Where have all the Blue Berets gone?

UNFICYP peacekeepers pretending to exist in this 2009 photo

UNFICYP peacekeepers pretending to still exist in this 2009 photo

A recent discussion on the future role of Canada’s military forces demonstrated once again that some of Canada’s most well known defence and foreign policy experts don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to UN peacekeeping.

Four years ago, David Bercuson, Director of the DND-funded Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, claimed in a debate with Rideau Institute President Steven Staples that there were no UN operations “left in the world”.  At the time, there were 64,000 military peacekeepers serving on UN operations.

On this latest occasion he was a little more nuanced in his statements–but still completely wrong.

This time he took another shot at Steven, claiming “you know darn well that there are no Chapter 6 peacekeeping operations going on out there right now.” (“Chapter 6” refers to the part of the UN Charter under which “classical” peacekeeping operations such as those that monitor ceasefires between opposing armies are authorized; such operations normally do not have a mandate to use force beyond minimal self-defence.)

Janice Stein, Professor of Conflict Management at the University of Toronto, who really ought to know better, made a similar declaration, announcing that there is “not a single UN-led, UN-run ‘Blue Beret’ mission today.”

Well, Steven doesn’t know that there are no such operations under way, and neither does the United Nations, which is under the distinct impression that the following four Chapter 6 operations are still going on:



UNTSO, and


In fact, far from disappearing, every single long-term UN peacekeeping operation that was under way in the mid-1980s during the heyday of classical peacekeeping–UNMOGIP, UNFICYP, UNTSO, UNDOF, and UNIFIL–is still under way today (UNIFIL is not on the list above because its mandate was modified in recent years to include greater potential for the use of force). There was also at least one classical-style peacekeeping mission (UNMEE) initiated since the end of the Cold War, but that mission has since been shut down.

To be absolutely clear, neither Steven Staples nor anyone else is arguing that UN peacekeeping as a whole has remained unchanged from the days of classical peacekeeping, and the debate over Canadian participation in peacekeeping is not about restricting Canada’s role to classical missions.

But it helps to work from a base of facts. What happened to UN peacekeeping after the end of the Cold War was not the death of classical peacekeeping. What happened, instead, was a massive expansion of the concept of peacekeeping to include–in addition to classical peacekeeping–much more ambitious nation-building kinds of missions and missions deployed in regions of chaos or continued fighting where much greater resort to force is sometimes necessary to achieve the mission’s goals.

Some of those new missions failed, and some probably should never have been authorized, but many have been successful in bringing greater peace, security, and stability to troubled countries and regions. This new generation of peacekeeping missions accounts for the great majority of the 102,000 military and police personnel now deployed on UN operations. Classical missions currently account for about 2,200 personnel.

The 2,200 peacekeepers on classical peacekeeping missions may not represent a very large percentage of the UN’s record-high number of peacekeepers. But–experts take note–it ain’t zero.

Canada currently supplies 168 personnel (62 military) to UN peacekeeping missions of all kinds.

That ain’t zero either, but it’s a whole lot closer.

United Nations photo

Tags: Afghanistan, David Bercuson, Defence policy, Janice Stein, Steven Staples, UN peacekeeping, United Nations