Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, peacekeeping is bigger and costlier than ever — and confronting an identity crisis.

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UNITED NATIONS —

In Darfur, U.N. peacekeepers have covered up evidence of government-led attacks against civilians and, on occasion, attacks on themselves.

In Mali’s northern badlands, attacks on blue-helmeted peacekeepers have killed 42 of them in the past two years, making it hard for the peacekeepers there to resupply their bases.

In the Golan Heights, U.N. soldiers have pulled out of most of their posts on the Syrian side of the territory, which has been overrun by an affiliate of al-Qaida. In the Central African Republic, peacekeepers have faced one sordid accusation of sexual abuse after another.

Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, peacekeeping is bigger and costlier than ever — and confronting an identity crisis.

Not since the soul-searching after Rwanda and Srebrenica 20 years ago, when the United Nations failed to prevent two successive genocides, has peacekeeping come under such scrutiny. The organization’s top leaders and donors are asking: What is peacekeeping accomplishing today, and how can it be made to work in some of the world’s worst war zones, where there is often no peace to keep?

The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, proposed an array of changes to revamp peacekeeping operations in a report released last week, calling on world powers to do more to solve conflicts diplomatically and promising to make peacekeeping operations “faster, more responsive and more accountable to countries and people in conflict.”

Ban has refrained from assigning blame. He has said conflicts are multiplying faster than the organization can address them and suggested “divisions” among the world’s powerful countries have kept the U.N. system as a whole from bringing peace.

“We do not have many opportunities to reform U.N. peace operations in such a comprehensive way,’’ he said Wednesday. “It is essential that we act urgently and collectively.”

The Obama administration, which picks up more than one-fourth of the $8.27 billion budget for peacekeeping, has devoted some political capital to improving peacekeepers’ performance.

It has spent the past several months pressing other countries to devote more of their troops to peacekeeping missions. With a wider and better pool of soldiers, U.S. officials contend, peacekeepers can deploy faster and perform better — and if they do not, the secretary-general’s office can more easily replace them.

“The U.N. has been forced to work with what it has,” one U.S. official said. “There’s a bit of a beggars-can’t-be-choosers mentality.”

At a General Assembly debate this month, President Obama is scheduled to head what the official referred to as “a pledging conference for peacekeeping,” where leaders of at least 45 nations are expected to either promise to expand their presence in peacekeeping, like India, or add significant resources for the first time, like some European countries.

Few expect a large expansion of U.S. military personnel in U.N. peacekeeping. “We expect the number to increase — whether sharply or not will be determined,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the details of a diplomatic meeting.

The United States contributes fewer than 80 soldiers and police officers, making it one of the lowest contributors of personnel.

Most troops come from the developing world; the countries of South Asia, along with Ethiopia and Rwanda, are the top contributors. Tensions have grown between these troop contributors, which say they are being treated like cannon fodder in battlefields, and the permanent members of the Security Council, who tell them what to do.

An independent panel appointed by Ban this year urged Security Council members to put more of their own boots on the ground and rebuked them for telling peacekeepers to use force, rather than devoting more resources to political solutions.

Peacekeeping is a far cry from what it was 70 years ago, when the United Nations sent a handful of mostly unarmed military observers to monitor cease-fire agreements. Today, there are nearly 124,000 soldiers and police officers deployed on 16 peacekeeping missions, including in countries torn by grisly ethnic conflicts, such as the Central African Republic, and by terrorist groups, such as in Mali.

In some places, the presence of peacekeepers has saved lives. Civilians fleeing rival armed groups have found shelter in U.N. bases in South Sudan. But in other places, peacekeepers have been ineffective or, at times, predatory.

It usually takes them many months to deploy. Often they lack the tools of modern armies, from walkie-talkies to armored personnel carriers. They are also stymied by hostile governments: In Darfur, U.N. officials say their peacekeepers are blocked from freely patrolling and attacked by Sudanese forces and their proxies.

They are often faulted for not doing enough to protect civilians, as is their mandate. An internal U.N. review found that peacekeepers in Darfur had underreported instances of violence against civilians. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, U.N. troops have been accused of not responding fast enough to rapes and massacres.

In Haiti, peacekeepers were accused of bringing cholera, which ended up killing at least 8,000 people in the country; the United Nations has not addressed whether it was responsible. More recently, peacekeepers in the Central African Republic have been accused of more than a dozen cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.

The mood around peacekeeping today could not be further from what it was in 1988, when U.N. peacekeeping won the Nobel Peace Prize. As Ban acknowledged in his report released last week, “missions are struggling to cope with the spread and intensity of conflicts.”

Fixing it will not be easy, and with Ban’s tenure ending next year, the tough decisions will have to be made by his successor.

“There are very few low-hanging fruit for Ban Ki-moon to pluck,” said Richard Gowan, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.