[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
How peacekeeping works
Undof? Unmee? Binub? In the first part of a series on peacekeeping, Patrick Jackson of BBC News looks at how missions are put together.

Yugoslav soldiers serving with the UN in the Suez canal zone in 1957 (image: DPKO)
Early days: Yugoslav UN troops patrol the Sinai Peninsula in 1957

Soldiers first painted their helmets in the azure blue of the United Nations when they went into the Suez Canal zone in November 1956, though the first actual mission was back in 1948, to Palestine.

Since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, "Blue Helmet" missions have multiplied and UN peacekeepers now serve in flashpoints as far apart as East Timor and Haiti, though chiefly in Africa and the Middle East.

Several regional forces, notably Nato and the African Union, run peacekeeping missions, sometimes alongside the UN as in Kosovo and Afghanistan, sometimes with the UN's blessing only, as in Darfur and Somalia.

A mainly US force has policed Egypt's Sinai Peninsula since it made peace with Israel while Russian peacekeepers are deployed in a number of ethnic flashpoints of the ex-USSR, though their impartiality is often questioned.

But with more than 100,000 personnel in the field as of mid-April 2007, the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is by far the biggest and most recognised brand of peacekeeping today.

Any UN member state, regional group or the UN administration (Secretariat) itself can approach the UN's 15-member Security Council to request a peacekeeping mission.

French gun deployed with the UN in Lebanon in 2006
Bringing peace to Lebanon 2006: French UN artillery in Beirut

A carefully drafted first resolution has then to be voted through by the Security Council.

This first resolution states that the council agrees in principle to the mission and asks the head of the UN secretary general to submit a detailed plan together with a rough cost estimate.

The power of veto enjoyed by the five permanent members - China, France, Russia, the UK and the US - means the mission cannot be approved by a simple majority.

If the vote does succeed, and time permits, the secretary general dispatches one or more assessment missions, then reports back to the council with options and recommendations as appropriate.

There is then a vote on a second resolution (mandate), approving all or part of the plan and formally authorising the mission.

While the mandate goes through the Security Council, the Secretariat contacts potential contributors of troops, police and equipment.

This is necessary as the UN has no armed forces other than those which member-states provide for each specific peacekeeping operation.

BBC graph

Once the mandate is passed, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations approaches potential contributors to assess what they can provide.

Factors taken into account are force requirements, readiness and geographic distribution.

A core group of developing countries continue to provide most of the Blue Helmets. As of February 2007, the top five troop-contributors were Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Jordan and Nepal.

Blue Helmet missions are meant to "reflect the diversity of countries and cultures in the international community", the DPKO says, but it admits that getting enough boots on the ground from the developed world remains a major concern.

"Countries from the South [ie developing world] should not and must not be expected to shoulder this burden alone," the head of peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, has said.

The UN pays force-contributing governments, which in turn pay their own troops and police according to their national rank and salary scales.

Times story announcing first UN peacekeeping mission
Story in The Times reporting first UN peacekeeping mission in 1948

UN pay and allowance rates, and supplementary payments for specialists, are standard and approved by the General Assembly.

Current monthly rates paid by the UN per peacekeeper include:

  • $1,028 for pay and allowances
  • $303 supplementary pay for specialists
  • $68 for personal clothing, gear and equipment
  • $5 for personal weaponry

As for who finances UN operations, the US was the biggest contributor at the last official count (1 January 2006), followed by Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, China and the Netherlands.

The approved peacekeeping budget for 2005-06 was more than $5bn which, the DPKO notes on its website, was 0.5% of global military spending and thus "far cheaper than war".

The UN says it carefully evaluates the capacity of each potential contributing country to provide personnel capable of "meeting the high standards required to serve in UN peacekeeping operations".

