Peacekeeping: November 17, 2004

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Because of one man, the UN is running out of peacekeepers. Deposed president of Liberia, John Taylor, had a hand in stirring up unrest in Liberia, Sierra Leone and adjacent areas. Half the UNs peacekeepers are now involved dealing with the aftereffects of Taylors handiwork. Taylor himself cut a deal allowing him to retire to exile in Nigeria. Overall, Africa is currently using 75 percent of the UNs 62,000 peacekeepers. It costs the UN $63,000 a year for each peacekeeper. Most of that money goes for transport, housing and support, with about a quarter of the cash going to the individual peacekeepers. That low level of pay is not enough to attract better equipped and trained troops from industrialized nations. So most of the peacekeepers are from poor nations, who actually make a few bucks by sending some of their troops off to work for the UN.

Because the quality of leadership, training, and equipment varies so much from country to country, the UN tries to maintain some minimal standards. The UN prefers to deal with troops who have some peacekeeping experience, and did not disgrace themselves the last time they were on a mission. At the same time, the UN does not want to embarrass a nation by refusing to accept an offer of troops. This means there is often a lot negotiation, as well as remedial training and new equipment provided, before a nation is allowed to send off its first battalion of peacekeepers.

Peacekeeping is not as dangerous as an actual war, but peacekeeper contingents can lose up to ten percent of their strength to combat (dead and wounded) and disease (dead and disabled.) Nations also tend to be choosy about where they will send their troops. Sudan is proving a hard sell, so the UN has convinced the local African Union to assemble a force. The UN wanted no part of Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq, leaving NATO to take care of the first two, and an American led coalition the third.

 


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