The Multilateral System’s Contribution to Peace and Security

Published on 5 December 2014

The rapid review uncovered very little analysis of the contribution of the multilateral system to international development goals on peace and security, especially around its contribution to early warning and upstream conflict prevention.

Much of the literature uncovered was concerned with United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) cooperation around peacekeeping but did not examine the effectiveness of its contribution. Most of the literature consisted of policy briefs rather than rigorous analysis, although some were the result of academic projects looking into UN-EU multilateral cooperation on peace and security.

This report is in an annotated bibliography style and covers material which has been published since 2010.

The literature broadly suggests that:

  • As a result of the increasingly complex conflict environments, individual actors are unable to achieve goals on peace and security by themselves (Umezawa, 2012; Marcinkowska, 2013; Jaques, 2014). 
  • More joint operations are occurring in order to overcome the challenges posed by complex conflict environments, with joint multilateral action seen to promote more effective and efficient operations (Department of Political Affairs – Security Council Affairs Division, 2010-2011; Kingah and Van Langenhove, 2012; Kille and Hendrickson, 2011; Brett, 2013; Umezawa, 2012; Mikulaschek and Romita, 2011; Tardy, 2013; Yamashita, 2012; Marcinkowska, 2013; Jaques, 2014; Pietz, 2013).
  • Organisations such as the EU have stated their commitment to effective multilateralism to address peace and security goals (Department of Political Affairs – Security Council Affairs Division, 2010-2011; Umezawa, 2012; Smith, 2014; Novosseloff, 2012; Novosseloff, 2011; Tardy, 2013; Fioramonti et al, 2012).The EU also acknowledges the UN as the lead organisation on global peace and security (Umezawa, 2012; Fioramonti et al, 2012).
  • Multilateral cooperation between the UN and regional organisations benefits both parties, as regional organisations gain legitimacy and support from a UN mandate, and the UN gains partners that can fill in gaps in its missions and who often know the context in greater detail (Department of Political Affairs – Security Council Affairs Division, 2010-2011; Kingah and Van Langenhove, 2012; Umezawa, 2012; Smith, 2014; Novosseloff, 2012; Yamashita, 2012; Marcinkowska, 2013; Jaques, 2014). 
  • EU-UN cooperation in Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Mali are held up as successful examples of such cooperation; as well as joint action in Libya between organisations such as the UN, EU and the Arab League (Fioramonti et al, 2012; Marcinkowska, 2013; Pietz, 2013; Madsen and Pietz, 2014).

However, the literature also highlights a number of challenges faced by the multilateral system in contributing to international goals on peace and security. They include:

  • While top-level cooperation has become increasingly institutionalised this has not necessarily translated into effective coordination on the ground (Tardy with Gowan, 2014; Fioramonti et al, 2012). Despite being hailed as one of the most successful examples of cooperation, the EU-UN action in DRC and Kosovo faced challenges in implementation and coordination (Tardy with Gowan, 2014; Fioramonti et al, 2012).
  • Tensions exist in the relationship between the UN and regional organisations, especially the African Union (Brett, 2013; Jaques, 2014). There is some suggestion that the EU is selective in its support for multilateral operations and that its lack of personnel in UN peacekeeping operations undermines the sustainability of the relationship (Umezawa, 2012; Novosseloff, 2012; Tardy, 2013; Fioramonti et al, 2012; Pietz, 2013). In addition there are some fears that working with the UN would undermine other organisations efficiency and capability (Kille and Hendrickson, 2011; Novosseloff, 2012; Pietz, 2013). There are some fears that the UN would be negatively impacted by associating with some other multilateral organisations such as NATO, as a result the perceived political nature of some of NATO’s actions (Kille and Hendrickson, 2011).
  • Information sharing remains challenging, especially in relation to sensitive information, (Novosseloff, 2012).
  • Differences in organisations’ cultures, interests and planning rules; and inter-institutional rivalry, competition and misunderstanding around mandates and roles, make cooperation and coordination challenging (Tardy with Gowan, 2014; Kingah and Van Langenhove, 2012; Umezawa, 2012; Mikulaschek and Romita, 2011; Novosseloff, 2012; Novosseloff, 2011; Marcinkowska, 2013; Fioramonti et al, 2012).

Expert analysis also finds that the ‘multilateral system still responds to imminent threats of conflict in a disjointed fashion, for both bureaucratic and political reasons’ (expert comment). It is difficult for the different elements of the system to coordinate common policies and there is a real problem with sharing information (expert comment). The weaknesses in the system’s overall ability to recognise, review and respond to challenges is reflected in the tendency to respond to rapid crises such as Syria or Ebola with ad hoc responses (expert comment).

The wider multilateral system ‘lacks consistent systems and responsible institutions for horizon scanning and risk analysis’ (expert comment). As a result of the cumbersome nature of the UN and confused roles and responsibilities, the multilateral system spends a lot of time coordinating itself and struggles to deploy rapidly (expert comment). There have been attempts to align around fragility assessments under the New Deal framework, and the UN and World Bank have conducted joint needs assessments (expert comment). One of the experts suggests that the multilateral system will struggle to adapt to the changing context of global conflict without mandates and resources from its membership (expert comment).


Brigitte Rohwerder

Research Officer

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Rohwerder, B.


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