After the end of the Cold War and at the turn of the 21st Century, the international community had successfully ended significant global armed conflicts and reduced the numbers of deaths from organised violence. But as the Global Peace Index results show, peacefulness has declined in many parts of the world since then.
Peace operations are considered part of the United Nation’s (UN) broader efforts to build and sustain peace around the world. Multidimensional peace operations fulfil a range of tasks, such as protecting civilians and human rights, disarming and de-mobilising combatants, and restoring the rule of law.
While the number of active missions has hovered around 20 for the past 25 years, the number of deployed personnel has doubled. At the beginning of 1993, there were roughly 50,000 deployed personnel, compared to 100,000 active peacekeepers in February 2017.
The increase implies a promising prospect: the international community is more willing and able than ever before to respond to conflict.
However, an increase in the resources devoted to violence containment should not be equated with a more peaceful world. Peacekeepers increasingly find themselves operating in armed conflict contexts, rather than post-conflict environments.
Since the turn of the century, at least half of contributed peacekeepers have come from UN member states classed as low or lower-middle income earners.
By 2015, the proportion of peacekeepers from low or lower-middle income countries had reached 80 per cent.
Bangladesh provides the most blue helmets out of any troop and police contributing country.
There have been over 70 UN Peacekeeping operations since the first deployment in 1948. More than 50 of these commenced in the last 25 years.
On average UN Peacekeeping mission lasts 31 months. Six missions have continued for longer than 26 missions, including:
Contemporary peace operations reflect the diverse roles peacekeepers play. The United Nations Mission in Colombia (2016 – 2017) reflected the traditional role of peacekeepers. The mission of unarmed international observers were tasked with monitoring and verifying the disarmament and ceasefire agreement signed in the 2016 peace process.
On the other hand, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia, which also had its first deployment in 2016, will support the active UN and African Union missions in Somalia with activities ranging from providing medical care to coordinating logistics.
The trend of peacekeeper deployments to countries with an active armed conflict has been increasing since the turn of the century.
In 2015, just over half of the 100,000 active peacekeepers were deployed in a country with an active armed conflict, such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2014, the UN Secretary-General commissioned a High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations for a comprehensive review of how UN peace operations can be “more effective, efficient and responsive in a changing world.” The review underscored that political solutions to armed conflict are critical to peacekeeping, as peacekeepers are increasingly deployed to places where “there is no peace to keep.”
Non-violence is at the core of the UN Peacekeeping’s mission. One of the three main principles of the United Nations Peacekeeping missions is the non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mission’s mandate. Since 1948, 3,844 fatalities of UN Peacekeepers have been recorded.
Fortunately, the rates of attacks on peacekeepers has fallen in the last 25 years, from 1.6 deaths per 1,000 people deployed in 1993, to less than 0.4 since the turn of the century.
Regionally, the majority of peacekeepers have been deployed to sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa since the early 1990s. In 2016, 94 per cent of peacekeeping personnel were deployed to these two regions.
This article was originally published in February 2019, and has been updated to reflect new UN figures.