Low Expectations? Stabilization and stability operations as the ‘new normal’ in international interventions

We are pleased to present the workshop “Low Expectations? Stabilization and stability operations as the ‘new normal’ in international interventions”. This terrific workshop will take place at the University of Trento, in February (2nd-3rd, Department of Sociology and Social Research).

Here you’ll find all the details.

Here below additional info on the event and the programme.

The notion of “stability” and the practice of “stability operations” experienced a resurgence in the last decade. The United Nations, with operations in Haiti, in the Central African Republic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Mali has re-framed the lexicon and practice of its interventions in this direction. NATO has been similarly focusing on “projecting stability” as one of the cornerstones to guarantee the Alliance’s security.
The reasons for such re-framing are diverse. The lengthy, costly and casualty-heavy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq inevitably led to intervention fatigue. In the last decade or so, either interventions in conflict-ridden countries did not take place (as in Syria) or were based on minimal footprint (as in Libya), at least compared to the previous large-scale operations with ambitious social, economic and political engineering goals. In this evolving context, the conceptual and operational parameters of these stabilization interventions are still opaque.
This workshop aims at dissecting how these “new” practices emerged and are unfolding, how they have been analysed in the academic literature, what are their sub-components (e.g. what role civil-military relations or intelligence play in these operations), and how they are linked to the broader security and development discourse.


Day 1, Friday, February 2nd

13:00 pm Light Lunch
2:00 pm Roberto Belloni (University of Trento) & Francesco N. Moro (University of Bologna)
Introduction to the Workshop
2:15 pm Stefano Costalli (University of Florence) & Francesco N. Moro (University of Bologna)
Promoting democracy or averting war? Regime transitions, international interventions, and political instability
3:15 pm Jana Krause (University of Amsterdam)
Communal violence in the shadow of civil war: Implications for Stabilization and Protection
4:15 pm Coffee break
4:30 pm Marina Henke (Northwestern University, USA)
Why do UN peacekeepers die?
5:30 pm John Karlsrud (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo)
Getting the Right Tool for the Wrong Reasons? Examining United Nations Stability Operations
6:30 pm End of Day 1
8:00 pm Social dinner

Day 2, Saturday, February 3rd

9:00 am Mats Berdal (King’s College, London)
NATO’s Attempt at Stabilisation in Afghanistan, 2003-2014: Issues and Lessons
10:00 am Luca Raineri (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa) & Francesco Strazzari (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa & Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo)
Hybrid orders and stabilisation efforts in the Sahelo-Saharan space
11:00 am Coffee break
11:15 am Roberto Belloni (Trento) & Irene Costantini (“L’Orientale” University of Napoli)
Iraq 2003-2017: changing approaches to stability
12:15 pm Discussion on future prospects
1:00 pm Light lunch
2:00 pm Tavola Rotonda – Roundtable (in Italian):
Lo studio della pace e della guerra in Italia e nell’Unione Europea – The study of peace and war in Italy and in the European Union


  • Valentina Bartolucci (Agency for Peacebuilding, Bologna)
  • Roberto Belloni (University of Trento)
  • Vincenzo Bove (University of Warwick)
  • Stefano Costalli (University of Florence)
  • Irene Costantini (”L’Orientale” University of Napoli)
  • Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genova)
  • Sara De Simone (University of Trento)
  • Bernardo Monzani (Agency for Peacebuilding, Bologna)
  • Francesco N. Moro (University of Bologna)
  • Francesco Strazzari (SSSUP, Pisa & Oslo)


  • Roberto Belloni, University of Trento
  • Francesco N. Moro, University of Bologna


See you in Trento.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 70

We apologize for the delay in publishing our Top 5, but you know, September is full of tasks for “academics” (new courses, publications, conferences, post-summer stress, etc.). Here below our suggestions:

First of all, it seems that Russian fighter jest entered in Syria (with transponders off..). A turning point for the conflict (and the proxy-war)?

