Top UN peacekeeping official warns of ‘overstretch’ as mission staff numbers surge

4 October 2006

An “unprecedented” surge is taking place in the number and size of United Nations peacekeeping missions, with as many as 140,000 staff members likely to be in the field next year, a senior UN official said today, warning of the dangers of political overstretch when there are so many operations competing for attention.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters at a briefing in UN Headquarters in New York that “we have our work really cut out for us” to manage the growth in size of peacekeeping missions, especially as the planned full deployment unfolds in Lebanon, Sudan’s Darfur region and Timor-Leste.

He said there are more than 93,000 people currently working in the field at the UN’s 16 peacekeeping missions and two political-peacebuilding missions that are directed and supported by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

Once the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) complete their full deployment, and if the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) expands its operations in Darfur as authorized, then there will be over 140,000 blue helmets, police officers and civilian staff in place.

Mr. Guéhenno said the cost of running so many operations with such enormous numbers of staff is scheduled to top $6 billion and keep increasing.

“When I look at those figures, in some ways I see that as a vote of confidence in UN peacekeeping. I see that as also a good sign, in the sense that it means a number of conflicts are ending because you can’t have peacekeeping in the midst of a shooting war,” he said.

“But I also see, and it’s my duty to see it, the enormous challenge that that represents: the managerial challenge, to make sure that on all those 18 different operations, 18 different political processes, we are attentive to them, and we support them adequately; [and] the very practical challenges of supporting that number of people, making sure that they have the right quality, that they have the professionalism that we want them to have, that there is a proper oversight in all areas.”

Praising the work of staff in the field and serving peacekeeping operations at UN Headquarters, he called on the international community to step up and ensure it plays an appropriate role in ensuring that each individual mission receives the attention it deserves.

“Sometimes there is a sense that once a peacekeeping operation is authorized, then the work shifts from the Member States to the Secretariat. I don’t think that’s the case. Of course it’s more work for us, but it also means that the Member States have to be doubly engaged so that the political processes that our deployments are expected to support come to fruition.”

In response to reporters’ questions, the Under-Secretary-General also stressed that he was in the midst of a programme to restructure DPKO and its culture into a more field-oriented department.


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