Declining trends in global peace operations

Photo: Unamid/Albert González Farran

While the number of United Nations and non-UN multilateral peace operations increased slightly in 2019, the number of personnel deployed in them decreased, according to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Although sub-Saharan Africa maintained the highest number of operations and personnel, two new operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) may signal a shift in regional focus.

Meanwhile, the data indicates that fatality rates were low in all UN peace operations except for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

There were 61 multilateral peace operations in 2019, one more than the previous year.

The data shows that the number of personnel in multilateral peace operations—including military, police and international civilian personnel—decreased by 4.8 per cent from 31 December 2018 to 31 December 2019.

All of the 10 largest operations either kept a similar number of personnel or diminished in size during 2019.

‘The decreasing personnel numbers can be explained by reductions in and closures of a number of larger operations in recent years, while successor or newly established operations tend to be smaller and more political in character,’ says Dr Jaïr van der Lijn, Director of the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Program.

​​​​​​Peace operations decreased in sub-Saharan Africa, increased in MENA

The number of personnel deployed in sub-Saharan Africa decreased by 5.8 per cent in 2019.

However, sub-Saharan Africa still accounted for 71 per cent of all peace operation personnel.

‘The number of personnel in multilateral peace operations in sub-Saharan Africa peaked in 2015 and has been decreasing ever since; in 2019 it fell below 100 000 for the first time since early 2013,’ says Timo Smit, Researcher with the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme.

‘This has been offset by a notable increase in regional and international counterterrorism operations, particularly in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin regions.’

While sub-Saharan Africa maintained the highest number of peace operations and personnel overall, the data indicates a slight shift in attention towards MENA.

With two new peace operations in 2019, MENA was the only region to see an increase in personnel (4.7 per cent).

The UN mission in Mali continues to be the deadliest

Since its establishment in 2013, MINUSMA has experienced a relatively high number of hostile deaths among its personnel. However, most other UN peace operations suffer relatively few hostile deaths.

‘Excluding MINUSMA, the picture changes significantly,’ says Dr van der Lijn. ‘In fact, MINUSMA stands out because of its close links to international counterterrorism strategies in the Sahel. Other operations remain closer to the traditional principles of peacekeeping—impartiality, consent of the parties and non-use of force except in self-defence—and, therefore, also meet less violent resistance.’

There were 28 personnel fatalities attributed to malicious acts in UN peace operations in 2019, one more than the previous year. Of these hostile deaths, 23 were uniformed personnel—of which all but one were deployed with MINUSMA.

Other notable developments

Top troop-contributing countries to UN and non-UN multilateral peace operations: Ethiopia continued to be the top contributor of military personnel. The United States was the second-largest contributor and the only country in the Global North represented in the top 10 of troop-contributing countries.

The USA contributed few military personnel to UN peace operations and participated primarily in non-UN operations. The remaining top 10 contributors were located in sub-Saharan Africa (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan). Overall, the top 10 contributors accounted for half of all military personnel deployed as of 31 December 2019.

Largest multilateral peace operations: The three largest multilateral peace operations in 2019 were the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan. AMISOM continued to be the largest by a notable margin, consisting of 20 370 military, police and international civilian personnel as of 31 December 2019.

Women’s representation in UN peace operations: While the number of personnel serving in all UN peace operations decreased in 2019, the number and proportion of women deployed in them increased. On 31 December 2019, women accounted for 5.3 per cent of military personnel and 15 per cent of police personnel, compared to 4.2 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, in the previous year.