As fans of content and discourse analyses, here you’ll find an interesting comparison of the speeches by the last two Popes (Benedict and Francis) to the UN.

Are interested in the evolution of international peacekeeping? Political Violence at a Glance argues that we should review our traditional pessimist view on PKOs: “The surprising thing about peacekeeping — the real story — is that, despite its many problems, it works”.

What happens in Burkina Faso? The Guardian helps you in better understanding the state of democracy in the African country after the last troubles.

Finally, this week we had the 9th Pan-European Conference on International Relations: “The Worlds of Violence”. Here you’ll find all the info on panel and papers presented at the convention (which has been held at Giardini Naxos, Sicily).

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Rising Dragon, Crawling Donkey: China’s and Italy’s Role in Contemporary Peacekeeping

Guest Post by Emanuele Sommario*


Warning: what follows is an exercise in shameless self promotion. Many thanks to the editors of this blog for having allowed me to indulge in it.

A few days back, another post on this blog reminded us of the swift rise of China as the world’s prime economy.  China’s astonishing economic growth and its diplomatic activism are already reshaping  the international system, and the coming decades will witness an even greater increase in its power and influence. Yet, as pointed out by G. John Ikenberry, China’s ascendance is taking place within an international order that is able to accommodate the rise of new powers, as it characterized by strong rules and institutions. Beijing appears to be working within, rather than outside of, the existing order and one of the most glaring manifestations of this trend is its increasing participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations (UN PKOs).

Chinese peacekeeping has undergone a significant evolution. From a firm opposition to join peace operations (in line with Maoist China’s philosophy of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other nations) since the end of the Cold War Beijing has become the major contributor of troops to UN PKOs among the permanent members of the Security Council.

Italy, on its part, has always been a strong advocate of the multilateral approach, in particular in the realm of conflict prevention and crisis resolution were it played a important role by joining and supporting stabilisation interventions and post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. Rome has offered its steady engagement from the very beginning of the history of UN PKOs. However, more recently, it has partially shifted its commitment towards operations organized by regional organizations or by ad hoc “coalitions of the willing”. Through the decades, Italy developed such a wealth of expertise and authority that, nowadays, an “Italian way of peacekeeping” is said to exist.

Together with Andrea de Guttry and Zhu Lijiang we thought it would be interesting to study and contrast the role and approach of these two countries to peacekeeping, and to asses the legitimacy of their aspirations to become (and remain) credible global security actors. To do so, we sought to bring together academics from different disciplines (international relations, history, sociology, gender studies, law) and other experts who could contribute in drawing an accurate picture of the drivers that underpin China’s and Italy’s engagement in UN PKOs and other international military endeavors.

The first outcome of the research was an international conference organized in Pisa in June 2012, featuring not only academics and practitioners but also high-ranking representatives from the political, diplomatic and military milieus of both countries. The speakers greatly benefited of the comments and feedback received, and went on to draft the chapters of what has become an edited collection of essays that was recently published with the title “China’s and Italy’s Participation in Peacekeeping Operations – Existing Models, Emerging Challenges” (Lexington Books, 2014).

The book is divided into three parts, which are preceded by a foreword by Romano Prodi, Chairman of the UN-AU Panel for Peacekeeping in Africa and former UN Special Envoy for the Sahel. Part I sets the scene for comparing Italy’s and China’s contributions to PKOs by providing a picture of the facts, figures, drivers and motivations behind their engagement. In the first two chapters, an account is offered of the trends, priorities and main features of Italian and Chinese participation in peace operations. The next chapter examines from an historical perspective the factors that might explain Italy’s wide involvement in PKOs, and the political consensus that has always surrounded these missions, tracing them back to some of the main features of Italian the culture and political tradition. A similar analysis is performed with respect to China in chapter 4, where the author maintains that the Confucian concept of He (harmony), the open social mentality and the sense of responsibility that inform Chinese culture are among the socio-cultural factors explaining the country’s participation in PKOs. The book then looks at the personal motivations underpinning the choice to serve in peace operations. The author shows that value-driven as well as materialistic and self-oriented motivations do all play a decisive role in prompting individual soldiers to deploy. The last two chapters of this part explain the procedures followed by Chinese and Italian authorities in deciding whether national contingents should be dispatched to a specific mission, highlighting the differences between the parliamentary dynamics prevailing in Italy and the central role played by the government and by the Communist Party in China’s decision-making processes.

