United Nations Peacekeeping: The U.S. Must Press for Reform


United Nations Peacekeeping: The U.S. Must Press for Reform

September 18, 2008 23 min read Download Report
Senior Research Fellow, International Regulatory Affairs
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

One of the United Nations' primary responsibili­ties—and the one with which Americans most agree—is to help maintain international peace and security. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.N. Security Council has been far more active in estab­lishing peacekeeping operations. This steep increase in missions was reversed temporarily by the debacles in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, and missteps in these missions led to a necessary re-evaluation of U.N. peacekeeping.

However, as troubling situations have arisen in recent years, many of them in Africa, the Security Council has found itself under pressure to respond and "do something." The response, for better or worse, has often been to establish yet another peace­keeping operation.

U.N. peacekeeping is now being conducted with unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition, and increasing demands have revealed ongoing, serious flaws. Specifically, recent audits and investigations have uncovered substantial problems with misman­agement, fraud, and corruption in procurement for U.N. peacekeeping, and incidents of sexual exploita­tion and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and civilian per­sonnel have been shockingly widespread.

While the U.N. has limited authority to discipline peacekeepers who commit such crimes, it has failed to take steps that are within its power to hold nations accountable when they fail to investigate or punish their troops' misconduct. The U.N. Security Council has also yielded to pressure to "do something" in sit­uations like Darfur even though it violates the dear­est lesson learned—emphasized in the 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations— that "the United Nations does not wage war."[1] 

U.N. peacekeeping operations can be useful and successful if entered into with an awareness of the limitations and weaknesses of U.N. peacekeeping. This awareness is crucial, because there is little indication that the demand for U.N. peacekeeping will decline in the foreseeable future. This requires the U.S. to press for substantial changes to address serious problems with U.N. peacekeeping. Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely continue and expand, undermining the U.N.'s credibility and ability to accomplish one of its key stated missions: maintaining international peace and security.

U.N. Peacekeeping

Within the U.N. system, the U.N. Charter places the principal responsibility for maintaining inter­national peace and security on the Security Coun­cil.[2]  The Charter, adopted in 1945, gives the Security Council extensive powers to investigate disputes to determine whether they endanger inter­national peace and security; to call on participants in a dispute to settle the conflict through peace­ful negotiation; to impose economic, travel, and diplomatic sanctions; and ultimately to authorize the use of military force.[3]  This robust vision of the U.N. as a key vehicle for maintaining international peace and security quickly ran afoul of the interests of member states, particularly during the Cold War when opposing alliances largely prevented the U.N. from taking decisive action—except when the interests of the major powers were mini­mally involved.

As a result, between 1945 and 1990, the United Nations established only 18 peace operations, despite a multitude of conflicts that threatened inter­national peace and security to a greater or lesser degree.[4]  Traditionally, Security Council authoriza­tions of military force have involved deployments into relatively low-risk situations such as truce mon­itoring. The bulk of these peace operations were fact-finding missions, observer missions, and other roles in assisting peace processes in which the parties had agreed to cease hostilities.[5]  U.N. peace opera­tions were rarely authorized with the expectation that they would involve the use of force.[6] 

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.N. Security Council has been far more active in establishing peace operations. In the early 1990s, crises in the Balkans, Somalia, and Cambodia led to a dramatic increase in missions. The debacle in Somalia and the failure of U.N. peacekeepers to intervene and prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda or to stop the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, however, led to skepticism about U.N. peacekeeping.

With a number of troubling situations, many of them in Africa, receiving increasing attention from the media in recent years, the Security Council has found itself under pressure to respond and "do something." The response, for better or worse, has often been to establish another peace­keeping operation.

The Security Council has approved more than 40 new peace operations since 1990. Half of all current peacekeeping operations have been authorized since 2000. These post-1990 operations often have involved mandates beyond traditional peacekeep­ing in terms of scope, purpose, and responsibilities. Moreover, these missions often have been focused on quelling civil wars, reflecting a change in the nature of conflict from inter-state conflict between nations to intra-state conflict within states.[7] 

This expansion of risk and responsibilities was justified by pointing out the international conse­quences of the conflict, such as refugees fleeing to neighboring countries or widespread conflict and instability. As a result, from a rather modest history of monitoring cease-fires, demilitarized zones, and post-conflict security, U.N. peace operations have expanded to include multiple responsibilities, including more complex military interventions, civilian police duties, human rights interventions, reconstruction, overseeing elections, and post-con­flict reconstruction.[8]  Such actions, while they may be justified in some cases, represent a dramatic shift from earlier doctrine.

At the end of May 2008, there were 17 active U.N. peacekeeping operations and another three political or peace-building operations[9]  directed and supported by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). Ten of these operations, including political missions, were in Africa (Burundi, Central African Republic and Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea,[10]  Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Western Sahara); one was in the Carib­bean (Haiti); three were in Europe (Cyprus, Geor­gia, and Kosovo); and the remaining six missions were in the Middle East (Lebanon, the Syrian Golan Heights, and a region-wide mission) and Asia (Afghanistan, East Timor, and India and Pakistan).

