A model for Understanding Daily Experiences and Stressors of Peacekeeping Operations



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A Model for Understanding Daily Experiences and Stressors of Peacekeeping Operations
Eva Johansson

National Defence College

Department of Leadership

Karlstad, Sweden



This presentation will focus on what the Swedish UN peacekeepers experience during their period of service, besides the formal duty. The results presented here emanate from a questionnaire study conducted with the Swedish personnel who served in UNPROFOR from Autumn 1993 to Autumn 1995. The presentation deals with one open-ended question from that questionnaire, namely the question "What important lessons would you wish to pass on to others intending to serve in Bosnia?" The aim with that question was to develop a deepened understanding of UN peacekeeping soldiers experiences from the soldiers own perspective. In all, 3.505 individuals have answered the questionnaire and of the entire group of respondents 57% or 2.002 individuals answered the open-ended question. Those who wrote down their views were compared with those who did not regarding different variables such as, age, sex, civil status, family support, earlier UN experience, work situation, view of the service period and confidence in commanders. The groups did not differ on any of these variables.
With a starting point in the soldiers different statements a model has been created to illustrate the soldiers experiences and daily life. The model itself has as yet not been empirically verified, but it has proved useful in structuring the data. It should be possible to test the model in future studies.

SOME BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT SWEDISH UN SERVICE CONDITIONS
Firstly, though, I would like to give you some basic information about the conditions for Swedish personnel serving in Bosnia or other UN missions.
The Swedish involvement in Bosnia started in 1993 when a Nordic battalion was sent down to the Tuzla area, situated in the northeastern part of Bosnia. The battalion was a mechanized infantry battalion and it also consisted of a Danish tank company and Norwegian staff officers. Only Swedish personnel are included in the study. In December 1995 the UN handed over the responsibility for the Bosnia operation to NATO. The results that I will present refer to the UN period but the study is still going on and up until now we have our eighth battalion in the area.
For Swedish personnel UN service is built on a voluntary base, that is for officers as well as all other ranks. Twice a year it is possible to apply for UN service. For the battalions in Bosnia, however, the recruitment principles have been a little bit different concerning regular officers. During this period some selected regiments in Sweden have been responsible for filling the battalions with suitable personnel. This has meant that many of the regular officers were recruited from that regiment or from one close by.
An application requirement, for male personnel who are not regular or reserve officers, is completed compulsory military service. Most commonly military service ends at the age of 20. The situation for female personnel is somewhat different, as we do not have compulsory military service for women in Sweden. So they have to apply in different steps where they, firstly, are screened and tested, secondly do a very short basic military training course and if they are successful they finally can apply for UN service.
Depending on what position a person applies for in the unit, different types of competence are emphasized. For instance, civilian skills are important for certain expert positions in the battalion such as medical personnel, computer experts, hygienists, carpenters etc., while military skills are emphasized for pure soldier positions. Of course all personnel have some basic military competence and knowledge.
Before departure to the mission area, all personnel receive a special UN-training which normally is conducted by the Swedish Armed Forces International Centre. The length of this training period is dependent on position in the unit and on the mission's degree of difficulty or if the mission is new.
The normal tour of service is six months but there are persons who are contracted for a shorter period of time and a few others who recapitulate for one battalion more. Our military observers, who do not belong to the battalion staff, are normally contracted for one year.

