Global Policy Forum

An Agenda for Peace Ten Years On

United Nations Association of the United Kingdom
February 3, 2002

Enhancing the UN's Peace and Disarmament Work

Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali's paper An Agenda for Peace, which provided analysis and recommendations on ways to strengthen and improve the UN's capacity to maintain world peace, was commissioned by the UN Security Council on 31 January 1992 at its first ever meeting at the level of heads of state.

UNA-UK is marking this anniversary as a means of assessing progress in UN initiatives to reform its peace activities, resulting both from An Agenda for Peace itself, as well as subsequent initiatives, in particular the Report on the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (the Brahimi Report) released in August 2000. This opening briefing presents an overview of the main points and significant features of An Agenda for Peace, including analysis of the less direct but nonetheless important contribution that it and its 1995 edition Supplement to An Agenda for Peace have made to international arms control and disarmament.


An Agenda for Peace was significant in defining four consecutive phases of international action to prevent or control conflicts, as well as in highlighting the importance of the their cohesion; those phases are defined as follows:

• Preventive diplomacy can include fact finding missions, early warning of potential conflicts, mediation, confidence-building measures and, in certain circumstances, preventive deployment.
• Peacemaking refers essentially to means outlined in Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which concerns the pacific settlement of disputes and can include such measures as negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement. However, enforcement measures may also be appropriate under certain circumstances and Boutros-Ghali even suggested establishing a permanent standby UN force to facilitate this.
• Peacekeeping is described as 'the deployment of a United Nations presence in the field, hitherto with the consent of all the parties concerned, normally involving United Nations military and/or police personnel and frequently civilians as well'.
• Peacebuilding refers to action to identify and support indigenous structures which will help to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict, although today it is increasingly also seen as a preventive measure.

Originally, An Agenda for Peace was conceived and written in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War when the international community was optimistic that the resulting era of international cooperation would facilitate its peace activities through the UN. Such optimism was initially supported by the sudden and vast expansion in the number, size and scope of UN peace operations.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this expanded outlook within An Agenda for Peace relates to UN peacekeeping. During the Cold War, peacekeeping operations had largely been restricted to separating national armies involved in conflicts between two states, where peacekeepers were deployed, with the agreement of the warring parties, to keep opposing troops apart while other means were employed to address the underlying causes of the conflict.

After the Cold War, the UN increasingly deployed peacekeepers in situations of internal conflict, which involve non-state or rebel forces whose commitment to the presence and mandate of a UN operation is likely to be much more tenuous. Moreover, the tasks that peacekeepers were requested to perform were also more complex, designed to address a conflict's root causes, such as through disarming combatants or supervising elections.

Clearly, therefore, peacekeeping in the post-Cold War world was a much more difficult task. Contributing states were required to find large numbers of personnel, often with extremely varied and specific expertise beyond the primarily infantry functions of the Cold War period. Furthermore, missions were likely to be a lot more dangerous, as the involvement of diverse non-state groups with little or no commitment - or often direct resistance - to the presence of the mission meant that peacekeepers and other personnel were likely to face armed opposition.

In line with this development, An Agenda for Peace described peacekeeping as 'hitherto' with the consent of the parties. However, many, especially western countries were already at the time unhappy with this redefinition of peacekeeping and the resultant risks to their personnel. Events came to a head in Somalia in 1993 with the deaths of 24 Pakistanis and then 18 American troops serving with the UN, which ultimately led to the withdrawal of the mission. These casualties served to confirm the suspicions of those previously sceptical states, which then largely withdrew support for peacekeeping.

The clearest example of this disengagement was the failure of Member States to offer troops in response to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in which around 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in a matter of months. Doctrine on the role of peacekeeping duly shifted in line with states' reservations and the later, 1995 edition of Broutros-Ghali's paper, Supplement to An Agenda for Peace, duly redefined peacekeeping, now highlighting the importance of the consent of the parties to the presence and mandate of a mission as a prerequisite for its success – effectively a return to the more restricted, Cold War definition.

An Agenda for Peace and Disarmament

Although disarmament is not the central theme of An Agenda for Peace, several references are made which at last appropriated institutional recognition of the importance of integrating arms control into peace operations. Within each of the phases of international peace action outlined above, Boutros-Ghali explained a number of tasks and measures necessary to establish and strengthen peace and to avoid a relapse into war. Among these, disarmament featured primarily through the removal of landmines and the demobilisation of combatants. Although demobilisation has for some time been a feature of UN peacekeeping operations, such as in Cambodia and Nicaragua in the 1980s, during the past decade it has become more integrated as peace operations have evolved.

The expanding role of UN peace operations is more specifically addressed in Supplement to An Agenda for Peace, especially within the context of post-conflict peacebuilding. The demands placed on the UN system by increasingly complex peace operations, combined with a lack of sufficient resources or political will to fulfil these demands, are crippling the UN's capacity to respond effectively to requests for intervention or assistance.


In the Supplement, Boutros-Ghali reports on progress made in the field of disarmament, namely regarding weapons of mass destruction, with the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the expansion of the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. However, it was practical disarmament, or 'micro-disarmament' as it is often called, that received due attention.

In the early 1990s the impact of landmines and automatic assault rifles was becoming increasingly realised. The enormous proliferation of such weapons through areas of instability can fuel conflicts, undermine peace and development programmes and exacerbate human rights violations. With most casualities of war being civilians and the majority of those casualties caused by small arms and light weapons, the humanitarian scope of disarmament has become more compelling.

