United Nations peacekeeping: Quality strained
Description: AS THE insurgency in Sudan's Darfur region spills over into Chad, efforts to strengthen the beleaguered African Union force in the region, by turning it into a fully-fledged UN blue-helmet mission with twice as many troops (14,000) and a robust manda
Date: 01 March 2006
Source: The Economist
Too few forces, too little oversight
AS THE insurgency in Sudan's Darfur region spills over into Chad, efforts to strengthen the beleaguered African Union force in the region, by turning it into a fully-fledged UN blue-helmet mission with twice as many troops (14,000) and a robust mandate, take on new urgency. Yet, according to the editor of a review of global peacekeeping by New York University's Centre on International Co-operation (CIC), without more support for the UN, a new mission in Darfur could take its peacekeeping efforts ”past the point of overstretch“.
That is bad news for sub-Saharan Africa. A study last year by the Liu Institute at Canada's University of British Columbia estimated that, while the number of armed conflicts around the world had dipped sharply since the early 1990s (perhaps due partly to an ”explosion“ of peacekeeping efforts by the UN and others), more people are being killed in African wars than in all the rest of the world.
According to the CIC, the number of troops deployed by the UN worldwide has nearly quintupled since 1999, from 12,700 to over 60,000 (with civilians and police, the number is over 85,000). But the system is now under acute and worsening strain: requests to add to UN forces in Congo and Côte d'Ivoire were rejected. The CIC report calls for ”strategic reserves“ to be developed, so that troops can be sent more quickly to trouble spots and missions under strain can be reinforced faster. Yet, as the UN struggles, numbers of peacekeepers deployed by organisations such as NATO, the European Union and the African Union have more than halved since 1999, from 108,000 to 50,000 (and even then NATO has been having all kinds of problems scraping together enough troops for its force in Afghanistan).
At the UN itself, getting more boots on the ground isn't the only problem. The undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, likes to call his blue-helmet fief ”the leanest field operations organisation in the world“; its missions cost $5 billion in 2005, according to the CIC report. Yet managing increasingly large and often hybrid operations involving other partners is increasingly tricky. In 1998, the UN's largest mission, in Lebanon, involved 4,500 personnel. This year, it will have five missions of this size and larger.
As the strain tells, the flaws get wrenchingly apparent. Prodded by America, last week the UN Security Council took a hard look at both waste and fraud in peacekeeping procurement and also at reports of sexual abuse by peacekeepers of those they are sent to protect. After investigations started two years ago into reports of such abuse in Congo and west Africa, 137 military people (including six senior ones) and 17 civilians have been dismissed or sent home. Other cases are still under investigation. UN officials blame such problems on a ”culture of dismissiveness“ among their own staff, in countries providing troops and in the missions themselves. Their strategy for dealing with it is to be published this month.