The United Nations was established with the conclusion of World War II, initially to ensure that such a catastrophic global conflict would be averted in the future. Upon inception, the United Nations was comprised of a group of 51 country-members that today have increased to 193 (the majority of the world’s 196 countries). Its main tenements involve ensuring peace and justice on an international scale.
Why wouldn’t you want to don the iconic blue helmet and help people feel secure and uphold peace? It might involve a little more than you think, though… This is how to become a UN peacekeeper.
For the most part, peacekeepers are still part of their own nation’s military and secondly employed by the UN. To apply for a military position with the peacekeepers, you must first apply within your own country. If you are retired military personnel, you can also apply if your last stint was within the last five years. If you are not military or ex-military, don’t start crying into your replica peacekeepers helmet quite yet, though, because beyond military personnel positions, the UN also employs police and ex-police as police peacekeepers. Just as the military section of the UN, the UNPOL (United Nations Police) require applicants be current law enforcement officers, or to have recently retired.
Beyond these two primary sections, the UN peacekeeping forces also use other specialties such as engineers, pilots, and drivers to facilitate their peacekeeping mission all over the globe. If you aren’t highly trained police or military, the UN also has civilian volunteers who assist and support the UN police, military, and people afflicted by ravages of war in the country in which they are working.
A stint for most of the UN peacekeepers will last for six months up to a year, who will be deployed to one of the 17 current peacekeeping operations and political missions around the world in areas that are still in conflict as a result of natural disaster or armed engagement. For the majority of the UN’s life, it kept a strict “fire only when fired upon” policy regarding using force, but tragic events resulted in a revision.
The catalyst was the genocides committed during the civil wars of Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia in which the UN, hobbled by its regulations regarding use of arms, was forced to helplessly stand on the sidelines as the civilians they intended to protect died at the hands of warlords. Although it has only been tested in the Republic of Congo, this may be the new face of the UN Peacekeeping Corps.
What do they do?
UN peacekeepers visit regions afflicted by war or natural disasters, often helping and supporting an ongoing peace process. They help during large-scale emergencies, both in a humanitarian and material context. Their contribution extends to the education and training of local law enforcement and military, building infrastructure, providing humanitarian support and, of course, protecting the civilian population. They will also enable and build the foundations for an organized and peaceful governance of the region they are stationed in.
Sometimes, no matter what the intention, you will not be able to help. Given the delicate political nature of the UN, they are sometimes forced to step back and allow for things to take their course… including death.
In one harrowing story, a peacekeeper was approached by a very young girl holding an infant wrapped in a shawl. She unwrapped the baby, revealing his severely injured head which had become infected. The peacekeeper escorted the young girl to a UN field hospital, but the young mother and her direly injured child were prohibited from entering. He found a doctor and explained the situation, but the doctor had orders not to care for locals out of fear of retribution. The peacekeeper left from the side door, leaving the mother and child to the mercy of fate… he finishes his testimony saying that he broke down crying later that night and is still haunted by the circumstance surrounding his experience to this day, many years later.
Another peacekeeper, who was deployed to Croatia during their War of Independence, said that he had seen the brutality of war not from what the living do to the living but what the living do to the dead. During a break from duty, he and a fellow peacekeeper visited a cemetery which he had seen during a patrol. Upon entering it, they saw that the hallowed ground had been desecrated and the area was strewn with the previously interned dead. In the far corner of the cemetery sat the chapel which had been purposely destroyed from the inside with explosives, revealing an underground chamber which held hundreds of humans’ remains. The scene was a shocking reminder of the hate that motivates people to seek vengeance beyond the mortal plane and, in their blind need to show disdain, desecrate what should be the holiest of places.
As mentioned above, you will most likely be deployed to war-torn regions well after most organizations or entities have given up on them. Although, in an official capacity, you (the peacekeeper) are there to help establish the prerequisites for a lawful, organized government and society, many times the resistance comes from the people that you are there to protect.
When the UN decided to try their hand at arm conflicts to oust oppressive militias and regimes, the conditions of the people that they helped, unfortunately, remained largely unchanged as the “lawful” government was just as brutal and exploitive as the illegal regimes. When the UN is non-neutral, it must make a judgment call, but sometimes that call is a choice between two evils which are equally brutal. Striking alliances and targeting factions, of course, makes a difficult, dangerous job even more difficult and dangerous.
In recent years, the Peacekeepers’ Corp has seen ambushes and killings in their ranks and, in one case, a group of Blue Helmets were taken hostage and used as a bargaining chip by a warlord. A life of duty (any duty, be it policemen, firemen, or military) always comes with an inherent level of risk, but the potential to help and do good for helpless populations always outweigh the danger. That’s why people will still continue to don the blue, and be proud of it.
See also: How to Become a Political Aide in the US
Have you served anytime in the peacekeepers ranks? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below!