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Mandates and the legal basis for peacekeeping

The UN Charter gives the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In fulfilling this responsibility, the Council can establish a UN peacekeeping operation.

UN peacekeeping operations are deployed on the basis of mandates from the United Nations Security Council. Their tasks differ from situation to situation, depending on the nature of the conflict and the specific challenges it presents.

UN Charter

The Charter of the United Nations is the foundation document for all the UN work. The UN was established to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and one of its main purposes is to maintain international peace and security.

Peacekeeping, although not explicitly provided for in the Charter, has evolved into one of the main tools used by the United Nations to achieve this purpose.

The Charter gives the UN Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In fulfilling this responsibility, the Council may adopt a range of measures, including the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation.

  • Chapter VI deals with the “Pacific Settlement of Disputes”. UN peacekeeping operations have traditionally been associated with Chapter. However, the Security Council need not refer to a specific Chapter of the Charter when passing a resolution authorizing the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation and has never invoked Chapter VI.
  • Chapter VII contains provisions related to “Action with Respect to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression’. In recent years, the Council has adopted the practice of invoking Chapter VII of the Charter when authorizing the deployment of UN peacekeeping operations into volatile post-conflict settings where the State is unable to maintain security and public order. The Security Council’s invocation of Chapter VII in these situations, in addition to denoting the legal basis for its action, can also be seen as a statement of firm political resolve and a means of reminding the parties to a conflict and the wider UN membership of their obligation to give effect to Security Council decisions.
  • Chapter VIII of the Charter provides for the involvement of regional arrangements and agencies in the maintenance of international peace and security provided such activities are consistent with the purposes and principles outlined in Chapter I of the Charter.

Peacekeeping mandates

UN peacekeeping operations are deployed on the basis of mandates from the United Nations Security Council. Over the years, the range of tasks assigned to UN peacekeeping operations has expanded significantly in response to shifting patterns of conflict and to best address threats to international peace and security.

Although each UN peacekeeping operation is different, there is a considerable degree of consistency in the types of mandated tasks assigned by the Security Council. Depending on their mandate, peacekeeping operations may be required to:

  • Deploy to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spill-over of conflict across borders;
  • Stabilize conflict situations after a ceasefire, to create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
  • Assist in implementing comprehensive peace agreements;
  • Lead states or territories through a transition to stable government, based on democratic principles, good governance and economic development.

Depending on the specific set of challenges, UN peacekeepers are often mandated to play a catalytic role in the following essentially peacebuilding activities:

  • Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants;
  • Mine action;
  • Security sector reform and other rule of law-related activities;
  • Protection and promotion of human rights;
  • Electoral assistance;
  • Support for the restoration and extension of State authority;
  • Promotion of social and economic recovery and development. 

Security Council mandates also reflect a number of cross-cutting, thematic tasks that are regularly assigned to UN peacekeeping operations on the basis of the following landmark Security Council resolutions:

For more specific information on the types of mandated tasks and the characteristics of the “traditional” and “multidimensional” operations please refer to the UN Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines - “Capstone Doctrine” PDF Document, Part I, Chapter 2 (2.3 and 2.4).