Julian Junk, Francesco Mancini, Wolfgang Seibel, and Till Blume (Eds.), The Management of UN Peacekeeping: Coordination, Learning, and Leadership in Peace Operations, (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2017), 417 pp.

Reviewed by: Eric Tanguay (Balsillie School of International Affairs–Wilfrid Laurier University)

United Nations peacekeepers are currently expected to implement increasingly broad and resource-intensive mandates encompassing a range of complex tasks which blur the lines between peace enforcement and peacebuilding—from using force to protect civilians to facilitating security sector reform and economic recovery—in highly unstable and protracted conflict-zones, where there is often no peace to keep. Heightened expectations of peace operations have not, however, been accompanied by commensurate financial support on the part of the international community, as peacekeeping budgets have been repeatedly slashed over the past two years.[1] These countervailing trends raise a question of urgent importance for peace operations and the conflict-affected countries that host them: how can peacekeepers be expected to do more with less? Several prominent commentators within the UN system have emphasized strategic solutions to this problem, calling for the adoption of more robust and proactive force postures in order to improve the mobility and efficiency of peacekeeping contingents.[2] This edited volume by Junk, Mancini, Seibel, and Blume suggests a compelling alternative to such militarized solutions.

Security Council Debates Reform of UN Peacekeeping (Photo Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

The Management of UN Peacekeeping book highlights the potential of effective management—which the editors define as “the art of aligning means and ends and thus the capacity to marshal resources, lay out plans, conduct work, and spur effort” (p. 3)—to ameliorate many of the challenges currently facing the UN. While recognizing from the outset that technical solutions alone cannot eliminate the enormous political challenges facing UN peacekeeping, the overarching rationale of the volume is that “it is precisely because peace operations face political, bureaucratic, and resource constraints that more organization and management knowledge need to be injected into the UN system” (p. 3) as “applying sound management theories and practices can increase the resilience of an organization and enhance its ability to change, learn, and thrive in challenging environments” (p. 357). Drawing on theoretical insights from administrative science, public administration and organization theory—scholarship which has long been ignored in the study and practice of peacekeeping—the contributions are divided into three thematic sections: coordination, learning, and leadership. These sections reflect the intersecting elements of organizational management which the authors collectively identify as critical for the success of UN peace operations.

The essays in Part I demonstrate that, despite significant and repeated efforts to clarify doctrinal guidelines, coordination remains a persistent weakness within peace operations. Contributions by Anna Herrhausen (Chapter 2) and Jörg Raab and Joseph Soeters (Chapter 4) provide a theoretical foundation for understanding UN peace operations as “temporary network organizations”, which are a “governance form that comes close to a fragmented, decentralized, multiunit conglomerate” (p.105). Borrowing from network governance theory, Herrhausen thus concludes that the interoperability and complementarity between individual units within these networks could be further developed by standardizing and simplifying “administrative processes, rules, and regulations across the UN system,” (p. 49) and limiting the areas of activity of individual organizations in order to reduce their functional overlap. Cedric de Coning (Chapter 6) adds an additional layer of nuance to these initial theoretical propositions by arguing that efforts to improve coherence through the creation of integrated structures or common strategic frameworks can fail or even produce negative consequences in the wrong context (pp. 136–137). Tobias Pietz (Chapter 5) clearly illustrates this point through his analysis of the UN’s attempt to create a hierarchical and integrated coordination system for the implementation of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), which was impeded by the functional independence of, and lack of shared organizational culture between, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) (pp. 120–121). Collectively, contributors in this section contend that the performance of peace operations could be improved markedly if the UN tempered its tendency to add “new layers of structures, which tend to develop a bureaucratic life of their own fighting to expand their niches” (p. 360), and devoted greater attention to reforming the already significant number of extant coordinating mechanisms within peace operations. Based on an analysis of the progressive breakdown in UN-NATO communication during the Bosnia and Herzegovina joint mission, Michael Lipson (Chapter 3) cautions, however, that no single model of coordination should inform such reform efforts, as the key challenge is “to identify the conditions under which different forms of coordination are more or less likely to be feasible and effective” (p. 74). Asith Bhattacharjee (Chapter 7) provides recommendations as to how such a contextual approach may be operationalized, suggesting that coherence and coordination must be undergirded by a series of individual compacts between mission elements, linking mandates, headquarters, and host-state and field level components.

