70 years of United Nations peace support operations


On 29 May 2018 the UN commemorated 70 years of UN Peace Support Operations (PSO) and celebrated “International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers”. Since 1948 the UN has authorised 71 PSOs in which some 3 326 peacekeepers from 120 countries died.

The UN was established in 1945. The Charter of the United Nations, of which General Jan Smuts wrote the original preamble, was signed on 26 June 1945 and came into effect on 24 October 1945.

Article One of the Charter of the United Nations states that the organisation is “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which may lead to a breach of the peace.

To achieve the above the Security Council of the United Nations (UNSC) may deploy a PSO mandated under the following Chapters of the Charter.

Chapter VI (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) which is classically an-inter positioning force deployed in a temporary security zone. The UN funds this PSO and members states participating is reimbursed in accordance with the United Nations Policy and Procedures for Reimbursement of Contingent Owned Equipment (COE Manual).

Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats of the Peace, breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) in which the UNSC mandates the respective Force Commander to take certain operational actions. It is funded by the UN and member states participating are reimbursed in accordance with the COE Manual.

Chapter VIII (Regional Arrangements) where the UNSC mandates a regional organisation or a group of countries to conduct a PSO. If it is a group of countries, they are generally referred to as the “Coalition of the Willing”. These missions are generally not funded by the UN, but may provide logistic support.

The first UN PSO was the deployment of the “UN Truce Supervision Organisation”, known as UNTSO in May 1948. The role of the mission, comprising mainly unarmed Military Observers and mandated under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, was to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours. The mission is still in operation today.

In 1956 the UN deployed its first armed PSO with the deployment of the “UN Emergency Force” (UNEF I) to address the Suez Canal issue. The PSO was established by the first emergency special session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) from 1 to 10 November 1956. The mandate of the Force was to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities, including the withdrawal of the armed forces of France, Israel and the United Kingdom from Egyptian territory and, after the withdrawal, to serve as a buffer between the Egyptian and Israeli forces and to provide impartial supervision of the ceasefire. UNEF was withdrawn in May-June 1967, at Egypt’s request.

The first large scale PSO was in 1960 with the deployment of the “UN Operation in the Congo” (ONUC). At its peak ONUC had nearly 20 000 military personnel. The mandate of ONUC was amended by UNSC resolution 161 dated 21 February 1961 to “use force” and again vide resolution 169 dated 24 November 1961 to “take vigorous action” under Chapter VII.

During the 1960s and 1970s the UNSC established a number of short term PSOs.

In 1988 the Nobel Committee cited “(UN) the Peacekeeping Forces through their efforts have made important contributions towards the realisation of one of the fundamental tenets of the United Nations. Thus, the world organisation has come to play a more central part in world affairs and has been invested with increasing trust”. The UN peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Since 1988 there has been a marked increase in the number of UN PSOs with 57 of the 71 taking place since 1988. The new PSOs changed from the “traditional”, i.e. deployment of primarily Military Observers to more complex “multidimensional” which is designed to ensure the implementation of comprehensive peace agreements and assist in laying the foundation for sustainable peace. At the same time the nature of conflicts changed from inter-State conflicts to intra-State conflicts and civil wars.

At 30 April 2018 there were 14 UN PSOs with seven on the African Continent. A total of 104 043 personnel from 124 countries are deployed in these missions. This comprises 87 916 uniform (76 026 Contingent Troops, 10 632 Police, 1 984 Staff Officers and 1 258 Experts on Mission), 12 830 Civilian and 1 308 UN Volunteers. Current cost is $6.8 billion. This includes logistic support to the African Unions Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).


South Africa first participated in a UN PSO was the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. 2 Squadron, SA Air Force was the main element of South Africa’s participation. In addition a squadron of Centurion tanks from the SA Army was seconded to a British Army Unit for deployment. It is interesting to note that this PSO is not included in the official UN List of Peacekeeping Operations.

MONUC/MONUSCO – PSO IN THE Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Participating in this PSO, under Operation MISTRAL, started in September 1999 with the deployment of a Capital Liaison Officer to Kampala in Uganda. Mandate of MONUC was amended with UNSC resolution 1291 dated 24 February 2000 as a Chapter VII PSO. This was followed with the deployment of the SANDF Specialist Contingent (SANDFSPECC) to various locations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This was followed with the deployment of Infantry, Engineers, Military Police, Helicopters and Medical personnel. Since the inception of the PSO South Africa has had a number of senior appointments. These include the MONUSCO Force Commander, Lieutenant General D. Mgwebi, Deputy Eastern Brigade Commander in MONUC Brigadier General D. Mdutyana, Brigadier General P. Dube as Commander Force Intervention Brigade in MONUSCO and Commander Sector 5 in MONUC, Colonel L. Smith. South Africa

UNMEE – PSO IN ERITREA AND ETHIOPIA. Participation was limited to the deployment of Military Observers and Staff Officers from July 2000 to July 2008 under Operation ESPRESSO. During this deployment history was made when the first female Military Observer deployed. The mandate of UNMEE was amended vide UNSC resolution 1320 dated 15 September 2000 to Chapter VII.

UNMIL – PSO IN LIBERIA. A small number of staff officers deployed under Operation MONTEGO from October 2003 to January 2005. UNMIL was established as a Chapter VII PSO vide UNSC resolution 1509 dated 19 September 2003.

ONUB – PSO IN BURUNDI. This PSO followed on from the African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB) under Operation FIBRE from June 2004 to December 2006. Major General D. Mgwebi became the first South African to be appointed as a UN PSO Force Commander. This was the first PSO where all four of the Services were deployed. ONUB was established as a Chapter VII PSO vide UNSC resolution 1545 dated 21 May 2004.

UNMIS – PSO IN SUDAN. A Staff Officer was deployed to the United Nations Mission in Sudan UNMIS) under Operation CORDITE. UNMIS was established as a Chapter VII PSO vide UNSC resolution 1590 dated 24 March 2005. The PSO was terminated on July 2007 with the establishment of UNAMID.

UNAMID – PSO IN DARFUR, SUDAN. This was a follow on from the Africa Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) under Operation CORDITE from July 2008 until the withdrawal of the SANDF contingent in April 2016. This was the first mission in which the SA Police Service deployed with Commissioner M. Fryer been appointed as UNAMID Police Commissioner. Brigadier General D. Mdutyana served as Deputy UNAMID Force Commander until November 2010. During this mission three members of the SA Police Service was abducted and later returned unharmed. UNAMID was established as a Chapter VII PSO vide UNSC resolution 1769 dated 31 July 2007.

UNMIN – PSO IN NEPAL. A small number of Military Observers were deployed under Operations INDULI from April 2007 to July 2009. The Military Observers deployed in civilian dress.

UNSMIS – PSO IN SYRIA. A small number of Military Observers were identified for redeployment from MONUSCO in the DRC to UNSMIS in Syria under Operation VIGILANCE in June 2012. A request for the deployment of additional Military Observers were received. None of the Military Observers deployed to UNSMIS. The PSO only lasted from April 2012 to August 2012.

UNMISS – PSO IN SOUTHERN SUDAN. There are currently a small number of SA Police Service members deployed. UNMISS was established as a Chapter VII PSO vide UNSC resolution 1996 date 8 July 2011.


At 30 April 2018 South Africa had 1 231 personnel deployed in three missions. These are as follows:

MONUSCO. A total of 1 184. This includes 1 160 military, 18 Staff Officers and six Experts on Mission.

UNAMID. A total of 35 which includes 21 members of the SA Police Service, ten Experts on Mission and four Staff Officers.

UNMISS. A total of 12 members of the SA Police Service are deployed.