Should We Start Outsourcing UN Peacekeeping?

In her famous work New and Old Wars, Mary Kaldor provides an interesting perspective on the changing dynamics of war in an increasingly globalized world. Kaldor argues that the ‘New Wars’ of the post-Cold War era are characterized by different combinations of decentralized state and non-state actors like armed forces, paramilitary forces, mercenary groups, local warlords, etc. Instead of fighting for territorial conquest, resources, or ideology – which is what fueled the ‘Old Wars’ – the New Wars are fought over identity politics (Kaldor 1999, 8–14). The increased communication, migration, and overall integration between nations due to globalization has fueled these conflicts. Since these wars are mainly focused on exclusive particularistic aims, Kaldor propagates a more cosmopolitan approach towards conflict resolution and peace enforcement based on tolerance, multiculturalism, civility, and democracy (Kaldor 1999, 123).

This line of argumentation made me think about the practical implications of cosmopolitan law enforcement. The demand for peacekeepers by the United Nations has steadily been increasing since the end of the Cold War (Gao 2016). In fact, the overall number of armed conflicts has seen an increase since the end of the Second World War, even though inter-state conflicts have drastically declined (Roser 2016). However, nuclear deterrence, increased political and economic integration, and public war aversion have made states increasingly reluctant to intervene in global conflicts (Singer 2005, 120). This has made it very hard for the UN to meet the surging demand for peacekeepers around the globe (Autesserre 2019).  

In the meantime, the world has seen the rebirth of so-called Private Military Companies (PMCs) since the 1970s. These are for-profit companies that offer services that, until recently, were exclusively military terrain (Pingeot 2014). In other words, PMCs offer services that replace the combat arms function of the military which is to eliminate or train others to eliminate the enemy (McFate 2017, 12–18). Until now, these private contractors have exclusively been used by governments. But in the light of a rising demand for peacekeepers, combined with the reluctance of states to intervene in international conflicts, should the UN consider using these ‘modern mercenaries’ as peacekeepers?

A privatized international UN peacekeeping force actually fits to Kaldor’s vision of cosmopolitan law and peace enforcement. As Kaldor argues that universal principles should guide political communities at various levels, including the global level, do the state-sponsored peacekeeping forces of today even fit this ideal? Because, in the end, state-sponsored peacekeeping forces are tied to their national governments. But what motivations do states have to contribute to peacekeeping missions? Could these states not also have particularistic double agendas? For example, Dutch UNIFIL peacekeepers in the 1980s were told to ignore Israeli war crimes (NTR 2013).

Thus, outsourcing peacekeeping to PMCs could solve the UN’s ‘peacekeeping crisis’ while also allowing it to determine the standards around PMCs and driving the industry’s behavior, which is another problem the international community has to solve. The UN would not have to rely on the goodwill of its member states but could form its peacekeeping forces to its own vision. This way, a privatized UN peacekeeping force could further the cosmopolitan worldview that Kaldor propagated.



Autesserre, Séverine. 2019. “The Crisis of Peacekeeping,” January 29, 2019.

Gao, George. 2016. “UN Peacekeeping at New Highs after Post-Cold War Surge and Decline.” Pew Research Center. 2016.

Kaldor, Mary. 1999. New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

McFate, Sean. 2017. The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

NTR. 2013. “Vredesmacht onder vuur.” Andere Tijden. 2013.

Pingeot, Lou. 2014. “Private Military and Security Companies.” In The Oxford Companion to International Relations. Oxford University Press.

Roser, Max. 2016. “War and Peace.” Our World in Data, December.

Singer, P. W. 2005. “Outsourcing War.” Foreign Affairs 84 (2): 119–32.

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