Researchers at the School of Public Health have released a study that shows, despite the increased number of United Nations peacekeeping missions, there has been no evidence of an increased risk to peacekeepers following the end of the Cold War. However, the way in which peacekeepers die has changed. The study appears in the Aug. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
With the increased number of peacekeeping missions being authorized by the U.N. Security Council since the 1990 end of the Cold War, many troop-contributing countries have been reluctant to participate in peacekeeping operations because of concern about the safety of their troops. But Gilbert Burnham, director of the Center for Refugee and Disaster Studies in the School of Public Health, says those fears are based on perception, not fact. "Although the actual number of deaths has risen, that is to be expected because there are more peacekeeping troops deployed. The analysis was carried out to determine if there has been any change in death rates among U.N. peacekeepers."
According to the casualty database maintained by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, 1,559 peacekeepers have reportedly died while on 49 different assignments between 1948 and 1998. Researchers analyzed this data by breaking it down into categories including crude death rate, circumstance-specific death rate and relative risk of death by time period, geographic region and nature of the peacekeeping response.
"The study shows that although there have been no significant increases in the crude death rate since the end of the Cold War, there were increasing death rates from hostile acts, while those from accidents have been falling in recent years. Deaths from hostile acts and from illness increased when the nature of U.N. missions shifted from peacekeeping to peace-enforcing or the provision of humanitarian assistance," Burnham says.
Overall, accidents were the most common cause of death, accounting for 41.2 percent, followed by 36.1 percent of deaths from hostile acts and 22.7 percent from illness and other causes. However, over the last decade, the relative risk of dying from hostile acts increased 1.51 times, accounting for 24.1 percent of all deaths during the Cold War and 37.6 percent of all deaths in the post-Cold War period. There were no differences in death rates from illness and other causes. The largest portion of deaths occurred in the Middle East and in Africa, where there have been more U.N. peacekeeping missions than in any other region.
The study concludes that despite the increased number of deaths among U.N. peacekeepers, there was no significant increase in the crude death rate. This is contrary to the general perception that post-Cold War missions have become more risky for peacekeepers. The increase is largely explained by the U.N.'s heavy troop commitment to peace missions.