Press Kit
Fact Sheet 3

Today’s Peacekeepers

Questions and Answers on United Nations Peacekeeping

1. What is peacekeeping?

United Nations (UN) peacekeeping is a means by which the international community can encourage the establishment of sustainable peace in places and situations where conflict threatens or has been recently subdued. Most often, it is used to help solidify fragile peace processes that emerge in post-conflict situations.

Under the UN Charter, the 15-member UN Security Council is given the power to take collective action to maintain international peace and security, and it is this body that usually establishes UN peacekeeping operations. The first peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), was established in 1948 in the Middle East and is still active today.  Since that time, there have been 56 United Nations peacekeeping operations.  Of these, 43 have been established since 1988 and 14 are ongoing.

Peacekeeping initially developed as a means to resolve inter-State conflict by deploying unarmed or lightly armed military personnel from a number of countries, under UN command, between the armed forces of former warring States.  Normally a ceasefire had to be in place, and the parties to the conflict would have consented to the UN deployment. This gave those parties time and breathing space for diplomatic efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict.  Peacekeepers didn’t fight fire with fire, but rather observed the ceasefire from the ground and reported impartially on adherence to it.

Although there were times during the Cold War when UN peacekeepers were welcomed as a neutral third party, at other times antagonisms between Security Council members limited the role of UN peacekeepers. The end of the Cold War precipitated a dramatic shift in UN peacekeeping.  In a new spirit of cooperation ambitious new and larger peacekeeping missions were deployed to help implement comprehensive peace agreements signed between former protagonists of civil war.

Tens of thousands of military, police and civilian peacekeepers were charged with treating the causes and results of wars within States, rather than between States, in places like Cambodia, El Salvador and Mozambique. Peacekeepers became part of international efforts to rebuild States damaged by conflict, and to support free and fair elections and referenda. Peacekeeping tasks involved training and restructuring local police forces, demining, conducting elections, facilitating refugee returns, monitoring human rights, supervising government structures, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-combatants and promoting sustainable democratic institutions and economic development. At its peak in 1993, 70,000 troops were deployed in UN peacekeeping.

 To support the growing size and complexities of peacekeeping operations, a UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was created in 1992. 

By and large, the initial multi-dimensional operations were successful. Some, in El Salvador and Mozambique, provided countries with ways to achieve self-sustaining peace. In Cambodia, peacekeepers organized elections while creating a secure environment that enabled the peace process to move forward.

These early ‘successes’ might have led in part to an overly optimistic assessment of what UN peacekeeping could accomplish. While missions in Cambodia and Mozambique were ongoing, the Security Council dispatched peacekeepers to conflict zones like Somalia, for example, where neither ceasefires, nor the consent of all the parties in conflict, had been secured. And these peacekeepers were given large mandates without the manpower to implement them.  Some of these efforts failed dramatically.  The disasters — most horrifically the massacres in Srebrenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Rwanda — led to a period of retrenchment and self-examination in UN peacekeeping.

One answer seemed to lie in regionalization.  In 1993, in Liberia, the UN set up the first operation in which it was collocated with a regional peacekeeping force deployed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  In 1994, the UN operation in Georgia began working with the peacekeeping force of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).  In operations established in the second half of the 1990s, like the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) and later in Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro), the UN worked in tandem with other international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union. These cooperative arrangements with regional organizations improved the international community’s efforts to end conflicts in some areas, and helped restore international faith in the utility of UN peacekeeping.  But they could not easily be duplicated in all other parts of the world.

In 1999 and 2000, the Council also mandated the establishment of new operations to address conflicts in Africa, and UN peacekeepers were deployed to three crucial missions in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), and Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). In the wake of devastating violence in East Timor, the UN was tasked with setting up an interim administration preparing the way towards independence. 

In a further development in 1999, Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked a panel of international experts to examine UN peace operations and identify where and when UN peacekeeping could be most effective and how it could be improved.

The Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations — known as the Brahimi report after the Panel’s Chairman Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian diplomat and long-time adviser to the Secretary-General — was released in August 2000.  It offered some clear advice about what conditions needed to exist for peacekeeping to stand a chance of success. These included: a clear and specific mandate, consent to the operation by the parties in conflict and adequate resources — from professional and appropriate personnel to equipment and finances.

