Who Keeps the Peace? Understanding State Contributions to UN Peacekeeping Operations

Contrary to its common public perception, United Nations peacekeeping has been found in recent research to be effective in ensuring peace and security and can reducing civilian casualties when operations are equipped with larger numbers of peacekeeping troops. However, the availability of troops and equipment rests on the voluntary contributions of UN member-states. Since sizeable PKO troop deployments are important to the pursuit of peace in war-torn countries, it is imperative that we understand what motivates member-states to deploy their own soldiers as peacekeepers.

What explains the willingness of a country to contribute the substantial number of troops needed to achieve peace? A post-Cold War trend points to declining contributions from powerful, stable, wealthy states, as the burden of staffing peace operations has largely being passed to otherwise less secure states. For example, Nigeria and Pakistan have supplied large numbers of personnel to challenging missions in Sudan, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In our paper, we explore member state motivations for making troop contributions of various sizes, arguing that troop commitments are the product of narrow member-state security interests. Some of the most robust troop contributors to post-Cold War UN peacekeeping are countries that are posed with distinct security challenges of their own. Many of these states must balance an interest in funding sizeable militaries to counter security threats while also recognizing that member-state militaries can pose threats to civilian control of the government via coups d’état. Nigeria and Pakistan are emblematic of this, as both have faced interstate challenges to their security and have had direct experiences with military coups. States facing these internal and external threats should seek to implement security policies that attempt to improve the ability of their armed forces to defend the nation from external threats and also limit the risk posed by the military itself.

We thus argue that UN PKO contributions are linked to these two security challenges that are especially acute in less developed and stable countries: (1) funding and maintaining a capable and ready military when faced with a threat to national security and (2) limiting the ability of the military to jeopardize civilian control of government. Contributing troops to peacekeeping operations offers security dividends that help ameliorate both challenges.

Using a global dataset of UN member-state contributions to peacekeeping missions in the post-Cold War era, we show that a somewhat paradoxical relationship exists between the ability of the UN to provide security via peacekeeping and the level of insecurity in the UN’s own member-states needed to motivate their personnel contributions. Thus, in a more general sense, this research reveals that the provision of security by peacekeeping operations to their host states is at least partially dependent upon higher levels of insecurity elsewhere in the international system.

Given the UN’s objective to improve global peace and stability, the instability motivators for troop contributions to PKOs would seem to be a potentially troubling aspect of the peacekeeping process. Thus, the policy prescriptions related to our findings may, in one sense, be somewhat limited, as no serious policymaker would suggest finding ways to increase insecurity in member-states so as to motivate increased contributions to peacekeeping missions.

Still, one reasonable policy prescription is that the per-soldier reimbursement rate should be increased for volunteered troops, as contributions from states with more capable, professional soldiers may be forthcoming if the reimbursement rate increased. Additionally, as contributions can serve as a coup-proofing strategy, greater contributions may increase the stability of contributor states. Unfortunately, even a substantial increase to the low reimbursement rate is unlikely to attract contributions from capable, stable countries with the highest quality soldiers. Yet, even if a higher reimbursement rate did not attract greater contributions from the most capable states, such a policy change is still likely to have the effect of increasing the number of troops made available to PKOs as more countries consider the benefit of contributions to their budgetary calculations.

As missions commonly struggle to meet their UNSC-mandated troop targets, motivating greater troop supplies would be a positive development. A greater supply of troops could allow the UN to be selective about which member-states it relies upon for each mission, potentially optimizing the mix of contributor states to improve effectiveness. As such, greater troop supplies and increased selectivity should have the effect of making peacekeeping efforts more effective beyond the substantial effectiveness that recent research has uncovered.

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