IJMRD 2014; 1(7): 347-350
Department of Civics and
Ethical Studies, College of Social
Sciences and Humanities, Ambo
University, Ambo, Ethiopia.
Department of Civics and
Ethical Studies, College of
Social Sciences and
Humanities, Ambo University,
Theories on the role of international organizations in
maintaining peace and security
There are different theories as to the role of international organizations in maintaining peace and security.
Accordingly, constructivists argue that international organizations induce states to cooperate
internationally even though their power and utility-maximizing interest is not achieved. Neo-Liberals
also believe that international organizations are vital to make the world peaceful and cooperative. Neo-
realists, on the other hand, argue that international organizations are the means by which states achieve
their self-interest, thus, contribute nothing for peace and security. UN, as a testing ground, has contributed
a lot in the maintenance of peace and security by deploying peace-keeping forces in the conflict areas
though still lack of member states’ commitment to provide necessary supports, the level of their interest
at stake and the interest of veto powers put challenges on the effective operation of the organization.
Keywords: Constructivism, Neo-Liberalism, Neo-Realism, Peace, Security, United Nations.
As regards the role of international organizations in maintaining peace and security, there have
been divergent views. Some argue that international organizations are the representation of
state self-interests and cannot satisfy what is expected from them. Others argue in favor of
positive role of international organizations in promoting cooperation as well as peace and
security. There are contending theories in this regard. For the purpose of this study, however,
constructivism, neo-realism/structural realism and neo-liberalism/neo-liberal institutionalism
have been discussed pertaining to the role of organizations in maintaining peace and security.
Constructivists argue in favour of international organizations. They argue that international
organizations have the role of not only regulating state behaviour but also modifying the
identity and interest of states, which, in turn, directs states action (Mitchell, 2006). Finnemore
(in Hobson, 2003:154) believes that states are “normative-adaptive entities”. This means that,
through international organizations, states adapt international norms of appropriate state
behaviour to inform their policies and domestic structures (ibid). Thus, international norms
push states to cooperate internationally even though states’ power as well as utility-
maximizing interests is not achieved (ibid). Constructivists underestimate the relevance of
relative gain, unlike the neo-realists, and propagate the more likelihood of cooperation among
states (Nugroho, 2008).
Moreover, international organizations, by constraining self-interest of states and infusing new
appropriate norm to states, control states not to deviate from international cooperation (ibid).
This optimistic view on the role of international organizations makes constructivists to
embrace neo-liberals. Above all, international organizations have the role of, inter alia,
promoting democratization of member states and encouraging member states to pursue
peaceful conflict management strategies (Mitchell, 2006).
Neo-liberals or liberal institutionalists argue in favour of the significance of international
organizations in promoting cooperation and stability. Unlike the neo-realists, neo-liberals
assert that “states are concerned with maximizing their ‘absolute gains’ – an assessment of
their own welfare independent of their rivals (what will gain me the most?)” (Burchill, 2005:
65). This is vital for promoting cooperation among states and maintaining mutual benefit. In
this connection, Boehmer, et al., (2004) argue that in a condition where states focus more on
obtaining absolute gain, cooperation and collective security are more feasible.
International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development 2014; 1(7): 347-350
International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development
In other words, neo-liberals believe in collective security and
argue that states can devote themselves to the preservation of
joint interests through international organizations (Niou and
Keohane, being optimistic about the relevance of those
organizations, states that international organizations are
capable of facilitating cooperation, and without them “the
prospects for our species will be very poor indeed” (in Sinclair
and Byers, 2006). Hence, he values organizations’ role in
promoting cooperation. Besides, neo-liberals affirm that
organizations “assume the role of encouraging cooperative
habits, monitoring compliance and sanctioning defectors”
(Burchill, 2005: 65). Hence, one can infer from this that,
organizations have a pivotal role in facilitating cooperation
Liberal institutionalists, though recognize the systemic
anarchy, the importance of military power and the pre-
eminence of states’ interests, argue that organizations are a
framework for cooperation, which can help to address the risk
of security competition between states and promote peace and
stability (Sinclair and Byers, 2006; Boehmer, et al., 2004;
Baylis, 2001; Burchill, 2005). Besides, they claim that since
organizations feed states with information in the areas of
security, they can lessen uncertainty and other risks that could
emerge out of anarchy (Meierhenrich, 2012; Nathan, 2012).
