Understanding what we’re saying – Dilemmas of the UN’s peacebuilding paradigm


Since the end of the Cold War, the UN has steadily increased the ambition and scope of its peace and security activities in conflict-affected countries. Over that time, peacekeeping evolved in concept and practice from what was called traditional peacekeeping to what is now described as multi-dimensional peace operations. One could argue that the UN was engaged in non-traditional peacekeeping in the Congo back in 1960 (ONUC). However, ONUC was an aberration for the UN during the cold war period, and neither its aspirations nor operational requirements were comparable to, say, the UN’s current multi-dimensional operation in the DRC. During that same period, the concept of peacebuilding emerged and eventually came to provide a conceptual framework for this ambitious work. Peacekeeping, and particularly peacebuilding, however, still suffer from a lack of conceptual clarity among observers, scholars, and even practitioners. The common assumption that post-conflict interventions proceed sequentially from mediation to peacekeeping and then to peacebuilding are indicative of this confusion.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith is a Research Fellow heading the peace operations program the International Peace Institute (IPI). His work focuses on multidimensional peacekeeping, the management of UN field operations, peacekeeping partnerships, and the role of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG). Before joining IPI, Adam consulted for the MacArthur Foundation’sProgram on Global Security and Sustainability, the Foreign Policy Leadership Council and Security Council Report. He holds a BS in Foreign Service from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and an MIA with a concentration in International Security Policy from Columbia University. His recent publications include: Adam Smith and Vanessa Wyeth, SecurityCouncil Istanbul Retreat: At the Crossroads of Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding, (New York: International Peace Institute, October 2010); Cathy Clement and Adam C. Smith, Managing Complexity: Political and Managerial Challenges in UN Peace Operations, (NewYork: International Peace Institute, June 2009); and International Peace Institute, Peace Operations, IPI Blue Paper No. 9, Task Forces on Strengthening Multilateral Security Capacity,New York, 2009.


View this publication on