UN Peacekeeping: A Force for Global Peace and Stability

For more than seven decades, UN peacekeeping has been one of the most important tools the UN has at its disposal for conflict mitigation and stabilization.

Helping countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace, peacekeeping has unique strengths, including high levels of international legitimacy and an ability to deploy and sustain troops and police from around the globe, integrating them with civilian peacekeepers to advance multidimensional mandates. Today’s peacekeeping operations are called upon not only to stabilize conflict zones and separate warring parties, but also to 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.

The U.S. has long advocated for the broadening of the size and scope of UN peacekeeping missions, using its position as a permanent member of the Security Council to push for mandates that more closely reflect current challenges. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have recognized the value of UN peacekeeping, because:

  • Peacekeeping Is Effective: A November 2021 Foreign Affairs article titled the “Astonishing Success of Peacekeeping” explains that “Decades of academic research has demonstrated that UN peacekeeping not only works at stopping conflicts but works better than anything else experts know. Peacekeeping is effective at resolving civil wars, reducing violence during wars, preventing wars from recurring, and rebuilding state institutions. It succeeds at protecting civilian lives and reducing sexual and gender-based violence. The piece also notes that “To convince other countries to contribute financially, the United States needs to set a better example by paying its own assessed dues.”¹
  • UN Missions Cost Less than Other Forms of Military Intervention: Two studies published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office more than a decade apart (in 2006² and 2018³) found that a UN operation is one-eighth the cost to American taxpayers of deploying a comparable U.S. force. Overall, at a yearly cost of approximately $6.5 billion, UN peacekeeping is one half of the state of Rhode Island’s annual budget.
  • Promotes Multilateral Burden-Sharing: The UN has no standing army, and therefore depends on Member States to voluntarily contribute troops and police to its peacekeeping operations. While the U.S., as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, plays a central role in the decision to deploy peacekeeping missions, it provides very few uniformed personnel: currently just several dozen out of 73,000 total uniformed personnel. A range of U.S. partners and allies—including India, Rwanda, Tanzania, Jordan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nepal—provide the bulk of the rest.

  1. Barbara F. Walter, Lise Morjé Howard, V. Page Fortna. “The Astonishing Success of Peacekeeping”. Foreign Policy. November 29, 2021.
  2. “Cost Comparison of Actual UN and Hypothetical U.S. Operations in Haiti.” Government Accountability Office GAO-06-331.
  3. “UN Peacekeeping Cost Estimate for Hypothetical U.S. Operation Exceeds Actual Costs for Comparable UN Operation,” Government Accountability Office GAO-18-243.



The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was established in 1964 to end fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the island and bring about a return to normal conditions. The mission’s responsibilities expanded in 1974, following a coup d’état by elements favoring union with Greece and a subsequent military intervention by Turkey. Since a de facto ceasefire in 1974, UNFICYP has supervised the ceasefire lines, provided humanitarian assistance, and maintained a buffer zone between Turkish forces in the north and the Greek Cypriot forces in the south.

While UNFICYP has successfully prevented major hostilities between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities over the last several decades, recent political developments make this an incredibly important time for the UN’s work. During peace talks in April 2021, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar formally proposed a two-state solution to the island’s conflict, which had immediate negative ramifications, endangering the prospects for a bizonal, bicommunal federation that has long been supported by the UN Security Council. Then, in July 2021, Turkish Cypriot authorities announced plans to revert a section of Varosha, an area from which Greek Cypriots were displaced due the Turkish invasion, from military to civilian control and open it for potential resettlement. This declaration led the UN Security Council to stress “the need to avoid any unilateral action that could trigger tensions on the island and undermine the prospects for a peaceful settlement.” Given the ongoing danger of renewed hostilities in the country, it is critical that UN peacekeepers continue to maintain a presence in Cyprus, both to guarantee peace and stability and to promote continued dialogue and negotiations between the two sides.


The UN Security Council voted to deploy UN peacekeepers to Mali in 2013, following a French military intervention targeting armed extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda that had taken over the country’s vast northern regions. Since then, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has worked to prevent these organizations—now including a regional affiliate of ISIS—from extending their reach in the area or reoccupying towns in northern Mali that they were pushed out of. MINUSMA is also mandated to help extend state authority to these areas by training judges and supporting security sector reform. In addition to these security and governance-related tasks, MINUSMA works to protect civilians in its area of operations, facilitate distribution of humanitarian aid, and assist in the reintegration of people who have been displaced by violence.

Unfortunately, since 2020, Mali has suffered two military coups, and democratic elections have been repeatedly postponed. This has led to serious political instability and given extremist groups more room to maneuver. As a result, it will be critical for MINUSMA to maintain a strong presence in the country’s northern and central regions moving forward, in order to prevent a further deterioration of the security situation in those areas.


The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was first deployed in 2011 when South Sudan gained independence, tasked with helping to stabilize the world’s newest country and support state-building efforts. Two years later, however, when civil war erupted between military factions supporting the President and Vice President, UNMISS was forced to shift its mission virtually over-night to civilian protection and opened the gates of its bases to fleeing civilians. This action saved the lives of more than 200,000 people across the country who otherwise could have been targeted or killed for their ethnicity or perceived political affiliations.


In 2018, the main parties to the conflict reached a peace agreement, and while implementation has been slow, threats facing civilians in the seven protection of civilians sites adjacent to UN bases have diminished considerably. As a result, UNMISS has handed control of a majority of the sites to the government and facilitated efforts by UN humanitarian agencies to continue providing essential services within them. Meanwhile, UNMISS has pivoted to focusing on protecting civilians from more localized subnational violence in the country and facilitating humanitarian assistance to more than 800,000 people displaced by the country’s worst flooding in 60 years.