Generally, as Hobson (2003) notes international organizations
are vital to make the world peaceful and cooperative. Thus,
their argument is that international organizations do play
significant role in maintaining peace and stability. To
substantiate this argument, they present the role of Association
of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in maintaining stability
in South-East Asia, the role of OAU in contributing its part to
address interstate differences, the role of European
organizations in enhancing security in Europe as a witness for
positive role of organizations in maintaining peace and
security (Baylis, 2001).
In supporting the neoliberals’ assumption of the positive role
of international organizations, Nathan (2012) came up with
concrete evidence. Taking into account the progress of
regional organizations in the peace and security area, most
importantly, through preventive diplomacy, mediation, post-
war peace-building, arms control, and disarmament, Nathan
argues that it will be irrational to argue that international
organizations cannot bring peace. He substantiates his
argument by explaining, inter alia, the role of AU in Kenyan
civil violence and the mediation effort of IGAD in Sudan.
In a nutshell, as can be understood from the above discussion,
neo-liberals believe that international organizations are very
important in facilitating interstate cooperation and
maintaining peace and security.
As neo-realists or structural realists argue, organizations are
the product of state interests, thus, they cannot independently
function, rather, it is state interests, which determine the
decision whether states cooperate or compete (Baylis, 2001;
Meierhenrich, 2012; Sinclair and Byers, 2006). UN, the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union
(EU) are international organizations through which states
safeguard their interests. Arguing that they are formed on the
basis of self-interest calculation, neo-realists reject the
importance of international organizations in serving to achieve
peace and security (Baylis, 2001; Meierhenrich, 2012;
Nathan, 2012). International organizations could not have the
role to prevent war (Nugroho, 2008). For neo-realists,
organizations are reflections of the interests of states and states
are unwilling to surrender their power. Thus, the cumulative
effect of these constrained the independent role of
Neo-realists are pessimistic about the possibility of
international cooperation as they believe that states highly
care for their relative position. An important point, which
characterizes neo-realists’ assumption, is their focus on
relative gains (Burchill, 2005; Brown and Ainley, 2005;
Baldwin, 1993; Lamy, 2001). In this regard, Burchill (2005:
65) notes as follows: “Neo-realists, such as Waltz, argue that
states are concerned with ‘relative gains’ – meaning gains
assessed in comparative terms (who will gain more?)”. It is
possible to deduce from this that, states care for their relative
position (for their better position compared to others) in
cooperating with others and if cooperation does not serve this
ultimate interest, cooperation will be fragile. Neo-realists
further assume that states cooperate and join international
organizations when it is suitable to them (Sinclair and Byers,
2006). As a result, international organizations survive so long
as they allow states to follow their own interests and assist
states to achieve relative gain.
To sum up, as can be inferred from the above discussion, neo-
realists underestimate the importance of international
organizations. Rather, they believe that, international
organizations are the means by which states achieve their self-
interest. Thus, they are pessimistic about the role of
international organizations in the maintenance of international
peace and security.
In the following sections, the study examines the role of UN
in the peace and security areas briefly, especially, the UN
Security Council’s rapid deployment in crisis areas. In this
connection, the concept of UN Standby force will be
5. United Nations: As a Testing Ground
United Nations was founded in 1945 with the primary purpose
of maintaining international peace and security. The Security
Council, the primary responsible body, is mandated to “pacific
settlement of disputes” under Chapter VI of UN Charter. The
Security Council suggests the appropriate means to be used by
concerned parties when it believes that the issue would
threaten international peace and security. However, it has no
binding effect on member states (UN, 2007). More
importantly, the Security Council is also mandated under
Chapter VII of the Charter to decide on appropriate actions to
be taken when there exists “any threat to the peace, breach of
the peace, or act of aggression”. Such power of the Security
Council involves the use of force “to maintain or restore
international peace and security”. The collective security role
of the UN is, thus, stipulated on the Charter providing power
to the Security Council ranging from peaceful resolution of
disputes to the use of armed force depending on the situations.
