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Peacekeeping is a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace. UN peacekeepers—soldiers and military officers, civilian police officers and civilian personnel from many countries—monitor and observe peace processes that emerge in post-conflict situations and assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements they 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. All operations must include the resolution of conflicts through the use of force to be considered valid under the charter of the United Nations.
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. Most of these operations are established and implemented by the United Nations itself with troops serving under UN operational command. In other cases, where direct UN involvement is not considered appropriate or feasible, the Council authorizes regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Economic Community of West African States or coalitions of willing countries to implement certain peacekeeping or peace enforcement functions. In modern times, peacekeeping operations have evolved into many different functions, including diplomatic relations with other countries, international bodies of justice (such as the International Criminal Court), and eliminating problems such as landmines that can lead to new incidents of fighting.
The UN peacekeepers have a distinctive bright blue colored helmets or berets, and are often colloquially referred to as the blue helmets.
In 1957, Canadian diplomat Lester Bowles Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through the United Nations. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force was Pearson's creation, and he is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping.
United Nations peacekeeping 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, UN 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.
As of October 2004, there have been 59 peacekeeping operations since 1948, with sixteen operations ongoing.
UN peacekeeping is highly cost-effective. The UN spends less per year on peacekeeping worldwide than the City of New York spends on the annual budgets of its fire and police departments. UN peacekeeping cost about US$2.6 billion in 2002. In the same year, governments worldwide spent more than $794 billion on arms— a figure that represents 2.5 per cent of world gross domestic product and shows no sign of decreasing.
In 1993, annual UN peacekeeping costs 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.
The approved peacekeeping budget for the year 2004-2005 is $2.80 billion. However, with the additional requirements of the new and recently expanded missions, as well as the possibility of a new mission in Sudan, that amount could grow by a further $2.38 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 United Nations 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 June 2004, 97 countries were contributing a total of more than 56,000 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 June 2004 were Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uruguay, Jordan and Kenya. About 10 per cent of the troops and civilian police deployed in UN peacekeeping missions come from the European Union and one per cent from the United States.
The largest contributers were from Pakistan (8,652), Bangladesh (8,211) and Nigeria (3,577). The biggest contributer from a western country is Poland with 739 peacekeepers, in 19th place. The USA ranks 26th with 430 peacekeepers. The EU combined have 4,532 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.
A total of almost 2000 soldiers, hailing from over 100 countries, have been killed while serving on peacekeeping missions. 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. Soldiers from these countries look far less threatening to a nation than ones from the United States or Russia would. 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.
As of June 30, 2001, there were 797 US personnel (1 troop, 756 civilian police, and 40 observers) in worldwide UN peace operations, accounting for 1.8% of 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 United States 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, however, pays 27% of the UN peackeeping budget, down slightly from 30% before 2000. This amounted to $844 million in 2002.
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, and the Netherlands have especially been attacked for being major arms suppliers while at the same time pursuing peacekeeping, often in the same areas as they are selling weapons.
The United States has complained bitterly about the ineffectiveness of UN peacekeeping but then threatened to shut down all such operations if immunity was not given in the International Criminal Court for US soldiers.
Harm to troops
Peacekeeping has also been viewed as a threat to the participating militaries. It has been worried that many peacekeeping operations will erode the combat ability of troops and make it harder for them to fight a real war. Peacekeeping has also been found to be extremely stressful, and there are higher rates of mental problems, suicide, and substance abuse among former peacekeepers than the general population. UN peacekeepers have also suffered a high level of deaths from violence against them. However, the world's most experienced peacekeeper, Canada, feels that peacekeeping does not do excessive harm to its troops. Even though Canada has lost more soldiers in peacekeeping operations than any other nation (107 of the 1,450 peacekeepers killed so far have been Canadian), it feels that the cost is acceptable in order to maintain a more peaceful world. The Canadian Forces' experience in peacekeeping operations has proved invaluable when the troops have been called out to aid the civil powers in domestic situations as in the Oka crisis. Deployment fatigue remains a possible risk. Prior to the end of the Cold War, no more than six missions were authorized in any one decade. In the 1990s, over 30 deployments were authorized.
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 to create a permanent solution. They can only stabilize a situation to give the politicians and diplomats the opportunity to establish a permanent peace.
Internal problems with UN peacekeeping operations have been isolated by the media, as was the case in the Congo, where UN peacekeepers were confirmed to have committed crimes of sexual abuse and dehumanization toward victims and other civilians in the surrounding area. Another prime example of UN failure was the continued genocide in Rwanda, where the United Nations was unable to garner international support for aid to the country, where millions of deaths resulted. The recent Oil-for-Food scandal further proves structual faults in UN initiatives. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently confirmed these issues with peacekeeping missions and vowed to reform the way the United Nations conducts and performs global peacekeeping missions with several key initiatives:
Peacekeeping Analysis and Documentation
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.
Many UN administrators have come to grips that the ad-hoc style of peacekeeping operations inevitably fails because of deployment and mandate delay when global crises occur. One popular suggestion to account for these delays is a rapid reaction force: a standing army under United Nations control that receives its troops and support for current Secuirty Council members to be trained and based in the event of future Rwandan-style genocides.
- Timeline of UN peacekeeping missions
- military operations other than war
- Multinational Force and Observers
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