Photo : Indonesian peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) stand facing a UN naval ship during a handover ceremony from Italian Major-General Luciano Portolano to Irish Major-General Michael Bearyover the command of Lebanon's U.N. peacekeeping forces at the United Nations headquarters in Naqoura, southern Lebanon, July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho


The complex nature of conflict today demands more than deploying United Nations peacekeeping forces in conflict zones. Old models are not working fast enough to reduce or bring an end to conflict, fully protect civilians or alleviate immense suffering and displacement especially in protracted conflicts.

Even if conflict is stopped, the chance of it recurring looms if the root causes that fuelled it, such as exclusion from development, injustice, poverty and inequity, remain. If there is any chance of tackling the damaging conflicts happening around the world, combining all efforts of a diverse range of actors within and outside the UN is needed.

That’s tall order for the UN these days, but steps are being taken. In September, the UN and the World Bank launched a joint study: Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict which takes a hard look at how development aid can better align its programming with diplomacy and mediation efforts and security in order to prevent conflict from becoming violent. 

Another study, released in February this year by New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, analyzes restructuring options within the UN Secretariat for better support of peacekeeping and highlights recent initiatives that have catalyzed change to prioritize prevention of conflict and align the peace and security pillar more closely with the development and human rights pillars. Those initiatives include the June 2015 Report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, the Advisory Group of Experts on the UN’s Peacebuilding Architecture, the Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; the UN70 initiative and important outcomes of the 2015 New York Leader’s Summit, as well as the London and Paris ministerial conferences on peacekeeping, both of which were held in the fall of 2016.

The paradigm shift these recent studies propose is an attempt to depart from the old model of conflict prevention and move from siloed actions of different actors to an integrated approach to peace and security, linking conflict, development, peacebuilding and diplomacy.

What does an integrated approach mean in practice? It means moving away from a mindset that approaches peace as a rigid set of sequential and separate interventions — humanitarian response, ceasefire and peacekeeping, elections and governance, early recovery and, finally, social and economic development — towards a new way of working that focuses on protection and meets people’s immediate humanitarian needs while reducing risk and vulnerability and reducing conflict. It involves a commitment by those working on development, humanitarian relief and peacebuilding and peacekeeping towards collective outcomes.

One of the recent drivers of this new way of working was the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, held in May 2016 in Istanbul. It committed actors to transcend humanitarian and development divides by connecting short-term investments in relief with long-term development.  Also last year, twin UN Security Council resolutions on sustaining peace called for the three pillars of peace and security, development and human rights to address root causes. Likewise, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which were developed in 2015, are committed to leaving no one behind.

This week in Vancouver, Canada hosts a major UN peacekeeping summit where more than 500 delegates are expected to discuss improvements to peace operations. Discussions on these broader strategic shifts, particularly protecting those at risk and ensuring a gender perspective, will help further the search for solutions. 

While discussions are ongoing, here are three ways in which the model for peacekeeping and conflict prevention is already changing.