Peacekeepers serving with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in the streets of Bara in the Gao region. (UN Photo/Harandane Dicko)

Multilateral reform initiatives can be interesting for one of two reasons. Some generate fresh ideas about how states should cooperate. Others inspire governments to invest politically in pre-existing ideas. It is quite rare for states to act on completely new ideas straight away—even the diplomats who negotiated the United Nations Charter in 1945 cribbed a lot of concepts from the League of Nations.

If the current Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative has any impact, it will be on the “political investment” front rather than in the “new ideas” category. This is not a bad thing. There has been a surfeit of thinking about peace operations in the last five years or so. The 2015 High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) and ensuing studies such as this year’s Cruz report on military aspects of peacekeeping have said pretty much all that needs to be said in conceptual terms.

These studies have also established a reasonably coherent narrative of what UN operations need to do to perform better. This involves: (i) a greater focus on political solutions to conflicts; (ii) a more rigorous approach to protecting civilians under imminent threat of violence; and (iii) more investment in “sustaining peace” (aka peacebuilding) over the longer term. Analysts and officials differ over the exact balance of priorities, and some influential dissenting states such as Russia insist that the UN should stick to traditional visions of peacekeeping. But the politics-protection-peacebuilding triad is now the conventional policy wisdom in New York. Read more