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In 2002, the United Nations General Assembly designated 29 May the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. Every year on this day, the UN and its member states pay tribute to the men and women who serve, or have served, in UN peacekeeping operations, and honour those who lost their lives while doing so.
On this occasion, SIPRI is releasing new data on the multilateral peace operations active in 2016. The data has been compiled by SIPRI as part of its long-running data project on multilateral peace operations. The data and analysis below are not limited to operations conducted by the UN, but cover the whole range of missions that meet SIPRI’s definition of a multilateral peace operation. A summary of the data is also available to view as a map of multilateral peace operations.
The number of personnel deployed in multilateral peace operations in 2016 was 6 per cent lower than in 2015, even though the number of peace operations remained roughly the same. This decrease in personnel was especially noticeable in Africa, where most peace operations take place. This topical backgrounder looks in more detail at the main trends identified by the new data.
The number of multilateral peace operations remains relatively stable
According to the most recent SIPRI data, various multilateral actors—the UN, regional organizations and alliances, and ad hoc coalitions of states—conducted 62 peace operations in 2016 (pdf). This is one fewer than in 2015. The UN led 22 operations (16 Peacekeeping Operations and 6 Special Political Missions that qualify as peace operations according to SIPRI’s definition), regional organizations and alliances led 31, and non-standing coalitions of states led 9.1 (More details on each operation can be found in SIPRI's online table (pdf).)
Altogether, the 62 peace operations that were active in 2016 deployed 153,056 personnel. Of these, 106,234 (69 per cent) were deployed by the UN, 43,646 (29 per cent) were deployed by regional organizations and 3,176 (2 per cent) were deployed in ad hoc operations.2
Decreasing personnel deployments in peace operations
During 2016, the number of personnel decreased in both UN and non-UN peace operations (operations conducted by regional organizations or alliances, or ad hoc coalitions of states) compared to 2015 (see figure 1). Figure 1 shows the main trends in peace operations in the period 2007–16.
UN peace operations
The number of personnel deployed in UN peace operations fell by 6.5 per cent in 2016, the largest percentage decrease in a single year in the period 2007–16. The period 2013–15 had seen three consecutive years of growth, largely due to the establishment of new peacekeeping operations in Mali and the Central African Republic. The number of personnel in UN peace operations reached its peak in 2015.
The 2016 decrease was primarily a result of further reductions in the strength of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). Nonetheless, the number of personnel in UN peace operations in 2016 was still the third highest ever, after 2015 and 2014.
Non-UN peace operations
The number of personnel in non-UN peace operations decreased by 4.6 per cent in 2016. Personnel deployments in non-UN operations decreased for the sixth year in a row, and reached the lowest level of the period 2007–16.
The decrease was especially steep between 2012 and 2014, due to the gradual withdrawal of thousands of troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In fact, while ISAF was scaling down from its post-surge maximum strength, the combined personnel deployments in all other non-UN peace operations increased quite significantly. Since the end of 2014, the size of the NATO forces in Afghanistan has remained fairly stable but the total number of personnel in non-UN peace operations has continued to fall. The decrease in 2016 is primarily a result of the drawdown and subsequent termination of France’s operations Sangaris in the Central African Republic, and (further) reductions of the number of personnel in the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo, and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai Peninsula.
All peace operations
The total number of personnel deployed in all multilateral peace operations (UN and non-UN) decreased by 6 per cent in 2016. This was a continuation of a downward trend that began in 2012. Once again, until 2014 the decline was due to the gradual withdrawal of ISAF. The downward trend seemed to have come to a halt in 2015, but resumed in 2016 as personnel deployments fell in both UN and non-UN peace operations. As a result, the number of personnel in all multilateral peace operations in 2016 was at its lowest level in the period 2007–16.
However, if ISAF and its follow-up Resolute Support Mission (RSM) are excluded from the analysis, a different picture emerges. Without NATO’s operations in Afghanistan, the decrease in personnel deployments in non-UN peace operations in 2016 is the first decrease since 2011. Despite the decrease in 2016, excluding ISAF and RSM, the number of personnel in non-UN peace operations was still the fourth largest in the period 2007–16.
Africa remains in focus, despite a decrease in personnel deployments
Africa maintained its position as the predominant location for peace operations. Of the 62 peace operations that were active in 2016, 26 were conducted in African countries. This included six of the eight peace operations with more than 10,000 personnel. The remaining peace operations were based in the Americas (3), Asia and Oceania (7), Europe (18) and the Middle East (8) (for more details, see SIPRI's online table (pdf)).
