Global Policy Forum

UN Rejects Private Peacekeepers

Even though the Department of Peacekeeping Operations faces a shortage of troops, the UN is skeptical about privatizing peacekeeping forces. Some critics' concerns include "[jeopardizing] norms of neutrality among aid groups and... further multiplication of armed forces on the ground."

By Thalif Deen

Inter Press News
August 27, 2004

As the United Nations continues to face a shortage of well-equipped, professionally trained soldiers for its growing peacekeeping operations overseas, a proposal to hire private security forces to rectify the shortfall has been greeted with scepticism.

''There is little or no support for the privatisation of U.N. peacekeeping,'' says a senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''I cannot think of any member state willing to go along with the proposal,'' he told IPS.

A proposal to double the current peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from 10,800 to about 23,900, and the possibility of a new 10,000-strong U.N. mission in Sudan are expected to bolster the total number of U.N. peacekeepers from 59,000 to over 82,000.

But most western states remain reluctant to provide peacekeepers, mostly for political and security reasons, abdicating the role of peacekeeping mostly to developing nations. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan complained in 2003 that although these countries have the world's best-equipped military forces, they have refused to actively participate in peacekeeping operations.

Last November, the London 'Financial Times' said Annan was exploring the possibility of hiring private security forces for U.N. peacekeeping missions as a means of resolving the problem. In anticipation of this, the paper said, at least one British security firm was building a database of some 5,000 former soldiers who would be available to work for the United Nations at short notice.

But David Harland of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations told IPS the privatisation of U.N. peacekeeping was not on any agenda. Asked if the peacekeepers who were killed in Kosovo in April this year were from private security firms, as originally reported, he said they were ''seconded for service'' by member states.

The shooting incident in the town of Mitrovica left three international police officers dead and almost a dozen others wounded, 10 of who were U.S. correctional officers while the 11th was an Austrian civilian police officer. But none was from any private security firm.

As of July, the 10 largest troop contributors to U.N. operations were from developing nations: Pakistan (8,544 troops), Bangladesh (7,163), Nigeria (3,579), Ghana (3,341), India (2,934), Ethiopia (2,863), South Africa (2,480), Uruguay (1,962), Jordan (1,864), and Kenya (1,831).

In contrast, the number of troops from western nations averaged less than 600. The largest contributors were United Kingdom (567 troops), Canada (564), France (561), Ireland (479), and the United States (427).

Of the 16 U.N. peacekeeping missions, seven are in Africa: Burundi (since June 2004); Cote d'Ivoire (since April 2004); Liberia (since September 2003); Ethiopia/Eritrea (since July 2000); Democratic Republic of Congo (since November 1999); Sierra Leone (since October 1999); and Western Sahara (since April 1991).

Last April, U.S. President George W Bush approved a plan to train about 75,000 soldiers, mostly from Africa, over a five-year period for peacekeeping. The Bush administration, which has called the project 'the Global Peace Operations Initiative', has committed some 660 million dollars to build peacekeeping capacity.

''This is meant to expand worldwide capacity that could be used by the United Nations or by others,'' said Douglas Feith, under-secretary-general for policy at the U.S. department of defence. Feith told reporters ''there was not enough capacity in the world to deal with the requirements. Other countries have shown an interest in building up their peacekeeping forces, but they need help.''

But Peter W Singer of the Brookings Institution warns the international humanitarian community to be cautious about its dealings with private security forces. ''The emergence of a global trade in hired military services, better known as the 'privatised military industry', is one of the most interesting developments in warfare over the last decade,'' he writes in the current issue of 'Humanitarian Affairs Review', a quarterly journal of global policy issues published in Belgium. These firms, he says, now operate in over 50 countries, helping win conflicts in Angola, Croatia, Ethiopia-Eritrea and Sierra Leone.

From 1994 to 2000, the U.S. defence department alone entered into over 3,000 contracts with U.S.-based firms, which provided goods and services estimated at a value of more than 300 billion dollars. The Canadian military, Singer adds, recently privatised its supply chain to the British firm, Tibbett and Britten.

But the work of the privatised military industry is not limited to governments, because clients have included rebel groups, drug cartels and humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Singer says no example better illustrates the industry's growing activity than the war in Iraq, where private military contractors handled everything -- from feeding and housing coalition troops to maintaining the most sophisticated weapons systems. He warns that the presence of these firms might jeopardise norms of neutrality among aid groups and lead to a further multiplication of armed forces on the ground.

''In the end, meeting humanitarian needs with private military solutions is not necessarily a terrible or impossible thing,'' Singer writes. ''But, it clearly carries both advantages and disadvantages that must constantly be weighed and mitigated through effective policy and smart business sense.'' In this most essential public realm, where people's lives are at stake, he argues, ''we must be doubly sure of our dealings with private industry.''

''We should not let our frustrations lead us down the dangerous path of privatisation without due consideration,'' Singer says.


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