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30 years of dispatching troops for UN peacekeeping operations: soldiers remain deployed today

Support for keeping peace in countries with disputes

Blue helmets worldwide

Ceasefire monitoring, disarmament, maintenance of security

Military, diplomatic and cultural activities

Started with the Sangnoksu Unit dispatched to Somalia

Conducted stabilization operation through disaster relief support

Dispatched Medical Support Group to Western Sahara

Provided advanced medical service for 12 years

Soldiers of the first contingent of the Sangnoksu

Soldiers of the first contingent of the Sangnoksu Unit and local children in East Timor in October 1999. The unit rapidly restored local security with perfect peacekeeping operations and sincere efforts to build confidence.

Soldiers of the second contingent of the Sangnoksu

Soldiers of the second contingent of the Sangnoksu Unit in Somalia completed service and arrived at Seoul Air Base on March 18, 1994 and were welcomed by soldiers.

Local recovery activities of the Araw contingent i

Local recovery activities of the Araw contingent in the Philippines. The unit started operation immediately upon arrival, removing wreckage and rebuilding facilities and houses.

In 1997, Ahn Chung-jun (left), a retired ROK Army

In 1997, Ahn Chung-jun (left), a retired ROK Army major general who served as the commander of UNMOGIP, inspected the border area.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of South Korean military’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations (PKO). For the last 30 years, the Korean military has been engaged in peacekeeping and regional security activities in countries with disputes and conflicts worldwide, wearing blue helmets as a symbol of PKO. With the performance of actual operations, Korea’s military achieved a substantial improvement in military strength, and cultivated manpower with expertise from military diplomacy and international perspectives. PKO participation also helped Korean companies enter local markets and participate in recovery and rehabilitation projects, contributing to the creation of economic gain. Here we review 30 years of PKO activities that have enhanced Korea’s international status and strengthened economic, social, cultural cooperation with host countries.


Humanitarian support and disaster relief operations


Peacekeeping operations (PKO) were launched to support the settlement of peace in countries with disputes. The most important mission of PKO is the maintenance of international peace and regional security. PKO provides support for ceasefire monitoring, disarmament, prevention of dispute resumption, maintenance of security and post-war rehabilitation in states where hostilities ceased or peace is being restored.


PKOs are legally and politically authorized by the UN Security Council and receive personnel and financial donations from UN member states.

Countries participate in PKOs and display their diplomatic capabilities in the international community. Countries can enhance their status and achieve direct and indirect gains in the course of peacekeeping and rehabilitation activities in host countries. PKOs are military and diplomatic activities to maintain world peace and also economic and cultural activities to foster close ties with host countries.

PKO is different from Multi-National Force (MNF). PKO performs humanitarian support such as monitoring of peace agreement implementations under the commander of peacekeeping operations appointed by the UN Secretary General as well as disaster relief operations.

On the other hand, MNF performs military and civilian operations to restore peace in disputed areas, led by regional security organizations or a specific country under the authorization of the United Nations.


Maintenance of international order since 1948


PKO played the key role in maintaining international order in a challenging security environment after World War Two, and has been one of the most important missions of the United Nations.

As the first entity of PKO, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was created on May 29, 1948 for the UN Security Council’s intervention in disputes between Israel and Middle Eastern states. In January of 1949, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was organized to mediate between India and Pakistan.


The early activities of these two PKOs were limited as the United States and the Soviet Union confronted each other. They played the least role in helping stabilize the situation and supporting peaceful settlement.


However, the UN-led PKOs were assessed as having shown the possibility of mediating in disputes and overcoming threats.


Therefore, the United Nations designated May 29, the day of establishing the first UN peacekeeping mission, as the “International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers” to pay tribute to the dedication of UN Peacekeepers each year.


More active PKO efforts have continued since 1956. United National Emergency Force 1 (UNEF-1) was organized as the first military and peacekeeping operation.


UNEF-1, which was developed as a response to armed conflicts between Britain, France, Israel and Egypt over the Suez Canal, became the first UN peacekeeping force (PKF).

The basic principles of UNPKOs reading ‘UN peacekeeping operations are deployed with the consent of the main parties’ and ‘the minimum force necessary to achieve the desired effect’ have been observed so far.


UNPKOs have been more active since the 1990s when the Cold War ended. The international community decided to address conflicts and disputes around the world, which were rampant after the Cold War.

At this time, more than 20 new missions were organized and the number of participants increased from 11,000 to 75,000.

Furthermore, since the 2000s, the capabilities and limitations of each PKO mission have been assessed to perform a variety of complicated tasks, and efforts are being made to strengthen PKO capabilities.

