Affiliate Marina Henke investigates: is UN peacekeeping becoming more deadly?

December 21, 2016

UN peacekeeping

Using recently released data from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), political scientist and Buffett affiliate Marina Henke has published a report through the International Peace Institute that sheds new light on fatalities within UN peacekeeping missions.

For the past several years, there has been widespread speculation that working as a UN peacekeeper has become a much more deadly job. Henke’s report finds that deaths from accidents and malicious acts have dropped significantly. What has risen, she says, is the rate at which UN peacekeepers are dying from illness-related causes.

“Many analysts think fatalities among UN peacekeepers are on the rise because they get increasingly deployed to quite dangerous places, for example, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan,” says Henke, who is also director of Buffett’s War and Society working group. “Using sophisticated statistical methods, I find, however, that’s not exactly the case. My research suggests instead that overall UN fatalities are not increasing.”

The UN currently does not provide any data on the specific illnesses contributing to peacekeeper fatalities, nor do they provide statistics on survival rates from accidents and acts of violence, which have presumably improved along with advances in medicine. Henke says that one of the objectives of publishing this report is to get the UN to release such data.

Despite limitations, Henke said the new dataset allows for reducing UN fatalities and therefore, strengthening the overall effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations, but she notes that further research is needed to adequately examine whether UN peacekeeping missions have become more dangerous in recent years. 

To produce these findings, Henke worked with undergraduate members of Buffett’s War and Society working group. Esther Li (WCAS 2016) and Julian Gerez (WCAS 2017) were her research assistants, helping Henke sift through the massive amounts of data released by the DPKO.

“The War and Society working group has provided me with an intellectually rigorous and helpful space to pursue my passion in studying conflict and security studies. I was born in Colombia and moved to the US when I was young partially because of the violence there, so doing work on these issues is personally important to me,” says Gerez. “One of my most fulfilling experiences with the group has been assisting Professor Henke with her report. It was a tremendous opportunity to be able to assist in creating such important work that will affect policymakers worldwide.”

The War and Society working group, formerly known as the Security Studies working group, took on the new name in 2016 to reflect the group’s inclusive, interdisciplinary approach to the study of conflict and security that expands beyond the traditional realm of political science. The group currently includes faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from political science, sociology, history, anthropology, management, journalism, and communication.

If you are interested in getting involved in the group, contact the group coordinator Franky Matisek at