While civil society and the international community has enjoyed monumental success with the signing and entry into force of the Landmine Treaty, the problem has not gone away. Millions of landmines remain in over 70 countries worldwide; mine victims who survive endure a lifetime of physical, psychological and economic hardship, while communities in mine-affected areas are prevented from using the land. Furthermore, key states, including the US, India and Pakistan, have not signed the Treaty and mines are still being laid, both by state- and non-state actors.

The problem of small arms was addressed for the first time at the international level (but with little success) by Member States at the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects which took place in July 2001 in New York. While controlling and reducing small arms and light weapons is widely regarded as pivotal to alleviating the human costs of these weapons, the international community failed to address adequately some of the reforms necessary to tackle their proliferation. The reluctance by many states to address measures beyond the scope of the illicit trade prevented a more rigorous plan of action from being adopted. As a consequence, commitments such as the negotiation of legally-binding agreements on arms transfers and brokering were whittled down, international law in the shape of disarmament treaties and conventions being one means of contributing to the prevention of armed conflict.

Clearly, in the context of peace operations the removal of surplus small arms through weapons collection programmes - which may include providing development incentives for demobilised combatants - and reducing the demand for these weapons is critical to removing the small arms obstacle to building peace. The work of the UN Development Programme has been instrumental in facilitating many programmes to regulate small arms in areas of instability, such as through the weapons exchange projects in Albania, Niger and Mali, or through the provision of skills and job training for ex-combatants and for victims of conflict. This work bridges the security and socio-economic consequences of weapons proliferation and incorporates development into approaches for reducing small arms. This link between disarmament and development, though recognised institutionally through the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the Relationship Between Disarmament and Development, is still hindered by the reluctance of some Member States to acknowled

ge the problem of small arms in humanitarian as much as security terms. Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes have proven a central function to establishing peace in places such as Namibia, Cambodia and El Salvador, but despite the necessity to undertake such tasks, they are often obstructed by the lack of authority given to a peacebuilding process. Unless DDR forms a formal part of a peace process, including specific provisions within a peace agreement, implementation of such projects becomes more difficult to enforce. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict published in June 2001 highlighted the role of disarmament in conflict prevention, with emphasis placed on proactive rather than reactive measures, a development that Annan has attempted to prioritise ever since assuming office. One recommendation he made to the Security Council was to include, as appropriate, a DDR component in the mandates of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations.

Conclusion: Recommendations and Reforms

An Agenda for Peace recognised problems in the UN's capacity to maintain world peace, for instance resulting from shortages of funds, in particular for reconnaissance, planning and start-up of peace operations. Problems with recruitment and training of personnel proved severe constraints on the UN's ability to deploy quickly, which can be crucial in the effective management of peace processes. Boutros-Ghali also highlighted the continuing damage to the credibility of the Security Council and the UN in general when the Council makes decisions that cannot be carried out because sufficient resources are not forthcoming; he urged that in future the availability of necessary troops and equipment be established before authorising new operations.

Although Agenda was initially received enthusiastically by UN Member States, this enthusiasm waned and many of its recommendations were not implemented; perhaps, if support for Agenda had been sustained, some of the ensuing disasters, such as Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, may possibly have turned out differently. Thus, many problems have not been addressed adequately and remain a hindrance to the UN's capacity to maintain world peace today. Criticisms in Brahimi confirm these failures. For instance, Brahimi reiterated problems emanating from the Council authorising mandates without providing sufficient resources. Furthermore, it recognised that, where DDR programmes form part of a peace operation, the reintegration element is voluntarily funded, which means that support is often very meagre, greatly risking a return to violence, while it further complained that DDR lacks a focal point, undermining its vital cohesion.

However, Brahimi also attemptded to offer a response to these problems. It recommended, for example, that DDR programmes be brought into the assessed (i.e. mandatory) budgets of peace operations during their first phase, ensuring that they are adequately supported as well as fully integrated into the mission. Brahimi further suggested that, when devising or reviewing the mandate for a peace operation, the Security Council must be told what it needs to know – in terms of personnel, equipment, logistics, costs and other resources – rather than what it wants to hear, as a means of hopefully moving beyond the situation where missions are required to undertake tasks that they are not equipped to carry out.

It does appear, however, that there is more enthusiasm amongst Member States to implement Brahimi. For instance, in Sierra Leone, having suffered disasters initially, not least because of insufficient and inadequately equipped and trained personnel, the operation now appears to be making good progress. In Spring 2000, some 500 peacekeepers were taken hostage by fighters from the rebel Revolutionary United Front who were also threatening the capital, Freetown. However, after timely intervention by UK troops had helped to free the hostages and restore stability in the capital, the subsequent expansion of the operation from 6,000 to 17,500-strong has helped extend that security largely throughout the country.

Moreover, 18 January 2002 saw the symbolic burning of weapons in a ceremony to mark the successful completion of the UN-supervised disarmament process in Sierra Leone, in which over 45,000 fighters have given up their weapons as part of the peace process, and the country is preparing for elections in the summer.

It is not possible at this stage to assess to what extent progress with the Sierra Leone mission is a result of Brahimi. However, it is worth acknowledging and celebrating this progress and, ten years on from the release of Agenda, let us hope that the political will to enhance the UN's capacity to undertake peace operations can be revived and sustained so that Sierra Leoneans and the many other victims of violence and insecurity can be helped to recover from the scourges of war.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Boutros Ghali's Reform Agenda
More Information on Reform Initiatives
More Information on Peacekeeping


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.