Where’s My Blue Helmet?

How to become a U.N. peacekeeper.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the possibility of a cease-fire with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Monday. Rice proposed using international peacekeepers throughout the country and to guard its borders with Israel and Syria. Siniora said he would consider a deployment of peacekeepers, but only if they came from the United Nations. Who are the U.N. peacekeepers, and where do they come from?


They’re soldiers, police officers, and military observers from the United Nations’ member countries. Nations are expected to volunteer the members of their armed forces when asked—in general, the developing world does most of the volunteering. As of last month, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India each had almost 10,000 troops in blue helmets, while American soldiers accounted for just 12.


The contributing countries continue to pay their soldiers, but they get reimbursed by the United Nations at a standard rate of $1,028 per month, plus a few hundred dollars extra for specialists. Troops typically stay for at least six months at a time, with the exact details of the deployment schedule left up to the country that sent them.


Most of the Americans who take part in peacekeeping serve as civilian police officers rather than soldiers. (As of last month, 314 Americans were employed in such positions.) The State Department recruits volunteers for “CivPol” jobs through several private firms—DynCorp International, Civilian Police International, and PAE-HSC. These companies invite cops and recent ex-cops to apply online for yearlong stints overseas.

Aspiring peacekeepers must be U.S. citizens with five years of experience in professional law enforcement. (DynCorp won’t take anyone under the age of 26.) Eligible candidates must pass a physical agility test that includes the “low hurdle,” the “12-foot tunnel run,” the “dummy drag,” and the “ladder climb with shotgun.”

Those who make it through peacekeeper training get sent to the United Nations for international deployment. The private companies have overseas support offices from which they pay recruits and provide food, lodging, and health care.

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Explainer thanks Mikhail Seliankin of the United Nations Peace and Security Section. Thanks also to reader Josh Martin for asking the question.