Peacekeeping: Curing The Cure That Failed


August 31, 2015: The UN is rethinking its approach to peacekeeping operations. What was once a small force, which mainly monitored areas where peace had been worked out, the UN now finds itself with a lot more peacekeepers and many of them under fire. After the Cold War ended in 1991 the changes began. After 2000 the UN peacekeeper force expanded from 20,000 to over 120,000. This was complicated by the growing use of Islamic terrorism against UN personnel. That meant it had become more dangerous to be a peacekeeper. Despite the increasing Islamic terror attacks the UN's peacekeeping army suffers less than a hundred combat deaths a year. More than ten times that number are 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 2012. 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 contemporary wars and much less than in 20th century conflicts. Still, it’s a lot more violent than Cold War era peacekeeping.

But it’s not the casualties that are causing the biggest problem but the increase in deliberate attacks and, to put it bluntly, the use of terror against the peacekeepers. This has made more countries reluctant to supply peacekeepers, especially Moslem countries, whose troops are accused of being heretics (and not just “enemies of Islam”) by Islamic terrorists and their many supporters among the Moslem population under peacekeeper protection. Most of the peacekeepers have come from South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal) and most of these are Moslem. Pakistan has been one of the most frequent contributors, sending nearly 150,000 troops to over forty UN peacekeeping operations in 23 countries over the last half century. The Pakistani troops suffered a death rate of 92 per 100,000 but it could have been worse were not the South Asian troops among the best trained and most professional in the UN force.

It’s not just the growing terrorism that is causing difficulty in 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. Then there is the criticism of how the UN manages these missions. 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.

In addition 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. A growing number of UN members, including many who contribute little money and no personnel for peacekeeping are coming to realize that the original goals (keeping the peace) are often not met and the peacekeepers will never turn into a military organization that will be able to impose peace. While the UN likes to condemn (bad behavior) and demand that people behave, most member states do not support trying to create a UN police force with real enforcement capabilities. None of the major world powers supports this either. So there is growing pressure to look for other ways to deal with seeming endless supply of new hotspots needing to be cooled down, much less all the older ones that are still smoldering. 

Over the last decade the UN has spent $7-10 billion a year on 13-20 peacekeeping operations supported each year. Most of the money comes from the West but a lot of it comes from wealthy (usually because of oil) Moslem nations. To Islamic terrorists that makes the peacekeepers lackeys of the non-Moslem West and Arab “enemies of Islam”. The money pays for the peacekeepers and a smaller support staff. It's actually a pretty cheap way of keeping some conflicts under control or at least out of the headlines. 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 and now even the UN bureaucracy is being forced to consider changes. Fewer UN members back the policy of sending peacekeepers to where they are not wanted (by the local government, usually a bad one that is often the cause of the trouble in the first place) and use some UN approved violence to go after the people responsible for the local mess and end the seemingly endless violence in some areas. This sort of thing seems fine in theory but does not always work in practice.

Meanwhile 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.

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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