Small Wars Journal

Peacekeeping in Cities: Is the UN Prepared?

Peacekeeping in Cities: Is the UN Prepared? - United Nations University's Centre for Policy Research

Peacekeeping is one of the cornerstones of the United Nations and was, is and will be an essential tool for creating lasting peace in war-torn societies. The international system has changed in many ways since the first deployment of peacekeepers in 1948; new actors and challenges have emerged and mandates have evolved. The 21st Century brings enormous challenges to the international community’s peace and security – and peacekeeping will have to address many of these challenges. This series, culminating on International Day of UN Peacekeepers, 29 May, will bring innovative analysis and offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing peacekeeping today.

We live in an era of dramatic urban growth. Over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and in the next 50 years this figure will increase to two thirds. Within the next 15 years, the majority of countries currently hosting peacekeeping missions will be largely urban.

There is a clear case to be made that the sustainable development fight may be won or lost in cities. Urban areas, especially in conflict-affected contexts, are emerging as epicentres of multi-layered violence and extreme vulnerability. For example, parts of Bangui (in the Central African Republic), Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) have long been under the control of gangs and militias – and large numbers of local populations continue to be victimised and terrorised.

In 2014, the Secretary-General of the United Nations convened a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) to “take a comprehensive look at how United Nations peace operations could continue to contribute to the prevention and resolution of conflicts and be best designed and equipped to deal with the challenges of tomorrow.” In light of the urban-based challenges facing peacekeepers, combined with the uncontrolled pace of urbanisation experienced in some of the most fragile and conflict-affected countries (see Figure 1 below), it was reasonable to expect some mention of how UN peacekeepers should adapt to such challenges in HIPPO’s outcome report. Yet, the words ‘urban’ and ‘cities’ are entirely absent from it. Despite this apparent lack of attention, we argue that the urban-based challenges facing UN peacekeeping missions are real and growing and further complicate the ability of the UN to ‘keep the peace’…

Read on.