Finding The Right Balance

Written by: Dr. Alexander Gilder
Published by: Routledge
Reviewed by: Dr. Karen Finkenbinder, deputy associate dean, the Marshall Center


In “Stabilization and Human Security in UN Peace Operations,” Dr. Alexander Gilder investigates stabilization operations mandated by the United Nations Security Council and how such resolutions promote human security. Gilder, an international lawyer and lecturer at the University of Reading in England, is critical of aspects of the mandated tasks in some missions, such as robust use of force and cooperation with host states that are focused on state security and arguably make the U.N. a party to the conflict. These missions are contrasted with other development-focused missions that emphasize individual security. His book serves as a primer on U.N. peacekeeping operations and what makes a mission a stabilization mission, and on the concept of human security and how it continues to change over time. His findings can help defense planners move beyond a focus on physical protection and civilian harm mitigation to a broader understanding of bottom-up and localized approaches that shift “the objective of security from the state to the individual.” Gilder understands the strategic implications of force and cooperation with bad actors, and how such approaches delegitimize military intervention and fail to protect individuals or achieve long-term peace.

The book’s eight chapters are divided into three parts. Part I, an overview of the concepts and problems, is worth a read on its own for those with little time. It broadens one’s thinking of these issues, moving away from collective security imposed by the state to individual security built from the bottom up. In Chapter 1, Gilder discusses the challenges peacekeepers face and provides an overview of concepts he later discusses in detail.

Chapter 2 describes the flavors of U.N. peace operations and what makes one a stabilization mission. He gives an overview of the generations of U.N. missions, from the first generation of traditional peacekeeping missions between 1948 and 1988, to the Cold War-era missions that operated under the principles of peacekeeping (consent of host state, impartiality and the minimal use of force), and how the rules of engagement changed over time to allow U.N. troops to use force in certain situations. Even when force was limited to self-defense, U.N. troops were protecting people in U.N-designated areas — a practice that continues today. The U.N. Operation in the Congo (ONUC), from 1960 to 1964, was a first-generation mission highlighted in the Netflix movie “Siege of Jadotville.”

The second generation of missions added activities that included “peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, state-building, local peacemaking and some peace enforcement.” However, there were notable failures, particularly in protecting civilians, which led to integrated missions (sometimes called third generation), focused on protection of civilians (POC) as a core task. Gilder notes that these POC mandates are becoming the “bread and butter” of U.N. missions. He then discusses what stabilization means and how robust and offensive force, as well as counterterrorism, have become embedded into stabilization missions. The U.N. does not have a formal definition of these missions, though NATO, the United Kingdom and the United States, seem to have a common understanding. Gilder observes that the inclusion of stabilization tasks in mandates, which are essentially counterinsurgency tasks, is not surprising given that France, the U.K. and the U.S. have become penholders on most resolutions and all have experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chapter 3 describes the development of human security and how it has been applied to U.N. operations. Part of this chapter is a cogent and pithy overview of the classical development of security, sovereignty and the realist, state-centered concept of security and state. Gilder discusses the early documents that mention “freedom from fear and want” and how this concept became foundational to the understanding of human security as well as to the linkage between security and violence. As he observes, focusing only on violence misses the reality of other preventable deaths caused by environmental disaster, famine, etc., that do not require a militaristic, use-of-force approach. Therefore, he develops a framework used in the case studies that recognizes that threats are interrelated, human security must protect fundamental freedoms, and the hierarchy of threats is unique to individuals and communities.

Part II includes case studies in which Gilder identifies activities required under the mandate. Specifically, he looks at those required activities that are rights- and norms-based, use protection and empowerment methods (local engagement, building capacity, etc.) and are considered vulnerable. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 analyze these activities to determine if a human security approach has been used. Though two of the U.N. missions he analyzes self-identify as stabilization missions — the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, initiated in 2013, and the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, started in 2014 — he states through an analysis of activities that the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, begun in 2011, also conducted stabilization activities, such as robust force and direct support to the state, though it is less robust than those identified as stabilization missions.

Part III addresses the (in)compatibility of stabilization and human security. In Chapter 7, Gilder describes how a robust militarized stabilization approach competes with local human security needs and can undermine human security and international law. Gilder identifies several areas of incongruity when analyzing stabilization, human security and international law. There is a lengthy discussion about the implications of militarization on the objectives of human security. The push by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to build military capacity to counter terrorism has detracted from efforts to build good governance — the latter is more likely to support human security in the long run, and these efforts risk marginalizing the individual. Chapter 8 concludes that a human security approach is needed to meet individual needs, to empower local communities and to keep the peace over time. When U.N. missions promote legitimate rule-of-law institutions, they move beyond physical protection to broader security issues. Nonetheless, physical protection measures are necessary and provide security for the actors supporting broader human security efforts.

Gilder’s book highlights that we need a better balance. Human security is not “pie in the sky,” but rather the recognition that individuals have intrinsic value, that their interests are of higher value than those of the state and that violence is not the only cause of insecurity. Marginalizing individuals may well be a model for fueling violence, not mitigating it.


Dr. Karen Finkenbinder is a lecturer for the Marshall Center’s Program on Applied Security Studies. She has been an adviser for the U.S. Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, and a course director for the U.S. Army War College Peace Operations Course. She earned a Ph.D. in public administration from The Pennsylvania State University in the United States.

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