Following that report, both the UN Secretariat and UN Member States have worked hard to ensure that they have a better understanding of the political and resource requirements of peacekeeping, and a number of initiatives have improved UN peacekeeping capacity. UN Headquarters now has more staff to support its field missions, and the military and police advisers’ offices in New York DPKO headquarters have been bolstered. DPKO’s logistics base in Brindisi (Italy) along with ongoing training has provided the UN with a new rapid response capacity. And more financial, political and material support has been sought and received from Member States.

2. Who is in charge?

Although peacekeeping is not specifically mentioned in the United Nations Charter, the Charter gives the UN Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The Council, therefore, normally creates and defines peacekeeping missions. It does this through providing the mission with a mandate — a description of the tasks it is charged with undertaking. To establish a new peacekeeping mission, or change the mandate or strength of an existing mission, nine of the Security Council’s fifteen Member States must vote in favour.

However, if any one of the permanent five Members — China, France, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom or the United States — votes against the proposal, it fails.

Once the Security Council mandates a peacekeeping operation, the Secretary-General directs and manages UN peacekeeping missions and reports to the Council on a mission's progress. Most large missions are headed by a Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and supported by DPKO. Through this department, the Secretary-General also formulates policies and procedures for peacekeeping and makes recommendations on the establishment of new missions and on the functioning of ongoing operations. DPKO also supports a number of political missions, such as the UN mission in Afghanistan.

Only the most senior soldiers serving on United Nations missions are directly employed by the UN — usually on secondment from their national armed forces. The bulk of the troops remain under the ultimate control of their own governments, and participate in UN peacekeeping under terms that are carefully negotiated by those governments. While on duty, they report to the mission’s Force Commander, and through him to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.  However, the authority to send or withdraw peacekeepers remains with the government that volunteered them, and that government also retains the responsibility for their pay, as well as disciplinary and personnel matters.

The Security Council may also give its authorization to peacekeeping operations that are carried out by other bodies.  Those operations are not under UN control.  In 1999, for example, once the bombing campaign was over, the Council authorized NATO to keep the peace in Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro).  Simultaneously, the Council also authorized the United Nations Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK) to administer the territory.  In 2000, the Council authorized an international coalition to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan, while also setting up a UN political mission in the country.

3. How much does it cost?

Annual costs of United Nations peacekeeping personnel and equipment peaked at over $3.6 billion in 1993, reflecting the expense of operations in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia. By 1998, costs had dropped to just under $1 billion. With the resurgence of larger-scale operations, costs for UN peacekeeping rose to $3 billion in 2001 and are estimated at about $2.3 billion for the period 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2004. 

All Member States are legally obliged to pay their share of peacekeeping costs, under a complex formula that they themselves have established.

Although this payment is mandatory, as of 30 April 2003, Member States owed approximately $1.37 billion in current and back peacekeeping dues.

4. How are peacekeepers compensated?

Peacekeeping soldiers are paid by their own Governments according to their own national rank and salary scale. Countries volunteering uniformed personnel to peacekeeping operations are reimbursed by the UN at a flat rate of a little over US$1,000 per soldier per month. The UN also reimburses countries for equipment. But reimbursements to these countries have been deferred at times because of cash shortages caused by Member States’ failure to pay their dues. Civilian police and other civilian personnel are paid from the peacekeeping budget established for the operation.

5. Who contributes personnel?

The United Nations Charter stipulates that to assist in maintaining peace and security around the world, all Member States of the UN should make available to the Security Council necessary armed forces and facilities. Since 1948, close to 130 nations have contributed military and civilian police personnel to peace operations. As of 30 April 2003, 89 countries were contributing a total of some 37,000 personnel, including 30,167 troops, 5,162 civilian police and 1,658 military observers.

As of 30 April 2003, the five main troop-contributing countries were Pakistan (4,245), Nigeria (3,316), India (2,735), Bangladesh (2,658) and Ghana (2,060).

Of the 37,000 troops and civilian police serving in UN peace operations, only 3,323 come from the European Union and only 558 from the United States (543 civilian police, 13 military observers and 2 soldiers).

