I have asked Megan Shannon to write a guest post about her new article appearing in the October issue of AJPS. It is entitled “United Nations Peacekeeping and Civilian Protection in Civil War” and includes co-authors Lisa Hultman and Jacob Kathman. Her post:
It is estimated that almost 38,000 civilians were killed worldwide as an indirect result of civil war (defined as when the government of a country is fighting an internal, militarized rebel group) battle violence in 2012. The United Nations (UN) sometimes sends impartial peacekeepers (armed troops and police) into these situations to stop the violence and to help implement peace agreements between the combatants and to prevent civilians from being targeted and killed.
Can UN peacekeepers effectively protect civilians?
While many scholars, journalists and political officials have studied whether the UN helps or hurts a situation when it sends peacekeepers, many studies are limited in their ability to assess the effectiveness of peacekeeping. Our paper in the “American Journal of Political Science” addresses two problems in how peacekeeping has been studied and concludes that UN peacekeeping is an effective method of civilian protection during civil wars.
How We Addressed Problems of Earlier Studies
One problem with how peacekeeping has been studied is that conclusions are often drawn from how the UN fared in a single conflict. For instance, because the UN was unable to stop genocide in Rwanda, some studies consider peacekeeping a failure. First, we specifically measure the type and number of personnel deployed to UN missions. This allows us to account for the fact that some UN missions are better able to protect civilians than others.
Another problem is that research often treats all UN missions as being very similar to one another when in fact UN missions can have very different capabilities. Some missions, like the one to Somalia in the mid-1990s, are large, deploying up to 30,000 armed personnel. Others are small operations composed only of unarmed observers, like the mission in Burundi in 2005. To address this issue, we studied a large number of conflicts (36), so we could see how well the UN did in a variety of situations. In our study, twelve conflicts had UN missions, and the rest did not. This allowed us to compare the amount of violence against civilians in wars with diverse UN missions to wars without missions. Finally, we specifically measure how UN missions change over the course of their deployment to see how these changes match up with the amount of violence committed against civilians.
We assessed the effectiveness of peacekeeping by analyzing data on the number of civilians targeted and killed each month during civil wars in Africa from 1991 to 2008. We found that fewer civilians were killed in civil wars with greater numbers of UN-armed military troops and police, compared to civil wars with fewer or no UN personnel. The effect of UN personnel was rather substantial. On average, sending several thousand armed UN troops and several hundred UN police was associated with a dramatic reduction in the number of civilians targeted and killed by the combatants.
Based on our findings, we also conclude that UN peacekeeping is likely a cost-effective approach to civilian protection, and one way the international community can reduce violence in civil wars is by sending larger amounts of UN-armed military and police personnel.
 According to the best estimate by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program. Themner, Lotta and Peter Wallensteen. 2013. “Armed Conflicts, 1946-2012.” Journal of Peace Research 50(4):509-521.