United Nations military personnel are the Blue Helmets on the ground. Today, they consist of over 90,000 military personnel contributed by national armies from across the globe.
Military personnel are the backbone and the most visible component of a peacekeeping operation.
UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti
Uruguayan peacekeepers serving with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) patrol the town of Pinga, in North Kivu Province.
We work alongside UN Police and civilian colleagues to promote stability, security, and peace processes; we protect personnel and property; we work with the local community, the local military personnel, and other military entities in the area to promote lasting peace.
In many missions, protection of civilians is at the heart of our mandate. Blue Helmets are protecting populations against threats and contributing to a secure environment.
Global contribution for global peace
All military personnel working under the Blue Helmet are first and foremost members of their own national armies and are then seconded to work under the command and control of the UN.
We have more than 100,000 UN uniformed personnel coming from over 120 countries. They come from nations large and small, rich and poor. They bring different cultures and experience to the job, but they are united in their determination to foster peace. Currently the majority of troops come from African and Asian countries, while the contribution of western countries is increasing.
What UN military personnel do
The UN has been deploying military personnel for service in peace operations since 1948 when the Security Council authorized the deployment of UN military observers to the Middle East to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
UN military personnel can be called upon to:
- Protect civilians and UN personnel;
- Monitor a disputed border;
- Monitor and observe peace processes in post-conflict areas
- Provide security across a conflict zone;
- Assist in-country military personnel with training and support
- Assist ex-combatants in implementing the peace agreements; they may have signed.
One of the biggest changes UN Peacekeeping has seen over the 70 years of its existence has been the increasingly multi-dimensional nature of UN peacekeeping operations. UN military peacekeepers are often deployed in inhospitable, remote and dangerous environments where they face an unprecedented scale of challenges especially when protecting civilians, under asymmetric threats. Read more about how UN Peacekeeping is evolving to handle these modern day challenges here.
Blue Helmets Performance Standards
To implement their mandated tasks, our troops need to prepare adequately, starting sometimes far before deployment. This preparation covers every aspect of UN Peacekeeping such as equipment and training in amongst others Protection of Civilians, the use of force and the rules of engagement. Also conduct and discipline is a very important training item.
- Policies on readiness, performance, command and control.
- Protection of Civilians (POC) Implementing Guidelines for military component in peacekeeping missions (February 2015) provide clear objective for military component when it comes to POC.
- Rules of Engagement: This document provides authority for the use of force and explains policy, principles, procedures and responsibilities relating to the use of force. For each mission, specific rules of engagement are drafted.
- Our troops in the field are required to implement their mandate with utmost professionalism, dedication and dignity, often at significant personal sacrifice. Unfortunately, Blue Helmets have been accused of acts of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse. These reprehensible acts are an affront to the values of protection that UN Peacekeeping upholds. All acts of misconduct are unacceptable and forbidden. Click here for the UN Code of Conduct.
The United Nations Office of Military Affairs seeks highly qualified military officers from UN Member States for service in our peace missions around the world, either as individual Staff Officers, as Military Observers, or as part of a formed unit from an individual Troop-Contributing Country. By the end of September 2016, 4% of UN military personnel were female. A top priority for UN Peacekeeping is to increase the number of female military personnel in peacekeeping operations.
Blue Helmets as members of their own national armies are seconded to work with the UN for periods normally of up to one year in the field, or two or three years in the UN headquarters. Any queries about working for the UN in a military capacity should be addressed within an applicant's own country first.
What kind of Blue Helmets are needed?
The most common sort of UN peacekeeper is the infantry soldier. However, increasingly we need specialized personnel who we refer to as ‘enablers’. These skilled soldiers include engineers, who for example were able to help with the post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti, or the building of new roads in South Sudan. We also need helicopters and their crews, as they enable us to extend our area of influence and be much more visible. Other specialist enablers include transport companies, communicators and medical personnel.
Modern peacekeeping operations are often very complex, and place high demands on the personnel we deploy. High levels of training are required before deployment, and the UN works closely with Troop-Contributing Countries to provide the best help and advice possible. Troops must know what to do if they find themselves in an ambush, for example, and must be capable of responding appropriately, even robustly, if necessary.
Why does the UN not have a standing reserve?
It takes considerable time to deploy troops and we are often asked why we do not have a standing reserve.
The UN can only deploy military personnel when there is a UN Security Council resolution authorizing them to do so. The Security Council will say how many military personnel are required, and then UN Headquarters will liaise with the Member States to identify personnel and deploy them. This can take time – perhaps more than six months from the date of the resolution.
As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, the UN is “the only fire brigade in the world that has to wait for the fire to break out before it can acquire a fire engine.” A standing reserve sounds logical, but it would be immensely costly to have a force of several thousand people on permanent standby. It would require training, accommodating, feeding, etc. and then might not even be used. Although it takes time, it is much more practical to generate the military personnel once the go-ahead has been given. This also ensures we recruit personnel with the appropriate background, training and language skills.
As the UN has no army of its own, member states make troops available. To support the timely generation of troops that meet the requirements, the UN uses amongst others the Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System.
Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System
The UN Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System (PCRS) aims to establish a more predictable and dynamic process of interaction between the UN Headquarters and Member States for strengthening readiness and timely deployment of peacekeeping capabilities with the right quality.
There are four levels of readiness in PCRS:
- Level 1: A Troop Contributing Country makes a formal pledge for a unit and provides the list of major and self-sustainment equipment and certification of completion of basic training and human rights screening. Member States are encouraged to include the time frame of availability and duration of deployment for each pledged capability.
- Level 2: Based on the UN operational requirements, pledges at Level 1 can be elevated to Level 2 after an assessment and advisory visit has been conducted by a UN Headquarters team.
- Level 3: Following a satisfactory assessment, units which have achieved a reasonable degree of preparedness are elevated to Level 3.
- Rapid Deployment Level (RDL): Having reached Level 3, the Troop Contributing Country may pledge to deploy within 30/60/90 days following a request made by the UN Headquarters.