Sophomore Seminars

United Nations Peacekeeping


This seminar is devoted to an examination of United Nations peacekeeping, from its inception in 1956 in the wake of the Suez Crisis, to its increasingly important role as an enforcer of political stability in sub-Saharan Africa. We will look at the practice of "classic" peacekeeping as it developed during the Cold War, with the striking exception of the Congo Crisis of the early 1960s; the rise and fall of so-called "second-generation" peacekeeping—more accurately labeled "peace enforcement"—in the early 1990s in Bosnia and Somalia; and the reemergence in recent years of a muscular form of peacekeeping in sub-Saharan Africa, most notably in the Central African Republic in 2013. You will learn the basic history of the United Nations since 1945 and the fundamentals of the United Nations Charter, especially with respect to the use of force and the sovereignty of member states. While the course does not attempt to provide comprehensive coverage of the historical details of any particular peacekeeping mission, you should come away with a firm grasp of the historical trajectory of U.N. peacekeeping and the evolving arguments of its proponents and critics over the years.

Each session is structured around the discussion of assigned readings. Students are expected to complete the readings before class and to come to class prepared to participate in discussions. Each student will serve as rapporteur, providing a critical summary of the reading in question and helping to stimulate the discussion to follow. The instructor will occasionally begin a session with brief introductory remarks (no more than 10 minutes) to provide historical context on one or another topic. Required coursework includes a final paper (approximately 10 pages) on a topic to be announced.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Bertrand Patenaude

"I became interested in the subject of U.N. peacekeeping starting in 1992, as Yugoslavia descended into civil war and U.N. "blue helmets" intervened in Bosnia to keep the peace—only to end up becoming accomplices to genocide. In order to understand why that happened I began to examine the origins and evolution of peacekeeping, using the tools not only of the political scientist, but of the historian.

"I received my Ph.D. in history from Stanford in 1987. Since then, I have been teaching in various departments on campus, including a course on U.N. peacekeeping and genocide for the International Relations Program.
I grew up in Massachusetts, graduated from Boston College, and was a student in Vienna, Austria, for two years before entering grad school at Stanford. I spent a year in Moscow as a Fulbright Scholar in 1982-1983 researching my dissertation. I travel every summer as a lecturer for Stanford Travel/Study and the Smithsonian Institution. I live in Menlo Park with my wife and our many and beloved cats."