UN peacekeeping; vital but tarnished tool

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — One of the UN’s most vital, unsung, but necessary operations concerns its global peacekeeping missions. For more than sixty years, the UN “Blue helmets” have seen service from the Sinai to Cyprus and the Congo. In 1988, UN Peacekeeping won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But in recent years many missions have become unwieldy and mismanaged. Worse still, some soldiers have been accused of widespread crimes of sexual abuse.

Tragically despite providing often yeoman service in separating warring parties in global trouble spots, some missions have witnessed a disturbing and entrenched culture of abuse.

UN Peacekeeping mission in the Eastern Congo.
UN Peacekeeping mission in the Eastern Congo.

Speaking at a Security Council meeting concerning Peacekeeping, Canada’s delegate Marc-Andre Blanchard stated, “The success of peacekeeping operations depends on the credibility, integrity and reputation of the UN in the eyes of the local population.”

Canada supports the UN’s Zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse among peacekeepers. Amb. Blanchard added that, “While the Secretary-General has been unequivocal in his message that sexual exploitation and business is unacceptable, this message has not yet translated into concrete efforts across all UN operations.”

U.S. UN Amb. Nikki Haley stressed, “Peacekeeping is based on trust between the protected and the protectors.” She called for “objective standards of performance and accountability,” adding, “We need to create a culture of performance in UN peacekeeping.”

Though the current peacekeeping budget exceeds $7 billion, already last year, Amb. Haley stressed benchmarks and cost cutting. As the Trump Administration stressed cost cutting. Nikki Haley trimmed more than $500 million from the peacekeeping budget without significantly altering operations.

The United States is currently assessed for 22 percent of the regular UN budget; separately Washington pays 28 percent of the Peacekeeping budget or about $2 billion annually. China now pays 10 percent and is the second largest contributor followed by Japan.

Missions are authorized by the fifteen-member Security Council, but since the UN does not have a permanent military, it depends on volunteer troop contributions by its member states. Ethiopia is currently the largest troop donor with 8,300 troops followed by Bangladesh with 7,000.

While it’s been a tradition that the five permanent members of the Security Council don’t engage heavily in sending troops to various operations, Britain and France have deployed limited numbers. The USA and Russia send few troops. China is increasingly more involved in operations; from a handful of deployed troops a decade ago, China currently deploys 2,500 troops serving in 6 separate operations including Darfur, South Sudan and Lebanon.

Currently 100,000 multinational peacekeepers serve among fourteen missions. The largest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has deployed 18,000 soldiers from more than a dozen countries including Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Other countries like Canada who once played a strong and vibrant role in the Blue Helmets now have significantly downsized operations. Currently, only 178 Canadians serve as Blue helmets.

Significantly close cooperation between the UN and the African Union countries have seen widespread troop assistance from African states to missions such as Darfur and Mali.

Smaller operations in the field since 1964 include, UNFICYP on the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus where British, Argentine and Slovak troops serve along the “Green line” separating the Greek and Turkish communities.

Sudan’s disputed Darfur region has been covered by UNAMID for over a decade with a current troop structure of 14,000. But as is typical in many such operations, there are additionally 27 different UN entities on the ground which needs complex coordination. The Darfur mission is being downsized.

Does peacekeeping solve the problem or stop the clock on a crisis?

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) currently deploys 11,000 personnel. I recall one of my first UN stories involved covering UNIFIL’s establishment in 1978. It was slated to be an “interim force” or a transitional one. It’s still there now forty years later!

Lurking danger is ever present; UNIFIL has seen 313 fatalities since its establishment while Darfur’s UNAMID has suffered 266 killed.

Though the UN has maintained a mission on the Syrian Golan Heights since 1974, there’s no formal operation in Syria itself. But what of looming future operations in war torn Yemen or Libya?

Viewing the wider picture, the European Union’s Amb. Joao Vale de Almeida intoned, “Peacekeeping operations continue to be a vital instrument in advancing peace and security in the world, as our environment is getting more and more complex and challenging.”

As Nikki Haley concluded, “So many vulnerable people in the world are depending on us. They’re giving us their trust. We owe them our protection.” And America’s continued engagement.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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