The Multilateralist

How Dangerous Is U.N. Peacekeeping?

The Sudanese government and rebel groups are trading accusations over responsibility for the recent deadly attack on U.N. peacekeepers. Seven U.N. personnel were killed, and more than a dozen were injured in the attack, which took place on Saturday as a U.N. convoy moved between two bases. The Sudanese government blames a wing of the ...

The Sudanese government and rebel groups are trading accusations over responsibility for the recent deadly attack on U.N. peacekeepers. Seven U.N. personnel were killed, and more than a dozen were injured in the attack, which took place on Saturday as a U.N. convoy moved between two bases. The Sudanese government blames a wing of the Sudan Liberation Army. Opposition groups -- and some outside observers -- insist that pro-government militias were responsible.

The Darfur attack comes just a few months after the deaths of five Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan. Meanwhile, blue helmets on the Golan Heights have several times been held hostage by Syrian rebel groups. According to U.N. data, more than 40 peacekeepers have been killed this year. And as the U.N. "intervention brigade" begins operations in eastern Congo, it's likely that mission will become more dangerous.

In this context, it's easy to have the impression that peacekeeping has become more hazardous. The data doesn't necessarily support that conclusion. Past missions to the former Yugoslavia (during the 1990s) and Congo (during the 1960s) both claimed the lives of more than 200 U.N. personnel. The bloodiest year ever for peacekeeping was 1993, when more than 250 troops and other U.N. staff were killed in the field. Recent deaths notwithstanding, 2013 is on pace to be the least deadly year since 2007.

The Sudanese government and rebel groups are trading accusations over responsibility for the recent deadly attack on U.N. peacekeepers. Seven U.N. personnel were killed, and more than a dozen were injured in the attack, which took place on Saturday as a U.N. convoy moved between two bases. The Sudanese government blames a wing of the Sudan Liberation Army. Opposition groups — and some outside observersinsist that pro-government militias were responsible.

The Darfur attack comes just a few months after the deaths of five Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan. Meanwhile, blue helmets on the Golan Heights have several times been held hostage by Syrian rebel groups. According to U.N. data, more than 40 peacekeepers have been killed this year. And as the U.N. "intervention brigade" begins operations in eastern Congo, it’s likely that mission will become more dangerous.

In this context, it’s easy to have the impression that peacekeeping has become more hazardous. The data doesn’t necessarily support that conclusion. Past missions to the former Yugoslavia (during the 1990s) and Congo (during the 1960s) both claimed the lives of more than 200 U.N. personnel. The bloodiest year ever for peacekeeping was 1993, when more than 250 troops and other U.N. staff were killed in the field. Recent deaths notwithstanding, 2013 is on pace to be the least deadly year since 2007.

That is small consolation for Tanzania, home to the fallen blue helmets. Its officials have demanded that the force in Darfur have a stronger mandate and capabilities. Via Reuters:

"We are communicating with the U.N. on the possibility of strengthening the mandate of peacekeepers in Darfur to enable our troops to protect themselves against attacks," Tanzania’s army spokesman, Kapambala Mgawe, told reporters in the east African country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

"We want our troops in Darfur to be able to use force to enforce peace and defend themselves against future ambushes from rebels."

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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