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Understanding the UN: Peacekeeping

The United Nations has been deploying peacekeeping missions since the U.N. Truce and Supervision Organization mission in 1948 which monitored the Armistice Agreement between Israel and neighboring Arab countries. Since 1948, U.N. peacekeeping has evolved to better respond to the world’s ever-changing and increasingly complex conflicts. What started off as a peace monitoring mechanism has become a major international actor in stabilization and development efforts in some of the world’s most volatile and protracted conflicts.

U.N. peacekeeping is managed through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which was established to succeed the U.N. Office of Special Political Affairs in 1992 under Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The DPKO may only deploy a peacekeeping mission after receiving the mandate through Security Council resolutions and missions may only be updated or changed through Security Council resolutions. There are three types of peacekeeping personnel that make up mission teams: uniformed personnel including military troops, police and military observers, civilian personnel both local and international and U.N. Volunteers.

Currently, there are 17 different peacekeeping missions around the world ranging in size depending on the nature and scale of the conflict. The largest is the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which employs over 20,000 personnel and has been operating in various forms since 1999. The mission in Congo also represents a departure from the normal rules and procedures of peacekeeping. Due to necessity and the nature of the Congolese conflict, the first ever “offensive” peacekeeping mission called the Intervention Brigade was launched in 2013 in order to more effectively address instability in the eastern region caused by various rebel groups and militias.

There are three rules to all traditional peacekeeping missions: (1) all parties of the conflict must consent to the deployment of peacekeepers in the area, (2) peacekeepers must remain neutral at all times and take neither side in the conflict, they serve merely as a buffer zone, and (3) peacekeepers may use force only in instances of self-defense or in defense of the Security Council mandate. All uniformed personnel are affiliated with the U.N. Member States. There is no U.N. standing army, so the U.N. depends on the contributions and donations of its Member States to carry out its missions, particularly in the form of uniformed personnel.

Today, U.N. peacekeeping missions are much more than just a buffer zone between two warring parties, peacekeepers are a central part of the stabilization and early reconstruction efforts of the areas where they are deployed. Peacekeepers are actively engaged in rebuilding the rule of law, justice and corrections systems, strengthening social and civil conditions, assisting with elections, aiding security sector reforms, carrying out demining activities and education programs about the dangers of landmines, promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, protecting civilians, protecting children in conflict areas, assisting with Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration activities and fostering and maintaining respect for human rights.

Peacekeeping missions are a crucial part of the immediate post-war reconstruction phase in countries which are frequently prone to conflict. They are a valuable asset to development efforts in areas that are home to some of the most vulnerable populations on earth.

Erin Sullivan

Sources: NY Times, United Nations, United Nations 2, United Nations 3, United Nations 4, United Nations 5, United Nations 6
Photo: NY Times