What Became of the Norwegian Peacekeeping Forces?

For nearly 20 years, Norway has prioritized contributing to NATO-led operations over UN peacekeeping forces. At the same time, recent research shows that increased commitment to UN operations has a conflict-reducing effect.

Photo: Forsvaret

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Norwegian UN soldiers’ departure to Lebanon to serve in UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon).

Apart from the Independent Norwegian Brigade Group in Germany in the aftermath of World War II, the UNIFIL effort represented the largest and most wide-ranging contribution that Norway has made to international operations. Over 20,000 Norwegians were involved. In April, this anniversary was marked in various places in Norway. At the same time, we know that Norway currently has fewer than 100 personnel engaged in UN peacekeeping operations. What has become of the Norwegian peacekeeping forces?

Norway has been an active contributor to international operations since the end of World War II, but the nature of its involvement changed after the end of the Cold War, when the number of operations in which Norway participated grew significantly.

Eight-six percent of all the operations to which Norway has contributed began after 1990. Diversity also increased, both regarding the type of operation to which Norway contributed (UN, NATO, other) and the types of contributions made. This diversity reflects the increase in the total number of international operations in the world after 1990, as well as the broader spectrum of operations. For example, NATO did not get involved in peacekeeping until after the end of the Cold War. The first NATO peacekeeping operation, Operation Anchor Guard, commenced only in August 1990.

Towards the end of the 1990s, Norway moved away from contributing to UN operations and instead prioritized NATO operations. Although Norway has participated overall in more UN than NATO operations since 1990, the number of Norwegian personnel deployed in UN operations fell drastically in the mid-1990s. One reason for this was the major challenges the UN encountered in, for example, Rwanda and Bosnia, in the mid-1990s. As a consequence of these challenges, the UN reduced the total number of its peacekeeping personnel from over 75,000 at the start of the 1990s to under 15,000 at the end of the decade.

At the start of the new millennium, UN operations gained new mandates and the budgets were increased. This change led to worldwide increases not only in the number of UN operations but also in the number of UN forces deployed. Since the year 2000, the number of personnel serving with the UN increased to nearly 108,000 in April 2015. Norway’s involvement contrasts with the global development of UN forces. Despite a strong increase in contributions from other countries, Norway has not made any increase worth mentioning in its contributions to UN operations. In April 2017, Norway had 66 personnel on deployment to UN peacekeeping forces worldwide. In contrast to previous deployments of personnel, for example to UNIFIL, Norway now prioritizes contributions of niche capacity. These involve small numbers of people in key positions, as well as equipment, such as transport aircraft.

Recent research shows that an increased commitment to UN peacekeeping forces has a conflict-reducing effect. The forces not only contribute to reducing the number of conflict deaths, but also shorten the length of a conflict, extend the duration of the post-conflict peace, and reduce the risk of the conflict spreading to neighbouring countries. In many of today’s conflicts, civil populations suffer and regularly become the targets of attacks by both government soldiers and rebels. Scenarios vary from looting and forced migration at one end of the scale, to genocide at the other. With the right mandate, peacekeeping forces can be effective in protecting civilians from violence, but only if the forces are able to use armed force, so that they are not simply passive observers. Researchers at FFI and PRIO are studying the effect of peacekeeping forces in efforts to protect civilians, and which measures are most effective.

If UN forces are to continue to play an effective role in current conflicts, they must be supported by the provision of personnel and sound mandates. The UN’s current budget for peacekeeping operations totals approximately USD 7.8 billion, which corresponds to 0.47 percent of global military spending. By investigating the statistical relationship between the incidence of conflict and the presence of UN operations with various mandates and budgets, among other things, research shows that an increase in the UN budget for an operation results in more robust mandates and improved conflict-reducing potential.

While Norway and other Western states (the Western European and Others Group – WEOG) contributed approximately 60 percent of the budget for the UN’s peacekeeping operations in 2016, they contributed only approximately 7 percent of personnel. Countries that make large financial contributions are seldom the same countries that contribute large numbers of troops.

Prioritizing NATO operations accords completely with Norway’s policy on national security and the strategic priorities in the Norwegian Armed Forces’ long-term planning. At the same time, we think it is worth issuing a reminder that UN peacekeeping operations do in fact have results and contribute to stabilizing conflicts in areas that Norway considers important for its own national security. In addition, Norway is working to secure a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021–2022. Accordingly, it is important to think carefully about how Norway will contribute to the UN’s peacekeeping operations in the coming years.


  • Gustavsen, Elin Marthinussen, Guro Lien & Andreas Forø Tollefsen (2017). Norskdeltakelse i internasjonale operasjoner 1990–2015. Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) Report 2017/00996.
  • Tollefsen, Andreas Forø & Elin Marthinussen Gustavsen (2017). Norway and UN Peacekeeping Trends. Conflict Trends, 5. Oslo: Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
  • Hultman, L., Kathman, J., & Shannon, M. 2014). Beyond keeping peace: United Nations effectiveness in the midst of fighting. American Political Science Review, 108(4), 737–753.
  • Hegre, Håvard, Lisa Hultman, & Håvard Nygård (2018). Evaluating the conflict-reducing effect of UN peace-keeping operations. Forthcoming in Journal of Politics.

This text was published in Norwegian in Forsvarets forum in June 2018: “Hvor ble det av FN-styrkene?”
Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext

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