An expert's point of view on a current event.

Peace Is the Best Investment

U.N. member states must renew their commitment to the vital peacekeeping operations that end wars, protect civilians, and save lives.

A United Nations  peacekeeper speaks to a child while on patrol through the streets Gao, Mali on August 3, 2018.
A United Nations peacekeeper speaks to a child while on patrol through the streets Gao, Mali on August 3, 2018. (SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

United Nations peacekeeping is a concrete example of multilateralism at work. It demonstrates how the global community can address some of today’s most complex and dangerous issues with a mixture of creativity and pragmatism.

Since the first blue helmets were deployed in 1948, peacekeeping has enabled the countries of the world to meet common threats to peace and security and share the burden under the U.N. flag. Over the past 70 years, more than 1 million peacekeepers—women and men, soldiers, police, and civilians from countries across the world—have responded to a vast range of conflicts, and peacekeeping itself has adapted constantly to meet these demands.

The U.N. Security Council has dispatched more than 70 operations to help maintain cease-fires between countries, end protracted civil wars, protect the vulnerable and save lives, strengthen the rule of law, establish new security institutions, and help new countries, such as Timor Leste, come into being.

But peacekeeping is a very dangerous business. Tens of thousands of peacekeepers today are deployed where there is little peace to keep. Last year, 61 peacekeepers were killed in hostile acts, and our peacekeepers were attacked more than 300 times—almost once a day. In Mali and in the Central African Republic, I saw for myself the important work the blue helmets do every day—not only keeping the peace but supporting the delivery of humanitarian aid and protecting civilians. I’ve also laid too many wreaths for fallen peacekeepers.

We have enacted new measures to address the rise in fatalities, and I have commissioned independent strategic reviews of each peacekeeping operation. But it’s clear to me that we don’t have any chance of succeeding without the world’s clear and unambiguous support.

Expectations of peacekeeping vastly outstrip both support and resources. Yes, we need more helicopters, we need mine-proof vehicles and night vision, and we need police and civilians with specialized skills to help us build sustainable peace. But we also need U.N. member states to send us personnel equipped and trained properly and with the mindset to use these capabilities effectively. And, above all, we need their sustained political commitment, a critical factor in the long-term success of our peacekeeping operations.

That is the background to the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, launched in March. It aims to ask all U.N. member states and other partners to revitalize their commitment to U.N. peacekeeping so that we can continue to improve it together. We’ve had in-depth and candid discussions to identify the areas where more effort is required and created a Declaration of Shared Commitments on U.N. Peacekeeping Operations.

The declaration represents a clear and urgent agenda for peacekeeping. By endorsing the declaration, governments show their commitment to advancing political solutions to conflicts, to strengthening protection for the vulnerable people under our charge, and to improving the safety and security of our peacekeepers. Now we need to translate these commitments into practical support in the field.

The declaration calls for all of us to improve our operations, to increase the participation of women in all areas of peacekeeping, to strengthen partnerships with governments, and to take measures to ensure our personnel live up to the highest standards of conduct and discipline.

Unacceptable cases of sexual exploitation and abuse have tarnished the reputation of U.N. peacekeeping, and I am determined to do everything in my power to prevent and end this scourge. We must hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards of performance and conduct. As of today, 141 countries and three international and regional organizations have made these commitments, signaling a consensus around renewed support for U.N. peacekeeping.

These countries include those that decide on peacekeeping mandates in the Security Council and those that contribute the women and men who serve as peacekeepers; those that pay for peacekeeping missions; and the governments of countries where peacekeeping missions are deployed.

Representatives from these countries and organizations are meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week to express their commitment to peacekeeping, celebrate its many achievements, discuss the challenges we face, and renew their support.

But the real test will come on the ground in our missions around the world. Real, sustainable peace does not come about by chance. It is hard and sometimes expensive work to support countries on their path from conflict to stability, but it is a lot cheaper than war in every sense.

For our part, we are determined that U.N. peacekeeping will live up to the expectations of the millions of people we serve and who depend on us.

The cost of failure is unacceptable. We cannot let them down.

António Guterres is the secretary-general of the United Nations. Twitter: @antonioguterres