United Nations Peace Operations: Year in Review 2004

I. Surge in peacekeeping

2004: Year of the surge in peacekeeping

The year 2004 witnessed an unprecedented surge in United Nations peacekeeping operations, widening prospects for ending conflicts and raising hopes for peace in war-torn countries. By the end of the year, the number and scope of these operations approached their highest levels ever.At the same time, these new demands placed huge new strains on United Nations resources, and prompted the Organization to take a critical look at its ability to plan and manage peacekeeping missions so that the UN can meet this challenging period with an effective response.

In addition to the 14 ongoing field operations the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was managing in early 2004, three new missions were established during the year, with more on the horizon. While the Organization was still deploying its largest peacekeeping operation in Liberia, the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) was launched in April, with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB) opening two months later. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) underwent a major restructuring and expansion, replacing Liberia as the largest peacekeeping operation and opening new headquarters in the volatile east of the country. Planning also continued for a mission in Sudan to deploy once a peace agreement was signed. DPKO also provided administrative and logistic support to the UN mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

The logistics needed to organize these missions has been daunting.The ability of the Member States to provide funds, troops and equipment has been severely strained. Jean- Marie Guéhenno, head of DPKO, said that the surge had pushed the UN system to the outer limits of its capacity. “For every person in the Peacekeeping Department at the New York headquarters,” he wrote in the International Herald Tribune, “there will be more than 100 in the field, creating major challenges in the areas of planning, force generation, logistics, procurement and command and control.”

The DPKO chief set out four principles that should guide decisions by the international community if peacekeeping is to succeed: avoiding UN engagement in hot wars; placing greater emphasis on partnerships; matching mandates with resources; and committing to see the job completed, that is, until peace takes root. In order to prevent the recurrence of conflicts, peacekeeping must be backed by long-term peacebuilding and development activities.

UN peacekeeping remains, for the most part, operationally effective, despite severe setbacks in the 1990s in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Shashi Tharoor, the USG of the UN’s Department of Public Information, wrote in Foreign Affairs that since the UN's Department of Public Information, wrote in Foreign Affairs that since the UN's "blue helmets" won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, they have brought peace and democracy to Namibia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique, and East Timor. They have also shared the burden of peacekeeping after violent events and regime changes in Haiti in the 1990s, and continued to serve as a key stabilizing factor in conflicts as diverse as the Golan Heights, Sierra Leone, Cyprus, Georgia,Western Sahara and Kosovo.

Arrival of 350 blue helmets of the Pakistani contingent at Bujumbura airport
Arrival of 350 blue helmets of the Pakistani contingent at Bujumbura airport, 14 September 2004, ONUB Photo by Martine Perret

Peacekeeping remains cost-effective. Even with the new demands of 2004, expenditures on UN peacekeeping operations were projected to be just under $4 billion. Secretary- General Kofi Annan has said that the $30 billion spent on peacekeeping operations over the history of the United Nations represented one thirtieth of the amount that was spent in 2003 alone on global military expenditures. UN peacekeeping provides for both burden and risk sharing and is ultimately much cheaper than unilateral action.The universality of the United Nations offers its peacekeepers a unique legitimacy and sends a strong political message that the international community is tangibly committed to resolving each crisis.

Out of almost 75,000 military, police and civilian personnel serving in 17 current operations, more than two-thirds are in Africa. Many of these are multidimensional operations, with robust mandates to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate ex-combatants into civilian life; provide security for vulnerable populations; reform the judicial and security sectors; monitor human rights violations and resettle refugees and internally displaced persons. These missions provide security assistance while working on humanitarian programmes, economic assistance, and they support complicated political processes and often elections.

The positive signal this surge in African peacekeeping has sent is that some of the continent’s seemingly intractable conflicts may be ending. Africans themselves are also becoming more active in finding solutions. The African Union has peacekeepers in Burundi and has sent military observers to the Darfur region of Sudan. The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) participated in peace efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and more recently in Côte d’Ivoire.

The arrival of one of the biggest aircraft in the world, the Antonov 124-100, carrying 4 helicopters coming from Pakistan
The arrival of one of the biggest aircraft in the world, the Antonov 124-100, carrying 4 helicopters coming from Pakistan, Bujumbura, Burundi, 29 August 2004,
ONUB Photo by Martine Perret

Encouraged by Africa’s readiness to play an active part, the international community has lent support by providing funds and logistics equipment. In June 2004, the Group of Eight industrialized nations (G8) adopted the Africa Action Plan to train and equip thousands of African peacekeepers and develop the capacity of African organizations to manage peace support operations.The European Union has also established an African Peace Facility to assist in building indigenous peacekeeping capacities.

While acknowledging the importance of providing financial assistance and equipment to peacekeeping operations, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette called on developed countries to contribute troops as well. She noted a “marked shift in the composition of UN peacekeeping forces” over the years: at the end of 2004, the 10 largest troop and police contributors were all from the developing world, providing almost two thirds of UN peacekeepers. Top contributors Bangladesh and Pakistan deployed one quarter of all uniformed personnel. EU member states, however, while paying 40% of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, provided fewer than 10% of the peacekeepers. While the United States gave 26 percent of the peacekeeping budget, it had 318 uniformed personnel in the field at the end of the year. The UN needs, in particular, highly trained units for some specific functions of contemporary peacekeeping missions, which are found more readily in the militaries of developed states.

Meanwhile, at UN Headquarters in New York, DPKO has strengthened its capacity to plan, deploy and sustain complex peacekeeping missions. The department is nearing its goal to be able to set up a mission within 30-90 days of Security Council authorization. DPKO is using new databases for generating troops and has improved ways to plan and use advance funds for a proposed mission before the Security Council authorises its creation. Rapid deployment training, to prepare UN staff to be able to set up a new peacekeeping mission on short notice, intensified in 2004 when scores of field and headquarters personnel acquired concrete skills in setting up functioning missions from day one.

Quicker means of deploying equipment through the use of strategic deployment stocks at the UN logistics base in Brindisi, Italy, worked well in setting up the mission in Liberia, but faced challenges in other missions in 2004. DPKO is aggressively expanding the pool of troop and police contributors to draw in countries who have not contributed before. New and innovative means of planning and deploying were all used in launching recent operations in Liberia, Haiti and Burundi and are part of the planning for the expected mission in Sudan.

Despite these reforms, however, other challenging issues face UN peacekeeping operations. It is still difficult to mobilize adequate funds quickly for some of the core functions of peacekeeping, such as disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating former combatants into society. Getting Member States to contribute well-trained and equipped troops and police in a timely fashion and with the right technical and language skills continues to be difficult. DPKO still lacks critical capabilities in communication equipment, maritime capacity, air assets and Special Forces for emergency situations. Finding qualified civilians with appropriate expertise to carry out difficult assignments in high-risk, low-infrastructure environments is also a priority in the coming year.

In 2004, the UN also saw an increase in allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation committed by UN peacekeepers, both civilian and military, against host populations. The UN has launched aggressive investigations into these allegations and is strengthening existing procedures to confront this problem internally, while simultaneously working with troop-contributing countries to address the problem systemically.

The ongoing surge in peacekeeping operations has forced the Secretariat to develop new and innovative strategies. Greater political and financial support is needed from Member States if the United Nations is to succeed in meeting these unprecedented challenges and managing the new outbreak of peace.

The following articles describe several but not all of the UN’s peace operations in 2004 as well as several of the priority areas these missions are addressing.

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