‘Bending the Rules’: The Space between HQ Policy and Local Action in UN Civilian Peacekeeping

In: Journal of International Peacekeeping
Diana Felix da Costa
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John Karlsrud
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Recent literature has argued that a ‘dominant peacebuilding culture’ has precluded the contextualisation of peacebuilding to local dynamics. The article explores the ‘peacekeeping-peacebuilding nexus’ in practice, where civilian peacekeepers are increasingly considered to be early peacebuilders. Drawing on examples from United Nations (UN) civilian peacekeeping involvement in local peacebuilding in South Sudan, this article argues for a less reductionist and more nuanced view of local peacebuilding and the social interactions and dynamics which take place. It recognises the discrepancies between official UN Headquarters (HQ) policy and action in the “field”, and thus explores the relationship between policy and practice and the location of agency and authority in civilian peacekeeping. The article argues that the critique levelled against peacekeeping and peacebuilding for being focused on actors in host country capitals does not sufficiently take into consideration the relationship between capitals and the “field”. Rather, local peacebuilding outcomes depend as much or more on negotiations, bargains and compromises between different actors at the “field” level, than on institutional policy decision-making deriving from headquarters.

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