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3. Peace operations and conflict management

Summary

The year 2011 was in many respects a year of contradiction for peacekeeping. On the one hand, after nearly a decade of record expansion in the numbers of operations and personnel deployed and the costs of financing these operations, peacekeeping showed initial signs of slowing down in 2010 and there were further indications in 2011 that military-heavy, multidimensional peace operations have reached a plateau. On the other hand, 2011 saw the possible beginnings of an actionable commitment by the international community to the concepts of the responsibility to protect (R2P) and protection of civilians (POC) in relation to the conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Syria.

Several factors explain the consolidation trend of recent years. First and foremost is the global military overstretch: during the years of expansion the United Nations and other organizations had difficulty in persuading countries to contribute sufficient troops and force enablers such as helicopters. The emergence of new contributors such as Brazil, China and Indonesia, while a positive development, did not significantly fill the demand gap. A second factor is the ongoing global financial downturn, which had a more discernible impact on peacekeeping in 2011 as governments outlined budget cuts for their militaries and advocated leaner operations and quicker exits in multilateral frameworks such as the UN. Third, over the past decade contemporary peace operations have faced ‘mission creep’ in terms of the explosion of mandated tasks, which often require civilian expertise and open-ended time frames. This has led to a questioning of whether a heavy (and long-term) military footprint in peace operations is necessary.

Number of peace operations, 2002–11

Yearbook 2011, Chapter 3, Number of peace operations, 2002–11

Global trends

A total of 52 peace operations were conducted in 2011, the same number as in 2010 and the second lowest in the period 2002–11, confirming a downward trend that started in 2009. However, the number of personnel deployed on peace operations in 2011 was the second highest of the period, at 262 129, just 700 fewer than in 2010.

The UN, with 20 operations, remained the main conducting organization. In terms of personnel deployed, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was the largest conducting organization for the third consecutive year: 137 463 personnel (52 per cent of the total) were deployed to operations conducted by NATO, mainly the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. 

Personnel deployed, by organization type, 2011

Yearbook 2011, appendix 3A, figure 1

New peace operations

Four new peace operations were deployed in 2011: two in South Sudan, one in Libya and one in Syria.

The independence of South Sudan led to a significant reconfiguration of the UN presence in the former territory of Sudan. After much discussion on the future of the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), the mission closed in July, after Sudan indicated that it would not consent to an extension of its mandate. The majority of the personnel were redeployed to the new UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and to the new border-monitoring mission, the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).

Although NATO’s Operation Unified Protector falls outside the definition of peace operation, it was nonetheless significant as it encapsulated the global debate on how to demarcate the boundaries of peacekeeping. It was the first military intervention to be launched in the R2P framework and was mandated by the UN Security Council with no permanent member objecting. However, towards the end of the operation, whatever tentative consensus there had been disintegrated over the extent of the responsibility. Later in the year, the UN deployed the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), a small political mission.

In late 2011, the Arab League deployed its first ever mission, the Arab League Observer Mission to Syria. The mission was unable to effectively carry out its mandate and quickly became mired in controversy and criticism.

Personnel deployed, by location, 2011

Yearbook 2011, appendix 3A, figure 1

Regional developments

As in preceding years, the largest concentration of peace operations in 2011 was in Africa. Personnel numbers rose in Africa due to the expansion of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the temporary reinforcement of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) in the run-up to the deposition and arrest of President Laurent Gbagbo.

In Asia and Oceania the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) closed in January 2011 and the first steps were taken towards the planned withdrawal of two operations: ISAF and the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). 

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