According to data released by the United Nations, as of January 2023, more than 1 million women and men from 125 countries have served in 71 UN peacekeeping missions. At this moment, more than 90,000 personnel are working in 12 missions.


Creation of Sangnoksu Unit in April 1993


Korea started to participate in UNPKO in July 1993. When Korea became a member of the United Nations in September 1991, the UN asked Korea about its intention to participate in PKO.

Related government ministries including the Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered PKO participation, collected information and data, and started to prepare a plan.

After consultations and ministerial meetings of related ministries, the government decided to participate in PKO, and sent an official notification to participate in the UN-lead PKO in September 1992, one year after it joined the United Nations.

The United Nations asked Korea to dispatch armed forces to Somalia, which faced a tumultuous situation due to civil war.

Under the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) created by a resolution of the UN Security Council in April, troops dispatched from about 30 countries were maintaining order and stability in Somalia.

The Korean government comprehensively considered security, economy, and social circumstances, and accepted the request to fulfil its responsibilities and rights as a member of the United Nations. After studying ways to provide effective support by sending a local investigation team to Somalia and collecting specialists’ opinions, the government decided to send an engineering battalion. It was the background for creating the Sangnoksu Unit.

The Sangnoksu Unit was inaugurated in April 1993 with 252 troops and 143 items of equipment of 37 kinds. The official title of the unit was the189th engineering battalion.

Sangnoksu is a nickname that symbolized military construction engineers and Korea’s first participation in UNPKO. Its main mission was stabilization operations based on local disaster relief. The unit arrived in Mogadishu, Somalia on July 31, 1993.



Enhancing the reputation of South Korea around the world


In July 1993, Korea sent the first UNPKO troops to Somalia and in 1994 dispatched the Armed Forces Medical Support Group to Western Sahara.

The Armed Forces Medical Support Group conducted medical operations for the local UN peacekeepers and supported and supervised infection prevention and quarantine activities in operations areas.

The group also provided public healthcare and vaccinations for the peacekeepers. For 12 years from the first contingent in September 1994 until the return of the 23rd contingent in May 2006, the medical support group demonstrated advanced medical services and enhanced the status of Korea in seeking international peace.

In October 1995, an engineer unit was dispatched to Angola, which was suffering from a protracted civil war. For one year and three months until December 1996, the soldiers of the engineer unit built and opened eight bridges in a mission completed by three contingents. They also recovered airports, repaired roads and buildings and provided technical support. The engineer unit made a significant contribution to rehabilitation and peace in Angola, and demonstrated an example of PKO service for UN personnel from other countries.

The fourth contingent of Korean PKO unit was the Sangnoksu Unit in East Timor. From October 1999 to October 2003, the Sangnoksu Unit was the first combatant contingent of PKO dispatched by Korea after joining the United Nations.

Its mission was to recover peace and stability in East Timor and to build a safe environment. The Sangnoksu Unit also supported and protected the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) and conducted humanitarian relief activities such as the transport of refugees. The unit provided significant assistance in the establishment of a new government in East Timor.

The Danbi Unit performed disaster relief support operation in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, from February 2010 to December 2012.

As a member of MINUSTAH (La Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haïti), the unit recovered roads, removed debris from the earthquake, dredged rivers, repaired facilities and provided medical services. It was Korea’s first and only unit dispatched to the Americas as well as the first unit dispatched to provide support for recovery from natural disasters.


More than 500 soldiers are engaged in PKO now


The South Korean military is continuing to be engaged in UN-led PKOs. They are the Dongmyeong Unit under the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Hanbit Unit under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNIMISS). Individuals are also participating in UNPKOs.

The Dongmyeong Unit has promoted peace and stability in Lebanon since 2007. It is Korea’s longest-performing UNPKO mission. In Lebanon, suffering from conflicts between Israel and the Hezbollah, the unit has provided support for the repair of roads and facilities and has conducted perfect reconnaissance and surveillance operations for peace and stability in the country.

The Hanbit Unit, which marked its 10th anniversary this year, has enhanced the status of Korea through peacemaking and rehabilitation support operations and civil affairs operations in South Sudan. The unit is said to have improved conditions for sustainable operations by preventing tribal conflicts and establishing supply routes.

According to the Center for International Peace Operations of Korea National Defense University, more than 480 soldiers of ROKA remain deployed with the Hanbit Unit and Dongmyeong Unit.

Furthermore, over 20 Korean individuals are engaged in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), UNIFIL, UNMOGIP, United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Yemen political mission, etc., enhancing the status of Korea.

By Hyun-woo, Seo <>

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