The size and expense of U.N. peace operations have risen to unprecedented levels. The 17 peace­keeping missions cited above involved some 88,000 uniformed personnel from 117 countries, including over 74,000 troops, 2,500 military observers, and 11,000 police personnel. There were also over 19,500 U.N. volunteers and other international and local civilian personnel employed in these 17 oper­ations. Additionally, more than 2,000 military observers, police, international and local civilians, and U.N. volunteers were involved in the three political or peace-building missions directed and supported by the DPKO.[11] 

All told, including international and local civilian personnel and U.N. volunteers, the personnel involved in U.N. peacekeeping, political, or peace-building operations overseen by the DPKO totaled more than 109,500 at the end of May 2008. These operations involved the deployment of more uni­formed personnel than were deployed by any single nation in the world other than the United States. (See Table 1.)

This activity has also led to a dramatically increased budget. The approved budget for the DPKO—just one department in the U.N. Secretar­iat—from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, was approximately $6.8 billion. The projected budget for U.N. peacekeeping operations is $7.4 billion for the July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009, fiscal year.[12]  This is a 10 percent increase over the previous bud­get and a nearly threefold increase in budget and personnel since 2003.[13] 

By comparison, the annual peacekeeping bud­get is now triple the size of the annualized U.N. regular biennial 2008–2009 budget for the rest of the Secretariat.

In general, the U.S. has supported the expansion of U.N. peacekeeping. Multiple Administrations have concluded that it is in America's interest to sup­port U.N. operations as a useful, cost-effective way to influence situations that affect the U.S. national interest but do not require direct U.S. intervention. Although the U.N. peacekeeping record includes significant failures, U.N. peace operations overall have proven to be a convenient, sometimes effective multilateral means for addressing humanitarian con­cerns in situations where conflict or instability make civilians vulnerable to atrocities, for promoting peace efforts, and for supporting the transition to democracy and post-conflict rebuilding.

The U.S. contributes the greatest share of fund­ing for peacekeeping operations. All permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—are charged a premium above their regular assessment rate. The U.S. is assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget. For 2008–2009, the U.N. peacekeeping budget assessment for the U.S. is just under 26 percent. China is assessed 3.15 percent; France, 7.4 percent; Russia, 1.4 percent; and the U.K., 7.8 percent.[14] 

Thus, the U.S. is assessed more than all of the other permanent members combined. Japan and Germany, even though they are not permanent members of the Security Council, rank second and third in assessments at 16.6 percent and 8.6 per­cent, respectively.

UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Personnel as of May 31, 2008

Based on the U.N.'s July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009, budget projection of $7.4 billion for peace­keeping, the U.S. will be asked to pay more than $1.9 billion for U.N. peacekeeping activities over that time.[15]  The 30-plus countries assessed the low­est rate of 0.0001 percent of the peacekeeping bud­get for 2008–2009 will be assessed just over $7,000 each based on that projection.

Although the U.S. and other developed countries regularly provide transportation (particularly airlift) and logistics support for U.N. peacekeeping, many developed countries that possess trained personnel and other essential resources are generally reluctant to participate directly in U.N. peace operations. The five permanent members contribute a total of less than 6 percent of U.N. uniformed personnel. The U.S. contribution totaled 14 troops, 16 military observers, and 259 police as of May 31, 2008. This is roughly comparable to Russia and the U.K., which contributed 358 and 299 uniformed personnel, respectively. China and France contributed more at 1,977 and 2,090 personnel, respectively.

The top 10 contributors of uniformed personnel to U.N. operations are nearly all developing coun­tries: Pakistan (10,623); Bangladesh (9,037); India (8,862); Nigeria (5,218); Nepal (3,711); Ghana (3,239); Jordan (3,017); Rwanda (3,001); Italy (2,864); and Uruguay (2,617).[16]  A number of rea­sons account for this situation, including the fact that many major contributors use U.N. participa­tion as a form of training and income.[17] 

While the U.S. clearly should support U.N. peacekeeping operations when they support Amer­ica's national interests, broadening U.N. peace oper­ations into non-traditional missions, such as peace enforcement, and the inability to garner broad inter­national support in terms of troop contributions and logistics support raise legitimate questions as to whether or not the U.N. should be engaged in the current number of missions and whether these situations are best addressed through the U.N. or through regional, multilateral, or ad hoc efforts with Security Council support. Concerns are grow­ing in Congress that, given the far larger financial demands of this expanded role for U.N. peacekeep­ing, the system for assessing the U.N. peacekeeping budget is inappropriate. Such questions are prima­rily political and can be resolved only by the mem­ber states.

Outside of the political realm, however, lies the fundamental question of whether the system as cur­rently structured is capable of meeting its responsi­bilities. Indisputably, the unprecedented frequency and size of recent U.N. deployments and their result­ing financial demands have challenged and over­whelmed the capabilities of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, leading to serious prob­lems of mismanagement, misconduct, poor plan­ning, corruption, sexual abuse by U.N. personnel, unclear mandates, and other weaknesses.

Mismanagement, Fraud, and Corruption

The U.N., as illustrated by the Oil-for-Food scan­dal and the more recent instances of mismanage­ment by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in North Korea, has proven to be suscepti­ble to mismanagement, fraud, and corruption. This also applies to U.N. peacekeeping.

