Who are Blue Helmets?

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May 1, 2024

Who are Blue Helmets?

The Blue Helmets, officially known as the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces, are multinational military units operated by the United Nations. Their primary objective is to maintain or restore peace and security in areas affected by conflict or violence. The name “Blue Helmets” comes from the distinctive light blue helmets worn by UN peacekeepers.

  • United Nations peacekeepers are used to help countries transition out of conflict.
  • Since the UN’s founding, over 1 million peacekeepers have been deployed in more than 70 operations.
  • There are twelve ongoing UN peacekeeping operation around the world.
  • In 1988, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an unusual recipient: a military force.
  • Yet the decision to honour the United Nations peacekeeping forces was in line with past laureates as UN peacekeepers are not deployed to fight wars. Rather, they help countries navigate peace processes and transition out of conflict.
  • As then-UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez saidat the time, “the essence of peacekeeping is the use of soldiers as a catalyst for peace rather than as the instruments of war.”

How peacekeeping operations are formed?

  • The formation of a peacekeeping mission can be an onerous process.
  • First and foremost, peacekeepers can only be deployed with the consent of the warring parties. This can be extremely challenging to obtain when conflicts are raging as governments and political groups are often reluctant to have international actors interfere in their affairs.
  • UN peacekeeping operations must also be authorised by the Security Council, the UN’s principal body for dealing with international peace and security. This requires a passing vote by the fifteen-member body without a single veto from one of the five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. This, too, can be challenging as creating consensus around conflict is often difficult.
  • If agreed upon, the Security Council creates a resolution that details a specific mandate for the operation and names senior leaders to lead the mission.
  • The General Assembly, the UN’s main policymaking and representative organ, then determines the financing and staffing of the mission. The burden of peacekeeping operations is split between all UN member states, with some countries covering more of the cost while others provide more military and police personnel. As of 2022, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Rwanda are the top personnel-contributing countries while the United States, China, Japan and Germany are the top financing countries.
  • Since the UN has no standing peacekeeping force, each peacekeeping operation is formed on an ad hoc basis. As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said, UN peacekeeping is “the only fire brigade in the world that has to wait for the fire to break out before it can acquire a fire engine.”

What does peacekeeping entail?

  • All peacekeeping operations are guided by three core principles: consent of the parties engaged in conflict; complete impartiality; and non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
  • Peacekeeping mandates can differ significantly as they are tailored to specific conflicts. Objectives can include tracking violence, disarming and reintegrating fighters into society, monitoring elections, establishing judicial systems and facilitating reconciliation processes, among others. The size of peacekeeping missions can vary, from a force of tens of thousands or just a few hundred.
  • Operations are largely staffed by military personnel who are equipped in UN-blue coloured helmets—earning the forces the Blue Helmets moniker. Police personnel and other experts such as humanitarian specialists, legal advisors and economists are also often deployed.
  • Today, half of ongoing UN peacekeeping operations are in Africa. This includes operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara, Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Sudan’s Abyei region. The mandates largely entail protecting civilians, monitoring ceasefires, overseeing elections and reforming governing systems, among other directives.

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Who are Blue Helmets? | Vaid ICS Institute