Peacekeeping is as old as the United Nations (UN). For many decades, it consisted essentially of the interposition of lightly armed troops to act as neutral observers of a truce or a peace agreement. The end of the Cold War opened a new chapter in the history of peacekeeping. Peacekeeping operations have expanded dramatically in the last two decades and are now multidimensional, with complex mandates in increasingly difficult, and often dangerous, environments.

This new era of peacekeeping required fundamental changes in UN peacekeeping policies and practices as well as a myriad of administrative reforms over the last 20 years, to enable UN peacekeeping operations to adapt to these new conditions and challenges. This paper reviews key peacekeeping reforms implemented by the UN, discussing in particular:

  • the change in peacekeeping doctrine stemming from the lessons learned from its experiences in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia;
  • the changes in organizational structure within the United Nations to improve the administration and management of peacekeeping operations;
  • the systems put in place to recruit and deploy a vast number of military, police and civilian personnel;
  • the improvement in training to adequately prepare people for field duty;
  • the modifications made to the budgetary and financial rules within the organization to facilitate expenditures for the rapid start-up of new missions; and
  • the revision in logistics and procurement procedures to provide missions with basic equipment and commercial services required for new operations.

What emerges from the analysis of these reforms is that, while the reform process is often tortuous at the United Nations, real progress has been achieved in strengthening the UN machinery’s capacity to implement the complex mandates given by the UN Security Council. Serious weaknesses remain, however, and the United Nations must make every effort to continue to improve its performance and learn from its experiences, as it has done in the past 20 years of peacekeeping reform. This process of transformation is essential for the United Nations to be able to live up fully to its mission of ending conflicts and maintaining international peace and security.

Louise Fréchette joined CIGI as a distinguished fellow in 2006, following a notable career with the Government of Canada and the United Nations (UN). She is currently the Chair of the UN Senior Advisory Group on reimbursement to troop contributing countries. Louise Fréchette was deputy minister of Canada’s Department of National Defence from 1995 to 1998 and served as the first-ever UN Deputy Secretary-General from 1998 to 2006, where she assisted the Secretary-General in the full range of his responsibilities and oversaw UN reform.

Amanda Kristensen is a research officer at CIGI, working on special projects in the areas of global security and the global economy. She joined CIGI as the United Nations Reform research officer in 2010, focusing on peacekeeping and human rights reform.

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CIGI Papers present in-depth analysis and discussion on governance-related subjects. They include policy papers that present CIGI experts' positions or contributions to policy debates, and background papers that contain research findings, insights and data that contribute to the development of policy positions.