U.N.ITED NATIONS - Growing international instability and economic crisis are placing greater demands on U.N. peacekeeping even as it tries to wind down operations, the outgoing head of the 120,000-strong global force said.
Alain Le Roy highlighted the "overwhelming good" that U.N. peacekeepers have brought to troublespots from Haiti to Ivory Coast, East Timor and Sudan, while also acknowledging some bad and ugly cases.
"I think there will be more instability in the world," he said. "We are not the ones asking for an increased number of troops - never."
Conflicting pressures on the U.N. missions were evident during an interview with Le Roy from the New York office he leaves this week.
On one side of the building was a demonstration by Sudanese calling for U.N. intervention in the troubled state of South Kordofan. On the other, Haitians demanded an end to the U.N. "occupation force" in their impoverished nation.
The United Nations wants to close its operation in East Timor next year and start drawing down forces in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Haiti.
But it has also just started two new missions with 4,200 Ethiopian troops heading for Sudan's troubled Abyei region and 7,000 to go to the new country of South Sudan.
"There are other countries where we might be called," the French diplomat added. Planning is already underway for an observer force for Libya, if a ceasefire is ever agreed.
However "the trend is clearly that European defense budgets are globally decreasing," Le Roy said, so their ability to help in faraway conflict zones will become limited.
The United States also relies on U.N. power.
"Ask President Barack Obama," said Le Roy. "He is very happy because we bring stability to so many countries where he cannot go. If we left the Congo, who else would go there? If we left the Sudan, who would be there to protect the population?"
The U.N. Security Council is adding to the demands with its growing calls for U.N. forces to better protect civilian populations.
"No army force in the world is trained to protect civilians. They are trained to make war, to be warriors. To protect civilians is a very specific task," said Le Roy "The Security Council says in one sentence in its mandate that you have to protect civilians under threat.
"That simple sentence raises a lot of expectations amongst the populations and the countries concerned," he continued.
So the U.N. is pressuring the 120 countries that contribute to the 15 peacekeeping missions around the world to change their training and ethics.
U.N. forces must be more "robust," the Security Council has ordered. That needs numbers, skills and equipment, according to the U.N. under-secretary-general.
That is why attack helicopters were needed in Ivory Coast this year to destroy weapons being used by Laurent Gbagbo, the president who refused to stand down after losing an election.
U.N. forces are also forced to get tougher in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Le Roy said.
Pressure has also mounted for the U.N. to overcome what Le Roy acknowledges were three major peacekeeping failures of the 1990s - at Srebenica in Bosnia, the Rwanda genocide and in Somalia - when troops could not or would not act.
"There were three big tragedies, three failures and since then we have changed tremendously," he said.
"We have reformed a lot to become more professional. It cannot be compared even to how we were five years ago."
Le Roy has had to tell U.N. commanders they must stay at their post on threatened bases, even when they were at risk.
"For me, there cannot be the Srebenica syndrome. This was the case in the Ivory Coast, Sudan. In Darfur, there were times when peacekeepers were threatened," he said.
"If I accept evacuation, the whole credibility of peacekeeping would be lost. Each time I said no. In each case it was not easy."
The U.N. has also had to confront cases of rape by peacekeepers.
According to U.N. figures, alleged attacks have dropped from 127 in 2007 to 84 last year, and Le Roy dismissed the perpetrators as "black sheep."
"Every army in the world has black sheep. We have 84 cases for 120,000 peacekeepers. That is 84 cases too many. But we have improved," Le Roy said, demanding credit for the good work done ending strife in Liberia and East Timor hailed by the countries' leaders.
"Perhaps some people in Haiti would like us to go. But who brought stability to Haiti? It was our operation. Who avoided the chaos after the earthquake? The peacekeepers," Le Roy said. "In Haiti, we declared war on the gangs in Cite Soleil.
"There may be some politicians who say we want to be a sovereign nation, but the populations at risk never say 'we want you to leave.'"