Towards more people-centric peace operations: From ‘extension of state authority’ to ‘strengthening inclusive state-society relations’

Cedric de Coning, John Karlsrud and Paul Troost


Periods of conflict erode trust between national and local authorities and the people they govern, a trust that needs to be re-established. As peace operations are undertaken by inter-governmental bodies that tend to be inherently state-centric, however, peace operations need to go beyond merely supporting the extension of state-authority and strengthen inclusive state-society relations by supporting and facilitating inclusive processes that can address social cohesion, inequalities and marginalization.

This practice note builds on the findings of a comprehensive review peace operations by a UN high level independent panel. The panel argued that four essential shifts were needed for peace operations to become more effective. First, politics must drive the design and implementation of peace operations. Second, the full spectrum of UN peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground. Third, a stronger, more inclusive peace and security partnership is needed for the future. Fourth, the UN Secretariat must become more field-focussed and UN peace operations must be more people-centred.

The mandates of peace operations often contain boilerplate language that calls for the restoration and extension of state authority. This kind of language is included, not because it is informed by a thorough conflict analysis of the specific context, but because extending the authority of the state over its entire territory is considered to be a valid project since it will enable the state to gain a legitimate monopoly on violence. This legitimate monopoly will contribute to stability and order, and will enable the state to ensure rule of law and provide basic services. The belief in the transformative agency of extending state authority is also linked to the analysis that conflict and relapse into violent conflict is linked with a government deficit. As a result, the focus of peacebuilding has been primarily on helping to build strong institutions.

However, for institutions to be self-sustainable, they must be generated by local social processes, and these processes take time to produce, test, refine and develop. Most contemporary peacebuilding programmes assume that local social norms and practices are part of the problem, and work actively to de-legitimize local institutions and advocate their replacement with new central government- controlled liberal peace-model institutions. This paper suggests instead that peacebuilding should be the catalyst that facilitates the re-emergence of the informal norms of behaviour and shared beliefs that are essential for institutions to be locally owned and embedded.

This practice note looks at the developments on the ground, in UN peacekeeping missions today. It shifts the focus to the field and looks at the interaction between peacekeepers, peacebuilders and local populations on the ground. The note argues for a shift towards a people-centric peace operations doctrine, and reflects on why the mandates of peace operations should move away from the narrowly tasked missions to ‘restore and extend state authority’ to instead task missions to ‘strengthen state-society relations’.


De Coning, C., Karlsrud, J., & Troost, P. (2015). Towards more people-centric peace operations: From ‘extension of state authority’ to ‘strengthening inclusive state-society relations’. Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, 4(1).