Do UN peacekeeping operations inadvertently enable authoritarianism in countries where they are deployed?
This is the question we are seeking to answer in a research project that was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in November 2018 - October 2022.
Most peacekeeping missions take place in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian contexts, and seek to overcome the legacies of conflict by overseeing transitions to democracy. However, many countries hosting peacekeeping operations still retain some elements of authoritarian rule.
We argue that UN peacekeeping missions can inadvertently enable authoritarian practices even when their stated aims involve the promotion of democracy. We identify two mechanisms through which this enabling occurs:
First, the UN’s assistance to the host government – for example, in the form of increasing military or police effectiveness – can enhance autocratic leaders’ capacity for repression.
Second, UN’s muted criticism of authoritarian practices – for example, of electoral malpractice of political repression – can send a signal that such behaviour is tolerated, further emboldening autocratic elites.
We investigate UN peacekeeping officials’ decision-making as they formulate responses to authoritarian behaviour. We argue that the responses fall on a spectrum from robust enforcement of democratic norms to ignoring, downplaying, or even concealing violations. Individual characteristics, organizational culture of their unit, and the relations with the rest of the UN system shape how UN peacekeeping officials respond to democratic norm violations by the host government.
We test our argument by analysing four UN peacekeeping operations:
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