“United Nations peacekeeping and internal legitimacy” by Sarah von Billerbeck

All talk and no action or no action without talk? Peacekeeping will struggle to be successful if it is not viewed as legitimate by host country populations, donors, troop contributing countries and other beneficiaries. But it will equally struggle to be successful if it is not viewed as legitimate by DPKO staff themselves.

When I worked for the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Congo – MONUC at the time – I once hosted a local politician for a meeting. As we walked to my office, he commented on the many posters lining the corridor celebrating the bravery and sacrifice of UN troops and the accomplishments of the mission – for example, the number of police officers trained or ex-combatants demobilised. He noted that these weren’t put up for the benefit of outsiders: they were in a restricted part of the building and were therefore clearly aimed at the UN staff who passed them every day.

I had never really noticed this ‘self-celebration’ before, this internally-directed ‘advertising’ of the good work of UN peacekeeping personnel and of the legitimacy of our efforts for peace. For the first time, it struck me as something relatively widespread in peace operations as well as something entirely lacking in studies of peacekeeping and legitimacy. Now an academic who researches the UN, I’ve undertaken a large-scale study across three international organisations (the UN, NATO and the World Bank), conducting nearly 90 detailed staff interviews to find out why, when, and how these staff seek to build and maintain legitimacy not for others, but for themselves.

Read an article by Sarah von Billerbeck from University of Reading at Dag Hammarskjöd Foundations home page.