BISA Postgraduate Research Network Workshop


Militarisation and the Local in Peacekeeping: Ambition, Pragmatism and Adaptability

 City, University of London

20th September 2019


 This workshop, convened by Alexander Gilder and Sabrina White, was concerned with unpacking the relationship between pragmatic approaches to peace operations, which seek realistically achievable outcomes in an increasingly demanding military security environment, and human rights and humanitarian ambitions which advance notions of human security. This ‘turn’ to pragmatism speaks to the need of peacekeeping to adapt to new challenges and new demands, from increasingly complex mandates of multilateral missions to the rise of new asymmetric threats. More robust and militarised operations have emerged amidst these challenges, an adaptation which may have negative effects on sustainable peace for local populations. The ‘local’ turn in peacebuilding literature focuses on the effects of top-down approaches to peacebuilding, illuminates global-local tensions and adds a local lens through which to view and evaluate interventions.   This workshop sought to view ambitious and pragmatic approaches to peacekeeping through such a local lens, with an aim to capture and critically analyse some of the tensions, adaptations and opportunities emerging in work in this area.

The workshop brought together a diverse group of nearly twenty postgraduates, established scholars and practitioners from different intellectual traditions and backgrounds. The first panel addressed the question of human rights and humanitarian ambitions, especially in the context of ambitions of progress on gender equality. The papers focused on gender training for peacekeepers, the role of gender and human security advisors, and approaches to accountability for abuses perpetrated by UN peacekeepers. The second panel emphasized issues in protection and local legitimacy in militarised approaches to peacekeeping through a series of case studies. The papers looked at the unique International Monitoring Team (IMT) as a locally-driven peacekeeping effort in the Philippines and perceptions of the local towards EU intervention in Kosovo. They also queried the understanding and practices of protection of civilians mandates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. The final roundtable focused on the post-conflict process and core themes to take to research in this area from the previous panels. The two papers opening the roundtable discussed the rule of law in stabilization missions and the unintended gender effects of reparations for child soldiers in DRC.   While the workshop involved discussion of several themes, broadly they focused on gender goals, protection of civilians and tensions in prioritising empowerment of the host state in peacekeeping missions. This summary below by no means captures the nuance of the papers presented nor the detail of discussions that took place, but offers a snapshot of the content of the event.

Gender goals

 Pursuit of gender equality and gender justice was a common theme to nearly half of the papers presented at the workshop. Presentations touched on the everyday of peacekeeping personnel, including troops, police and the array of advisors in missions. They also looked at some of the effects of peacekeeping alongside gender goals on local actors, especially in terms of access to justice. Aiko Holvikivi provided insight into the evolving role and practice of gender training for peacekeeping, arguing that despite its many shortcomings it constitutes an important and significant transnational practice. Hannah West explored discourses around and duties of advisors on human security, gender and protection of civilians in missions.   She situated the symbolic role of these positions alongside the practical realities of individuals who often juggle multiple advisory duties. Looking at peacekeeper-perpetrated sexual exploitation and abuse, Sabrina White argued that accountability approaches require a rethinking of framing which acknowledges how an array of local, national global power relations which affect access to justice for victims and progress on gender equality goals. Dr. Monica Ingber explored the relationship between post-conflict normative ambitions and lack of access to gender justice for female child soldiers in DRC in the International Criminal Court’s decision on the Lubanga case. Key discussion points emphasised the tensions in understanding gender and doing gender analysis in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. While several papers expressed some signs of encouragement for the increasingly common discussion around gender in peacekeeping, they saw the efforts involved in maintaining harmful gender binaries across many dimensions of peacekeeping as hugely problematic for progress on gender equality and gender justice goals.

 Protection of Civilians

 Protection of Civilians (PoC) mandates also featured, where presenters explored the discursive meanings of protection alongside and case-based practices. Jennifer Giblin looked at the various types of peacekeeping mission alongside the POC tools at their mandate’s disposal. Using the Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) to illustrate her points, she emphasized the importance of understand the role of distrust between peacekeepers and locals that result from failures of protection. She argued that while PoC efforts need to be pragmatic, they are more likely to succeed if they are built around enhancing partnerships and taking a people-centred approach. Dr. Walt Kilroy brought extensive insight based on fieldwork into challenges and failures of protection in PoC sites for internally-displaced people (IDPs) in South Sudan and Mali. He argued that such sites could perhaps be better viewed as one of many shorter-term protection matters, for which contingency plans could be made. These sites have utility for some locations and situations, but should not be used as the only short term answer. Additionally, PoC more broadly should not be separated from wider peace processes.

