UNITED NATIONS - As the United Nations gets ready for the opening of the 59th
session of the General Assembly next week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has
asked the 191 member states to provide more than 30,000 troops for an anticipated
surge in demand for peacekeeping operations in the world's battle zones.
"The number and scope of UN peace operations are approaching what may
become their highest levels ever, improving prospects for conflict resolution
but also stretching thin the capacities of the system," Annan said in a
report to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The demand has been prompted by three factors: the possible creation of a new
10,000-strong peacekeeping force for battle-scarred Sudan, and significant increases
in troops for two existing peace missions in Haiti and the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC).
If 30,000 troops are added to the 50,000 already deployed, the total number
of UN troops later this year would exceed the all-time high of 78,000 troops
during the world body's peacekeeping peak in 1993.
Since then, the number of peacekeeping troops declined to 12,000 by mid-1999,
and gradually rose to 37,500 by mid-2000 and 51,500 by early this year, according
to figures released by the UN's Department
of Peacekeeping Operations.
"The jump in the demand for UN peace operations is a welcome signal for
new opportunities for the international community to help bring conflicts to
a peaceful solution," Annan said in his annual report to the General Assembly.
However, he warns, those opportunities can only be truly seized "if the
necessary commitments of political, financial and human resources are made,
and if each peace process is seen through completion."
Annan also said that planning estimates for new or potential operations indicate
that "the heightened demand will stretch, to the limit and beyond, the
capacity of the United Nations to respond."
"The increased demand for UN operations that has arisen in 2004 represents
a challenge not seen since the rapid increase in the scale and complexity of
operations in the 1990s," he added.
The UN's 17 peacekeeping operations currently in force extend from Cyprus and
Georgia to Sierra Leone and Western Sahara. The four new operations authorized
this year are in Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti and Burundi.
Annan is seeking more troops despite plans to downsize at least two existing
UN operations: the 11,500-strong UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the
1,600-strong UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).
Brazil, which is the lead military force in the UN peacekeeping mission in
Haiti, complained last week that it does not have enough troops to stop renewed
conflict in the Caribbean nation.
The Security Council authorized a UN force of 6,700 troops to Haiti last June.
But so far, only about 2,500 have arrived in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
"This gap needs to be filled by somebody," Col. Luiz Felipe Carbonell,
a spokesman for the Brazilian contingent, told reporters last week.
Last month, Annan called for a doubling of the current peacekeeping force in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from 10,800 to about 23,900. The
request for more troops was intended to strengthen the UN mission in DRC in
view of increased violence in that country, and the possibility of elections
In his appeal to member states, Annan also said he is "seeking support
for peacekeeping from developing and developed states alike."
But as of July, the 10 largest troop contributors to UN operations were from
developing nations: Pakistan (8,544 troops), Bangladesh (7,163), Nigeria (3,579),
Ghana (3,341), India (2,934), Ethiopia (2,863), South Africa (2,480), Uruguay
(1,962), Jordan (1,864), and Kenya (1,831).
In contrast, the number of troops from western nations averaged less than 600.
The largest contributors were United Kingdom (567 troops), Canada (564), France
(561), Ireland (479), and the United States (427).
While it may be possible to find the troops he needs, Annan points that there
may be "critical gaps" in specialized military capabilities, such
as tactical air support and field medical facilities, as well as a dearth of
In Haiti, where the predominant languages are French and Creole, most of the
UN troops either speak only Portuguese or Spanish.
The three largest military contingents in Haiti are from Portuguese-speaking
Brazil (1,210 troops) and Spanish-speaking Argentina (486) and Chile (454).
But most western states, including the United States, France, Britain and Germany,
remain reluctant to provide peacekeepers, mostly for political and security
reasons, abdicating the role of peacekeeping primarily to developing nations.
Last year, Annan complained that although these countries have the world's
best-equipped military forces, they have refused to actively participate in
peacekeeping operations, except to provide training, logistical support and
(Inter Press Service)