With a peacekeeping mission in Haiti set to begin next week, another for Burundi recently approved and one in the works for Sudan, the United Nations observed the International Day of UN Peacekeepers today at time of increased demands on its ability to maintain peace around the world.
The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is currently fielding 15 missions on three continents. More than 53,000 men and women - some 49,000 troops and military observers and 4,800 civilian police - serve as peacekeepers alongside 3,500 international civilians, 7,200 local civilians and some 1,440 UN Volunteers. The number of uniformed personnel could reach 70,000 by the end of the year.
In a message to mark the Day, which is traditionally observed on 29 May, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said while peacekeeping missions can never end wars by themselves, they do offer the best possible way of ensuring there is a sustainable peace. "Let us remember that the most expensive peacekeeping operation costs far less than the cheapest war," he said.
When all missions currently planned are deployed, the annual UN peacekeeping bill could rise above $4 billion. The world body's top peacekeeping official noted that even with these new operations, their cost will still be less than one-half of 1 per cent of the world's combined military spending.
"Another way of looking at it is that the cost of all UN peacekeeping combined is minimal when you consider that civil wars cost $120 billion annually," said Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
The annual observance was established by the General Assembly in 2002 to pay tribute "to all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations, as well as to honour the memory of those who lost their lives in the cause of peace."
The President of the Security Council for May, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, said each day UN peacekeepers are helping to build and maintain peace, to relieve human suffering and to promote sustainable development.
He said the Council recalled the awarding of the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize to UN Peacekeeping Forces, and it honoured the memory of the more than 1,900 troops who have lost their lives in the cause of peace since the first UN mission was established in 1948.
At UN Headquarters in New York, medals were presented at a ceremony honouring 98 peacekeepers from more than 40 countries who died last year. Thirty-five military officers and eight police officers were also given UN medals.
Earlier this week, a documentary on peacekeeping produced by Yale University Professor Jean Krasno premiered. The film, "Uncertain Soil: The Story of United Nations Peacekeeping," covers the history of UN peacekeeping from its creation through the end of the Cold War.