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ISGA Research Seminar: The scope for individual agency in UN peace operations

Monday 24 April 2023
ISGA Research Seminar Series 2023
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague
Common room ISGA, and via Teams (keek op de week link).

About this research seminar

UN peace operations continue to encounter serious challenges in implementing their mandates to protect civilians. Scholars have analyzed numerous potential factors affecting peace operations’ effectiveness at doing so, including the composition of military forces, their subnational deployment patterns, and whether the source of the violence is the government or armed groups. Apart from these variables, there is also a growing interest among peacekeeping scholars in studying the role of agent-level factors.
These scholars have proposed that Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs) can mediate in norm conflicts, that the personalities of military and civilian leadership shapes mandate implementation, and that some individuals are more effective than others at exercising leadership in taking risky protection decisions. This is also reflected in the broader literature on International Relations, where scholars pay increasing attention to the ‘micro-dynamics’ in world politics and the role of agency in norm implementation. While there thus appears to be an emerging consensus that agent-level factors are worth studying, there is limited engagement with the fundamental question of what we mean with ‘agency.’

This paper seeks to fill that conceptual gap and shows what agency means in the context of UN peace operations, building on the literature on principal/agent-theories in international organisations, sociological literature on the structure/agency debate, and the analysis of change in practice theories. It argues that agency is not a fixed attribute of particular actors, but, rather, is context-dependent. The paper therefore proposes several conditions under which we are more likely to observe agency by peacekeeping actors. Finally, it shows how these conditions apply to decisions by peace operations on whether and how to protect civilians, thus demonstrating when and how agency is most likely to materialise in these contexts 

About the speaker

Tom Buitelaar is an Assistant Professor in the War, Peace & Justice programme of ISGA. He studies the role of international conflict interventions in world politics, with specific attention to how interveners balance peace and justice. Furthermore, he is interested in how international norms guide these interventions, and the role of individual agency in enhancing their effectiveness. He combines this interest with deep-grained analysis of the inner workings of international organizations. Tom holds a PhD from the European University Institute for which he investigated the conditions under which UN peace operations assist the International Criminal Court. Before his PhD, Tom was a Researcher in Conflict Prevention at The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

Discussant: Silvia D'Amato

For whom?

The research seminars are open to all levels of seniority  - ranging from PhD candidates to senior professors in order to ensure a vibrant exchange and also feed-back opportunities for all. 

More information

For further information and the teams link, please contact Dr Lydie Cabane.

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