DISCUSSION OF THE MODEL
As I said earlier, this model has as its basis in the different statements written down by soldiers and officers themselves. What I have done is to group the statements into categories. The different categories have been separated into two types of influencing factors, namely external influencing factors and internal peacekeeping force factors. The experiences of daily life are expressed from the personnel's own perspective. With the model I try to outline what different aspects affect the Swedish UN peacekeeper in terms of the dynamic interplay between external influencing factors and internal peacekeeping force factors in this environment.
The external influencing factors (service environment, media, and private social network) are factors, which are difficult to influence, at least when the battalion already is deployed in a mission area. Most comments made by the soldiers in this study dealt with the service environment and many of these comments had an undertone of frustration and problems of understanding the conflict. UN service can entail various dilemmas for the individual. In the case of Bosnia, UN soldiers were fairly heavily exposed to different forms of provocation, such as being shot at, hindered by the conflicting parties from doing their jobs, and treated aggressively by the civilian population. At the same time the role of a UN peacekeeper means that he or she must control him- or herself and not hit back. In recent literature the concept of 'peacekeepers stress syndrome' occurs, the chief symptom being soldiers fear of losing control of their aggressiveness, rather than fear from external threats (Egge, Mortensen & WeisFth, 1996).
The media coverage of the development of events in a mission area seems to be important to the soldiers as well as to their relatives. The media is very much present in the early stages of a conflict because then it is a piece of important news. Therefore, the impact of media can be experienced very differently for soldiers who serve in the beginning of a UN effort compared to those who serve in a more established UN mission. To be a part of the news nearly every day, or to work more or less anonymously from a media point of view, are two situations that affect the soldiers in different ways. The four different battalions in this study were all quite exposed in national media and TV, but in particular this applies to the first battalion. The development of the situation in former Yugoslavia was also front-page news world wide during this time so the battalions received quite a lot of 'feedback' in a term of publicity.
The single soldier has his or her private social network at home and it is his or her business to deal family and friends both before going out on service and during the service period. Previous research does however, illuminate the importance of a stable social situation in order to cope with the UN service both under the actual service period and after completed service (Willigenburg & Alkemande, 1996; Adler, Bartone, & Vaitkus, 1995). From a Swedish point of view this is also illustrated by the fact that one of the most central reasons for breaking the service contract before end of tour is related to problems on the 'home front'. In a Danish study (Bache & Hommelgard, 1994) a relationship was also demonstrated between family problems and stress reactions after completion of service. 'If the mission has given rise to family problems or the couple have broken up, the risk increases that the individual later suffers stress reactions'.
The internal peacekeeping force factors (recruitment principles, content of the preparatory training, leadership issues and personal characteristics) are more related to national routines for UN peacekeeping activities. The Swedish soldiers recruited for UN service in Bosnia were quite young (over half of the Swedish UN soldiers were between 20-25 years old). It is difficult, or even impossible, to say what the optimum age of a UN soldier should be but the comments made indicate the importance of a broad basis of experience so as to be able to relate one's experiences and actions to a wider context. It normally takes some years to gain such experience. The Swedish National Rescue Services Board has also participated with personnel within the framework of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) activity in former Yugoslavia. In their recruitment they recommend experienced personnel, average age around 40 years, because they see experience, maturity, and breadth of knowledge as important ingredients for this kind of service (Huldt, Welin & Orn, 1995).
It seems to be important to put the preparatory training in the right context. The military training, including "worst case" scenarios, was felt to be insufficient. To have 'tools' for better understanding the service situation (e.g., to understand different population groups traditions and values, and the political situation in the area) and to have tools for better handling the situation (e.g., local language skills and negotiation techniques) were mentioned as important aspects of preparation for the service.
Quite high demands are put on the leaders in this environment. It is not only to lead soldiers from their own country but also to be a part of a multinational force with a lot more tasks than pure military duties. The leadership is to be practiced in a high-risk and, to a certain degree, unknown milieu. It seems from the comments made that the most important leadership aspects deal with treatment of personnel and to make sense of a confused situation.
The personal characteristics of the soldiers become important in terms of adjusting to and coping with this environment. The role of the UN soldier also includes a wide spectrum of ways to act in this complex environment, from acting as a mediator, negotiator, or diplomat, to taking up arms to defend oneself or the task.
The model indicates that the internal peacekeeping force factors are possible to influence in different ways. It is also probable that if one makes changes in a certain factor, for instance the principles for recruitment, it will also, to some extent, affect the other factors. But it might also be possible to reduce the impact of the external influencing factors by making these conscious and visible, for instance, during the preparation phase through integration in the training content.
The model forms a first step in trying to understand what different aspects shape the Swedish UN peacekeeper's daily activities, besides the formal duty. With the model as a starting point it is possible in future studies to quantify the different categories and also to check the model's validity.
REFERENCES
Adler, A. B., Bartone, P. T. & Vaitkus, M. A.. (1995). Family stress and adaptation during a U.S. Army Europe peacekeeping deployment. USAMRU-E Technical Report 95-1. (DTIC Report No. ADA294755).
Bache, M & Hommelgaard, B. (1994). Danske FN-soldater. Oplevelser og stressreaktioner [Danish UN soldiers. Experiences and stress reactions]. Krbenhavn: Forsvarets Center for Lederskab.
Egge, B., Mortensen, M. S. & WeisFth, L. (1996). "Armed Conflicts - Soldiers for Peace: Ordeals and Stress." In Danieli, Y., Rodley, N. S. & WeisFth, L. (Eds.). International Responses to Traumatic Stress (p. 257-282). New York: Baywood.

Huldt, B., Welin, G. & _Orn, T. (1995). Bevara eller skapa fred [Keeping the peace or creating it, the UN's new role]. Stockholm: Nordsteds.


Willigenburg, T. & Alkemade, N.D. (1996). Aftercare in the Royal Netherlands Army. Doc. no.: 96-02. Hague: Behavioural Sciences Department, Royal Netherlands Army.






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