The Secretariat procured more than $1.6 billion in goods and services in 2005, mostly to support peacekeeping, which has more than quadrupled in size since 1999. An Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) audit of $1 billion in DPKO pro­curement contracts over a six-year period found that at least $265 million was subject to waste, fraud, or abuse.[18]  The U.S. Government Account­ability Office concluded:

While the UN Department of Management is responsible for UN procurement, field procurement staff are supervised by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which lacks the expertise and capacity to manage field procurement.[19] 

The Department of Management and the DPKO accepted a majority of the 32 OIOS audit recom­mendations for addressing the findings.[20]  However, a recent report indicates that these new procedures may not be sufficient to prevent a recurrence of fraud and corruption. Specifically, the OIOS revealed earlier this year that it is investigating about 250 instances of wrongdoing ranging from sexual abuse by peacekeepers to financial irregular­ities. According to Inga-Britt Ahlenius, head of the OIOS, "We can say that we found mismanagement and fraud and corruption to an extent we didn't really expect."[21] 

According to a 2007 OIOS report, an examina­tion of $1.4 billion worth of peacekeeping contracts turned up "significant" corruption schemes involv­ing more than $619 million—44 percent of the total value of the contracts.[22]  At the time of the report, the task force had looked at only seven of the 18 U.N. peacekeeping missions that were operational over the period of the investigation. A recent report on the audit of the U.N. mission in Sudan revealed tens of millions of dollars lost to mismanagement and waste and substantial indications of fraud and corruption.[23] 

Worse, even the OIOS seems to be susceptible to improper influence. Allegations were made in 2006 that U.N. peacekeepers had illegal dealings with Congolese militias, including gold smuggling and arms trafficking. The lead OIOS investigator in charge of investigating the charges against the U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo found the allegations of abuses by Pakistani peacekeepers to be "credible," but the "the investigation was taken away from my team after we resisted what we saw as attempts to influence the outcome. My fellow team members and I were appalled to see that the oversight office's final report was little short of a whitewash."[24]  The BBC and Human Rights Watch have provided evi­dence that the U.N. covered up evidence of wrong­doing by its peacekeepers in Congo.[25] 

Sexual Misconduct

In recent years, there have been several harrow­ing reports of crimes committed by U.N. personnel, from rape to the forced prostitution of women and young girls. The most notorious of these reports have involved the U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). Indeed, allegations and confirmed incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel have become depressingly routine, having occurred in Bosnia, Burundi, Cam­bodia, Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.[26] 

The alleged perpetrators of these abuses include U.N. military and civilian personnel from a number of U.N. member states involved in peace operations and from U.N. funds and programs. The victims are often refugees—many of them children—who have been terrorized by years of war and look to the U.N. for safety and protection.[27]  In addition to the horrible mistreatment of those who are under the protection of the U.N., sexual exploitation and abuse undermine the credibility of U.N. peace operations and must be addressed through an effective plan and commitment to end abuses and ensure accountability.[28] 

After intense lobbying by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations since early 2004, as well as pressure from several key Members of Congress, the U.N. Secretariat agreed to adopt stricter requirements for peacekeeping troops and their contributing countries.[29]  The U.S. also helped the DPKO to publish a resource manual on trafficking for U.N. peacekeepers.

In 2005, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein of Jordan, the Secretary-General's adviser on sexual exploita­tion and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, submitted his report to the Secretary-General with recommenda­tions on how to address the sexual abuse problem, including imposing a uniform standard of conduct, conducting professional investigations, and holding troop-contributing countries accountable for the actions of their soldiers and for enforcing proper disciplinary action. In June 2005, the General Assembly adopted the recommendations in princi­ple, and some recommendations have been imple­mented. Contact and discipline teams are now present in most missions, and troops are now required to undergo briefing and training on behav­ior and conduct.[30] 

Tragically, this does not seem to have addressed the problem adequately. Only this past May, the international nonprofit Save the Children accused aid workers and peacekeepers of sexually abusing young children in war zones and disaster zones in Ivory Coast, southern Sudan, and Haiti—and going largely unpunished. U.N. peacekeepers were most likely to be responsible for abuse. According to a report issued by Save the Children, "Children as young as six are trading sex with aid workers and peacekeepers in exchange for food, money, soap and, in very few cases, luxury items such as mobile phones."[31] 

However, despite this action and then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan's announcement of a "zero tol­erance" policy, the perpetrators of these crimes are very rarely punished, as was revealed in a January 2007 news report on U.N. abuses in southern Sudan.[32]  The standard memorandum of under­standing between the U.N. and troop contributors appropriately grants troop-contributing countries jurisdiction over military members who participate in U.N. peace operations, but little is done if these countries fail to investigate or punish those who are guilty of such crimes.

A Political Problem

The problems of mismanagement, corruption, and misconduct cry out for fundamental reform of the U.N. peacekeeping structure to improve accountability and transparency. However, corrup­tion, mismanagement, and sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers are not the only problems with U.N. peacekeeping.

The other problem is a political problem. The vast expansion of U.N. peacekeeping—with the possibility of even more operations on the horizon like the proposal for a new Somalia mission with up to 27,000 peacekeepers—has led some to point out that the U.N. Security Council has gone "mandate crazy" in its attempts to be seen as effective and "doing something."[33]  The willingness of the council to approve missions where "there is no peace to keep"—such as Darfur, Somalia, or Chad—violates a dearly learned lesson that U.N. peacekeepers are not war fighters.

