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Norwegian Peacekeeper during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1992 - 1993, photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.

Peacekeeping, as defined by the United Nations, is "a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace."[1]. Peacekeepers monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements they may have signed. Such assistance comes in many forms, including confidence-building measures, power-sharing arrangements, electoral support, strengthening the rule of law, and economic and social development. Accordingly UN peacekeepers (often referred to as Blue Helmets because of their light blue helmets) can include soldiers, civilian police officers, and other civilian personnel.

The Charter of the United Nations gives the UN Security Council the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security. For this reason, the international community usually looks to the Security Council to authorize peacekeeping operations, and all UN Peacekeeping missions must be authorized by the Security Council.

Most of these operations are established and implemented by the United Nations itself with troops serving under UN operational command. In these cases, peacekeepers remain members of their respective armed forces, and do not constitute an independent "UN army," as the UN does not have such a force. In cases where direct UN involvement is not considered appropriate or feasible, the Council authorizes regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Economic Community of West African States, or coalitions of willing countries to undertake peacekeeping or peace-enforcement tasks.

The United Nations is not the only organization to have authorized peacekeeping missions, although some would argue it is the only group legally allowed to do so. Non-UN peacekeeping forces include the NATO mission in Kosovo and the Multinational Force and Observers on the Sinai Peninsula.


A French Panhard AML used in Yugoslavia

In 1957, Canadian diplomat (and future Prime Minister) Lester Bowles Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through the UN. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force was Pearson's creation, and he is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping. Issues arose, however, with the inclusion of Canadian soldiers as part of the force because Nasser was suspiscious of being protected from British forces by peacekeepers flying the then-Canadian flag, the Canadian Red Ensign (which had the British Union Jack in its corner). In the end, blue helmets were chosen to reflect the multinational nature of the forces, but this event strengthened Pearson's hand when as Canadian Prime Minister he sought to introduce a new uniquely Canadian flag.

UN peacekeeping was initially developed during the Cold War era as a means to resolve conflicts between states by deploying unarmed or lightly armed military personnel from a number of countries, under UN command, between the armed forces of the former warring parties. Peacekeepers could be called in when the major international powers tasked the UN with bringing closure to conflicts threatening regional stability and international peace and security, including a number of so-called “proxy wars” waged by client states of the superpowers.

Peacekeepers were not expected to fight fire with fire. As a general rule, they were deployed when the ceasefire was in place and the parties to the conflict had given their consent. UN troops observed from the ground and reported impartially on adherence to the ceasefire, troop withdrawal or other elements of the peace agreement. This gave time and breathing space for diplomatic efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict.

The end of the Cold War precipitated a dramatic shift in UN and multilateral peacekeeping. In a new spirit of cooperation, the Security Council established larger and more complex UN peacekeeping missions, often to help implement comprehensive peace agreements between protagonists in intra-State conflicts. Furthermore, peacekeeping came to involve more and more non-military elements to ensure sustainability. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations was created in 1992 to support this increased demand for complex peacekeeping.

By and large, the new operations were successful. In El Salvador and Mozambique, for example, peacekeeping provided ways to achieve self-sustaining peace. Some efforts failed, perhaps as the result of an overly optimistic assessment of what UN peacekeeping could accomplish. While complex missions in Cambodia and Mozambique were ongoing, the Security Council dispatched peacekeepers to conflict zones like Somalia, where neither ceasefires nor the consent of all the parties in conflict had been secured. These operations did not have the manpower, nor were they supported by the political will, to implement their mandates. The failures—most notably the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda—led to a period of retrenchment and self-examination in UN peacekeeping.

In 1981 an agreement between Israel and Egypt formed the Multinational Force and Observers which continues to monitor the Sinai Peninsula.

In 1987 an Indian peacekeeping force, IPKF, entered Sri Lanka to help maintain peace. With similar results to the US mission in Vietnam, India was forced to withdraw in 1990. However, the reasons for withdrawal were different in that the IPKF was asked to leave the by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister who signed a peace accord with the LTTE.

In 1988 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations peacekeeping forces. From the press release: The Peacekeeping Forces of the United Nations have, under extremely difficult conditions, contributed to reducing tensions where an armistice has been negotiated but a peace treaty has yet to be established. In situations of this kind, the UN forces represent the manifest will of the community of nations to achieve peace through negotiations, and the forces have, by their presence, made a decisive contribution towards the initiation of actual peace negotiations.

On 20th December 1995 under a UN mandate, a NATO-led force (IFOR) entered Bosnia in order to implement The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a similar manner, a NATO operation (KFOR) continues in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

As of October 2004, there have been 59 UN peacekeeping operations since 1948, with sixteen operations ongoing.


Peacekeeping costs, especially since the end of the Cold War, have risen dramatically. In 1993, annual UN peacekeeping costs had peaked at some $3.6 billion, reflecting the expense of operations in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia. By 1998, costs had dropped to just under $1 billion. With the resurgence of larger-scale operations, costs for UN peacekeeping rose to $3 billion in 2001. In 2004, the approved budget was $2.8 billion, although the total amount was higher than that. For the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2006, UN peacekeeping costs were about US$5.03 billion.

