At the UN headquarters in New York and in peacekeeping missions throughout the world, the fifth International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is celebrated today. This solemn occasion is a timely reminder of the invaluable and risky work UN peacekeeper undertake in attempting to bring peace to conflict regions. In the background of the occasion, however, the blue helmets find themselves overstretched with demand for them at an all-time high and likely to remain at that level in the near future.
In order to meet this growing demand and in light of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon’s timely call for the restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), perhaps it is time to consider the positive impact adequately vetted Private Military Companies can have in the emerging equation.
As of April 2007, there were more than 83,000 uniformed personnel (troops, police, and military observers) from about 115 countries serving in 18 operations supported by DPKO. Approved resources for the period 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007 stand at $5.48B, representing about 11% of an estimated aggregated total of $47.22B since 1948. Total number of documented fatalities in the service of peace since 1948 is 2,355, more than 100 of them last year. While ongoing commitments would at least require maintaining these robust figures, meeting international clamour for intervention in escalating conflicts in Africa and the Middle East makes indispensable more uniformed personnel and resources.
In addition, the overhaul of DPKO will require accommodations within the UN organization and across the international community of states that in the short term might constrain effective peacekeeping response to new conflicts. In the longer term, although both traditional donors and Non-Aligned Movement countries support for Ki moon’s call for reform, it remains to be seen if consensus holds when specific requirements are addressed and offices dispensed.
At the same time, our shrinking world continues to turn into a dangerous place with virulent hotspots spreading and intractable grievances penetrating communities in a global scale. It is not an optimistic outlook that requires fresh input and innovative solutions at all levels of the process if we are going to make it into the second half of the 21st century with only minor bruises to show.
Contrary to popular belief, Private Military Companies (PMCs) have been assisting the missions that the UN and the humanitarian community at large maintain in conflict-torn societies. They facilitate and secure the transport of personnel and goods, provide logistic and risk-mitigation assistance, render many specialized services such as mine clearance and the disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXO), as well as offer training in all these critical areas. These PMCs are well-established firms of international reputation and not some of the unsavoury contractors that you might have read about in the press. Indeed, they are for-profit enterprises, yet hardly the development bandits some might like to entertain. Far from that, their personnel risk their lives supporting peace missions and are aware of the importance of their work for the success of humanitarian and reconstruction undertakings. At a time of DPKO reform and the need for fresh ideas to revamp international peacekeeping, it is time to bring formally PMCs into the process and allow their expert input to strengthen peacekeeping.
The private military alternative has proven to be cost-effective, to be flexible and swift when called to service, and willing to take on broader and more challenging roles. There is not need for politically contentious international tendering mechanisms at this stage. Vetted companies could provide key personnel on retainers for the UN to deploy swiftly and on demand. That way, UNPK can guarantee the unity of command, the promotion of integration efforts, and the enhancement of operational capacities it endeavours in its reform plans. Yet this highly-trained composite of PMC personnel can act as a much needed force and technological enhancer when amalgamated with blue helmets properly. Give the PMC alternative their due role in international peacekeeping through this ‘trial’ scheme and take it from there. You are not likely to be disappointed. In return, you will be giving peace a better chance.
29 May 2007