In general, the U.N. and its member states had accepted the fact—in the wake of the Somalia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone missions in which there was no peace to keep—that U.N. peace operations should not include a mandate to enforce peace outside of limited circumstances and should focus instead on assisting countries in shifting from conflict to a negotiated peace and from peace agree­ments to legitimate governance and development.[34]  As noted in the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations:

[T]he United Nations does not wage war. Where enforcement action is required, it has consistently been entrusted to coalitions of willing States, with the authorization of the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter.[35] 

Even situations short of war that may require a U.N. peace operation are still rife with danger, as illustrated by the nearly 2,500 peacekeepers that have been killed in operations since 1948. They also involve great demands in resources, management, and personnel. Indeed, these operations have increasingly strained the ability of countries that are willing to provide peacekeepers, especially in Darfur. Worse, this investment may not be helping the situation.

Dr. Greg Mills, director of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation, and Dr. Terence McNamee, director of publications at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), have conducted several case studies of U.N. peacekeeping operations for a forthcoming Heritage Foundation book. They have concluded that, in the cases of Lebanon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is an open question whether the U.N. peacekeeping missions have contributed to resolving the situations or to exacerbating them.

In other cases, such as the U.N. missions in Cyprus and the Western Sahara, established in 1964 and 1991, respectively, the U.N. presence is simply an historical palliative. The peacekeepers do little to keep the peace. Nor does their presence seem to have contributed to the process for resolv­ing the decades-long political standoff. Instead, the missions continue out of inertia or because of requests by parties to the conflict that they remain in operation. It is an open question whether or not the U.N. presence has contributed to the intracta­bility of the situation by providing the excuse not to develop a resolution of what is largely a polit­ical problem.

The next U.S. Administration should fundamen­tally re-evaluate all U.N. operations that date back to the early 1990s or before—some, like UNTSO in the Middle East and UNMOGIP in Kashmir, date back to the 1940s—to determine whether the U.N. is contributing to resolving the situation or retard­ing that process. These missions are generally small and among the least costly, but such a re-evaluation would send a welcome message of accountability and assessment that too often has been lacking in the rubber-stamp process of reauthorizing peace­keeping operations.

Limited Success Stories

This is not to say that U.N. missions are never useful and should be rejected out of hand. U.N. missions have been successful in situations like Cambodia, where U.N. peacekeepers helped to restore stability following dictatorship and civil war. Indeed, no one wants another Rwanda, and the consequences of doing nothing could end in trag­edy. But a long list of operations that have been less than successful indicates that the Security Council should be far more judicious when adopting deci­sions to intervene.

Darfur is particularly relevant. The U.S. has called the situation in Darfur "genocide." The U.N. did not come to that conclusion, but it did recog­nize the widespread human rights violations and suffering. After the African Union mission failed to curtail the violence and suffering, the U.N. adopted a resolution authorizing a joint AU–U.N. peace­keeping force despite ongoing conflict and consid­erable evidence that neither the rebels nor the government-backed forces were prepared to abide by a peace agreement. Protected by China's veto, Sudan also demanded that the peacekeepers be African. This has led to a severe constraint on the number of available troops: There simply are not enough trained and capable African troops to meet the demand.

As a result, Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General's special envoy for Darfur, told the Security Council that the situation in Darfur had deteriorated despite the efforts of U.N. and African Union troops.[36]  The recent decision of the prosecutor of the Interna­tional Criminal Court (ICC) to seek an indictment against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir may, if approved by the ICC pretrial chamber, lead to fur­ther complications.

In Darfur, the U.N. Security Council yielded to the pressure to act. Massive suffering was occurring and would likely have grown worse without U.N. backing and support for the AU peacekeeping effort. However, the council accepted demands from Sudan that vastly complicate peacekeeping efforts, such as restricting U.N. peacekeepers for that mission to African nationals. The council also entered a conflict situation against the lessons of its own experience. It compounded the error by failing to adopt clear objectives, metrics for success, or an exit strategy.

Because of these failings, not to mention the potential for deterioration toward broader conflict or a stiffening of resolve by President Bashir, if the ICC proceeds with its indictment, Darfur could very easily become the U.N.'s next spectacular failure.

What the U.N. Should Do

There are several actions that the U.N. and the Security Council can and should take to address the foregoing weaknesses. Specifically:

  • Be more judicious in authorizing U.N. peace­keeping operations. The pressure to "do some­thing" must not trump sensible consideration of whether a U.N. presence will improve or desta­bilize the situation, which includes clearly estab­lishing the objectives of the operations, ensuring that they are achievable, carefully planning the requirements for achieving them, securing pledges for providing what is needed to achieve them before authorizing the operation, and demanding an exit strategy to prevent the "per­petual mission" trap.[37] 

    This process should also apply in reauthoriza­tion of existing missions, where there is often a rubber-stamp approach. If a mission has not achieved its objective or has not made evident progress toward that end after a lengthy period, the Security Council should assess whether it is serving a positive function. In its deliberations, however, the council should recognize that short, easy missions are extremely rare. When authorizing a mission, the council should recog­nize that it may be there for a lengthy period. If the council seems unlikely to persevere, it should consider not approving the mission.

