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The early years

UN Peacekeeping was born at a time when Cold War rivalries frequently paralyzed the Security Council.

Peacekeeping was primarily limited to maintaining ceasefires and stabilizing situations on the ground, providing crucial support for political efforts to resolve conflict by peaceful means. 

Peacekeepers walking in single file down a sand dune.


UNEF Yugoslav troops on patrol duty in 1957.

Those missions consisted of unarmed military observers and lightly armed troops with primarily monitoring, reporting and confidence-building roles. 

The first two peacekeeping operations deployed by the UN were the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Both of these missions, which continue operating to this day, exemplified the observation and monitoring type of operation and had authorized strengths in the low hundreds. The UN military observers were unarmed.

The earliest armed peacekeeping operation was the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) deployed successfully in 1956 to address the Suez Crisis.

The UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC), launched in 1960, was the first large-scale mission having nearly 20,000 military personnel at its peak. ONUC demonstrated the risks involved in trying to bring stability to war-torn regions - 250 UN personnel died while serving on that mission, including the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the UN established short-term missions in the Dominican Republic - Mission of the Representative of the Secretary-General in the Dominican Republic (DOMREP), West New Guinea (West Irian) - UN Security Force in West New Guinea( UNSF), and Yemen - UN Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM), and started longer term deployments in Cyprus - UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) and the Middle East - UN Emergency Force II (UNEF II), UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

In 1988, UN peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At that time, the Nobel Committee cited “the Peacekeeping Forces through their efforts have made important contributions towards the realization of one of the fundamental tenets of the United Nations. Thus, the world organization has come to play a more central part in world affairs and has been invested with increasing trust”.