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Changing the polarity: The impact of different distributions of power on peacekeeping operations

UN
USA
Peace
Power
POTUS
P09
Leena Malkki
University of Helsinki

Wednesday 14:00 - 16:00 (24/11/2021)


Abstract

The election of Joe Biden has rekindled hopes that liberal internationalism may be renewed under US leadership following the ‘America First’ interregnum of the Trump presidency. Peacekeeping has been a key component of liberal international order at least since the end of the Cold War, if not before. Peacekeeping boomed in the era of US unipolarity, with 20 new United Nations (UN) operations alone launched between 1989 and 1994, raising the number of blue helmets from 11,000 to 75,000. Today c. 110,000 blue helmets are still deployed around the world. Given the growing geopolitical rivalry between East and West, a relative erosion of US power and much talk of a new age of multipolarity, where does this leave peacekeeping? Using several case studies, this paper explores the impact of different distributions of power in the international system (namely, multipolarity, bipolarity, unipolarity) on peace operations, beginning with the military interventions of the post-1815 Congress system reaching right up to the present day. The paper shows that a unipolar distribution of power is most propitious for the global deployment of peacekeepers, suggesting that peacekeeping is more an artefact of geopolitical power than it is of liberal international cooperation.