United Nations peace operations in complex environments: charting the right course

Under financial and political pressure from United Nations (UN) member states, UN peace operations are taking on more responsibility to support counter-terrorism and countering/preventing violent extremism (C/PVE). Despite the UN’s robust policies and principles, its growing counter-terror cooperation with host governments risks damaging its credibility and impartiality, and harming prospects for peace.

This report argues that the lessons from previous counter-terror efforts – often of very sobering failure – should inform and help to shape how the UN does, or does not, engage in complex environments.

UN peace operations are already being asked to take a more proactive military stance against ‘terrorists’, support non-UN counter-terror forces with funding, intelligence and logistics, to side with abusive states, and to integrate C/PVE objectives into their work. This risks alienating communities, compromising their impartiality, and aggravating conflict dynamics.

This report argues that member states and UN leadership should work to safeguard UN impartiality, bolster non-military capacities to address conflict and monitor human rights, keep from labeling conflict parties as ‘terrorists’ or ‘violent extremists’, and redefine its relationship with counter-terror operations to ensure it is never complicit in grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Read our op-ed on Just Security.

Read our op-ed on World Politics Review.

Read more about our work on alternative approaches to counter-terrorism.