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The United Nations (UN) describes peacekeeping as “a unique and dynamic instrument developed by the organisation UNAMID soldiers train at Sudan supercamp, credit UN Photo as a way to
help countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace.”

The first UN peacekeeping mission, UNTSO, was established in 1948, when the Security Council authorised the deployment of UN military observers to the Middle East to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Since then, there have been a total of 64 UN peacekeeping operations around the world (at an estimated cost of $69 billion).

Over the years, UN peacekeeping has evolved to meet the demands of different types of conflict and a changing political landscape. Conceived during the Cold War, UN peacekeeping goals were primarily limited to maintaining ceasefires and stabilizing situations on the ground, so that efforts could be made at the political level to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. Those missions consisted of military observers and lightly armed troops with monitoring, reporting and confidence-building roles in support of ceasefires and limited peace agreements.

UN peacekeepers distribute water and food in Haiti, credit UN photo

With the end of the Cold War, the strategic context for peacekeeping dramatically changed. The nature of conflict has also changed. Originally developed as a means of dealing with inter-State conflict, UN peacekeeping has been increasingly applied to intra-State conflicts and civil wars. This prompted the UN to shift and expand its field operations from “traditional” missions involving strictly military tasks, to complex “multidimensional” missions designed to support the implementation comprehensive peace agreements and assist in laying the foundations for sustainable peace.

As well as traditional military tasks, today’s peacekeepers also undertake a wide variety of peacebuilding tasks, such as helping to build sustainable institutions of governance, human rights monitoring, security sector reform, and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants. 

UN peacekeeping continues to evolve, both conceptually and operationally, to meet new challenges and political realities.

The UK and Peacekeeping

It is estimated that approximately 1.5 billion people live in countries that experience cycles of violence and conflict. In addition to its human cost, UNAMID celebrates International Day of Peacekeepers, credit Getty Imagesthe effects of conflict are often severe and wide-ranging. Affected countries fall behind in development; poverty rates are on average 20% higher in countries affected by conflict. Major conflicts can also wipe out an entire generation of economic progress, often spreading to other, more stable countries. This effect on the wider region is also felt through refugee flows, criminal networks, drug trafficking, and epidemic diseases.

UN peacekeeping missions can be a highly effective and relatively low cost way of addressing such conflicts. The UK only pays a portion of the overall cost so our investment is multiplied and the missions enjoy the legitimacy inferred by the UN.

Troops for UN peacekeeping missions are provided by member states, including those who are not represented on the Security Council. The top troop contributing nations are Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

The UK’s overall contribution to UN peacekeeping is commensurate with our status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and consistent with the findings of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

We currently contribute around 276 troops, the majority of whom form part of our contingent to the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Over the past ten years the UK has also deployed troops to a number of other UN peacekeeping missions including those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Georgia, Sierra Leone, and Kosovo.

In the UN Security Council, along with our partners, we continue to lead reform and work to make UN peacekeeping more effective. We also work closely with the UN Secretariat, regional organisations and key member states, including emerging powers and troop and police contributing countries (both current and potential), to ensure that conflict prevention plays a central role in UN efforts to foster global peace and security.

Conflict Funding

The UK’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping forms part of our wider expenditure on conflict. In addition to our obligatory payments to international organisations in support of peacekeeping activities, we also provide discretionary funding for programmes undertaken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence in countries affected by conflict. Find out more about conflict funding.