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Post Cold-War surge

With the end of the Cold War, the strategic context for UN Peacekeeping changed dramatically.

Two peacekeepers riding on the top of a truck driving down a dirt road.

UN Photo/Ky Chung

UNOCI peacekeepers on patrol in Côte d'Ivoire, 2005.

The UN shifted and expanded its field operations from “traditional” missions involving generally observational tasks performed by military personnel to complex “multidimensional” enterprises. These multidimensional missions were designed to ensure the implementation of comprehensive peace agreements and assist in laying the foundations for sustainable peace.

The nature of conflicts also changed over the years. UN Peacekeeping, originally developed as a means of dealing with inter-State conflict, was increasingly being applied to intra-State conflicts and civil wars.

UN Peacekeepers were now increasingly asked to undertake a wide variety of complex tasks, from helping to build sustainable institutions of governance, to human rights monitoring, to security sector reform, to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.  

Although the military remained the backbone of most peacekeeping operations, there were now many faces to peacekeeping including:

  • administrators
  • economists
  • police officers
  • legal experts
  • de-miners
  • electoral observers
  • human rights monitors
  • civil affairs and governance specialists
  • humanitarian workers
  • communications and public information experts

1989 - 1994: Rapid increase in numbers

After the Cold War ended, there was a rapid increase in the number of peacekeeping operations. With a new consensus and a common sense of purpose, the Security Council authorized a total of 20 new operations between 1989 and 1994, raising the number of peacekeepers from 11,000 to 75,000.

Peacekeeping operations established in such countries as Angola - UN Angola Verification Mission I (UNAVEM I) and UN Angola Verification Mission II (UNAVEM II), Cambodia - UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), El Salvador - UN Observer Mission in El Salvador  (ONUSAL), Mozambique - UN Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) and Namibia - UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG), were deployed to:

  • help implement complex peace agreements;
  • stabilize the security situation;
  • re-organize military and police;
  • elect new governments and build democratic institutions. 

The mid-1990s: A period of reassessment

The general success of earlier missions raised expectations for UN Peacekeeping beyond its capacity to deliver. This was especially true in the mid 1990’s in situations when the Security Council was not able to authorize sufficiently robust mandates or provide adequate resources.

Missions were established in situations where the guns had not yet fallen silent, in areas such as the former Yugoslavia - UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), Rwanda - UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and Somalia - UN Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II), where there was no peace to keep.

These three high-profile peacekeeping operations came under criticism as peacekeepers faced situations where warring parties failed to adhere to peace agreements, or where the peacekeepers themselves were not provided adequate resources or political support. As civilian casualties rose and hostilities continued, the reputation of UN Peacekeeping suffered.

The setbacks of the early and mid-1990s led the Security Council to limit the number of new peacekeeping missions and begin a process of self-reflection to prevent such failures from happening again.

The Secretary-General commissioned an independent inquiry [S/1999/1257] PDF Document into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and, at the request of the General Assembly, provided a comprehensive assessment [A/54/549] PDF Document on the 1993-1995 events in Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia. The circumstances that led to the UN withdrawal from Somalia were also carefully examined [S/1995/231]PDF Document.

In the meantime, UN peacekeepers continued their long-term operations in the Middle East, Asia and Cyprus.

With continuing crises in a number of countries and regions, the essential role of UN Peacekeeping was soon emphatically reaffirmed. In the second half of the 1990s, the Council authorized new UN operations in:

Towards the 21st century: New operations, new challenges

At the turn of the century, the UN undertook a major exercise to examine the challenges to peacekeeping in the 1990s and introducing reform. The aim was to strengthen our capacity to effectively manage and sustain field operations.

With a greater understanding of the limits – and potential – of UN Peacekeeping, the UN was asked to perform even more complex tasks. This started in 1999 when the UN served as the administrator of both Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia - UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and in East Timor (now Timor-Leste) - UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which was in the process of gaining independence from Indonesia. 

In the following years, the Security Council also established large and complex peacekeeping operations in a number of African countries:

Peacekeepers also returned to resume vital peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations where fragile peace had frayed, in Haiti - UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the newly independent Timor-Leste - UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

Many of these operations have now completed their mandates, including the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS).

In the first decade of the century, UN Peacekeeping found itself stretched like never before and increasingly called upon to deploy to remote, uncertain operating environments and into volatile political contexts.

Peacekeeping faced a varied set of challenges, including challenges to deliver on its largest, most expensive and increasingly complex missions, challenges to design and execute viable transition strategies for missions where a degree of stability has been attained, and challenges to prepare for an uncertain future and set of requirements.