Outgoing UN peacekeeping chief points to reduced operations cost as milestone

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United Nations peacekeeping is becoming more agile and capable, the outgoing chief said, with the cost for each peacekeeper falling 16% in recent years dropping the budget of blue helmets worldwide to around $7.2 billion.

“It’s a lot of money at face value, but it’s less than half a percent of world military expenditure,” Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told journalists in New York during his final briefing in this post.
“No other army has done what the United Nations has done over the past six years,” he added. The price for UN peacekeeping operations is currently $7.2 billion, down from $8.2 billion in 2011. “We diminished the cost per peacekeeper by 16% without any diminution in the level of equipment.”

Comparing UN costs with the price tag for similar operations done by governments alone, Ladsous said the UN operation cost was a quarter of such operations.

Even as costs have decreased, the agility and capacities of UN peacekeeping has strengthened Ladsous said.

As an example, the UN will shortly have a permanent capacity to deploy a vanguard brigade within 30 to 60 days, a “very useful” improvement over the current six to eight months to deploy a unit.

Technological advances, such as surveillance drones, balloons and cameras are helping to bring “peacekeeping into the 21st century”.

Another example of progress cited by him is work underway to create a framework policy on intelligence which will save lives and allow peacekeepers “to do a better job.”

The geographic makeup of peacekeepers is also changing, with an increased number of units from the so-called Global North, which incorporates countries from North America and Europe, as opposed to the Global South, which consists of South America, Asia and Africa.
“When I came in in 2011, 95% of peacekeepers were from the Global South. Now we have more countries from the Global North, from Europe and the European Union in Mali and in Central Africa.”

Another key aspect of change in peacekeeping is the ability to adapt to the situation in each country and create exit strategies “because missions are not eternal”.

He noted three peacekeeping operations – in Côte D’Ivoire, Haiti and Liberia – are expected to close down this year.
‘Peacekeeping is about political solutions’

Despite the evolution of peacekeeping, its operations are often hampered by ongoing challenges. These include deployments to countries where there is no political process.
“Peacekeeping is about political solutions. The visible part is the soldiers, the uniforms, the policemen, but the reality is we’re there to serve a political solution and quite often, it was the case in Mali initially, it was the case in CAR (Central African Republic) initially, there was no political solution in sight,” he said.

The Security Council “is not always as supportive as it should be” in such circumstances, nor in instances where UN blue helmets should be sent.

One of the greatest challenges, however, is managing expectations of UN member states, donor countries and other stakeholders.
“The heart of the mandate is about protection of civilians. This is an extremely difficult issue. We cannot have a peacekeeper behind every single citizen in theatre,” Ladsous said.

While difficult to quantify, UN peacekeeping saves lives, the outgoing chief said. Pointing to South Sudan, where he visited with incoming peacekeeping chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Ladsous said the UN saved at least 220,000 lives there.

Among other issues discussed in his final press briefing was the recent sexual exploitation and abuse report, asymmetrical attacks on peacekeepers and un-cooperative governments hosting peacekeeping operations.