Although 89 Member States contribute to current UN peacekeeping operations, the greatest burden in the form of troops is borne by a core group of developing countries. Noting a hesitancy on the part of developed countries to commit their troops to UN peacekeeping missions, in March 2003 the UN senior peacekeeper, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, reminded Member States that “the provision of well-equipped, well-trained and disciplined military and police personnel to UN peacekeeping operations is a collective responsibility of Member States. Countries from the South should not and must not be expected to shoulder this burden alone”.

6. Why should countries contribute troops to peacekeeping?

All Member States agreed under the UN Charter to provide armed forces for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security: peacekeeping is a collective responsibility.

The establishment of UN peacekeeping operations is one of the specific and unique tools available to the international community to help resolve international conflicts, and prevent internal wars from destabilizing regions, when the conditions for their success exist. As an investment, UN-led peacekeeping operations — as opposed to those conducted by ad-hoc coalitions — have the distinct advantage of having an in-built mechanism for their financial costs, material and personnel, to be shared globally.  Furthermore, the time requirement for deployment of start-up resources for new missions has been drastically reduced through DPKO’s rapid response capability.

The costs of peacekeeping are tiny compared to the costs of conflict and its toll in lives and property. Although UN peacekeeping cost about $2.6 billion in 2002, in 2001 governments worldwide spent more than $800 billion on arms — a figure representing 2.6 per cent of world gross domestic product.

7. What is being done to address HIV/AIDS in United Nations peacekeeping?

The United Nations bases its current HIV/AIDS policy on non-discrimination and respect for international human rights law. Preventing the transmission of HIV among peacekeepers and host communities is a key priority of DPKO. DPKO strongly encourages voluntary confidential counselling and testing of peacekeepers before deployment and in the mission area, while a standardized training programme has been developed for troop-contributing countries to ensure that all uniformed peacekeepers get complete HIV/AIDS information before deployment.  DPKO has deployed four policy advisors to the larger missions (UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)) and designated an HIV/AIDS focal point to all other missions.

Peacekeepers also carry UNAIDS awareness cards that contain basic facts about the transmission and nature of the disease.  In addition, the safety of blood and blood products for transfusion in mission clinics is ensured by using supplies from World Health Organization (WHO) monitored sources.

8. Is the United Nations encouraging the participation of women in peacekeeping operations?

In October 2000, the Security Council expressed in resolution 1325 its willingness to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations and urged that a gender component be established in peace missions. Gender offices have been placed in large, multi-dimensional peace missions and gender focal points in small missions.  In addition, measures have been taken by peacekeeping missions, including the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), to promote gender balance in the local police forces and to work with newly restructured police forces on issues related to domestic violence and trafficking in women and girls. 

The need to increase the participation of women in all aspects of peace operations, among international and local staff, and particularly at the highest levels of decision-making, remains a priority concern. The first female Special Representative of the Secretary-General was appointed in 1992 in the UN mission in Angola. Now, 11 years later, there is still only one female Special Representative (in UNOMIG, the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia). There are three female Deputy Special Representatives. The Secretary-General has called on Member States to increase the recruitment of women as military observers, peacekeeping troops and civilian police.

9. What are some recent successful peacekeeping operations?

When the United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina (UNMIBH) ended operations in December 2002, the most extensive police reform and restructuring project ever undertaken by the UN had been completed. UNMIBH had trained and accredited a 17,000 strong national police force. In addition to its internal law and order responsibilities, the country’s police can now participate fully in the regional and international fight against organized crime and terrorism. The newly created State Border Service has reduced the flow of illegal migrants, helped deter narcotics and human trafficking, and reduced smuggling. 

In East Timor (now Timor-Leste), in 1999, the UN was called in to guide the people toward statehood, just after a referendum on independence had sparked an explosion of violence that had devastated public services and infrastructure. UNTAET operated under a multi-faceted mandate to provide security and maintain law and order while the foundations of democratic governance were laid. The UN established an effective administration, enabled refugees to return, helped to develop civil and social services, ensured the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance, supported capacity-building for self-governance and helped to establish conditions for sustainable development.

