Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

UN Peacekeeping: An Uncertain Future

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

UN Peacekeeping: An Uncertain Future

Article excerpt

Key Points

* UN peacekeeping is at a crossroads: it could become a permanent force, or it could continue to repeat past mistakes.

* UN peacekeeping virtually collapsed after several failed missions in the 1990s.

* By 2000, UN Peacekeeping operations--and their budgets--were again rapidly expanding.

United Nations peacekeeping is yet again at a crossroads: it may finally succeed in establishing itself as the preeminent force for conflict prevention and peace, or it could continue operating with a severe mismatch of mandates and resources. Which option will materialize depends on the policies of UN member states, particularly those of the United States.

Following a brief but stellar rise, UN peacekeeping virtually collapsed in the mid-to-late 1990s. Operations undertaken by the "blue helmets" in Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda were widely considered to have ended in failure, eclipsing successes in Nicaragua, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eastern Slavonia/Croatia. Right-wing Republicans in the U.S. Congress eagerly heaped blame on the organization and cultivated the view that it was not to be entrusted with challenging missions.

But what seemed like a moribund organization has reemerged as a beehive of activity. In the last two years, the UN has taken on several new challenging missions in different parts of the world. The peacekeeping budgets and the number of people involved in the missions reflect this rollercoaster development. From peak expenditure levels of about $3.5 billion per year in the mid-1990s, expenditures dropped to a low of $838 million in the July 1998-June 1999 budget year. But then, appropriations for July 1999-June 2000 doubled to $1.6 billion and are now projected to top $2.2 billion for July 2000-June 2001. The number of troops, observers, and civilian police peaked at almost 80,000 in the mid-1990s, falling to 12,000 in 1999. Rising again, peacekeepers totaled 37,000 in August 2000 (in addition to about 11,700 civilian personnel).

Four missions initiated in 1999 and 2000 precipitated this latest upswing. They are the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL); the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET); the UN Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC); and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The UN Security Council has authorized 13,000 peacekeepers for Sierra Leone (and Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked for an increase to 20,500 in August 2000), 10,790 in East Timor, 5,537 in the Congo, and 4,756 in Kosovo. …

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