well ahead of their risk tolerance and matching capabilities. The recent experience of the Force Intervention Brigade in the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the latest occasion to trigger useful debate about the consequences of the UN mission mandates’ progressive authorization of use of force and their increasingly robust application. Unfortunately, much of this debate takes greater use of force for granted, and focuses on the required political and capability improvements for improved effectiveness. Yet, there are three major risks associated with greater use of force as well. First, as the use of force will likely be selective and temporary, it risks reducing the UN’s impartiality – with problematic consequences for its status as ‘neutral broker’. Second, while the use of force can be a vital component of conflict resolution strategies, it also risks militarization if it is not accompanied by better political strategies and ‘civilian capacities’, such as stronger policing, intelligence and mediation. Third, greater use of force risks undermining missions’ statebuilding tasks where force is applied on behalf of a state that is unwilling or unable to meet the internationally agreed standards of a sovereign government. A thoughtful debate on these issues needs to go hand in hand with any discussion of capability improvements.

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