A UN peacekeeper on a patrol in Kiwanja, Democratic Republic of Congo, November 2008
Emmanuel Braun / REUTERS

In nearly 50 conflict zones around the world, some one and a half billion people live under the threat of violence. In many of these places, the primary enforcers of order are not police officers or government soldiers but the blue-helmeted troops of the United Nations. With more than 78,000 soldiers and 25,000 civilians scattered across 14 countries, UN peacekeepers make up the second-largest military force deployed abroad, after the U.S. military.

The ambition of their task is immense. From Haiti to Mali, from Kosovo to South Sudan, UN peacekeepers are invited into war-torn countries and charged with maintaining peace and security. In most cases, that means nothing less than transforming states and societies. Peacekeepers set out to protect civilians, train police forces, disarm militias, monitor human rights abuses, organize elections, provide emergency relief, rebuild court systems, inspect prisons, and promote gender equality. And they attempt all of that in places where enduring

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  • SÉVERINE AUTESSERRE is Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the author of Peaceland and the forthcoming On the Frontlines of Peace.
  • More By Séverine Autesserre