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Peacekeeping: Not Much Danger, Success Or Cash
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February 8, 2013: It’s not that dangerous being a peacekeeper. The UN's peacekeeping army of 110,000-140,000 troops suffers less than a hundred combat deaths a year. More than ten times that number were wounded, injured in accidents, or disabled by disease. The peacekeeper combat fatalities come out to 90-110 per 100,000 troops per year. In Afghanistan foreign troops lost about 350-450 in the last year. At the peak of the fighting (2005-7) in Iraq, the losses were 500-600 per 100,000. The rate for U.S. troops in Vietnam and World War II was about 1,500 per 100,000 troops. So the UN peacekeepers are often seeing some considerable violence but at less than a third of the rate of troops in actual wars. Most of the peacekeepers have come from South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal). Pakistan has been one of the most frequent contributors, sending 144,711 troops to 41 UN peacekeeping operations in 23 countries over the last half century. They suffered a death rate of 92 per 100,000. That’s lower than usual for peacekeepers, in large part because the South Asian troops tend to be among the best trained and most professional in the UN force.

The UN is having trouble getting more troops for peacekeeping duty. While the casualties have something to do with this, corruption and lack of success are more often discouraging countries from contributing. The corruption angle is interesting, as it pertains both to the corruption within the UN bureaucracy and the corrupt atmosphere the peacekeepers operate in and often succumb to. Casualties are expected but the contributing countries feel a lot of their troop losses are the result of restrictive UN rules that limit what peacekeepers can do. This, in turn, is believed most responsible for a lack of success for the peacekeeping missions.

India and Pakistan are not happy with the lack of volunteers from other major nations. The chief reasons for that are the same ones annoying the current peacekeepers (corruption and restrictive rules of engagement). In addition, the major military powers (with the exception of China and Russia) feel they already contribute quite a lot in the form of money to pay the peacekeepers. And the contributors are also upset at the lack of results.

Over the last decade the UN has spent $7-10 billion a year on 13-20 peacekeeping operations supported each year. This pays for the peacekeepers and a smaller support staff. It's actually a pretty cheap way of keeping some conflicts under control. The causes of the unrest may not be resolved by peacekeepers but at least the problem is contained and doesn't bother the rest of the world too much. This is an increasingly unpopular approach to peacekeeping, except in the UN bureaucracy. Many UN members would rather send peacekeepers to where they are not wanted (by the government, usually a bad one that is often the cause of the trouble in the first place).

Most of the money is going to a few large peacekeeping operations. Three of the largest get over half the cash and for over a decade this has been Congo, Darfur (western Sudan), and southern Sudan. Africa has the largest number of "failed states" on the planet and, as such, is most in need of outside security assistance. The Middle East is also a source of much unrest. But there the problem isn't a lack of government, just bad government. Most Middle Eastern nations are run by tyrants, who have created police states that at least keep anarchy at bay and peacekeepers out.

To further complicate matters, religion has become a touchy subject. While Islamic radicalism is more of a problem to fellow Moslems than it is to infidels (non-Moslems), most Middle Eastern governments avoid blaming Islam for these problems. Since it's increasing difficult to pin the blame on "colonialism" or "crusaders," the Middle Eastern nations encourage other UN members to just stay away from the religious angle altogether. This has made it difficult to deal with peacekeeping issues in Moslem nations, since religion usually plays a part in creating the problem. To the UN, this is just another diplomatic problem to be dealt with, although not very well.

But overall the troops and money that keep all the peacekeeping going are in danger of fading away. Frantic diplomacy is underway by the UN to try and makes things all better, but success is not assured and every year there’s the same drama as cash shortages threaten to shut down many peacekeeping operations.

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