Should the UN Send Peacekeepers to Libya?

The blue helmet missions have been more frequent, but are they sustainable?

Patrick aug25p.jpg


With the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) preparing to meet tomorrow for a "thematic debate" on UN Peacekeeping, and NATO calling for a UN force to lead any post-war operation in Libya, it's time to take stock of the world's multilateral efforts to field troops in post-conflict zones.

The number of "blue helmets" deployed under the UN flag has grown from 20,000 in the year 2000, to 100,000 as of March 2011, with Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India ranking as the top three troop-contributing countries (TCCs). Peacekeepers are currently active in fifteen missions around the globe.

Peacekeeping is an excellent deal for U.S. taxpayers. For every U.S. quarter dollar contributed, foreign donors provide 75 cents. These operations are squarely in U.S. national interests, allowing the United States to respond to humanitarian crises and threats to regional stability, without putting its own troops in harm's way.  Without the UN missions, the United States would likely shoulder this entire burden itself--or sit idly by as violent conflagrations erupted and atrocities ran rampant.

UN peacekeeping can also boast some major successes. In 2003, the UN Security Council (UNSC) deployed a peacekeeping force to Liberia after a 15-year civil war had devastated the country, displaced almost a third of the population, and led to over 250,000 deaths. The mission oversaw the disarmament of soldiers, while simultaneously providing political space for a new, civilian led government as well as security for UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid and restore vital infrastructure. As a result, Liberia is on the verge of another round of peaceful postwar elections.

Today, UN peacekeepers underpin a tenuous peace in Lebanon, maintain social order in post-earthquake Haiti, and patrol the volatile Kashmir region. Most recently, they supported the peaceful referendum resulting in the independence of South Sudan, the site of some of the world's most horrific violence during the past two decades.

The critical question is whether such activism can be sustained. As Alain Le Roy, the departing UN undersecretary general for peace operations, recently explained, the United Nations is struggling to keep pace with the broadening scope and quickening tempo of peace missions. Meanwhile, fiscal pressures are threatening the financial support traditionally provided by major donors, including the United States.

This is hardly the first crisis in UN peacekeeping. In 2000, a high-level review panel led by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi released a ground-breaking report on UN peace operations. The so-called "Brahimi report" envisioned a slew of reforms designed "to make peacekeeping faster, more capable, and more effective," proposing extensive changes to existing management, organization, doctrine, training and personnel systems.  Many of these were approved and implemented.

Still, fundamental shortcomings remain: The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) still lacks its own analytical capabilities, forcing it to rely on member states for timely intelligence relevant to its field operations. Missions often suffer from poor senior leadership, inadequately trained (or unprofessional) peacekeeping contingents, a dearth of civilian experts and police units, and a chronic shortage of logistical and military capabilities, especially when it comes to "heavy lift" aircraft and attack helicopters. The actual rules of engagement are often unclear to field personnel. Finally, a damning 2005 report cited "grave concern" over widespread sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers--a black mark from which DPKO has yet to fully recover.

Presented by

Stewart M. Patrick is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he writes the blog  The Internationalist) and Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance.

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