“Peacekeeping for Profit? The Scope and Limits of “Mercenary” UN Peacekeeping,” a paper I co-wrote with Katharina Coleman (UBC) has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Peace Research.
Developing states furnish the vast majority of UN peacekeeping troops, and academics and policy makers frequently assert that one key reason for this is that developing states are able to derive a profit from UN peacekeeping reimbursements. In this article we argue that this ‘Peacekeeping for Profit’ narrative has been vastly overstated. The conditions for significantly profiting from UN peacekeeping are in fact highly restrictive, even for developing states. We begin by highlighting two potent reasons for re-examining this narrative: developing states emerged as the UN’s principal troop contributors in a period of stagnant reimbursement rates; and the quantitative evidence scholars have presented as supporting the peacekeeping for profit narrative is flawed. We then identify the scope conditions within which peacekeeping for profit provides a plausible explanation for a developing state’s UN troop contributions. First, the deployment and its attendant reimbursements must be significant not only in absolute and per-soldier terms but also in relation to the state’s total armed forces and military expenditure. Second, the state must have an exceptional ability, in comparison with other troop contributors, to benefit from UN reimbursements, because the scope for generalized profit-making from either equipment or personnel contributions is limited by intense political pressure against reimbursement rate increases. Individual states can nevertheless make a profit if they 1) invest in inexpensive and old but functional equipment, especially if deployed with usage restrictions and/or 2) limit the deployment allowances (rather than salaries) they pay their UN peacekeepers. Critically, meeting these requirements reflects national policy decisions, not simply national development levels. We establish that only a limited subset of developing states meets the plausibility conditions for the peacekeeping for profit narrative – and many top UN troop contributors do not.