EJIR article: The UN and Postwar Violence

UN police are crucial in mitigating the various forms of violence in the aftermath of war, while UN troops struggle to contain violence by armed actors other than the former belligerents. These are the results of my newest research, published in the European Journal of International Relations.

Corinne Bara, February 2020

Research shows that peace after civil wars is more stable with peacekeepers present. But even if peace prevails, the violence of war often transforms into other forms of violence in the postwar period. In Colombia, rival groups are battling to take over territory and illicit businesses that the FARC vacated. Postwar Kosovo was marred by ethnic violence against Serbs and Roma, with elements of a vendetta and the strategic purpose to expel Serbs from Albanian-majority areas. And in the DRC, thousands perished after 2001 when militia groups fought over local power and natural resources while the main combatants were under the auspices of a ceasefire.

Although these forms of organized violence after war are often strategic and closely linked to the faultlines and purposes of the preceding war – occasionally resembling a continuation of war by other means – we know little about the ability of peacekeepers to mitigate or stop them. Existing research on peacekeeping effectiveness has primarily focused on whether peacekeepers can mitigate violence between and by the primary belligerents, both during and after war.

In a new study published in the European Journal of International Relations, I present new data on postwar violence that shows that the majority of deaths from postwar violence are not inflicted by the warring parties, but by new or seemingly new actors – actors not “officially” involved in the terminated war. This could be new rebel groups or factions, foreign armed groups, militias, political parties, or communal groups.

This is a challenge for peacekeepers who – for mandate or capacity reasons – usually focus on the warring parties, while the responsibility for violence not covered by a mission’s mandate lies with the security agencies of the state, most notably the police. In many postwar contexts, these agencies are partial, weak, or dissolved altogether. To mitigate postwar violence, peacekeepers thus need to fill a public security gap.

In this light, it is not surprising that I find – in a quantitative analysis of a global sample of postwar episodes between 1991 and 2016 – that UN missions with more police substantially lower the levels of postwar violence. Armed troops do not have this effect. While UN troops do constrain the warring parties from targeting civilians in the postwar period no such effect could be identified for violence by other armed actors.

These findings come at a time when the current capacity of UNPOL to contribute to long-term peace has been questioned. The findings of this paper do not conflict with this assessment, but they show that UN police are effective if we employ a more modest yardstick of success. That UN police help mitigate the worst forms of organized collective violence in the first five years of the postwar period is a crucial achievement.