The concentration of global peace operations in Africa becomes even more evident when discussing the number of personnel deployed (see figure 2). There were 110,957 personnel deployed in peace operations in Africa in 2016. This means that 72 per cent of all personnel in peace operations were deployed in Africa (and 82 per cent of all personnel in UN peace operations). The remainder of all personnel in peace operations were deployed in the Americas (4 per cent), Asian and Oceania (9 per cent), Europe (6 per cent) and the Middle East (9 per cent).
The most notable regional development in 2016 was that the number of personnel in peace operations in Africa decreased by 7.5 per cent. This constituted a major break with one of the most noticeable long-term trends in peace operations, for ever-increasing numbers of personnel to be deployed in peace operations in Africa. Between 2000 and 2015, this number had doubled on average every five years, and reached its highest point in 2015.
The 2016 decrease was the first substantial fall in personnel numbers (in both absolute and relative terms) in a single year in Africa in the period 2007–16, and the largest decrease since 2000. It was primarily due to reductions in the number of personnel in UNMIL and UNOCI. Nonetheless, the gap between the size of personnel deployments in Africa and the size of deployments elsewhere remained huge.
Decreasing fatality trends in UN peace operations
During the official ceremony for the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, held on 24 May this year, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, paid tribute to the more than 3,500 UN peacekeepers who lost their lives on duty since the establishment of the first UN peacekeeping operation in 1948. In particular, he commemorated the 117 military, police and civilian staff that died while serving in UN peace operations in 2016.
Most UN peace operations operate in dangerous environments. More often than not, there is no real ‘peace to keep’. Several current UN peace operations are regularly targeted by armed non-state actors, including terrorist groups. While this has especially been the case in Mali, there are several other locations where UN peace operations face complex and asymmetric security threats for which they are often under-equipped and ill-prepared. For example, earlier in May 2017, five UN peacekeepers were killed in the Central African Republic when combatants attacked a convoy from the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). An added complication is the (often under-reported) fact that the majority of fatalities among personnel in UN peace operations continue to result from other causes, such as disease and accidents.
While there is no denying that contemporary UN peace operations operate in high-risk environments, a 2015 SIPRI study found that they have not become ‘more deadly’ as a general rule. In absolute terms, the number of fatalities among UN peace operations personnel has been relatively high in recent years, albeit not at an unprecedented level (they were significantly higher in 1993—94, for example). There has also been a noticeable increase in the number of fatalities linked to malicious acts in the past five years. However, as the number of personnel serving in UN peace operations has increased significantly, so has the number exposed to the risks inherent in doing so. Therefore, it is not only the occurrence of fatalities in absolute terms, but also the fatality ratio—or the number of fatalities per year per 1,000 personnel—that should be analysed.
The annual fatality ratio for uniformed personnel in UN peace operations (for all fatalities) decreased steadily between 1990 and 2016 (see figure 3).3 Since 2006, these ratios have been around or below 1 fatality per 1,000 uniformed personnel, which is relatively low compared to the fatality ratios in other periods, particularly in the 1990s. The fatality ratio for uniformed personnel decreased in 2015 (0.9 per 1,000) and 2016 (0.8 per 1,000).
Nonetheless, in terms of fatalities resulting from malicious acts, the fatality ratio for uniformed personnel in UN peace operations increased significantly in 2013 and stayed relatively high in subsequent years (at around 0.3–0.4 per 1,000). However, while these are relatively high values compared to other years this century, they are not unprecedented and are significantly lower than the values reported for several years in the 1990s.
The recent increase in the fatality ratio for UN peace operations is the result primarily of the large number of fatalities in the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This mission is a clear exception to the general trend. In fact, MINUSMA, which has been active in Mali since 2013, has one of the highest fatality ratios (for both total fatalities and fatalities due to malicious acts) of all the UN peace operations conducted in 1990–2016.
If MINUSMA were excluded from the analysis, the fatality ratio for uniformed personnel in UN peace operations in recent years would be markedly lower. In fact, without MINUSMA, the fatality ratio for uniformed personnel in UN peace operations in 2016 would be the lowest in 1990–2016, in terms of total fatalities (0.5 per 1,000) and fatalities resulting from malicious acts (0.08 per 1,000).
No room for complacency
Although there are positive aspects in these findings, they are no reason to downplay the threats and dangers that contemporary UN peace operations and the people who serve in them face daily. First, lethal casualties are not a perfect indicator for measuring these challenges (although they are probably the best available). Second, the case of MINUSMA illustrates the risks to UN peace operations operating in complex political and security environments in which they can become legitimate targets in the eyes of armed non-state actors, terrorist groups and others.
Finally, there are several reasonable future scenarios in which the UN might consider establishing a new peace operation in an area that shares many of the characteristics of (northern) Mali, for example in Libya, Syria or Yemen. It is therefore imperative that the UN continues to improve its preparedness, capacities and capabilities to counter threats to the security and safety of the personnel it deploys, and to consider carefully the security implications before deploying to new theatres.
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