The United Nations is one of the most controversial institutions in the world. One of its primary roles is to organize and execute peacekeeping missions, which are intended to help maintain peace in countries previously torn apart by civil war. Yet some UN peacekeeping missions have gone horribly and notoriously wrong, and many questions remain about their effectiveness. Enter CU Associate Professor Megan Shannon, who has brought systematic data to bear on this question in order to move beyond anecdotes and guesswork. Shannon’s efforts in doing so have resulted in some of the definitive scholarship on this question, as her 2019 book Peacekeeping in the Midst of War won the best book award (for 2018/2019) from the Conflict Processes section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).
Shannon and her coauthors argue that peacekeeping missions, while highly imperfect, do mitigate human suffering in the wake of civil wars and are thus an indispensable tool for promoting peace and human security. Battlefield deaths and violence against civilians decline after UN peacekeepers arrive. To be successful, however, the peacekeeping force must be properly constituted. In particular, Shannon finds that large groups of armed peacekeepers are more effective at preventing violence than smaller unarmed groups of peacekeepers, even if the peacekeepers never fire their weapons. Armed peacekeepers provide a powerful deterrent to violence between previously warring groups. Additionally, the nature of the conflict itself influences the success of peacekeeping operations. Civil wars that feature infighting among rebel groups are particularly hard to quell.
Besides conducting easy-to-read analyses of quantitative data on peacekeeping and violence, Shannon and her team conducted in-depth case studies of Côte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo to see precisely how and why different kinds of peacekeeping operations work differently. Says Shannon, “Writing a book and conducting these case studies really provided us with the freedom to observe precisely what peacekeepers were doing and how their activities influence the mission’s success.” Her deep knowledge of peacekeeping operations and these cases have also informed her thoughts about the success of other potential peacekeeping missions. For example, Shannon thinks that deploying UN peacekeepers to Afghanistan in 2021 would have been a bad idea. To enter quickly, the peacekeeping force would have been small. The Taliban, emboldened by its recent rise to power, would have probably overwhelmed it.
Peacekeeping in the Midst of War portrays peacekeeping in ways that have previously been overlooked. Congratulations to Professor Shannon on her APSA award and for writing an important book that can inform activists and policymakers around the world.