The rising number of deaths among United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces
after the Cold War has made some troop-contributing countries hesitant to
participate in peacekeeping operations. While the number and scale of missions
have increased, no data have demonstrated a parallel increase in risks to
To determine the association of characteristics of UN peacekeeping operations
with risks and mortality rates among UN peacekeeping forces in both the Cold
War and post-Cold War periods.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Descriptive analysis of 1559 personnel deaths during 49 UN peacekeeping
missions from 1948-1998 based on the casualty database maintained by Department
of Peacekeeping Operations, UN Headquarters.
Main Outcome Measures
Number and percentage of deaths by circumstance, total crude death rate,
and crude death rate and relative risk of death by circumstance (hostile acts,
unintentional violence, and illness or other causes) and time period (Cold
War vs post–Cold War), geographic region, and nature of peacekeeping
response; and regression analysis of mission variables (strength, duration,
and humanitarian mandate) associated with total number of deaths.
More deaths have occurred among UN peacekeeping forces in the past decade
alone than in the previous 40 years of UN peacekeeping (807 vs 752), but crude
death rates did not differ significantly by time period (Cold War vs post–Cold
War, 21.8 vs 21.2 deaths per 10,000 person-years; P
= .58), level of peacekeeping response, or for geographic regions other than
East Europe and Central America, where rates were lower (P<.001 for both regions). Unintentional violence accounted for 41.2%
of deaths, followed by hostile acts (36.1%), and illness or other causes (22.7%).
Deaths from hostile acts increased after the Cold War (relative risk [RR]
1.51; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.22-1.88), while rates for deaths caused
by unintentional violence decreased (RR, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.67-0.94) but remain
high, particularly in the Middle East and Asia (RR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.15-1.69).
Regression analysis showed a significant association between number of deaths
and the strength (P<.001) and duration (P<.001) of a peacekeeping mission.
The increase in number of deaths among UN peacekeeping personnel since
1990 can be attributed to the increased number and scale of missions after
the Cold War rather than increased RR of death. Post–Cold War peacekeeping
personnel have a higher risk of dying from hostile acts in missions where
more force is required. In missions providing or facilitating humanitarian
assistance, both the RR of deaths from all causes and deaths from hostile
acts are increased.