The Thin Blue Line: Keeping the Peace in Mali and Around the World

UN Peacekeeper and Boy in Mali
Peacekeeper and civilian, northeastern Mali. Photo MINUSMA / Harandane Dicko

Why UN Peacekeeping Needs Support from the International Community It Protects

In 2017, 129 UN peacekeepers were killed in the line of duty. Almost a quarter of those casualties were serving the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). On May 29th, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to that country to honor the ultimate service that the fallen peacekeepers made there and to observe the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. This year’s theme is 70 Years of Service and Sacrifice.

A recent UN Security Council meeting acknowledged that the already dire security situation in Mali is worsening and expressed an urgent for sustained support. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb controls the northern part of the country through the support of local Tuareg groups. MINUSMA peacekeepers have become the targets of terrorist attacks.

“Peacekeepers have few ties to the local community,” wrote OEF researcher John Filitz. “This lack of local knowledge undermines peacekeeping efforts: MINUSMA is now considered among the most dangerous UN peacekeeping missions ever undertaken, with over 118 peacekeepers killed since it was established in 2013.”

Terrorists Know No Borders

Filitz believes that MINUSMA’s approach should be less country specific and more transnational.

“Closer cooperation is needed between UN, the Economic Community of West African States, and the African Union,” wrote Filitz. “Practically this could include joint security operations against the various armed groups putting down roots across the Sahel.”

Fatima Kyari Mohammed, Permanent Observer of the African Union agrees.

“What is happening in Africa reminds us of the fact that terrorists know no borders,” she said.

In response, Secretary-General Guterres is revamping the UN peacekeeping program so that it is focused on realistic expectations; makes missions stronger and safer; and builds greater support for political solutions.

 “We urgently need a quantum leap in collective engagement,” the Secretary-General said. “This is why I am launching a new initiative, ‘Action for Peacekeeping’, aimed at mobilizing all partners and stakeholders to support the great enterprise of United Nations peacekeeping,”

The MINUSMA mission underlines why the UN must urgently advance  its approach to keep up with the nature of modern day conflicts. Despite its well publicized shortcomings, UN peacekeeping is still one of the world's most successful methods for stemming violence and sustaining peace.

Peacekeeping in Action

“Over the last 70 years UN peacekeeping has evolved into one of the world’s best tools for conflict management,” said OEF Researcher Jay Benson.  “Research has shown peacekeeping to be effective. Multilateral cooperation provides a level of global security that would be prohibitively expensive through unilateral efforts.”

Peacekeeping missions decrease the risk of war recurrence by 70 percent, prevent outbreaks of violence from spreading to other countries by 75 percent, and reduce both civilian and combatant deaths

Even if the facts show that UN peacekeeping conflict resolution works, its value continues to be called into question by policymakers. As missions become deadlier, budgets are being cut. Personnel are being asked to do more with less. Investing a little more into the program could go a long way.

“The average American household pays about $600 a month for the military and things associated with the military and we pay about two dollars a month for UN peacekeeping,” said Joshua Goldstein, author of Winning the War on War. “If we took that two dollars and turned it into four dollars it would make a huge difference to millions of people around the world because these peacekeepers, who today don’t have boots and don’t have bullets and don’t have paper to write their reports on; if they could have those things they would be a lot more successful. We know the stuff that works, but we need to give the resources to it.”

Protecting The World's Guardians

UN Peacekeepers monitor ceasefires, patrol streets as police, and when necessary fight to save civilian lives. When necessary, they make the ultimate sacrifice. Since the first UN Peacekeeping mission was established in 1948, more than 3,700 personnel have given their lives.

“If a more peaceful world is going to be built in the years to come, UN peacekeeping will continue to be a key element of those efforts, as they have been in the past,” said Benson. “In order to succeed, peacekeeping operations will need to receive the necessary resources and support from the international community they protect.”

In Mali, the epicienter for Al Qaeda's extremist ambitions in the Sahel, MINUSMA's current $1.1 billion budget is lower than the previous year. However, even as other missions are reduced or are withdrawn, even reluctant members of the UN Security Council agree that MINUSMA is important for the stability of West Africa and for preventing acts of terrorism abroad.

Text by Jean-Pierre Larroque. Photos by UN MINUSMA.

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