Challenges facing UN peacekeepping

KEN POLE  –  May 30, 2017

30 May 2017

Against a global backdrop of decreasing personnel deployments in all kinds of peacekeeping operations, Canada stepped up to the plate again May 29 with a four-year extension of its participation in Operation ARTEMIS counterterrorism and maritime security in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.

The announcement by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan that the air and naval commitment is being extended until at least April 2012 marked the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, a tradition the UN General Assembly inaugurated in 2002 to honour peacekeepers in general and, in particular, those killed on missions.

“With 16 peacekeeping operations deployed worldwide and 117,000 uniformed and civilian personnel from 125 member states serving under the United Nations flag, there are more peacekeepers on the ground today than ever before,” Sajjan said in a joint statement with Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. 

“The first UN peacekeeping mission was established on this date, May 29, 1948, to help bring stability to the Middle East,” they pointed out. “Throughout the history of UN peacekeeping, over 120,000 Canadians have served on more than 50 UN operations. Today, some 90 Canadian military members, police officers and civilian experts are serving on peacekeeping missions around the world.”

The Department of National Defence told FrontLine in an email that the military element of that total includes 10 staff and liaison officers with Op SOPRANO as part of Canada’s “whole of government” mission in South Sudan; nine advisors and trainers with Op CROCODILE in Kinshasa and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo; five staff officers with Op HAMLET in Haiti; four observers with the UN Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East; and one officer with Op SNOWGOOSE, the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus and one of Canada’s longest-running overseas missions. The rest of Canadian deployments includes mostly Global Affairs, Correctional Service and RCMP personnel.

“We are keenly aware of the challenges facing UN peacekeeping and the changing dynamics surrounding modern conflicts,” Sajjaan and the other ministers added in their statement. “This is why we will continue to support the UN in preventing and resolving conflicts, and sustaining peace, while helping to improve the way in which UN peace operations are conducted. To this end we will be hosting the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver, this November.”

As for the Op ARTEMIS “renewal”, budgeted at $131.4 million, it authorizes the Canadian Armed Forces to deploy assets to the Combined Maritime Forces’ Combined Task Force 150 (CTF 150). The CAF will deploy up to 375 personnel in support of a Lockheed Martin CP-140 intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) aircraft and a Halifax-class frigate. Canada recently completed its third command CTF rotation and will also have overall command on alternate years during the extension. 

Sajjan told reporters on Parliament Hill that the government had already given the CAF a green light to have “the conversations with allies that need to happen in order to get our assets into theatre when and where they are needed.” He added that Gen Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff, “looks at making sure we have all the right resources.”

While Canada continues to consider an expanded peacekeeping presence in Africa, possibly involving several hundred military and other personnel, SIPRI said in its review that total involvement in multilateral peace operations in 2016 – including non-UN operations – was six per cent lower than in 2015 even though the number of peace operations remained roughly the same.

“Various multilateral actors – the UN, regional organizations and alliances, and ad hoc coalitions of states – conducted 62 peace operations last year,” SIPRI said. “This is one fewer than in 2015. The UN led 22 operations (16 Peacekeeping Operations and six 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.

“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 (two per cent) were deployed in ad hoc operations.”

It said the overall drop in personnel from 2015 was “especially noticeable in Africa” where, it pointed out, most current peace operations are taking place.

“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 2007-2016. The period 2013-2015 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.”

The number deployed on non-UN peace operations decreased by 4.6 per cent last year, the sixth drop in as many years which left the total at its lowest in a decade. The drop was steepest 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.”

– Ken Pole