Attrition: Dying To Help


January 15, 2010: The UN lost 28 civilian staff to violence last year. Considering that the UN has over 50,000 civilian staff deployed worldwide, and often in very violent areas, that's not a shocking death toll. But it's only the tip of the iceberg, and represents a rising trend of violence towards UN humanitarian operations. The UN recently halted food shipments to people starving because of drought, famine and widespread fighting, in southern Somalia. An increasing portion of the food sent to Somalia was being stolen, and local warlords were demanding still larger bribes to allow the food in. The area is so violent, that the UN cannot get any nations to provide peacekeeping troops to guard the food. And the local security guards are not able to do the job. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Islamic radicals have declared the UN an enemy of Islam, the UN is often the target of deliberate attacks. Some 60 percent of the UN staff fatalities took place in those two countries, and there are many areas there where the UN will not operate at all.

Security is better in places where the UN can employ its own troops. The UN peacekeeping force is fairly substantial (130,000 troops, police and civilians). Most of the peacekeepers are armed, and most are soldiers. The duty is usually in remote areas. Although most peacekeepers are not engaged in heavy combat, about 90 a year are killed, and several thousand are wounded, injured or suffer from a serious disease.

The UN force is deployed on 15 peacekeeping missions. The UN would like to get more money, because the over $7 billion a year it spends on existing peacekeeping operations is not really enough. Corners are always being cut. Corruption, casualties and lack of success are discouraging countries from contributing their troops. The corruption angle is interesting, as it pertains both to the corruption within the UN bureaucracy, and the corrupt atmosphere the peacekeepers operate in, and often succumb to. Casualties are expected, but the contributing countries feel a lot of their troop losses are the result of restrictive UN rules that limit what peacekeepers can do. This, in turn, is believed most responsible for a lack of success for the peacekeeping missions.

For some time, most of the peacekeeping troops have come from India and Pakistan. These two nations are not happy with the lack of volunteers from other major nations. The chief reasons for that are the same ones annoying the current peacekeepers (corruption and restrictive rules of engagement). In addition, the major military powers (with the exception of China and Russia) feel they already contribute quite a lot in the form of money to pay the peacekeepers. And the contributors are also upset at the lack of results.

But it's actually a pretty cheap way of keeping some conflicts under control. The causes of the unrest may not be resolved by peacekeepers, but at least the problem is contained and doesn't bother the rest of the world too much. This is an increasingly unpopular approach to peacekeeping, except in the UN bureaucracy. Many UN members would rather send peacekeepers to where they are not wanted (by the government, usually a bad one, that is often the cause of the trouble in the first place.)

Most of the money is going to a few large peacekeeping operations. Three of the largest get over half the cash. Thus the Congo operations get 17.5 percent of the money, Darfur (western Sudan) gets 22 percent and southern Sudan gets 12 percent. Africa has the largest number of "failed states" on the planet and, as such, is most in need of outside security assistance. The Middle East is also a source of much unrest. But there the problem isn't a lack of government, just bad government. Most Middle Eastern nations are run by tyrants, who have created police states that at least keep anarchy at bay.

To further complicate matters, religion has become a touchy subject. While Islamic radicalism is more of a problem to fellow Moslems than it is to infidels (non-Moslems), most Middle Eastern governments avoid blaming Islam for these problems. Since it's increasing difficult to pin the blame on "colonialism" or "crusaders," the Middle Eastern nations encourage other UN members to just stay away from the religious angle altogether. This has made it difficult to deal with peacekeeping issues in Moslem nations, since religion usually plays a part in creating the problem. To the UN, this is just another diplomatic puzzle to be dealt with, usually not very well.

Most UN members agree that the peacekeepers do reduce violence in hotspots. But not enough in many places. The UN force is not really a combat force. For heavy fighting, you really have to call in the more heavily armed Western troops.



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