Author : Pallav Agarwal

Expert Speak Young Voices
Published on Dec 10, 2018
70 years of peacekeeping: Achievements, challenges and need for reforms

This year marked the 70th anniversary of the UN Peacekeeping operations. UN Peacekeeping is guided by four basic principles: consent of the parties; impartiality; non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate. Peacekeeping has unique strengths such as legitimacy, burden-sharing, deployment of troops around the world and integrating them with civilian peacekeepers to enforce various multidimensional mandates. However, the physical and political fragility of conflict situations limits the likelihood of success. Yet, they have attained a significant number of achievements, including a Nobel Peace Prize. But reforms are the need of the hour as UN peacekeeping today faces several new challenges that have surfaced due to changing geopolitical situations. We need to begin by evaluating the evolution of the concept of peacekeeping.

Evolution of UN peacekeeping forces

Peacekeeping became the most important tool available to the UN in order to maintain peace and security in conflict areas at a time when cold war rivalries frequently paralysed the Security Council. The first UN peacekeeping mission was authorised in May 1948 and a team was deployed to the West Asia during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. It consisted of unarmed military observers whose primary role was to monitor, report and build confidence. The earliest armed peacekeeping operation was the first UN Emergency Force deployed during the Suez crisis in 1956. The first large-scale mission having nearly 20,000 military personnel was the UN Operation in Congo launched in 1960. Since then, the UN has deployed more than 70 peacekeeping operations. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel, as well as tens of thousands of UN police and other civilians from more than 120 countries have participated in UN peacekeeping operations.

The nature of conflicts changed over the years, and peacekeeping, which originally emerged to deal with interstate conflicts, began to be applied to intrastate conflicts including civil wars.

The accomplishments from past missions have raised the expectations from UN Peacekeeping beyond its capacity to deliver. UN Peacekeepers are now undertaking a wide variety of complex tasks, from establishing sustainable governance structures, human rights monitoring, security sector reforms, to the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants. Moreover, there has been a rise in civilian casualties due to inadequate resource allocation to peacekeepers on the ground. This forced the Security Council to limit the number of new peacekeeping missions and at present, there are only 14 UN peacekeeping operations deployed in 4 continents. However, this does not mean that the challenges that they face are diminishing. The UN is undertaking a major exercise to introduce reforms in peacekeeping operations.


The biggest challenge that UN peacekeeping forces are facing today is the difference of opinion between the countries of the Global North and South with regards to the scope and mandates of peacekeeping operations. There are inconsistencies in the positions adopted by actors on both the sides. For instance, countries of the South are demanding more aggressive peacekeeping and condemning the North for not intervening adequately in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Congo, yet at the same time accusing them of interventionist policies. Northern countries also hesitate to engage their troops with the UN due to its deficiencies and, also refuse to finance the measures needed to improve the UN. The countries of the north are asking for more robust peacekeeping mandates, while countries of the south fear that this may threaten their sovereignty. The peacekeepers are demanding more resources, whereas Global South fears that this would divert resources better spent on fighting poverty. The Security Council is accused of using these operations only in areas, which are geopolitically significant to them, and ignoring the rest. The Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres, launched an Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative on 28 March 2018, to renew the individual and collective commitments of Member States to strengthen peacekeeping operations on the ground and resolve these conflicting issues.

Peacekeepers also came under criticism because of their failure to protect those who are vulnerable and trust peacekeepers to protect them. For instance, peacekeepers in South Sudan failed to protect the public from attacks despite repeated calls for help while being stationed just a mile away.

UN Security Council has adopted the resolution 2272 - to hold peacekeepers accountable for sexual abuse. The United States has introduced a new resolution to accelerate progress on peacekeeping performances, which has three critical performance priorities. First, the Security Council and the concerned member states need to report their performance failures in a time-bound and transparent manner. Second, an accountability mechanism for failure needs to be established and incentives should be given for stronger performance (suggestion for any incentive mechanism). Third, data is necessary in order for troops to be deployed for the right roles, and deployment should only be on the basis of training and operational readiness, and not politics.

India and UN Peacekeeping

India has a long history of cooperation with the UN peacekeeping. One of the earliest peacekeeping missions deployed in India was the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in 1948 itself. India has been at the vanguard of peacekeeping right from 1950 when it supplied medical personnel and troops to the UN Repatriation Commission in Korea. Since then, India has participated in 49 missions sending more than 2,08,000 troops. 156 Indians have sacrificed their lives in these peacekeeping operations, the largest sacrifice by any troop-contributing nation. India has developed a well-rounded policy for participation in UN peacekeeping operations. It has established a training centre in Delhi under the Centre for UN Peacekeeping. This centre has provided the secretariat for International Peacekeeping Institutes for almost two decades. This has enhanced its image and it has begun to be accepted as an important player on the world stage. Acknowledging India’s contribution, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said that it would be an understatement to say that India’s contribution to global peace has been remarkable.

India has been very vocal and at the forefront regarding reforms for peacekeeping forces. India wants a greater say in decisions pertaining to peacekeeping. From India’s point of view, better training of peacekeepers is required.

It is against the idea of a more robust peacekeeping and wants greater allocation of funds. India wants that the UNSC should decide peacekeeping operations within 30 days or a maximum period of 90 days in order to avoid tragedies because of delays. India also wants the involvement of experts from various fields in peacekeeping in order to better deal with emerging challenges. There should also be a sound exit policy for peacekeepers.

New Delhi has a huge role to play when it comes to introducing reforms to peacekeeping. The Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations, part of the A4P initiative, has highlighted the crucial areas for reforms. For instance, improving the safety of peacekeepers, holding them accountable for their actions, strengthening protection provided by peacekeeping forces, and finding political solutions to conflicts and enhancing the political impact of peacekeeping. India should take advantage of its rising global stature and should take a lead in order to make this arm of the UN more effective.

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