United Nations Peacekeeping:

Challenges Obtaining Needed Resources Could Limit Further Large Deployments and Should Be Addressed in U.S. Reports to Congress

GAO-09-142: Published: Dec 18, 2008. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2008.

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The United Nations (UN) supports U.S. interests in maintaining international security by deploying and operating 16 peacekeeping operations in locations in conflict, including Darfur, Lebanon, and Haiti. Over the past 10 years, the number of deployed UN personnel increased from about 41,000 peacekeepers and civilian staff to about 109,000 in 2008. In this report on the UN's capacity to deploy further operations, GAO was asked to examine (1) the evolution of UN peacekeeping operations in the past 10 years; (2) the likely characteristics of a potential new peacekeeping operation, given this evolution; (3) the challenges, if any, the UN would face deploying this operation; and (4) U.S. efforts to support and report on UN peacekeeping. GAO reviewed UN documents, developed a methodology to assess the requirements for a potential new operation with UN assistance, interviewed UN headquarters and mission officials, and assessed U.S. government documents on UN peacekeeping.

UN peacekeeping operations since 1998 have taken on increasinglyambitious mandates, been located in more challenging environments, and grown in size and scope. UN operations in 1998 averaged three mandated tasks, such as observing cease-fires; in 2008, they averaged nine more ambitious tasks, such as restoring government institutions. Operations in 2008 were located in some of the world's most unstable countries, were larger and more complex than in 1998, and deployed thousands of civilians. Based on trends in peacekeeping and recent UN planning options, GAO analysis indicates that a potential new operation would likely be large and complex, take place in sub-Saharan Africa, and have nine mandated tasks. This potential new operation would likely require member states to contribute 21,000 troops and military observers, including those in engineering and aviation units, and 1,500 police to carry out the mandate. The UN would likely need to deploy 4,000 to 5,000 civilians. The operation's logistics needs also would be large and complex. The ability to fully deploy any potential new operation would likely face challenges, in view of current UN resource constraints. As of September 2008, ongoing UN operations had about a 20 percent gap between troops and military observers authorized to carry out operations and actual deployments. For police, the gap was about 34 percent; it was similar for civilians. Some gaps reflect UN difficulties in obtaining and deploying resources to carry out operations. Lack of these resources, such as special military units, prevented some operations from executing mandates. Lack of infrastructure in the potential new operation's environment would challenge the UN to provide logistical needs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State officials have responded to the GAO recommendation by using State's monthly "Round the World" verbal briefing for Congressional staff on UN peacekeeping issues to discuss budgets for UN peacekeeping missions at least since late 2010, including gaps and challenges expected for the upcoming months. At the April 4, 2012 briefing, moreover, State officials noted they routinely report budget and budget challenges information at these briefings, as witnessed by GAO staff over the last year. Furthermore, the most recently released annual report on UN peacekeeping to Congress issues (for 2010)included information on UN and U.S. efforts to identify and addressing UN peacekeeping resource needs and gaps that the annual report for 2009 did not.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Congress has the information needed to conduct oversight and fully consider Administration budget and other requests for UN peacekeeping, the Secretary of State should include in the department's annual report or in another appropriate written submission to Congress information about UN resource challenges and gaps in obtaining and deploying troops, police, and civilians authorized to carry out peacekeeping operations. The information should include commitments to provide these resources, difficulties in obtaining them, and whether the gaps have impeded operations from carrying out their mandates. If the information is not available when an appropriate written submission is sent to Congress, the Department of State should ensure the information is provided, as available, during its consultations with Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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