CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Could peacekeepers actually be a detriment to ending a war and finding long-term peace?
An analysis of conflicts since World War II shows that that's the case more often than not, say two experts on the subject.
"In general, peacekeeping actually reduces the occurrence of diplomatic efforts aimed at settling conflicts," according to co-authors J. Michael Greig, a professor of political science at the University of North Texas, and Paul F. Diehl, the Henning Larsen Professor of Political Science at the UI.
"(W)hen peacekeepers are deployed, the likelihood that conflicting parties will attempt direct negotiations or accept offers of mediation to help settle their conflict is sharply reduced," they wrote in an article in the March issue of the Yale Journal of International Affairs.
As a result, a peacekeeping force "can, paradoxically, undermine the achievement of a comprehensive peace agreement."
Greig and Diehl call it the "peacekeeping-peacemaking dilemma," and their conclusions are based on the analysis of data from civil wars and wars between nation-states since 1945 - though peacekeeping operations have been much more numerous in recent decades.
Perhaps the classic example is Cyprus, Diehl said, where peacekeeping forces remain nearly a half-century after they were first deployed.
Looking at civil wars, the authors found that the presence of peacekeepers "appears to offer no improvement in the chances that diplomatic efforts to manage the conflict will be successful." In wars between nation-states, "peacekeeping actually reduces the odds that diplomacy will produce a settlement," they write.
The most successful peacekeeping operations, by a variety of measures, according to the authors, are those deployed after a peace agreement.
Greig and Diehl began their research more than a decade ago, when Greig was a doctoral student at Illinois and Diehl his adviser. They published their conclusions for the first time in 2005, and have added to their research since. The recent journal article lays out their case for a diplomatic, rather than academic, audience.
The subject also is part of their book "International Mediation" (Polity Press), scheduled for publication in June in the U.S.
"We're the first ones to have the evidence to really show that this effect is there," Diehl said, and it's evidence that runs strongly against the conventional view of the peacekeeping-peacemaking relationship.
That view holds that intense conflict makes long-term peace more difficult to achieve, for a variety of reasons. Peacekeepers can separate warring parties and reduce the violence, opening the way for negotiation.
It's a view, however, based on "wishful thinking," rather than systematic research, Diehl said. "They just automatically assume that peacekeeping must be a good idea, or they hope that it's a good idea."
The alternative, more-pessimistic view holds that before warring parties are ready to bargain for peace, they often must reach what another scholar has called a "hurting stalemate," Diehl said. In such a stalemate, the parties have reached a point where neither can defeat the other militarily, and yet they continue to bear a high price in casualties and lost resources.
In other words, the pain of that stalemate produces incentives to make long-term peace, Diehl said. Peacekeepers can help reduce the violence in the short-term, but by doing so, they often reduce the pain and therefore the incentive for long-term peace.
The researchers' conclusions strongly support this alternative, cost-benefit view, Diehl said.
While it might seem as if Greig and Diehl's research argues for a hands-off approach to any conflict, letting belligerents fight it out until the costs force them to make peace, Diehl says that is not the intention.
"I think the point of our research is that there shouldn't be an illusion that a peacekeeping force is a panacea that solves all different kinds of problems and has all positive effects," he said.
Instead, policymakers choosing whether to insert a peacekeeping force should recognize that each choice is a tradeoff and "incomplete," Diehl said.
In some cases, conditions may almost require international intervention to contain an escalating conflict or prevent mass killing. "That's a pretty good tradeoff," he said, even if it makes long-term peace more difficult.