    Critically, this recommendation should not be construed as implying that all U.N. peacekeep­ing operations should be or can be identical. On the contrary, differing circumstances often require differing approaches. Indeed, if peace­keeping missions are to be successful, the coun­cil must be flexible in the makeup and composition of U.N. peacekeeping operations or in choosing to stand back in favor of a regional intervention or an ad hoc coalition if those approaches better fit the immediate situa­tion. However, in the process of deciding to authorize a mission, the council should not let an "emergency" override the prudent evaluation and assessment process that is necessary to ensure that the prospective mission has the larg­est chance of success.

  • Transform the DPKO structure to enable it to handle increased peace operation demands and to plan for future operations more effectively. This requires more direct involvement of the Security Council; more staff, supplies, and train­ing; and greatly improved oversight by an inde­pendent inspector general dedicated to peace operations.

    A key element of this should include transform­ing the DPKO to incorporate greater flexibility so that it can rapidly expand and contract to meet varying levels of peace operation activity. Current U.N. rules do not permit the necessary authority and discretion in hiring and shifting resources to meet priorities. A core professional military staff must be maintained and used, but the DPKO should also be able to rely on gratis military and other seconded professionals to meet exceptional demands on U.N. peace operations.[38]  This would readily provide the expertise and experi­ence needed to assess the requirements of man­dates under consideration, including troop numbers, equipment, timeline, and rules of engagement, both efficiently and realistically.

  • Build up peacekeeping capabilities around the world, particularly in Africa, and further develop a U.N. database of qualified, trained, pre-screened uniformed and civilian person­nel available for U.N. operations. The U.N. has no standing armed forces and is entirely depen­dent on member states to donate troops and other personnel to fulfill peace operation man­dates. This is appropriate. Nations should main­tain control of their armed forces and refuse to support the establishment of armed forces out­side of direct national oversight and responsibil­ity. However, the current arrangement results in an ad hoc system plagued by delays; inadequately trained personnel; insufficient numbers of mili­tary troops, military observers, civilian police, and civilian staff; inadequate planning; inade­quate or non-functional equipment; and logisti­cal gaps.[39] 

    The U.N. has established a Standby Arrange­ments System (UNSAS), wherein member states make conditional commitments to prepare and maintain specified resources (military forma­tions, specialized personnel, services, matériel, and equipment) on "stand-by" in their home countries to fulfill specified tasks or functions for U.N. peace operations.[40]  This is their pre­rogative, but the resources committed under the UNSAS fall short of needs.

    To speed up deployment on missions, the U.N. needs to further develop a database of informa­tion on individuals' and units' past experience in U.N. operations; disciplinary issues; perfor­mance evaluations; expertise (e.g., language, engineering, and combat skills); and availability for deployment. In addition, U.S. efforts under the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) contribute significantly to bolstering the capac­ity and capabilities of regional troops, particu­larly in Africa, to serve as peacekeepers through the U.N. or regional organizations like the Afri­can Union.[41] 

  • Implement a modern logistics system and streamline procurement procedures so that missions receive what they need when they need it. To be effective, procurement and con­tracting must "have a formal governance struc­ture responsible for its oversight and direction," as former Under-Secretary-General for Manage­ment Catherine Bertini advised Congress in 2005.[42]  Critically, the new logistics system and the procurement system must be subject to appropriate transparency, rigorous accountabil­ity, and independent oversight accompanied by robust investigatory capabilities and a reliable system of internal justice.[43] 

    The new restructuring of the DPKO into a Department of Peacekeeping Operations and a Department of Field Support, as proposed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and approved by the General Assembly, does not appear to have led to any substantial improvement in peacekeeping procurement. This may be due to the fact that the new department did not receive requested personnel or funding, but it also appears to be a case of "paper reform" rather than actual reform. Most of the same people remain in place, and it is uncertain that tasking or procedures have changed.

  • Implement mandatory, uniform standards of conduct for civilian and military personnel participating in U.N. peace operations. If the U.N. is to take serious steps to end sexual exploi­tation, abuse, and other misconduct by peace­keepers, it must do more than adopt a U.N. code of conduct, issue manuals, and send abusers home. The remedy should not involve yielding jurisdiction over personnel to the U.N. or to non-national judicial authority, but it should entail commitments by member states to investi­gate, try, and punish their personnel in cases of misconduct.

    Investigators should be granted full cooperation and access to witnesses, records, and sites where crimes allegedly occurred so that trials can pro­ceed. Equally important, the U.N. must be stricter in holding member countries to these standards. States that fail to fulfill their commit­ments to discipline their troops should be barred from providing troops for peace operations.


U.N. peacekeeping operations can be useful and successful if entered into with an awareness of their limitations and weaknesses. This awareness is cru­cial, because there seems to be little indication that the demand for U.N. peacekeeping will decline in the foreseeable future.

The unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition of U.N. peacekeeping operations have led to numerous flaws, limitations, and weaknesses that are serious and need to be addressed. The Bush Administration and Congress need to consider carefully any requests by the United Nations for additional funding for a system in which procure­ment problems have wasted millions of dollars and sexual abuse by peacekeepers is still occurring. Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely continue and expand, undermining the U.N.'s credibility and ability to accomplish one of its primary missions: maintaining international peace and security.

Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. This paper is based on testimony delivered by the author before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Democracy, and Human Rights of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on July 23, 2008.

[1] U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, A/55/305-S/ 2000/809, August 21, 2000, p. 10, at /static/reportimages/333A5099550F7B59FAFF6B700665368A.pdf (September 1, 2008). The report is often referred to as the "Brahimi Report," after the panel's chairman, former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi.

[2] Charter of the United Nations, Article 24, at http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter (September 10, 2008).

[3] In matters of international peace and security, the U.N. Security Council was originally envisioned-unrealistically, in retrospect-as the principal vehicle for the use of force, except for the inherent right of every state to defend itself if attacked, facing an imminent attack, or facing an immediate threat, which the Charter explicitly acknowledges. See ibid., Article 51.

[4] Since 1945, there have been approximately 300 wars resulting in over 22 million deaths. The U.N. has authorized military action to counter aggression just twice: in response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 and in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

[5] For example, the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was established in 1948 to observe the cease-fire agreements among Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel and still operates today. The UNTSO and U.N. Emergency Force I (UNEF I) missions are examples of "traditional" U.N. peace operations. Interestingly, the first venture into peacekeeping was taken by the General Assembly in 1956 after the Security Council was unable to reach a consensus on the Suez crisis. The General Assembly established UNEF I to separate Egyptian and Israeli forces and facilitate the transition of the Suez Canal to Egypt when British and French forces left. Because the UNEF resolutions were not passed under Chapter VII, Egypt had to approve the deployment.

[6] This restraint was reinforced by the U.N.'s venture into peace enforcement in the Congo (1960-1964), in which U.N.-led forces confronted a mutiny by Congolese armed forces against the government, sought to maintain the Congo's territorial integrity, and tried to prevent civil war after the province of Katanga seceded. According to a RAND Corporation study, "U.N. achievements in the Congo came at considerable cost in men lost, money spent, and controversy raised…. As a result of these costs and controversies, neither the United Nations' leadership nor its member nations were eager to repeat the experience. For the next 25 years the United Nations restricted its military interventions to interpositional peacekeeping, policing ceasefires, and patrolling disengagement zones in circumstances where all parties invited its presence and armed force was to be used by U.N. troops only in self-defense." See James Dobbins, Seth G. Jones, Keith Crane, Andrew Rathmell, Brett Steele, Richard Teltschik, and Anga Timilsina, "The U.N.'s Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq," RAND Corporation, 2005, p. xvi, at /static/reportimages/6EB20A17307ADCB942918112C282CAFA.pdf (September 10, 2008).

[7] According to one estimate, 80 percent of all wars from 1900 to 1941 were conflicts between states that involved formal state armies, while 85 percent of all wars from 1945 to 1976 were within the territory of a single state and involved internal armies, militias, rebels, or other parties to the conflict. See Charter of the United Nations, Article 2, and Michael W. Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 11, at /static/reportimages/C37828EA3B65280A0418932EBBDE2D1D.pdf (September 15, 2008).

[8] The broadening of U.N. peacekeeping into these non-traditional missions and the mixed U.N. record in pursuit of these missions raise legitimate questions as to whether the U.N. should be engaged in these activities. Such questions are primarily political matters that can be resolved only by the members of the Security Council, particularly the permanent members. For more information, see John R. Bolton, "United States Policy on United Nations Peacekeeping: Case Studies in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Kosovo and East Timor," testimony before the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, January 21, 2000, at http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.17044,filter.all/pub_detail.asp (September 10, 2008).

[9] The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA); U.N. Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL); and U.N. Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB).

[10] The U.N. Security Council ended the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea in July 2008.

[11] United Nations Peacekeeping, "Current Operations," at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/currentops.shtml#africa (September 15, 2008); United Nations Peacekeeping, "Monthly Summary of Contributions of Military and Civilian Police Personnel," at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/contributors/ (September 10, 2008); and "United Nations Political and Peacebuilding Missions," Background Note, May 31, 2008, since updated, but previous version available at /static/reportimages/CB302C94B040F9F2472DCF773DF04C3F.pdf (September 1, 2008).

[12] U.N. Department of Public Information, "Budget Committee Takes Up $7.4 Billion Proposal for 2008/09 Peacekeeping, Board of Auditors Report on 2006/07 Peacekeeping Financial Statements," U.N. General Assembly document GA/AB/ 3846, May 8, 2008, at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/gaab3846.doc.htm (September 15, 2008).

[13] Harvey Morris, "U.N. Peacekeeping in Line of Fire," The Financial Times, May 17, 2008, at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/67ae1fe4-23ac-11dd-b214-000077b07658.html (September 10, 2008).

[14] U.N. General Assembly, "Scale Implementation of General Assembly Resolutions 55/235 and 55/236," A/61/139/Add.1, 61st Session, December 27, 2006.

