The past year could have been a disastrous one for U.N. peacekeeping. Twelve months ago, Côte d’Ivoire appeared to be on the brink of renewed civil war in spite of the presence there of United Nations and French forces. South Sudan’s vote for independence in January 2011 also had the potential to unleash mass violence. From Haiti to Liberia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, peacekeepers were charged with overseeing elections that might have resulted in significant instability. In Somalia, U.N.-mandated African Union (AU) forces were locked in grinding combat with Islamist al-Shabab rebels.
Yet peace operations demonstrated an unexpected degree of resilience overall, as chronicled in the Center on International Cooperation’s new Annual Review of Global Peace Operations. The U.N. reasserted itself in Côte d’Ivoire, and though presidential polls in the DRC proved to be deeply flawed, those in Haiti and Liberia were conducted relatively smoothly thanks in part to the U.N. In Somalia, al-Shabab pulled back from Mogadishu as the AU forces took the initiative. Other regional organizations also found themselves being drawn into peace operations: The Arab League sent an admittedly ill-fated observer mission to Syria, while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations mandated an observer mission to help reduce tensions on the Thai-Cambodian border.