English-language acronyms for UN missions are mostly English (eg Unmil in Liberia) but may be French when they concern a Francophone region (eg Monuc in DR Congo)
French-language acronyms are mostly French (eg Minul in Liberia) but occasionally English (eg Unmogip and Unficyp)

As for senior officers, countries are required to provide "comprehensive background information, including on potential human rights violations" about them.

Each country is responsible for training and preparing its own personnel, who should possess an "attitude of disciplined impartiality and professional performance in order to command the respect of the conflicting parties", the UN says.

Ideally, staff will have some knowledge of the language, culture and political situation of the country concerned.

However, there is a sense in the military in some countries that UN work is not "proper soldiering" and that humanitarian activities are best left to NGOs, notes Dr Paul Higate, politics lecturer at Bristol University, who has studied peacekeeping in DR Congo and Sierra Leone.

Most peacekeeping troops are combat-trained and many find peacekeeping somewhat frustrating as they make little or no use of their military skills, he adds, while differences in national military cultures raise questions of quality and shape the ways in which peacekeepers act on the ground.

An extensive internal review in 2004, the Zeid Report, highlighted instances of sexual abuse by peacekeepers and prompted a policy of "zero tolerance".

BBC reporter Mike Williams interviews a young girl

Traditionally, the UN sacks and repatriates mission personnel suspected of serious misconduct, and some have subsequently been prosecuted in their home countries.

The fact that matters of conduct have been addressed internally and in a somewhat ad-hoc way, is in part due to the difficulty of proving misconduct, Dr Higate notes.

One successful in-theatre prosecution came in Kosovo in November 2005 when a court convicted a senior UN staffer of sexually abusing a minor and falsifying documents, and jailed him locally for three years.

In mid-November 2006, new Conduct and Discipline Units were launched in the eight biggest UN missions in order to raise staff awareness of standards expected.

Towards the end of his tenure as UN secretary general in December, Kofi Annan told a conference on abuse that the UN was working on a binding treaty on the prosecution of sexual abuse committed by peacekeepers.

A few weeks earlier, a BBC investigation had found evidence of sexual abuse of children by UN staff in Haiti.

Some Blue Helmet deployments have lasted decades, and of the 13 missions set up during the Cold War (ie pre-1988), five remain active.

Some UN wags have privately dubbed Cyprus (launched 1964) a "Five-Star Mission", seeing it as a relatively safe posting on a Mediterranean island popular with tourists, and perhaps forgetting the casualties Blue Helmets took there in the early years.

But missions have an end too. Given six months to a year initially, their mandates periodically come up for renewal at the Security Council.

If the mandate is considered to have been successfully fulfilled, the mission is closed down. The UN counts among its successes deployments in Mozambique (1992-94) and Cambodia (1991-93).

Sometimes, as in Haiti (1993-2000, then again since 2004) the UN completes a mission, only to have to relaunch it after peace arrangements unravel.

And then there are missions which have their mandate withdrawn after the conflict spirals out of the UN's hands, as in Rwanda in the 1990s.

BBC map

United Nations missions

1 Middle East (Untso, Jerusalem)
2 Kashmir (Unmogip)
3 Cyprus (Unficyp)
4 Golan Heights (Undof)
5 Lebanon (Unifil)
6 Western Sahara (Minurso)
7 DR Congo (Monuc)
8 Ethiopia/Eritrea (Unmee)
9 Liberia (Unmil)
10 Ivory Coast (Unoci)
11 Haiti (Minustah)
12 Sudan (Unmis)
13 Sierra Leone (Uniosil)
14 Burundi (Binub)

15 Afghanistan (Unama and Nato-led Isaf)
16 Kosovo (Unmik and Nato-led K-For)
17 East Timor (Unmit and Australian-led force)
18 Georgia (Unomig and Russian-led CIS force)

19 Darfur (African Union force)
20 Somalia (African Union force)
21 Sinai Peninsula (mainly US force)
22 Bosnia (EU - Eufor)
23 Tajikstan (Russian-led CIS border force)
24 Trans-Dniester (Russian force)

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific