Nolde's Soldiers 

“Soldaten”, Emil Nolde, 1913




 We have received the following bulletin from the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Vienna, entitled “Message on International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers”, issued by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres, and we want to share it with you.

Following the bulletin, we will have some  comments on some of the points made by the Secretary-General.

The Bulletin



26 May 2017

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres:

Message on International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

“Investing in Peace Around the World”

VIENNA, 29 May (UN Information Service) – For nearly 70 years, UN peacekeeping has proven to be one of the international community’s most effective investments in peace, security and prosperity.

Demand for UN peacekeepers has risen steadily over the years, and deployment is now near an all-time high. Peacekeeping has had a positive impact on the lives of millions of people around the world.

Despite their different sizes and mandates, all UN missions have the same goals: to save lives, protect people, to set the stage for peace, and then close.  They are intended to be short-term investments that provide long-term dividends by creating the time and space for political processes to unfold.

To date, fifty-four UN peace operations have completed their mandates. Two more, in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, will soon close, joining a long list of successful operations in Angola, Cambodia, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste and elsewhere.

Looking forward, we are aiming to do more to end operations that have achieved their goals. We are also reforming and adapting our peacekeeping missions to improve their effectiveness in the increasingly challenging environments in which they work.

Today’s peacekeeping budget — less than one half of one per cent of global military spending — is money well spent. It is a fraction of the cost of allowing conflict to spread and erode the gains of economic development. The investment is multiplied by the economic growth and prosperity that follow from stability and security after successful peacekeeping missions.

The UN is working hard to make all our peacekeeping operations cost-effective from start to finish. We are constantly finding ways to reform, restructure and drive costs down.

At the same time, UN peacekeepers are relentless in searching for new ways to build sustainable peace.

Peacekeeping operations have evolved from simply monitoring ceasefires to protecting civilians, disarming ex-combatants, protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law, supporting free and fair elections, minimizing the risk of land-mines and much more.  They also work to ensure that women are fully represented in peace processes, political life, and in branches of government.  All these investments are fundamental to building lasting peace.

Since taking office earlier this year, I have made ending the scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN personnel, including peacekeepers, one of my top priorities. We are by no means perfect. But when we make mistakes, we learn from them, striving continuously to deploy our personnel and assets in a way that is not just responsible, but beneficial to the people and communities we serve.

I look forward to working with Member States on this.  Our partnership is central to the success of peacekeeping missions, since Member States decide where troops go, what they will do, and what resources will support them. Our close cooperation is vital if we are to deliver on the promise of lasting peace, while peacekeepers create conditions on the ground to enable solutions to emerge and take root.

I have also prioritized ensuring that women play a far more active role in peace operations, as troops, police and civilian staff. Gender parity is essential for its own sake, and the presence of women increases the chances of sustained peace while reducing incidences of sexual abuse and exploitation.

On this International Day of UN Peacekeepers we pay tribute to more than 113,000 ‘Blue Helmets’, UN Police and civilian personnel deployed to 16 missions.  We acknowledge the contribution made by an ever-growing number of Member States to our operations.  We thank more than one million women and men who have served under the UN flag with professionalism, dedication and courage throughout our history. And we honour the memory of more than 3,500 peacekeepers who lost their lives while serving.

Last year, 117 peacekeepers paid the ultimate price. They included military, police, international civil servants, UN Volunteers and national staff from 43 countries. So far in 2017, twelve peacekeepers have been killed.

Their efforts on behalf of the international community are one of the most concrete expressions of the UN Charter’s determination “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” We all owe them a great debt.


 Finances.  The Secretary-General has said that the current peacekeeping budget is “less than one-half of one percent of global military spending …”  To put that a bit more clearly in perspective, current world-wide military spending is about 1 trillion dollars. US military spending is about 600 billion dollars, just over one-third of the world total, and is 3.3 % of the US GDP[1]. Currently, the over 100,000 peacekeepers around the world cost the UN just under 8 billion  dollars.[2] This places international peacekeeping operations about on par with defence spending by Indonesia, which is ranked 28th among 30 nations’ defence expenditures rated by SIPRI; the total cost of peacekeeping equals less than 1% of the GDP of Indonesia.

Sheer Numbers.  Over 1 million men and women, military, police and civilian have served as peacekeepers.  Since the inception of modern peacekeeping in 1948, 3,500 have been killed. Last year, 117 peacekeepers were lost, and so far in this year twelve have died on duty.

So bang the drums slowly

And play the pipes lowly …


Discipline.  It is a fact which must be recognized and  accepted, that personnel administration is the responsibility of the troop contributor nation. This includes discipline. The Secretary-General and the concerned Secretariat officers will  do all in their power to enforce and to maintain discipline – but those powers do not reach very far.  Indiscipline of peacekeepers says far more about the professionalism, and indeed more about the standard of governance in the various sending states, than it does about the United Nations or about UN peacekeepers.


Operational Command and Control of Peacekeeping Foces.  The Secretary-General reminds us that “Member States decide where troops go, what they will do, and what resources will support them”.  Just so: this is the concept of operational control, which is  usually the best that can be vested in a Force Commander or any of his subordinate commanders.  As I wrote in my previous posting on Jean-Marie Gueheno’s book, The Fog of Peace (March, 2017):


National military forces contributed to a UN mission are never under the full command of the UN, nor for that matter, are committed NATO troops fully under the command  of NATO either. The command and control of joint and combined military operations, which pkos usually are, are governed by two principles:

There are degrees of and limitations on command and control of national forces under foreign command; and

There is always a national override on foreign command of  national contingents.  This is often referred to as “parallel command.”




This is an important document.  We hope we have done you and all peacekeepers a service in bringing it to your attention, and placing in context some important facts contained in this bulletin.

[1] These figures are taken from SIPRI Fact Sheet, Trends in World Military Expenditure 2016, accessed 31 May 2017.


[2] See “Financing Peacekeeping”, at, accessed 31 May 2017.


  1. Georgios Kostakos says:

    A lot of respect and praise is due to UN peacekeepers and DPKO for the work they have been doing in very difficult conflict areas over the last seven decades.
    That, however, does not prohibit critical comments and suggestions meant for further improvement (and not just troop reduction, which seems to be becoming a key goal under pressure from the new US Administration). Here are some of those critical comments, questions and suggestions, in no particular order:
    a. A UN officers corps that would invest in the training, socialisation and deployment of officers fully versed in the special requirements of UN peacekeeping would go a long way to reconcile “parallel command” tensions and enforce high standards of operation and behaviour across troops contributed by various countries;
    b. Although the number of contributing countries may have been increasing, the participation of developed countries with professionally trained troops and advanced equipment seems to have been decreasing, as a percentage of the total at least, which undermines the effectiveness, credibility and visibility (in part of the world at least) of UN peacekeeping;
    c. Late and half-hearted responses to gross mistakes or outright crimes perpetrated by UN peacekeepers do not contribute to the credibility, acceptability and broad respect that UN peacekeeping needs to be effective. From the Haiti cholera epidemic to child abuse in African countries the admission of guilt and punishment / compensation should be quicker and more directly undertaken by the UN, with clear rules that do not fudge national and UN responsibilities.

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