What Factors May Contribute to a Successful United Nations Peacekeeping Mission?


Peacekeeping missions have represented the role of the United Nations in global conflict. After decades of peacekeeping operations, the United Nations have been able to gather data regarding their successes and failures. This paper focuses on the success of the peacekeeping operations while reviewing two factors; possibility of peace in an ongoing conflict and peacekeepers having access to collaboration with regional powers. The successful UN peacekeeping missions include the cases of Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, it also includes the cases of peacekeeping in Rwanda and Bosnia providing examples of absence of the two factors mentioned above.

Key words: United Nations, peacekeeping, war conflict, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, Bosnia


The United Nations (UN) describes peacekeeping operations as a "collective investment in global peace, security and stability" (UNDPO, "What We Do", 2019). Over the past 70 years, the United Nations has taken peacekeeping missions on an international level with the drive to successfully avoid conflict, provide protection to civilians, and decrease levels of violence. Yet, the nature of peacekeeping tends to be political since it might depend on the willingness of conflicting parties to agree on effective resolutions and resolve their conflict. Hence, the UN peacekeeping processes also include educating host countries about the conflict to maintain long-term peace and avoid future conflict (UNDPO, "What We Do", 2019.) Even though longstanding peace is the end goal of operations, peacekeeping is a complex issue and it relies on many factors for its success. According to the United Nations, two vital pre-requirements to a successful peacekeeping mission are the following; a. there must be a possibility of achieving peace during the conflict, and b. peacekeepers should be receiving support from regional actors (UN peacekeeping successes, 2019.) This paper examines the absence and the presence of these pre-requirements in four case studies in order to see how they impact the results of a peacekeeping mission.

Case Studies

The case studies consist of Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping (UNDPO) found success in their efforts of deescalating the conflict. On the other hand, there are the cases of Rwanda and Bosnia, where the UNDPO faced tragic failures.

It would be naïve to compare cases with little to no similarities. Therefore, the case studies share the following characteristics;

  1. The conflict was contained in the host country

  2. The conflict did not include proxy powers

  3. The conflict included ethnic discrimination

  4. The mission had similar mandates

  1. United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) 1999-2008

When the UN peacekeepers arrived in 1999, Sierra Leone was in the middle of a civil war, where the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel war group, was fighting against the government (Kreps, 2008, pp. 15). It is important to note that UNAMSIL was the second operation in Sierra Leone since the previous UN peacekeeping operation (UNOMSIL) had failed in 1998. During this transition, the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) became in charge of negotiations until the UN peacekeepers returned to the territory. Nonetheless, ECOMOG still supported UNAMSIL as a regional actor. Fortunately, RUF was more compelled to recognize UNAMSIL as a mediator party and the Sierra Leone government was welcoming towards the United Nations peacekeeping forces (pp. 16-18) This showed that there was willingness to find peaceful resolutions.

Moreover, RUF pretended to fight the war in the name of Marxist ideas of liberty and demolishing slavery, but they also engaged in ethnic cleansing. RUF often had bloody encounters with a tribal ethnic group of Kamajors. Unfortunately, unarmed civilians with suspicions of working with Kamajors also paid the price and were executed. Consequently, Koranko Tamoboros tribe (alongside with Mende, Kamajohs, and Temne Kapras tribes) created the civil defense militias (CDF) in order to protect their tribe leaders. By doing this, the civil war escalated, and it took an ethnic nature (IRB, 1999.)

However, the UNAMSIL managed to bring all conflicting parties in 1999 and helped implement the Lome Peace Accords between RUF and the government. Thus, UNAMSIL had the opportunity to increase the security of the country to the point where they were able to guide the fleeing refugees back to the country and help internally displaced people return home. Then, they were even able to provide proper education regarding human rights and create a Special Court to judge those who had committed war crimes. Other UN agencies were able to come into the country and build infrastructures, such as schools and hospitals, due to the successful results of the peacekeeping mission (Mustapha Kaikai, 2018.) Sierra Leone even enjoyed a peaceful transition of power during their election processes in 2002-2003 (Kreps, 2010, 18.) As a result, the UNAMSIL is considered to be a successful UN Peacekeeping mission.

  1. United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)


The UNMIL mandate aimed to bring an end to the second Liberian civil war (1999-2003.) One of the main causes of the war was ethnic discrimination by the state itself. President Taylor tried to use the method of ethnic scape-goating to explain poor state services. He took action against two specific ethnic groups, Mandingo and Krahn, and abused his executive power by ordering unreasonable arrests of people in both groups. As a process of retaliation, both Mandingo and Krahn engaged in armed attacks against the Taylor Administration, which triggered the second civil war (Kiehl 2019, pp. 19-22.)

Despite the multiple outbursts of conflict, the UNMIL's fieldwork visits determined potential to restore state security, which encouraged international organizations to invest in missions on Liberian territory. It became obvious that President Taylor's behavior was guiding the war and that peace was possible if he stepped down from power. Additionally, the peacekeepers were able to cooperate with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who acted as a regional actor and was pressuring President Taylor for a ceasefire. Eventually, they managed to prosecute him with the help of a Special Court in Sierra Leone, a neighboring country. At last, Liberia held its presidential elections in 2015 while the UNMIL was still safeguarding peace (Higate & Marsha, 2009, pp. 23-30.) UNMIL managed to deescalate the conflict and created the path to justice. Hence, it is recognized as a successful UN peacekeeping mission.

