In Hindsight: Changes to UN Peacekeeping in 2013
The 2013 composition of the Security Council—whose members jointly contributed 22.4 percent of UN peacekeeping personnel as of 31 December 2012—was instrumental in two significant developments regarding the use of force in peacekeeping operations.
On 28 March 2013, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2098, establishing, for an initial period of one year, an intervention brigade based in Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) consisting of three infantry battalions and auxiliary forces under the command of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Its key task is to carry out offensive operations to neutralise armed groups that threaten state authority and civilian security. Although not new—the UN Operation in the Congo of 1960-1964 has been characterised by some as the first UN peace-enforcement mission—the establishment of a UN mission with an enforcement component constitutes a shift in the continuum of the use of force from the previous circumstances in which MONUSCO, already a robust mission, had been authorised to use it.
Less than a month later, on 25 April, the Council adopted resolution 2100 establishing the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. The mission is authorised to use all necessary measures to stabilise “the key population centres, especially in the north of Mali and, in this context, to deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas”.
Aware of the wider implications these developments had for peacekeeping, Council members inserted caveats in both resolutions. Resolution 2098 underscored that the brigade was established “on an exceptional basis and without creating a precedent or any prejudice to the agreed principles of peacekeeping”. Resolution 2100 reaffirmed these principles, “including consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force, except in self-defence and defence of the mandate” and recognised the specific mandate of each peacekeeping mission.
There were two additional factors that helped override the misgivings some actors had about both decisions. First, African countries had called for peace-enforcement mandates in both cases, which gave this approach political legitimacy. The DRC, the International Conference on the Great Lakes region and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had first called for the establishment of an intervention brigade in the eastern DRC, and SADC countries were ready to be part of the brigade. Regarding Mali, the AU Peace and Security Council asked on 7 March 2013 that the new mission be given a peace-enforcement mandate to “actively sustain efforts aimed at dismantling the terrorist and criminal networks operating in the north of the country” (S/2013/163).
The second factor was the urgency and perceived inevitability of such moves. On the intervention brigade, Council members saw its establishment as part of a wider process along with the signing of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Region in Addis Ababa on 24 February, with the Secretary-General and regional bodies as guarantors. The difficulties in reaching this agreement and the lack of alternatives seem to have prevented some Council members, especially troop-contributing countries (TCCs), from opposing the brigade more vigorously. On Mali, Council members had been presented with two alternatives: establishing a UN political mission alongside the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) or a multidimensional integrated UN stabilisation mission under Chapter VII alongside French forces. Given the budgetary, operational and logistical difficulties AFISMA was then facing and the likelihood that it would have required a logistics support package funded through UN assessed contributions, something the US accepted for the AU Mission in Somalia as an exception, the more logical option seemed a UN peacekeeping mission operating under robust rules of engagement.
There were, however, serious reservations expressed at various points, including with the short time allowed for the negotiations (one week) on resolution 2098. Two key issues were raised by China, Russia and some elected troop-contributing Council members after the adoption of resolution 2098: involvement in peace enforcement could compromise the impartiality of UN peacekeeping operations and the safety and security of peacekeepers. A March internal memo from Assistant Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations Edmond Mulet on the UN peace enforcement option for Mali cautioned that UN peacekeepers “are neither trained nor equipped to implement such a mandate.” Russia, the only Council member that explained its vote on resolution 2100, expressed its concern about the growing shift towards the military aspects of peacekeeping and highlighted that “what was once the exception now threatens to become unacknowledged standard practice”.
When the March 23 rebel group in the DRC surrendered on 7 November 2013, Council members welcomed this development, which was seen as a result, among other factors, of the increased military pressure added by the intervention brigade on the group. Although it is unclear whether these more aggressive mandates will lead to a significant rise in peacekeeping casualties, this risk may mean that TCCs could have to increase their tolerance for casualties in the future. Consent of the local parties, impartiality and the use of force only in self-defence were considered the bedrock principles of peacekeeping. UN peacekeepers may no longer be perceived as impartial but as a party to an armed conflict, with implications under international humanitarian law: being considered as combatants and legitimate targets. In light of the varying tolerance levels among member states, the increased risk might further exacerbate the peacekeeping divide between those states that mainly contribute troops and those that mainly contribute funds (see the supplemental guide in this Monthly Forecast on UN Peacekeeping Deployments and Budgets).
If UN blue helmets are to be deployed in increasingly volatile settings with more robust mandates, a shared understanding about the new boundaries of peacekeeping will probably need to be developed not only taking into account specific situations, but also reflecting on the broader legal, political and operational implications. All TCCs, and more so the ones directly affected, will likely be keen on undertaking these discussions before more aggressive mandates are again put to the test.