All member states are legally obliged to pay their share of peacekeeping costs under a complex formula that they themselves have established. Despite this legal obligation, member states owed approximately $1.20 billion in current and back peacekeeping dues as of June 2004.


The UN Charter stipulates that to assist in maintaining peace and security around the world, all member states of the UN should make available to the Security Council necessary armed forces and facilities. Since 1948, close to 130 nations have contributed military and civilian police personnel to peace operations. While detailed records of all personnel who have served in peacekeeping missions since 1948 are not available, it is estimated that up to one million soldiers, police officers and civilians have served under the UN flag in the last 56 years. As of November 2005, 107 countries were contributing a total of more than 70,000 uniformed personnel—the highest number since 1995.

Despite the large number of contributors, the greatest burden continues to be borne by a core group of developing countries. The 10 main troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping operations as of Februrary 2006[2] were Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Uruguay, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. About 4.5 per cent of the troops and civilian police deployed in UN peacekeeping missions come from the European Union and less than one per cent from the United States (USA).

The largest contributors were from Bangladesh (10,172), Pakistan (9,630) and India (8,996). The biggest contributor from a western country is Poland with 707 peacekeepers, in 21st place. The USA ranks 31st with 393 peacekeepers. The EU combined have 4,421 peacekeepers.

The head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Under-Secretary- General Jean-Marie Guéhenno, has reminded Member States that “the provision of well-equipped,well-trained and disciplined military and police personnel to UN peacekeeping operations is a collective responsibility of Member States. Countries from the South should not and must not be expected to shoulder this burden alone”.

As of May 2004, in addition to military and police personnel, more than 3,400 international civilian personnel, 1,500 UN Volunteers and nearly 6,500 local civilian personnel worked in UN peacekeeping missions.

Until the end of 2005, 2,226 people from over 100 countries have been killed while serving on peacekeeping missions, 1,789 of them being soldiers. Many of those came from India (115), Canada (113) and Ghana (108). 30% of the fatalities in the first 55 years of UN peacekeeping occurred in the years 1993-1995.

That it is mostly developing nations that participate in peacekeeping is largely explained by the fact that such countries more readily appear neutral in conflict situations. Forces from these countries appear less threatening to a nation than ones from the United States or Russia would. For example, in December of 2005, Eritrea expelled all American, Russian, European, and Canadian personnel from the peacekeeping mission on their border with Ethopia. There is also an economic incentive, as countries are reimbursed by the UN at the rate of US$1000 per soldier per month, plus equipment, which can be a significant source of revenue for a developing country.

US Participation in UN peacekeeping operations

Facing increasing demands on peacekeeping resources, the UN and member nations had to make difficult choices. In 1994 the US government responded to the challenges posed by the growing number and complexity of UN peacekeeping operations by implementing a policy framework suited to the new environment. The new policy involved seven major areas of reform:

  • Improving how the US decides which peace operations to support and whether US troops should take part;
  • Reducing both US and overall costs for UN peace operations;
  • Reaffirming long-standing US policy on command and control of American military forces in UN operations;
  • Reforming UN management of those operations;
  • Improving the manner by which the US funds and manages peace operations;
  • Improving the standard of consultations between the US executive branch and Congress on peace operations; and
  • Establishing distance education programs in countries with current UN peacekeeping operations to reduce likelihood of conflict.

The United States provided 26% of the UN peacekeeping budget in 2006.[1] As of February, 2006, there were 372 US personnel (8 troops, 347 civilian police, and 17 observers)[2] in worldwide UN peace operations, accounting for 0.5% of the total UN peacekeepers. As commander-in-chief, the President of the United States never gives up command authority over US troops. When large numbers of US troops are involved and when the risk of combat is high, operational control of US forces will remain in American hands, or in the hands of a trusted military ally such as a NATO member—though the US Department of State insists that the US must "allow temporary foreign operational control of US troops when it serves US interests."

The lack of US involvement in UN peacekeeping operations has drawn criticism from other member states. The paltry investment of personnel in UN peacekeeping operations is attributed to "the Mogadishu factor"—a deep reluctance by US administrations to incur casualties in military operations which do not serve US strategic interests.

The US also deploys units, not under UN control, alongside UN peacekeepers in the Balkans, East Timor, and the Sinai.


Issues with Peacekeeping


Some peacekeeping powers have been accused of being hypocritical and pursuing peacekeeping for their own goals of increasing their international power and prestige. Countries such as Sweden, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands have especially been criticized for being major arms suppliers while at the same time pursuing peacekeeping, often in the same areas as they are selling weapons.

The US government has complained about the ineffectiveness of UN peacekeeping and threatened to shut down all such operations if immunity was not given in the International Criminal Court for US soldiers.


Some critics have argued that peacekeeping is a return to the paternalistic ideals of colonialism's "white man's burden", citing the UN Charter's call for a global village and adoption of notions employed by the west as tactics to justify intervention throughout the globe for the purpose of "keeping the peace". Authors such as Jayan Nayar argue that the UN's global vision is primarily responsible for colonial violence throughout the globe.