 Mission Goals: Tensions in Empowering the Host State

The prioritisation of mission goals emerged as a main theme, where several attendees suggested that in the absence of other clarified normative goals, there may be harmful consequences in prioritising empowerment of the host state. Georgi Englebrecht suggested that there are constructive tensions between local-national and global interests in the case of the IMT in the Philippines. The IMT is a uniquely locally-driven peacekeeping initiative, and the various interests involved have made gains in de-escalating violence. However, the increased assertion of sovereignty by an increasingly militarized government may especially disrupt civilian protection and human rights ambitions. Dr. Florian Qehaja looked at the EU’s mission in Kosovo, arguing that in this case national and global interests have tended to ignore local perceptions and especially local conceptions of legitimacy of the intervention. Alexander Gilder explored the various meanings of stabilization missions alongside the development of the rule of law, arguing for a need for greater clarity in the ambitions of missions. The sense that a country hosting a mission is subject to an experimental learning process was also discussed, where others stated that perhaps missions are treated too simplistically, especially in design and evaluation.

The roundtable discussion saw the theme of politics of peace processes emerge more prominently, where attendees brought up the blurring of distinctions between different kinds of missions and the challenges in deal with high politics alongside local politics and normative ambitions. The critical edge in literature in this area has lamented a sole focus on high politics, and has the advantage of drawing out the politics outside of state-to-state interactions underpinning causes and manifestations of conflict and ‘peace’; however, the roundtable brought the question of high politics more deeply back into the conversation. While resolving and addressing the political situation in a peacekeeping context is critical, a dominant focus in empowering the host state falls short in addressing other human rights and humanitarian concerns. Missions may be complex and dynamic in context, guided by these critical overarching security and human rights concerns, but ultimately the state(s) involved heavily influence the nature and manifestation of a mission. The attendees suggested that a research agenda in this broad area should seek to capture the nuance and dynamics in the wide ranging skills, personnel and complex economic, social and political situation in a peacekeeping mission. The workshop concluded with a sense of needing to bridge the gap between national and local politics alongside other critical security and normative ambitions.

Workshop Programme

College Building, City, University of London

Rooms AG01 & AG05


10:00 – Opening remarks from Alexander Gilder (Royal Holloway, University of London) (AG01)

10:15 – 11:45 Human Rights and Humanitarian Ambitions in Training and Policy (AG01)

Chair/Discussant: Sabrina White (University of Leeds)

Training the troops on gender: The making of a transnational practice

Aiko Holvikivi (London School of Economics)

Women as Weapon Systems: From Gender to Human Security Advisers in the DRC

Hannah West (University of Bath)

The local in the accountability matrix for addressing sexual exploitation and sexual abuse in UN peacekeeping

Sabrina White (University of Leeds)

 12:00 – 13:00 Lunch (AG05)

13:00 – 14:30 Militarisation, Local Legitimacy and Protection (AG01)

Chair/Discussant: Dr Mateja Peter (University of St Andrews)

Peacekeeping in Mindanao by the International Monitoring Team – A sui generis mission or the way forward in cases of protracted, low-intensity violence?

Georgi Engelbrecht

 Indigenous legitimacy versus ‘international legitimacy’? Lessons learned from the largest EU mission

Dr Florian Qehaja (Kosovar Centre for Security Studies and Royal College of Defence Studies)

The DRC, MONUSCO and the Protection of Civilians

Jennifer Giblin (University of Nottingham)

Places of safety: Sites for “Protection of Civilians” in South Sudan as a response by UN peacekeeping missions

Dr Walt Kilroy (Dublin City University)

 14:30 – 15:00 Break (AG05)

 15:00 – 16:30 Looking forward: post-conflict considerations (AG01)

Chair/Discussant: Dr Walt Kilroy (Dublin City University)

The rule of law in UN stabilization missions

Alexander Gilder (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Gender, Reparations, and Post-Conflict Peace-Building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dr Monica Ingber (Coventry University)

This panel will conclude the day with a directed discussion –


A few points to consider:

  1. Is increased militarisation a pragmatic and necessary adjunct to modern peacekeeping?
  2. How can peacekeeping operations better adapt to new challenges and pursue humanitarian and human rights goals?
  3. What kind of engagement is needed between host populations and the UN and member states in peacekeeping and peacebuilding?
  4. What kind of research agenda is needed to progress on these topics?