Accordingly, Matheson (2001) presents that since the end of
the Cold War in 1991, UN has played significant role in
resolving intrastate and interstate violence as well as boundary
conflicts either with the permission of the states or based on
the power of the Security Council under Chapter VII of the
Since the maintenance of international peace and security is
the primary responsibility of the Security Council, from its
very establishment the Security Council has needed rapidly
deployable force to respond to threats to international peace
International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development
and security (Koops and Varwick, 2008; UN, 2003a). This
means that there has been a great need for improvement of UN
peace-keeping operations to effectively and promptly respond
to numerous crisis situations. This was evident from the UN
Secretary General’s (Boutros Boutros-Ghali)
recommendation, in his “Agenda for Peace” and the
“Supplement” to member states to cooperate with UN in
peacekeeping operations through preparing their troops for
rapid deployment with the same training standards and
procedures (Koops and Varwick, 2008). Consequently,
member states, refusing the earliest proposal of having a
standing army (a permanent army similar to the army of a
certain state) on the ground that will endanger their
sovereignty, favoured this proposal of a standby arrangement
(where forces situated in the country of their origin and
deployable through notice) as a sensible choice (ibid).
Accordingly, Department of Peace-Keeping Operations
(DPKO) has organized the United Nations Stand-by
Arrangement System (UNSAS) since 1994 to strengthen the
supports of states in the peacekeeping operations of UN
(Mazzei, 2009). The UNSAS does not have its own military
force; rather it depends on contributions from member states
of military units, equipments and personnel (UN, 2003b;
Mazzei, 2009). Hence, the ultimate power whether to deploy
resources or not is under member states’ will (UN, 2003a).
States who pledge to contribute forces are required to provide
their troops with training as per the UN standards and
procedures (UN, 2003b; Koops and Varwick, 2008).
As discussed above, UNSAS is constituted by pledges of
member states; hence, to support it, a group of like-minded
states discussed to create rapidly deployable force within the
framework of UNSAS. On December 1996, Austria, Canada,
Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden
signed a letter of intent and forged the Standby High
Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), at Hovelte Barracks in
Denmark, with the intent of improving the rapid deployment
of UN peacekeeping force (Koops and Varwick, 2008).
Eventually, in supporting the UN, the SHIRBRIG deployed
first in 2000 for United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and
Eritrea (UNMEE) (UN, 2003a; Koops and Varwick, 2008).
SHIRBRIG also assisted in planning activities for United
Nations Mission in Cote d’ Ivoire (UNOCI) of the 2003
(Koops and Varwick, 2008). Moreover, on the request of
DPKO for assistance, SHIRBRIG deployed in the United
Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the United Nations
Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in 2003 and 2004, respectively
(UN, 2003b; Koops and Varwick, 2008).
The UN Security Council, though not in all case, has been able
to minimize or prevent conflict across different corners
through its peacekeeping operations (UN, 2007). Therefore,
UN as an international organization has played a paramount
role in the maintenance of international peace and security,
though not without challenges. Putting it differently, UN has
played a great role in the overall peace and security of the
world even though it fails to address all issues adequately.
Hence, the importance of international organizations (in this
case, UN) is obvious though still lack of member states’
commitment to provide necessary support, the level of their
interest at stake and the interest of veto powers put challenges
on the effective operation of the organization.
As regards the role of international organizations in
maintaining peace and security, there have been divergent
theories. Constructivists argue that through international
organizations states adapt international norms of appropriate
state behavior to inform their policies and domestic structures.
International norms push states to cooperate internationally
even though states’ power as well as utility-maximizing
interest is not achieved. Neo-liberals also believe in collective
security and argue that states can devote themselves to the
preservation of joint interests through international
organizations. International organizations are vital to make the
world peaceful and cooperative. Neo-realists, on the other
hand, argue that international organizations cannot
independently function, rather, it is state interests, which
determine the decision whether states to cooperate or compete.
Organizations are reflections of the interests of states and
states are unwilling to surrender their power. They believe that
international organizations are the means by which states
achieve their self-interest.
The reality in the UN shows that since the end of the Cold War
in 1991 UN has played significant role in resolving intrastate
and interstate violence as well as boundary conflicts either
with the permission of the states or based on the power of the
Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. In this
regard the deployment of UN peace-keeping force in Ethio-
Eritrea conflict, Liberia and Sudan can be mentioned as simple
instances. However, it does not mean that UN has addressed
all issues completely. Lack of member states’ commitment to
provide necessary supports, the level of their interest at stake
and the interest of veto powers put challenges on the effective
operation of the organization.
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