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Report Peacekeeping

The last briefing of the first day of our Study Tour was about Peacekeeping. Kai Schaefer and his colleague Dr. Cécile Mouly gave us an inside view of the Situation Centre of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). During an interesting one-hour presentation we learned about the structure of DPKO, about the challenges of current peacekeeping operations, about the various peacekeeping mandates and the role of the Situation Centre within the department.

Kai Schaefer started with some personal information. An interesting fact to us was that he had also studied at Freie Universität Berlin before he joined the United Nations. Then, he moved on to talk more about peacekeeping missions. He told us a lot of important numbers: since 1948 there have been 61 peacekeeping operations in total. At the time of the briefing there were still 18 DPKO-led operations in which more than 100.000 personnel were involved. Especially under Secretary-General Kofi Annan the number of peacekeeping personnel had increased. Unfortunately fatalities are part of peacekeeping operations. The total number of people who died during peacekeeping operations had reached 2,337 at the time of the briefing. While most of the fatalities were due to illnesses in contexts of often harsh living conditions, some were also due to “malicious acts”.

Another challenge for the peacekeeping missions is funding. The total annual expenditures on peacekeeping missions are US-$ 6.03 billion. This may sound like a lot of money, but it really only makes up 0.6 % of the global military spending per year. The total annual budget for peacekeeping missions is the equivalent of what the United States spends in Iraq in only one week.

The “backbone” of all peacekeeping missions was the military personnel, said Mr. Schaefer. The biggest troop contributors come from Asia, especially from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Europe’s contribution has risen lately; this is mainly because of the involvement of European soldiers in Lebanon. Nevertheless, it seems that developing countries provide the bulk of peacekeeping troops while industrialized nations try to live up to their responsibility by supplying funding and equipment.

We were further briefed on current operations such as MONUC in the Democratic Republic of Congo and MINURSO in Western Sahara. To learn about MINURSO was of course very interesting to us, representing the Kingdom of Morocco. These peacekeeping missions face many challenges. One of the main challenges used to be the problem of rapid deployment. Only a few years ago, it took 2-3 months to deploy troops; today deployment is possible within weeks. Remaining problems are logistics and obviously security. Furthermore, there are the questions of who is in charge, who controls the mission and who commands it. And maybe most importantly: who is responsible if something goes wrong? When asked about the impact that peacekeeping missions can have on the local population, Mr. Schaefer said that unfortunately the motto of the “light foot print” was not always possible, but DPKO was doing its best.

Besides the challenges, there are some prerequisites needed for a peacekeeping mission to be successful. First of all, the parties involved have to be genuinely committed to the peace process. Secondly, the mission depends on the strong political support of the international community. And last but not least, the necessary resources need to be provided. Despite all these challenges and prerequisites, the two speakers were quite optimistic about the future of peacekeeping missions. And they added: “You cannot find any better organization than the United Nations to do the job.”

After having dealt with peacekeeping missions in general, we got some insights into how the Situation Centre of DPKO works. The Centre had been established in 1993 to support decision-making in response to crisis situations. It deals with a constant flow of information, working 24/7, every day of the year. Conflicts all over the world are evaluated, many of which do not make the news. The personnel works 12 hour shifts constantly monitoring what is happening in the world. It has 26 staff members, three of which are uniformed personnel. There is also one so-called NATO liaison officer working in the office in New York. We saw a picture of the operation room, which looked like any other UN office. The only amazing things were three backpacks sitting on the shelves, being there in case of an urgent relocation of the Centre.

At the end of the presentation there was still time for some questions. Since we already had good knowledge of the field, many critical points were raised, and we engaged in a lively discussion. When asked about the critical role of the United Nations in earlier conflicts, the speakers said: “Since Rwanda, the UN has learned a lot.”

Ole Spies