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This year it is 70 years since the United Nations Security Council established the first UN peacekeeping operation. On 29 May 1948 it authorized the deployment of military observers to supervise a cessation of hostilities in the First Arab–Israeli War and to support Count Folke Bernadotte in his role as UN mediator. This mission became known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO). While the tenure of the first UN mediator was tragically cut short—he was assassinated in Jerusalem in September 1948—UNTSO remains in place today. The UN General Assembly therefore appropriately chose 29 May when it designated the International Day of UN Peacekeepers—a day dedicated to the men and women who have served in UN peace operations and to commemorate those who lost their lives while doing so. It is equally befitting that the UN Secretary-General spent this year’s ‘Peacekeepers Day’ in Mali, where the UN has suffered most casualties in recent years.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released new data on deployments and fatalities in multilateral peace operations when it launched the 2018 edition of the SIPRI Yearbook. This topical backgrounder expands on the events of 2017 and puts this data in a 10-year perspective. For the first time, SIPRI data on and analyses of personnel deployments in the previous year and decade is based on monthly instead of annual snapshot figures. The new SIPRI map of multilateral peace operations also includes a number of missions and operations authorized and/or conducted by the UN and regional organizations that do not fall within the scope of the definition of a multilateral peace operation that SIPRI applies.
Multilateral peace operations in 2017
There were 63 multilateral peace operations active during 2017 (see figure 1). This was one more than in the previous year. Geographically, 25 operations were deployed in Africa, 18 in Europe, 9 in the Middle East, 6 in Asia and Oceania, and 5 in the Americas. Among these operations, five were initiated during 2017 and four terminated during the year. The total number of personnel deployed in multilateral peace operations decreased by 4.5 per cent during 2017, from 152 822 to 145 911. Of the personnel deployed at the end of the year, 125 803 were military, 11 846 police and 8262 international civilian staff. Nearly three-quarters of all personnel were part of multilateral peace operations based in Africa. (See section IV in the SIPRI Yearbook 2018 chapter, 'Peace operations and conflict management', for a detailed list of all multilateral peace operations active during 2017).
Personnel deployments decreased for the second year in a row at the global aggregate level—that is, in all multilateral peace operations combined—and fell below 150 000 for the first time in the 10-year period 2008–17 (see figure 2). Deployments at the global level were much higher earlier in this period because the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was much larger than other operations. While ISAF was completing its phased withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2012–14, which led to a corresponding sharp decline in personnel deployments in multilateral peace operations at the global aggregate level, personnel deployments in operations other than ISAF were increasing progressively and peaked at approximately 162 000 in 2015. The subsequent reversal of this trend was a result primarily of the steady decline in personnel deployments to UN peace operations, in particular in Africa.
Largest multilateral peace operations and contributors
The African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) remained the largest multilateral peace operation (see figure 3). At the end of 2017, there were 21 039 personnel in the mission. It was followed by the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Whereas AMISOM and MONUSCO decreased in strength during 2017 (by 909 and 1590 respectively), UNMISS was reinforced (by 1758) by the arrival of the first elements of the 4000-strong Regional Protection Force that is being deployed under its command pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2304. Of the eight multilateral peace operations that deployed more than 10 000 personnel, six were located in African countries.
Ethiopia remained the largest contributor of uniformed personnel (military or police) to multilateral peace operations, followed by the United States and Bangladesh (see figure 4). At the end of 2017, Ethiopia contributed 12 534 uniformed personnel to the AU and UN operations that operate in its immediate neighbourhood—AMISOM, the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) and UNMISS.
Nearly all the USA’s 9627 uniformed personnel were deployed in three operations: the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan, and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), which operates in the Sinai Peninsula. Bangladesh contributed 7246 military and police personnel to 10 different UN peacekeeping operations.
UN peace operations
The UN conducted 24 missions and operations that qualified as multilateral peace operations during 2017 (17 peacekeeping operations and 7 special political missions), which was more than any other organization (see figure 1). Three UN operations closed during the year: the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) in June, the UN Mission in Colombia (UNMC) in September and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in October. The latter two were immediately succeeded by smaller follow-up operations: the UN Verification Mission in Colombia (UNVMC) and the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
The number of personnel that the UN deployed in these operations decreased by 7.6 per cent during 2017, from 106 390 to 98 354 (see figure 2). This was a result in part from the termination of UNOCI and MINUSTAH and the withdrawal of contingents of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) ahead of its closure in March 2018. It was also a result of significant decreases in UNAMID and MONUSCO. The closure of MINUSTAH and the downscaling of UNAMID and MONUSCO were direct consequences of the US-led campaign to reduce the UN peacekeeping budget. Negotiations led to a budget of $6.8 billion for the 2017–18 fiscal year, compared with $7.9 billion for the previous fiscal year.
Non-UN peace operations
Regional organizations and ad hoc coalitions conducted 39 missions and operations that qualified as multilateral peace operations during 2017 (see figure 1). Three of these operations were established during this year: the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Mission in the Gambia (ECOMIG), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL) and the European Union (EU) Advisory Mission in Support of Security Sector Reform in Iraq (EUAM Iraq). Whereas the deployment of ECOMIG in January received significant attention because of its role in the peaceful resolution of the post-electoral and constitutional crisis in Gambia, the deployment of SAPMIL and EUAM Iraq in December went relatively unnoticed. The Pacific Island Forum Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) closed in June after a 14-year deployment.
The number of personnel deployed in non-UN peace operations increased by more than 2 per cent during 2017, from 46 432 to 47 557 (see figure 2). This was primarily a result of the reinforcement of the RSM in Afghanistan and the establishment of ECOMIG and SAPMIL. Personnel deployments in non-UN peace operations briefly exceeded 50 000 as the initial strength of ECOMIG was reportedly up to 7000. However, the exact number of ECOWAS troops that entered Gambia in January 2017 has not been confirmed and by February it had scaled down to its current strength of 500.
