Peace Support Operations

From the late 1990s, the relationship between military force and UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities was overtly codified through their fusion in terms of “peace support operations” (PSO). The term PSO is not restricted to military activities, but widely used by civilian agencies to describe their activities in conflict or post-conflict situations, notably in the context of peacebuilding projects and humanitarian relief efforts. Military organizations use the term PSO to describe a variety of military activities that are distinguished from regular military operations. Peace operations are said to be legitimate because “morally distinct” from warfighting, counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, thus providing the best guide to the limits of permissible violence. NATO’s PSO doctrine, for instance, once distributed to African armies, defines PSO as impartially conducted operations, normally in support of an internationally recognized organization like the United Nations. Multifunctional operations are designed to create a secure environment and to facilitate the efforts of the civilian elements of the mission to create the conditions for peace. PSOs may include peacekeeping and peace enforcement, as well as conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacebuilding and humanitarian operations. Outside of military circles, the term peacekeeping is often used to embrace all types of PSOs.

According to several practitioners, academics and military doctrines, what makes PSOs distinct is their impartial nature. PSOs are neither in support of, nor against a particular party, but are conducted in an impartial and even-handed manner. Emphasis is put on the mandate which should not designate an enemy or seek military victory.

Yet, the impartiality (and efficacy) of PSOs is called into question in the context of operations that have blurred the lines between peacekeeping, war fighting, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, peacebuilding, statebuilding and humanitarian actions. Mixing and muddling civilian, humanitarian, military and warlike objectives in the same mandate can result—and has resulted—in policy incoherence, in local resistance to international forces, and in unachievable political solutions to conflict.

This cluster examines the conceptual, ethical, empirical, political, practical and philosophical effects of the development, discourse, and practice of peace support operations; as well as the conditions of possibility for peace that it enables or maintains.


Cluster coordinator: Professor Bruno Charbonneau,