UN Peacekeeping is at a breaking point. There are currently over 100,000 UN Peacekeepers serving in 17 missions across the globe. This is near an all time high–and the kinds of missions that are being undertaken are radically different today than they were just a few decades ago. So far, the international community has has a tough time adapting.
There is still no official death toll from the latest round of fighting in South Sudan’s Jonglei state. There were reports in July of columns of young Lou Nuer men marching on Murle communities in Pibor County and then engaging in an unknown number of clashes. Local officials say at least 300 Murle were killed, including dozens of women and children, but they are still looking for bodies in the bush. More than 150 Lou Nuer were evacuated to area hospitals, the majority with gunshot wounds.
Violence has touched off once again in the restive Kivu region of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “The attacks on the town of Goma as well as on MONUSCO [UN Stabilization Mission] forces, and their tragic consequences on the civilian populations already traumatized by two decades of conflict, are unacceptable. They must stop immediately,” said Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region of Africa Mary Robinson in a statement last week.
Mali recently held two rounds of presidential elections, utilizing some 21,000 polling stations throughout the West Africa nation. Nearly 50 percent of the country’s 6.8 million registered voters cast a ballot in the first round alone. International and national observers—who were present in all regions—reported the elections were conducted in a peaceful, orderly fashion, as results declared Ibrahim Boubacar Keita the winner. The elections were made possible, in large part, due to efforts of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Early on the morning of March 9, a 15-car United Nations convoy was making one of its usual runs through South Sudan’s Jonglei. This northeastern state, which covers over 47,300 square miles, has been riven by conflict long before the country’s independence in 2011. Convoys from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) frequently patrol the area, offering protection to civilians and workers from other humanitarian groups.
Stunned by recent rebel advances in eastern Congo, European and U.S. officials have called for strengthened international efforts in the region. Yet they have stopped short of promising more muscle for the United Nations’ scattered and ill-equipped peacekeeping operation.
The death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a former Marxist rebel who became one of the West’s most trusted African allies, could offer the best opportunity in years to end the country’s longstanding border conflict with Eritrea.
The international community took a new stab at solving the Syrian crisis on Saturday by agreeing to guidelines for the political transition mentioned in Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan. The outcome elicited a host of reactions from those it is supposed to guide, as well as UN actors. Few seem confident that talking will end the bloodshed.
Like everything else in global politics, contemporary UN peacekeeping looks little like what was imagined at the close of the Cold War. Two decades of experimentation, loss and strategic reevaluation have clarified the parameters of “peace operations” and developed a set of policy tools tailored to specific circumstances, roles and objectives in support of global peace and stability.
Today is the 64th anniversary of United Nations peacekeeping. In missions throughout Africa, Asia, and around the world, more than 121,000 blue helmets patrol the streets, help countries rebuild infrastructure, and maintain the rule of law. It’s hard to imagine Liberia without peacekeepers.