The majority of all personnel serving in multilateral peace operations were based in Africa (see figure 5). Nonetheless, the number of personnel deployed to operations in African countries decreased by 4 per cent during 2017, from 110 623 to 106 240. The regions that hosted the most personnel in multilateral peace operations after Africa, albeit by a distance, were Asia and Oceania, and the Middle East. Personnel deployments increased by 10.7 per cent in Asia and Oceania, from 13 975 to 15 467, and remained more or less stable in the Middle East, where they increased, by 0.5 per cent, from 13 928 to 14 001. The additional deployments in Asia and Oceania were primarily destined for the RSM in Afghanistan. Personnel deployments decreased by 2.7 per cent in Europe, from 8832 to 8597, and by 70.6 per cent in the Americas, from 5464 to 1606. The large decline in deployments in the Americas (Colombia and Haiti) can be almost fully attributed to the termination of MINUSTAH.
Multilateral peace operations in Africa
Africa thus remained the epicentre of multilateral peace operations. It hosted the most operations, including the three largest, and the most personnel; and there were 5 African countries among the 10 largest contributors of personnel, including the largest contributor. However, whereas personnel deployments to multilateral peace operations in Africa increased dramatically in 2008–15, from approximately 75 000 to almost 120 000, this trend has been reversed more recently. The number of personnel in multilateral peace operations in Africa decreased by 7.3 per cent during 2016 and by 4 per cent during 2017. Meanwhile, there has been an increasing focus on countering the growing threats posed by terrorist groups.
The AU authorized the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in 2015 to undertake operations against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin region and the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (JF-G5S) in 2017 to combat extremist and criminal armed groups across the shared borders of its member states. The MNJTF and the JF-G5S do not constitute multilateral peace operations because they do not have a mandate from the UN Security Council (as for example AMISOM does and ISAF did) and are composed of national units that operate primarily within their own territorial borders. They are examples of an emerging trend for collaborative initiatives to be established outside traditional multilateral frameworks to address what are perceived to be acute challenges to security—such as terrorism, organized crime and irregular migration—using means for which regular peace operations are neither authorized nor capable. The MNJTF consisted of 10 772 personnel at the end of 2017, whereas the JF-G5S has an authorized strength of 5000. The recent decline in personnel deployments to multilateral peace operations in Africa does not therefore reflect diminishing interest or activity in the region, but perhaps rather a shift towards other types of instruments.
Fatalities in UN peace operations
Several multilateral peace operations continued to operate in highly fragile and contested spaces amid ongoing or exacerbated armed conflict. A number of missions that operated in these environments faced sustained threats and deliberate attacks from non-state armed groups and other spoilers. UN peace operations have not been immune, and this is reflected in the number of hostile deaths—fatalities resulting from malicious acts—that they have suffered in recent years. This has further raised concerns about the safety and security of UN peace operations that operate in complex security environments. The 2017 ‘Cruz report’ on hostile deaths and injuries of UN peacekeepers concluded that UN blue helmets can no longer rely on their impartial status for protection against physical harm, and that the increase in the number of hostile deaths in recent years ‘is not a spike but rather a rise to a continuing plateau’. The report, which has received both support and criticism, urged the UN and troop contributing countries to adapt to this new reality by adopting, among other things, a more flexible interpretation of the traditional principles of peacekeeping to allow for less risk-averse and more proactive use of force by missions against combatants that might otherwise threaten them.
The number of hostile deaths was significantly higher in the period 2013–17 than in any other period since 1993–95, when the UN suffered exceptional losses in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia and Somalia (see figure 6). The ratio of hostile deaths per 1000 personnel was also markedly higher in 2013–17 than in earlier years, albeit that similar or even higher ratios were not uncommon in the 1990s and were reported on two separate occasions in the 2000s (see figure 7). Another caveat to this is that half of all the UN peacekeepers killed as a result of violent acts in the period 2013–16 were serving in MINUSMA, which, since it was established in mid-2013, has suffered more hostile deaths than any other UN mission. In fact, the ratio of hostile deaths in all UN peace operations except MINUSMA in 2013–16 was not unusually high compared with other years. In 2016 it was actually the lowest in the entire 1990–2017 period.
However, the frequency of hostile deaths increased dramatically in both absolute and relative terms during 2017. UN peace operations suffered 61 hostile deaths in 2017, 58 of which were among uniformed personnel. The ratio of hostile deaths among uniformed personnel—0.61 per 1000—was twice as high in 2017 as it was in 2016. Both the number and the ratio of hostile deaths were significantly higher in 2017 than in any year since 1994.
All the hostile deaths among personnel in UN peace operations in 2017 occurred in Africa, and the vast majority of the peacekeepers killed in violent acts were themselves from African countries. All but one of the 61 victims of hostile deaths in 2017 were deployed in three UN peacekeeping operations: MINUSCA, MINUSMA or MONUSCO. This includes the 15 Tanzanian MONUSCO peacekeepers that were killed in a deliberate attack on their base in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in December 2017, which was the largest number of hostile deaths sustained by a UN peace operation in a single incident since the multiple-casualty attack in Mogadishu in 1993 in which 24 peacekeepers deployed in the second UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II) were killed.
 This means that figures for past years will not always fully correspond with those featured in previous SIPRI publications.
 Personnel figures exclude national staff, UN volunteers and subcontractors.
 All UN figures include the African Union/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
 Annual fatality ratios for UN peace operations (fatalities per 1000 uniformed personnel) were calculated by dividing the number of deaths among uniformed personnel (military and police) by the average number of uniformed personnel deployed in UN peace operations per month, multiplied by 1000.
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