Part II addresses recent developments in PKOs – with a special focus on the training of the military and civilian component – as well as certain specific challenges and changes in PKOs to which China and Italy are trying to react. Chapter 8 presents the different attitudes of Rome and Beijing towards regional PKOs. While divergent views exist on the expediency of such missions, the author concludes that disagreement is more apparent than real and that it might completely fade away in the near future.  The book then explores the extent of the two countries’ support to the African Union Peace and Security System, and attempts to highlight their respective strategies and objectives. Italy and China both have relevant interests in the African continent and are playing an important role in the reshaping of Africa’s security landscape. Chapter 10 discusses Italy’s and China’s efforts in mainstreaming gender and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in their operations. To do so, several indicators are taken into account, such as gender balance in staffing, the extent to which prevention of SEA is reflected in the two countries’ military codes of conduct. Their analysis reveals that both Italy and China are lagging behind in this area.

Turning to the issue of training, a chapter by Umberto Rocca – former Director of the Centre of Excellence for Stability Police Units – describes the origins and development of the training centre he was in charge of, which is tasked with instructing and preparing Italian and foreign police forces for deployment in international crisis management missions. In the same vein, a senior officer of the European Union’s Crisis Management and Planning Directorate then illustrates what strategies and programmes the EU has developed to train the civilian component of its crisis management operations. Chapter 14 focuses one specific type of military mission which has seen Italy and China join forces over recent years, namely the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa. The author reminds us of the efforts the two countries have devoted to tackling this phenomenon, while also explaining the legal and political constraints they faced in carrying out counter-piracy operations.

Part III sheds light on certain legal and political aspects connected to the deployment of national contingents in PKOs. The first two chapters look at the Italian and Chinese domestic legal frameworks for the prosecution of crimes committed by peacekeepers while on mission, analyzing their development and shortcomings. Moving from a domestic to a comparative law perspective, the next chapter offers an assessment of the involvement of national parliaments in the decision-making on the deployment of military troops abroad, based on a comparison between five European States. Noting that there is a substantial variety of constitutional rules and practices, the author contends that the growing importance of international military cooperation will fundamentally change the balance between government and parliament to the detriment of the latter.

The last two chapters are devoted to the current international legal framework regulating individual and State responsibility for the unlawful conduct of peacekeepers. Chapter 18 discusses the scope and limits of the immunity that military or civilian members of a PKO may enjoy from the criminal jurisdiction of the host State and offers a review of alternative options that could be pursued in order to bring the perpetrators of serious crimes to justice. The final chapter deals with the allocation of international responsibility for the unlawful conduct of UN peacekeepers.  It contains a perusal of the recent jurisprudence of national and international tribunals to find that the decisive element to impute responsibility to the troop contributing State, the UN or to both is which entity exercised effective control over the unlawful conduct.

In sum, the volume looks at the specific experiences of Italy and China to compare them and to understand how and why foreign powers intervene in the name of peace. At the same time, it tries to provide the reader with an understanding of some of the foremost developments and challenges that international peace missions are currently facing. After all, the behavior of different actors can only be properly appreciated with full knowledge of the processes and dynamics that characterize contemporary peacekeeping scenarios.

*Emanuele Sommario is Assistant Professor of International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa), and co-editor of the book: “China’s and Italy’s Participation in Peacekeeping Operations – Existing Models, Emerging Challenges” (Lexington Books, 2014).

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