Peace Magazine: Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding

Peace Magazine

Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding

• published Jan 08, 2024 • last edit Jan 08, 2024

The United Nations was designed to end the scourge of war with structures of three kinds. Can it?

World War II was the largest and deadliest conflict in human history, leaving an estimated 60 to 80 million people dead, the vast majority of them civilian non-combatants. In addition, there were some 65 million people who were forced from their homes in Europe alone and, if we count South Asia too, 175 million. In modern warfare there are always many more civilian non-combatants than military fatalities, plus massive numbers of forcibly displaced persons and refugees. The costs of war are often irreparable, whether in terms of people, property, infrastructure, or environment.

The United Nations was born from the ashes of this global tragedy in 1945, with a vision to “safeguard succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” Through its Charter, which is an international treaty, the UN encapsulates principles essential for peaceful international relations. Despite the UN’s noble objectives, the journey towards peace has been challenging. Indeed, there are some 32 wars or armed conflicts raging around the world now. The “scourge of war” has, obviously, yet to be safeguarded from humankind.

While some might consider this proof that ending war is impossible, others consider the achievement of perpetual peace an endeavor that will require never-ending effort at all levels of society.


The UN is the world’s peacekeeper, but this is only one of its approaches to maintaining peace and security. It also does conflict prevention and mediation, peacemaking, peace enforcement, and peacebuilding — all of them mutually reinforcing ways of addressing the root causes of conflict.

Peacemaking generally includes measures to address conflicts in progress and usually involves diplomatic action to bring hostile parties to a negotiated agreement.

The UN Secretary-General may exercise his or her “good offices” to facilitate the resolution of the conflict. Peacemakers may also be envoys, governments, groups of states, regional organizations, or the United Nations. Peacemaking efforts may also be undertaken by unofficial and non-governmental groups, or by a prominent personality working independently.

Peacebuilding aims to reduce the risk relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities for conflict management and enhancing the State’s capacity carry out its core functions effectively and legitimately.


“While UN peacekeeping operations are, in principle, deployed to support the implementation of a ceasefire or peace agreement, they are often required to play an active role in peacemaking efforts and may also be involved in early peacebuilding activities.

“Today’s multidimensional peacekeeping operations facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants; support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law.

“UN peacekeeping operations may use force to defend themselves, their mandate, and civilians, particularly in situations where the State is unable to provide security and maintain public order.”

<> Peacekeeping overlaps both peacemaking and peacebuilding and entirely depends on the contribution of States for military personnel and funding. No longer does it merely support the implementation of a peace agreement. Whereas peacemaking ends hostilities and negotiates the terms of a peace agreement and whereas peacebuilding keeps that conflict from recurring, peacekeeping is the most comprehensive of the three activities. It may even use force to defend civilians or the peacekeepers themselves.

UN Peacekeeping Operations are contingent on the mandates issued by the UN Security Council. They rest on three principles:
1. Consent of the parties;
2. Impartiality;
3. Non-use of force except in self-defense and defense of the mandate.

Without the consent of the conflicting parties, there can be no peacekeeping operations. If the peace agreement is breeched, the UN Peacekeepers will be caught in the middle of the armed conflict. Peacekeeping Operations are only possible when the contending parties will agree to either a ceasefire or peace terms. Otherwise, the war or armed conflict will continue. Clearly, these peacekeeping operations can be very dangerous.


The UN’s Department of Peace Operations leads 12 current peacekeeping operations in Europe, Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It is supported by the Department of Operational Support. There is also a Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) whose role is to prevent conflict and build sustainable peace globally. The Peacebuilding Support Office assist national peacebuilding efforts and the Peacebuilding Commission. It manages the Peacebuilding Fund on behalf of the UN Secretary-General and works with UN and non-UN organizations to support peacebuilding efforts in relevant countries. There is also an Office of Disarmament Affairs and an Office of Counter-Terrorism.

In addition, the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly have their own has relevant subsidiary organs. However, functionally, these three Ps (peacemaking, peacekeeping, peacebuilding) are concentrated in the UN Security Council and with the UN Secretary-General.


What are the prospects of a sustainable peace ever being realized under the current arrangements? Given past recent history, it seems unlikely. Another logical next step forward seems necessary, and likely inevitable if we are to end the use of force among States. This will require a global consensus and an international legal system beyond what was possible at the end of the Second World War. Otherwise, we will continue to have wars and protracted armed conflicts, as we have had since the UN was established in 1945. At what point can we truly end this “untold sorrow of humankind”? Only a new paradigm in international relations, supported by a global consensus and legal framework, can pave the way for a future free from war.

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.40, No.1 Jan-Mar 2024
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