After presidential elections in April 2002, Timor-Leste declared independence on 20 May and later became the 191st member of the United Nations. The UN still has a peacekeeping presence in Timor-Leste (UNMISET) to assist in building administrative structures, in developing the State’s police service and in helping maintain external and internal security.

In Sierra Leone (see accompanying Item 10), following elections one year ago, UN peacekeepers continue to assist the Government to extend its authority over the entire country. The work of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has resulted in the restoration of freedom of movement, revival of commercial activity and resettlement of displaced populations. Some 50,000 ex-combatants have been demobilized and are being reintegrated.  The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is a work in progress, but much has been undertaken in the past four years: UNMIK organized the first three democratic elections in Kosovo’s history; supported the formation of a transitional and provisional Government; created the framework for a stable, market economy; restored infrastructure; and established all the basics of a modern administration, from customs and taxation to a balanced budget; from license plates and identity documents to city planning. UNMIK is building a local judiciary and a responsible police force — now 5,000 strong.  Kosovo's police (UNMIK and the Kosovo Police Service) solve a higher rate of murders  (75 per cent) than some western European countries.  UNMIK has been fostering dialogue with Kosovo’s neighbours and with Belgrade authorities. By setting a series of benchmarks to help Kosovo achieve the norms of a civil society, UNMIK has been facilitating progress toward discussions on the province’s final status.

10. What are the current challenges to successful United Nations peacekeeping?

Certain factors are critical for success of a United Nations peacekeeping operation.  The international community must have correctly diagnosed the problem before prescribing peacekeeping as the treatment.  A majority or all parties to the conflict have to be willing to stop fighting: there must be a peace to keep.  All key parties to the conflict must consent to the UN role in helping them resolve their dispute.  Members of the Security Council must agree on the operation’s desired outcome, and a clear and achievable mandate.  Deployment must be fast.  Peacekeeping must be part of an overall strategy to help resolve a conflict, which requires a myriad of political, economic, development, human rights and humanitarian efforts to be conducted in parallel.  Political and economic attention must be given to the entire region concerned so that progress in achieving peace in one country is not undermined by neighbors’ problems.  The international community must be prepared to stay the course.  Real peace takes time, building national capacities takes time, rebuilding trust takes time. International peacekeepers, working with or for the UN, must perform the tasks entrusted them by Member States with professionalism, competence and integrity.

11. Will the war in Iraq change United Nations peacekeeping?

UN peacekeepers will continue to help parties to a conflict reach sustainable peace and to help societies recover from war, as they implement mandates authorized by the Security Council.

The United Nations Secretary-General, as he did before the conflict in Iraq, has called for unity on the Security Council so that the unique legitimacy and international will that the UN alone can employ to address crises can continue to be put in the service of peace.

Referring to the new situation in Iraq, he told the Security Council on 30 April, “the United Nations has engaged in a wide range of activities in this area, from the negotiation of political settlements to profound institutional reconstruction efforts, including the creation of a new State. Reviewing such past experiences can tell us what we did well and what we did less well, and perhaps the reasons in those particular circumstances.  It should also help us improve our performance over time.

“But the thing that stands out, when we review international engagement in countries affected by conflict, is that no single approach has ever been adopted twice, because no two conflicts or post-conflict situations are alike.  Even the four recent cases of Afghanistan, Kosovo, Timor-Leste and Sierra Leone are very different from each other, in terms of the causes and consequences of the conflict, the United Nations previous involvement, the political and legal context governing the international community’s response, and the sheer size of the affected population and territory. 

“Therefore, one of the most important lessons, when it comes to planning the international community's engagement in a new situation — such as the one we face now in Iraq — is the need, first to reach a common understanding of what makes the crisis in question unique, and then to develop our responses accordingly.  We should draw on previous experiences to make our response as effective as possible, while bearing in mind that completely new approaches or forms of assistance may be required.”

The Secretary-General closed by reminding the Council of the conditions, which must be in place before any peacekeeping mission can be sustainable, in particular, the agreement of the people, and a mandate entrusted to the United Nations that is “clear, coherent, and matched by the necessary resources".

      DPI/2311 (3) May 2003