[15] This is, of course, a best guess on the part of the U.N. If a new mission is approved during the year, if a mission is closed unexpectedly, or if a mission does not deploy on schedule, the estimates will be adjusted. The U.S. is perpetually out of sync because it prepares its budget requests a year in advance. Shortfalls and other unforeseen changes are usually addressed in a subsequent or supplemental appropriation.

[16] Troop contributor data are as of May 31, 2008. See U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, "Monthly Summary of Contributions (Military Observers, Police and Troops)," at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/contributors/2008/may08_1.pdf (September 10, 2008).

[17] According to the United Nations Foundation, "The U.N. pays the governments of troop contributing countries $1,110 per soldier each month of deployment." This amount is far greater than the amount that these nations pay the troops participating in the missions. United Nations Foundation, "Season of the Blue Helmets," UNF Insights: New Ideas for International Cooperation, at http://www.unfoundation.org/features/unf_insights/season_blue_helmets.asp (September 10, 2008).

[18] U.N. Security Council, "Peacekeeping Procurement Audit Found Mismanagement, Risk of Financial Loss, Security Council Told in Briefing by Chief of Staff," SC/8645, U.N. Department of Public Information, February 22, 2006, at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8645.doc.htm (September 10, 2008).

[19] David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, "United Nations: Internal Oversight and Procurement Controls and Processes Need Strengthening," GAO-06-701T, testimony before the Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, April 27, 2006, at /static/reportimages/9D24486727F38606EB4840DEC74169F4.pdf (September 10, 2008).

[20] U.N. Security Council, "Peacekeeping Procurement Audit Found Mismanagement."

[21] Louis Charbonneau, "UN Probes Allegations of Corruption, Fraud," Reuters, January 10, 2008, at http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN10215991 (September 15, 2008).

[22] George Russell, "Report Details Progress in Battle Against Corruption at U.N. Office," Fox News, October 11, 2007, at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,301255,00.html (September 10, 2008).

[23] Colum Lynch, "Audit of U.N.'s Sudan Mission Finds Tens of Millions in Waste," The Washington Post, February 10, 2008, p. A16.

[24] Matthias Basanisi, "Who Will Watch the Peacekeepers?" The New York Times, May 23, 2008, at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/23/opinion/23basanisi.html (September 10, 2008).

[25] BBC, "U.N. Troops 'Armed DR Congo Rebels,'" April 28, 2008, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7365283.stm (September 10, 2008), and Joe Bavier, "U.N. Ignored Peacekeeper Abuses in Congo, Group Says," Reuters, May 2, 2008, at http://www.reuters.com/article/featuredCrisis/idUSN02278304 (September 10, 2008).

[26] See Kate Holt and Sarah Hughes, "U.N. Staff Accused of Raping Children in Sudan," The Daily Telegraph, January 4, 2007, at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/01/03/wsudan03.xml (September 10, 2008); Kate Holt and Sarah Hughes, "Sex and the U.N.: When Peacemakers Become Predators," The Independent, January 11, 2005, at http://www.stopdemand.org/afawcs0112878/ID=5/newsdetails.html (September 15, 2008); and Colum Lynch, "U.N. Faces More Accusations of Sexual Misconduct," The Washington Post, March 13, 2005, p. A22, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ wp-dyn/articles/A30286-2005Mar12.html (September 10, 2008).

[27] For more information on U.N. peacekeeping abuses, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "The U.N. Peacekeeping Scandal in the Congo: How Congress Should Respond," Heritage Foundation Lecture No. 868, March 1, 2005, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/hl868.cfm.

[28] U.S. Institute of Peace, Task Force on the United Nations, "American Interests and U.N. Reform," June 2005, pp. 94-96, at /static/reportimages/B66016AA717E83C43455DDE0AC571FD3.pdf (September 10, 2008).

[29] See Kim R. Holmes, "United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo: A Case for Peacekeeping Reform," testimony before theSubcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Cong., 1st Sess., March 1, 2005, at http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/intlrel/hfa99590.000/hfa99590_0.HTM (September 1, 2008).

[30] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Organization Affairs, United States Participation in the United Nations 2005, "Part 1: Political and Security Affairs," October 2005, pp. 43-44, at /static/reportimages/67D59EB6BB5FFEDC7C9EC3B04E993DAC.pdf (September 1, 2008).

[31] Corinna Csáky, "No One to Turn To: The Under-Reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Aid Workers and Peacekeepers," Save the Children, 2008, at /static/reportimages/F642967712DDBCAAD55FBE60B6B3C02D.pdf (September 10, 2008). See also BBC, "Peacekeepers 'Abusing Children,'" May 27, 2008, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/7420798.stm (September 10, 2008).

[32] According to Fox News, "U.N. military officials have the power to direct the troops placed under their command, but are relatively powerless when it comes to punishing them if they are accused of crimes against humanity. There are 13 misconduct investigations ongoing at the Sudan mission, [and] some include sexual abuse. From January 2004 to the end of November 2006, investigations were conducted for 319 sexual exploitation and abuse cases in U.N. missions throughout the world. These probes resulted in the dismissal of 18 civilians and the repatriation on disciplinary grounds of 17 police and 144 military personnel…. What's frustrating to military commanders on the ground is that there is little they can do to offending peacekeepers, other than putting them on desk duty, restricting them to quarters, and requesting a full investigation and repatriation." Liza Porteus, "U.N. Peacekeepers Accused in Sudan Sex-Abuse Case Get Reprimand," Fox News, January 05, 2007, at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,241960,00.html (September 10, 2008).

