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 today as an enforcer of political stability in sub-Saharan Africa. We will trace the development of "classic" peacekeeping as it evolved during the Cold War, the rise and fall of so-called "second-generation" peacekeeping—also called "peace enforcement"—in the 1990s in Bosnia and Somalia; and the emergence more recently of a muscular form of peacekeeping in sub-Saharan Africa, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

You should come away with a firm grasp of the historical trajectory of U.N. peacekeeping methods and the evolving arguments of its proponents and critics over the years. More broadly, 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. A running theme of the course is the often contentious relationship between the United States and the United Nations, not least when it comes to conceptualizing, funding, and fielding peacekeeping operations.

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. 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. Each student will make a brief in-class presentation about a U.N. peacekeeping mission of their choice during the final weeks of the course. The main written requirement is a final paper (8 to 10 pages) based on the course readings.

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 to Europe 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."