MINUSCA Organizes Youth Peace Week in Bangui (Photo Credit: UN Photo/Herve Serefio)

Part II assesses the potential for organizational learning within peace operations, which Ariane Berthoin Antal et al. (Chapter 8) argue has been habitually constrained by the “power asymmetries, political compromises, [and] organizational compartmentalization” which suffuse the UN system (p. 161). While these authors conclude that the effectiveness of learning mechanisms depends primarily on the leadership of individual missions (p. 186), Melanie Mai and coauthors (Chapter 9) emphasize instead the importance of a shared identity between mission components as a lever for enlarging problem-solving and learning capacity (p. 193). Several contributions in this section evaluate particular constraints impeding organizational learning within international bureaucracies such as the UN. In their investigation of headquarters-level learning in peace operations, Thorsten Benner and colleagues (Chapter 10) bemoan the UN’s uncritical, template-based approach to knowledge management, a tendency which they deem a function of the organization’s bureaucratic inclination towards “universal and generalized rules” (pp. 233–234). Michael Bauer et al. (Chapter 11) similarly conclude that, while learning can, in general, serve as a catalyst for broad organizational change, administrative reform efforts within peacekeeping operations specifically are often driven primarily by member-state interests, political leadership and institutional politics, more so than genuine efforts to adapt to past failures.

In her introduction to Part III, Sabine Boerner (Chapter 12) develops a typology of leadership styles, extolling the particular advantages of “transformational leadership”—the ability of a leader to “move their followers to transcend their own self-interest for a higher purpose” by “articulating an attractive vision, developing an emotional attachment, and transforming central attitudes, beliefs, and values” (p. 273)—within the dynamic and uncertain environments confronting peace operations. This notion of transformational leadership serves as the theoretical lodestar around which subsequent contributions in this section revolve. Simon Chesterman and Thomas Franck (Chapter 13) make the case that, while the position of Secretary-General lacks both the internal authority of an effective administrator and the resources required to credibly execute external responsibilities, the core potential strength of the role is communicative; while Secretaries-General are unlikely to directly challenge the interests of powerful member states, they can leverage their platform and voice in order to transform the terms of debates and to exhort members to transcend those parochial interests (p. 396). Manuel Frölich (Chapter 14) similarly characterizes the leadership style of the Special Representatives to the UN Secretary-General (SRSGs) as transformational, as it “relies mainly on the communicative tools of arguing, bargaining, and persuasion” in order to “reframe problems and to inspire through motivation” (p. 314).  Frederick Trettin’s analysis of the contrasting leadership styles between subsequent SRSGs in Kosovo (Chapter 15) lends further credence to this section’s overall emphasis on the importance of transformational leadership, as Trettin’s comparison between Hans Haekkerup and Michael Steiner reveals that the ability of a SRSG to communicate effectively represents a key variable in determining their success in the role (p. 346).

Peacekeepers of MONUSCO South African Contingent on Patrol (Photo Credit: UN Photo/Michael Ali)

In all, this volume is an impressive and timely work of interdisciplinary scholarship, which represents an ambitious attempt to synthesise and apply insights from a range of previously untapped theoretical traditions to address some of the most pressing issues confronting contemporary peacekeeping. While there is much in this book which will prove useful to both scholars of organizations and peace studies and, especially, to practitioners and policymakers within the United Nations system, the thematic thread of contingency and context-specificity which interweaves the contributions recurrently reminds readers both that they will find no textbook solutions within these pages, and that such universal models are often illusory. Given the complexity and inherently political nature of peace operations, the editors conclude with a warning against the uncritical application of organizational ideal-types, stressing that tailoring the design of coordination, learning and leadership mechanisms for UN peace operations must always be influenced foremost by realities on the ground.

The overall strength of this text is diminished, only somewhat, by several small editorial issues. While the book’s emphasis on contextuality is certainly justified, it does serve to isolate the otherwise informative theoretical framework which precedes the substantive chapters. This approach also develops a set of theoretical propositions on the complex challenges of, and coping mechanisms for, organizational coherence, which are only fleetingly referred to throughout the body of the text and, unfortunately, are not addressed in significant detail in the conclusion. Moreover, several of the chapters had a tendency to become bogged down with extensive and highly technical literature reviews. Particularly considering the fact policymakers constitute a large segment of the book’s intended audience, these chapters may have benefitted from a more equal balance between the synthesis and application of theory. Nevertheless, this text represents an innovative and successful attempt to facilitate dialogue between scholars and policymakers on the practice of management in peace operations, an issue of immense and immediate importance for the United Nations and its blue helmets.

[1] See Manuel, Susan. (2018, July 1). UN Budget Committee O.K.’s Major Reform of the UN, as Peacekeeping is Squeezed. PassBlue. Retrieved from: https://www.passblue.com/2018/07/01/un-budget-committee-o-k-s-major-reform-of-the-un-as-peacekeeping-is-squeezed/.

[2] See the informally termed “Santos Cruz Report” for a recent example of this militarizing trend: United Nations, “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers,” December 2017. Retrieved from:  https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/improving_security_of_united_nations_peacekeepers_report.pdf.


Feature image photo credit: UN Photo/Herve Serefio