[33] Morris, "U.N. Peacekeeping in Line of Fire."

[34] Doyle and Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations, p. 20; Dobbins et al., "The U.N.'s Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq," p. xvi; and Victoria K. Holt, Senior Associate, Henry L. Stimson Center, testimony in hearing, UN Peacekeeping Reform: Seeking Greater Accountability and Integrity, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, May 18, 2005, at www.internationalrelations.house.gov/archives
(September 1, 2008).

[35] U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council, Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, p. 10.

[36] U.N. News Centre, "Darfur: U.N. Envoy Doubtful Parties Are Willing to Enter Serious Negotiations," June 24, 2008, at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=27149&Cr=darfur&Cr1= (September 10, 2008).

[37] An example of this thought process that should be pursued by the U.S. and other countries was summarized by former Assistant Secretary of State Kim R. Holmes: "While the Security Council is hammering out the details of a peacekeeping resolution, member states work with the U.N. to figure out what that mission will require. We consider causes, regional equities, resources, the need for military forces and civilian police, the involvement of rule of law and human rights experts, reconstruction needs, and more. From the outset, we work to ensure [that] each mission is right-sized, has a clear mandate, can deploy promptly, and has a clear exit strategy. This was particularly the case in getting peacekeepers into Haiti and expanding the mission in the Congo to target the main area of instability, the African Great Lakes region. Nevertheless, as this committee well knows, new CIPA requirements arise quickly. It is not possible to predict when conflicts will intensify to the point where they require U.N. action. We are cautious because, historically, U.N. missions are not as effective at peace enforcement, when offensive military action is needed to end the conflict, as they are at maintaining ceasefires and supporting peace agreements. But our focused analysis has helped the U.N. close down most of the peacekeeping missions begun during the early 1990s, once their jobs were done. It is helping member states [to] look for possible reductions in some long-standing missions, and press the U.N. to right-size or close other missions as they complete their mandates. The United States, in voting on peacekeeping mandates, always pushes for prudent mandates, force size, and missions that not only would succeed, but also just plain end." Unfortunately, this type of analysis in the context of Security Council authorization of U.N. peacekeeping operations appears to be the exception rather than the rule. See Kim R. Holmes, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, "Statement Urging Congress to Fund Fully President's 2006 Budget Request for the UN," statement before the Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, April 21, 2005, at http://www.state.gov/p/io/rls/rm/45037.htm (September 10, 2008).

[38] According to the Secretary-General, "[G]ratis personnel were not regulated until the adoption by the General Assembly of resolutions 51/243 and 52/234, in which the Assembly placed strict conditions on the acceptance of type II gratis personnel. Among the conditions set out in administrative instruction ST/AI/1999/6, is the requirement that type II gratis personnel be accepted on an exceptional basis only and for the following purposes: (a) to provide expertise not available within the Organization for very specialized functions or (b) to provide temporary and urgent assistance in the case of new and/or expanded mandates of the Organization." See U.N. General Assembly, "Gratis Personnel Provided by Governments and Other Entities," A/61/257/Add.1, August 9, 2006, at http://www.centerforunreform.org/system/files/A.61.257.Add.1.pdf (September 10, 2008). The restrictions on gratis personnel were adopted at the behest of the Group of 77 developing nations, which thought that their nationals were not being given equal opportunity to fill positions at the U.N. because their governments could not afford to provide staff gratis. A possible solution could be to allow the countries to receive credits toward their assessed dues that are equivalent to the estimated salaries of gratis personnel. See "U.N. Gratis Personnel System Is Undemocratic, Says G-77 Chairman," Journal of the Group of 77, January/February 1997, at http://www.g77.org/nc/journal/janfeb97/6.htm (September 15, 2008).

[39] Operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Lebanon, and Darfur all recently experienced difficulties in raising the numbers of troops authorized by the Security Council.

[40] U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, "United Nations Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS)," April 30, 2005, at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/milad/fgs2/unsas_files/sba.htm (September 10, 2008).

[41] The State Department budget request includes a request for $106 million for GPOI in FY 2009, up from $81 million in FY 2007. Most of the funds for the GPOI, including the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program (ACOTA), go to Africa-related programs. According to the budget, "Funding in FY 2009 is intended to train over 15,000 peacekeeping troops to reach the initiative goal of 75,000 peacekeeping troops trained worldwide." See U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification: Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2009, p. 113, at /static/reportimages/971FAC6B67D9697858D171078A50372E.pdf (September 10, 2008).

[42] Catherine Bertini, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Management, statement in hearing, Reforming the United Nations: Budget and Management Perspectives, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Cong., 1st Sess., May 19, 2005, at http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/intlrel/hfa21309.000/hfa21309_0f.htm (September 1, 2008).

[43] U.S. Government Accountability Office, United Nations: Procurement Internal Controls Are Weak, GAO-06-577, April 2006, at /static/reportimages/3C3B3912AECAC7E184AC5AF5BBCE89BD.pdf (September 1, 2008).


Brett Schaefer

Senior Research Fellow, International Regulatory Affairs