  1. United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR)

April 1994 to July 1994

Before the occurrence of the genocide in 1994, Rwanda's population was mainly split into two ethnic groups; the Hutu (majority) and the Tutsis (minority). Hence, UNAMIR was assigned to deescalate the ethnic-motivated tensions between them. However, many anthropologist scholars believe that being a Hutu or a Tutsi was not an ethnic identity, but rather a socioeconomic status. The Tutsis were favored by colonizers and tended to belong in a high social class in the Rwandan community. Nonetheless, a turning point in the conflict was the Rwandan presidential plane being shot down. It encouraged the Hutu-led government to trigger the genocide by hunting down Tutsis, even if they were innocent civilians (Katayanagi, 2002, 139-141.) Thus, the hope of conciliation started fading away.

The UN was present in Rwanda because they had sent peacekeepers in Rwanda since the early 1990s due to the conflict between Rwanda and Uganda. The Major General of the peacekeeping operation, Romeo Dallaire, was suspected of the mass killings after the death of the Hutu President and asked the United Nations to send more troops. However, the UN was reluctant to participate in any military mission, especially following the death of 10 Belgian peacekeepers. The Belgium troops were vital to the operation since they were larger in size than the rest of the peacekeeping troops and had more military training. However, they got in the middle of the conflict by provoking the Hutu extremists across the capital of Kigali, which led to the eventual removal of the Belgian troops. The lack of further UN engagement indicated the limited possibilities of resolving the conflict in peaceful manners and there was an absence of any solidarity actions from neighboring countries (Pugliese, 2017.) In this case, the absence of the United Nations provided additional incentives for the conflicted parties not to choose the path of negotiations and diplomacy. All things considered, UNAMIR is viewed as one of the tragic failures of the United Nations.

  1. United Nations Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH)


Before the beginning of the peacekeeping mission in June 1992, Bosnia had a self-determination crisis regarding its national identity. Bosnia used to be one of the most ethnic-devised countries of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and the Bosnich population included people from three major ethnic groups; Muslims, Serbs, and Croats. After the split of SFRY in 1991, Bosnia held a referendum in 1992 in order to answer the question of self-determination. Although Bosnia was recognized as a state by the European Community (former name of the European Union) and the United States, Belgrade refused to see Bosnia as a sovereign state. Therefore, the Serbs in Bosnia decided to declare their own state under the name of the Serb Republic of Bosnia. Initially, the Muslims and Croats started building alliances between them. Yet, the Croats decided to align with the Bosnian Serbs and cut deals with them putting, which put the Muslim community in a disadvantaged position (Tardy, 2017, pp. 512-513.)

During the Summer of 1992, Serbs had expanded their influence through the Bosnian territory and managed to create prisoner and mass deportation camps for the Muslim population. After the Muslim population was in deep need of humanitarian aid, the U.N. got involved despite the Secretary-General's doubts that there was no peace to keep in the Bosnian territory. An outburst in the media regarding human rights violations and increased violence in detention centers increased the pressure that the UN Security Council was receiving. While Western States were willing to address the deprivation of human rights and the increased need of humanitarian aid, they were very skeptical about using military tactics to resolve the conflict (pp. 513-154.)

The shadows of the Cold War were still covering the European territory. Many regional state actors were still adjusting to a post-Cold War era. Hence, active military action was not viewed as the optimal option. The next best solution was the use of deterrence by NATO's air force. The UN ordered the creation of no-flying zones in order to protect the Muslim population from future slaughters and deportations. However, UN member states debated whether they should withdraw their peacekeepers as accomplishing peace did not seem possible, and involving NATO did not give the impression that the United Nations was offering only humanitarian assistance as originally planned. After a failed truce among participating parties, NATO engaged in airstrikes in May 1995 with the Serbs invading "safe areas" and taking hostage 200 peacekeepers as a response. Due to the lack of a strong rule of law in Bosnia, the UN peacekeeping mission never managed to complete its mandate (pp. 515-157.) Even though there were successful efforts to save lives, UNMIBH cannot be accepted as a fully successful mission.


Taking into consideration all the cases above, we can conclude that the presence and the absence of the two UN criteria for successful missions can be seen in the cases of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. More specifically, both peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia were successful because of the possibility of achieving peace. Even if it was not obvious in the beginning, the peacekeeping forces were focused on increasing the security of the host country in order to proceed with other advancements, such as elections and educational operations. Moreover, the peacekeepers benefited from the cooperation with Western African organizations in order to carry out their missions. Besides, regional organizations can sometimes do more than the peacekeepers as the UN prevents them from directly engaging in the conflict. Considering that both countries enjoyed the peace and even transitions of power, it can be argued that the peacekeepers successfully achieve their goals. They took advantage of the good grounds of potential peace and opened themselves to receiving assistance from regional actors.

On the other hand, the peacekeeping missions in Rwanda and Bosnia are well-suited cases to show the consequences of experiencing the absence of future peace and regional collaboration. The high numbers of civilian casualties were the first sign that peace cannot be negotiated, and as soon as peacekeepers started being kidnapped and/or killed, the talks of peace were removed from the table by major powers. The fate of these countries may have been different today if the UN managed to create a peaceful ground to step on and convene neighboring countries to participate in either humanitarian or ecopolitical aid.


Even though the success rates of peacekeeping operations are not as high as those which have failed, it is important to carry them out. The successes of Liberia and Sierra Leone were followed after the UN peacekeeping Forces learned from their past mistakes and gained more experience in peace negotiations in those countries. Hopefully, more successful peacekeeping operations will emerge in the future and the UN will have the ability to increase its resources as they gain the trust of more organizations in the international community.

Author: By Lutfie Gjurra

Supervised by Dr. Hassan Fartousi

Assistance by Marc Enzo Belligoi


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Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development for Peace