Jacob Kathman at the University of Buffalo has an article in the current issue of Conflict Management and Peace Science about his new dataset on the numbers and nationalities of all peacekeeper contributions by month since 1990. This is a pretty fantastic undertaking since peacekeeping data is often difficult to find, and no small feat given how challenging it is not only to code a 100,000+ point dataset, but do it in such a way that it complements other datasets like Correlates of War and Uppsala/PRIO. I’m particularly excited about this dataset because it highlights something I’ve been interested in, and will continue to work on throughout my career: gathering and coding historical data on peacekeeping missions so that social scientists and economists can start producing quantitative research to compliment the existing case study-oriented research on peacekeeping operations and practice.
As Kathman points out, there has usually been a focus on case study approaches to researching peacekeeping. This makes sense: most of the research is geared toward identifying lessons learned from mission success and failure, and is meant to be easily integrated into operational behavior, instead of addressing theoretical issues. This also reflects the ad hoc nature of peacekeeping; a mission gets a mandate to deal with a specific issue, and missions tend to be short (with some exceptions), so the data tends to be mission and context specific which lends to case study research approaches. As civil wars became the norm in the 1990s though, missions expanded their roles to include war fighting, humanitarian aid delivery, medical provision, policing, and other aspects of civil society. This meant that peacekeeping missions became part of the political, economic and social fabric of the post-ceasefire environment, and over the last ten years social scientists started studying the effects of peacekeeping missions on ceasefire duration and economic development, among other things.
One of the things that has lacked, and that Kathman’s dataset helps with, is data about the missions themselves. Studies, such as Virginia Page Fortna’s excellent book on the effect of peacekeeping missions on ceasefire durability tend to rely on conflict start-stop data to make inferences about the impact of peacekeeping. Studies of peacekeeping and economics also run into the same issues; researchers have used baseline effect on GDP of peacekeeping missions, but this is a blunt instrument approach and suffers from problems of endogeneity. Caruso et al’s analysis of the UN mission in South Sudan’s positive effect on cereal production treats the UN mission as a mass entity, but is unable to show comparative impacts on food production across missions since there isn’t finer grained mission data readily available.
Given the need, I would suggest pushing forward with datasets that contain not only data on troop contributions, but also data on mission expenditures, since peacekeeping missions have effects on the local economy which could be positive. The problem is that the positive effects might not be seen without finer grained data on how missions use their money in the country they’re operating in. Do investments in durable infrastructure make a difference to the durability of peace and economic growth? What about focusing on local provision of goods and services where available? At the moment data on these things is hard to find, but would be useful to conflict researchers.
Kathman’s paper is worth a read since he gives us a road map for how to develop further datasets on peacekeeping missions. More datasets like this are important for the theorists who do research in the abstract, but can also help inform better processes for mission mandating, procurement and staffing. If you want to download the datasets, Kathman has them in zip files on his website.