The approved budget for United Nations peacekeeping operations from July 2013 to June 2014 runs to $7,83-billion – $390-million higher than in the previous year. This is the third-highest budget since the record $8,26-billion spent in 2009/2010.

Despite some relatively minor fluctuations in the last seven years, peacekeeping budgets are much more stable now than in the 1990s, when a rapid rise in spending was followed by an abrupt decline, writes Senior Researcher Michael Renner in the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend.

Since peacekeeping was invented in the years following World War II, the United Nations has spent a cumulative $124-billion on these missions-an amount that pales in comparison to even a single year of world military expenditures, which stood at $1,75-billion in 2012. The world’s armies could not operate for even two days on the current annual peacekeeping budget.

Today’s peacekeeping missions are highly complex. Some attempt peace enforcement, but many others involve a broad array of civilian tasks, such as assistance in elections and other political processes, institution building, reform of judicial systems, and training for police forces, as well as other steps to foster and consolidate peace.

As of January 2014, the United Nations maintained 15 peacekeeping missions: eight in Africa, three in the Middle East, two in Asia, and one each in Europe and the Americas. The organisation deployed a total of 117 630 personnel, most of whom are uniformed peacekeepers.

By comparison, three dozen countries have armies that surpass the strength of uniformed and civilian peacekeepers, and five countries have more than 1-million soldiers each.

In March 2010, the number of troops, military observers, and civilian police reached the highest level ever, at 101 939. It has remained at just below the 100 000 mark since then.

Poor countries, especially from South Asia, contribute the bulk of peacekeepers. Decisions to establish, expand, or terminate a peacekeeping operation are taken by the members of the Security Council. But among the five permanent members, only China is making a substantial personnel contribution with 2 186 peacekeepers. Together, the “Perm-5” account for less than 4% of total UN peacekeeping forces.

The Perm-5 do account for a substantial share of the funding. They and other top 10 contributors provided over 80% of the total budget in 2013, with the US and Japan alone accounting for almost half of that (39%). The next four-France, Germany, the UK and China-contributed nearly 28%, while Italy, Russia, Canada, and Spain paid another 13,5%.

Today, the United Nations is far from the only organisation that dispatches peacekeepers. Various types of non-UN missions can be found in all regions of the world, although they sometimes work in conjunction with the Blue Helmets of the United Nations. Altogether, UN and non-UN missions deployed about 251 000 people in 2013, about 213 000 of whom were military personnel.

“Peacekeeping missions of various stripes have become a steady presence in several regions of the world,” says Renner, the study’s author. “Although they are not necessarily making the world a more peaceful place-with the exception of the small Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe missions, they are only dispatched after a conflict weighs on the conscience of global decision makers-they fulfil an important role in trying to bring a semblance of peace and order to troubled areas.”

Additional highlights from the report include:

* The number of civilians involved in peacekeeping grew from 8 430 in January 2000 to a peak of 22,616 by December 2010, but then fell below 19 000 in the last two years.

* In addition to peacekeeping operations, there are also several “political and peacebuilding” missions with mostly civilian staff. In January 2014, there were 13 such missions (typically, follow-up efforts once a peacekeeping mission comes to a close) in Africa, the Middle East, and Western Asia, with a total of 3 810 personnel.

* During six-and-a-half decades of peacekeeping, 3,211 peacekeepers have been killed on duty, including more than 1 400 fatalities in the currently active missions.

* In January 2014 the largest missions, in terms of both expenditures and personnel, were operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (with 25 723 people and a budget of $1,5-billion) and in Darfur, Sudan (with 23 754 people and a budget of $1,3-billion).