Potential for harm to troops

Peacekeeping has been viewed by critics as potentially very harmful to individual military participants. Those critics have expressed their concerns that participation in peacekeeping operations will erode the combat ability of troops, and thus make it more difficult for military personnel to fight effectively in an all-out war.

Peacekeeping can be extremely stressful. There are higher rates of mental health problems, suicide, and substance abuse among former peacekeepers than among the general population. UN peacekeepers in the field have also suffered from attacks on humanitarian workers.

However, the world's most experienced peacekeeper, Canada, has asserted the costs of peacekeeping are worthwhile. Even though Canada has lost more soldiers in peacekeeping operations than any other nation (107 Canadian fatalities of the 1,450 killed on UN peacekeeping missions) most Canadians believe the high cost is justified in order to create a more peaceful world. As well, experience gained in peacekeeping operations has been invaluable to the Canadian Forces when Canadian troops were called out in domestic situations; for one example, during the Oka Crisis.

Long-term problems

Some have criticized peacekeeping for leaving conflicts unresolved. Peacekeeping can have the effect of maintaining an unstable status quo that will inevitably collapse in the long run.

However, it is not the job of peacekeepers as presently defined to create a permanent solution. The goal is to stabilize a situation so as to give the politicians and diplomats the opportunity to establish a permanent peace. Relatively new to the UN's peace department are the Peace-building and Peacemaking factions. These have been developed to work in co-ordination with peacekeeping operations; while peacekeepers create a stable environment the peace-builders and peacemakers focus on longer-term, diplomatic aspects, helping to create the conditions for sustainable peace.

Cultural Barriers

Because UN Peacekeeping troops are contributed by varying nations, many have argued that there are cultural incompatibilities amongst peacekeeping troops, which must be overcome in order to effectively peacekeep. Additionally, when Navy and Air Force troops are integrated into peacekeeping forces, they must adapt to the largely ground-based atmosphere of peacekeeping operations. Military troops involved in peacekeeping operations must adapt to the more civilian lifestyle of peacekeeping operations, which are vastly different from the atmosphere of their military training.

Peacekeeping, human trafficking, and forced prostitution

Reporters witnessed a rapid increase in prostitution in Cambodia Bosnia and Kosovo after UN and NATO (in the case of Bosnia and Kosovo) peacekeeping forces moved in. There was one highly publicised case where members of the UN peacekeeping force were accused of direct involvement in procurement of sex slaves for a local brothel in Bosnia. Setting up such an institution in an economically deprived area is bound to involve a degree of forced prostitution, but the use of agents for procurement and management of brothels has allowed the military to believe itself shielded from the issue of sexual slavery and human trafficking. NATO forces have been linked to prostitution and forced prostitution in Bosnia and Kosovo and UN forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the sexual abuse of underage girls.

see: 'Nato force 'feeds Kosovo sex trade' - The Guardian, 'Bosnia: Sex Slave Recounts Her Ordeal - Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 'Conflict, Sexual Trafficking, and Peacekeeping

Military assault on Cite Soleil, Haiti

Before dawn 6 July 2005, more than 300 heavily-armed UN troops, assisted by Haitian National Police carried out a major military operation in Cite Soleil, Haiti -- a densely populated residential neighborhood -- one of the poorest communities in Port-au-Prince and a stronghold of support for Lavalas and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to accounts from community members and journalists, UN forces surrounded two neighborhoods within Cite Soleil, Boisneuf and Project Drouillard, sealing off alleys with tanks and troops, while two helicopters flew overhead. At 4:30 AM, UN forces began shooting into homes, a church, and a school using machine guns, tanks, 83-CC grenades and tear gas. Eyewitnesses reported that when people fled to escape the tear gas, UN troops shot them from behind. Despite these accusations, this and similar raids were responsible for the killing or capturing of gang leaders believed to be behind the violence in Haiti, as well as the liberation of kidnapped aid workers.

see: BBC, Reuters, and the story on Democracy Now!'s website

Peacekeeping Reform

Sexual abuse

Internal problems with UN peacekeeping operations have been reported by the media, as was the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where UN peacekeepers were confirmed to have committed crimes of sexual abuse and dehumanization toward victims and other civilians in the surrounding area.

Rapid Reaction

Many United Nations administrators believe that the ad-hoc style of peacekeeping operations inevitably fails because of deployment and mandate delay when global crises occur. For example, during the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations was unable to garner international support for aid to the country, and 800,000 people were slaughtered. One suggestion to account for these delays is a rapid reaction force: a standing group, administered by the UN and deployed by the UN Security Council, that receives its troops and support from current Security Council members and is ready for quick deployment in the event of future genocides.

Peacekeeping analysis

The UN has taken steps toward preventing old peacekeeping faults. The Brahimi Report was the first of many steps to recap former peacekeeping missions, isolate flaws, and take steps to patch these mistakes to ensure the efficiency of futures peacekeeping missions. The UN has vowed to continue to put these practices into effect when performing peacekeeping operations in the futures.

See also

External links


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Monthly Summary of Contribututors to UN Peacekeeping Operations". Retrieved 2006-03-26.

Category:United Nations Category:Peace

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