In Hindsight: Military Staff Committee
When the UN Charter was adopted in 1945, member states were expected to make available to the Security Council armed forces, assistance and facilities that the Council could use at its discretion to maintain international peace and security (Article 43). The Charter established a subsidiary body of the Council, the Military Staff Committee (MSC), with a mandate to advise and assist the Council on all questions relating to military requirements and the employment and command of forces placed at its disposal (Article 47). However, the MSC, composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members, soon became a victim of the Cold War divisions and never really got off the ground.
To overcome that deadlock, the UN developed the concept of peacekeeping (which was not included in the Charter), and military planning became a responsibility of the UN Secretariat. For roughly sixty years, the MSC remained largely dormant. It met twice a month, its chairmanship rotated among the P5, but its meetings were mostly pro forma.
With the end of the Cold War, the idea of making better use of the MSC was raised within both the Secretariat and the Council. Resolution 1327, adopted in 2000, stated that the Council “undertakes to consider the possibility of using the MSC as one of the means of enhancing the UN peacekeeping capacity”. In 2001, Russia circulated a position paper with ideas to enhance the activities of the MSC, such as involving non-permanent Council members and peacekeeping contributors in its work, which “could provide on a permanent basis an analysis of the military component of the situation in conflict areas and prepare recommendations for the Security Council” (S/2001/671). In the next several years, the idea of revitalising the MSC solidified. Presidential statements adopted in August 2009, September 2010 and August 2011 recognised the Council’s need to improve its access to military advice and said that the Council “would continue to” consider the role of the MSC (S/PRST/2009/24, S/2010/PRST/18 and S/PRST/2011/17).
Meanwhile, the MSC started to meet ahead of Council peacekeeping-related discussions, proceeded to develop its procedures and enhanced the substance of its discussions. It now holds semi-monthly substantive meetings on operations whose mandates are to be discussed by the Council or on thematic issues involving military aspects of peacekeeping, and it engages regularly with officials from the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, including the Office of Military Affairs. Since 2009 it has adopted a yearly programme of work and in 2010, 2011 and 2012 it created informal groups to provide advice to the P5 on the planning for missions in Somalia, South Sudan and Mali, respectively. In April 2012, the MSC endorsed a handbook outlining its working methods. In September 2014, the MSC travelled to Haiti (its first field mission) and issued a report upon its return supporting the recommendations of the Secretary-General for the drawdown of the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. In a key development aimed at increasing the inclusiveness of its discussions, the MSC started involving the military advisors of the ten elected members in its activities. Even though the MSC still meets formally after elected Council members leave the room, these formal meetings are apparently mostly ceremonial.
One of the current main shortcomings of UN peace operations is the lack of full implementation of mandates authorised by the Council. While sometimes this is due to the emergence of unpredictable external factors, it is common for the implementation of mandates to be hindered by insufficient planning or operationally unrealistic recommendations. Examples of this disconnect include the limited success of the inter-mission cooperation arrangements to provide the UN Mission in South Sudan with additional troops after the crisis in December 2013; the sluggish pace at which the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali has been deployed; and the difficulties in ensuring that the re-hatted contingents in the Central African Republic or Mali meet UN standards. While the Council is ultimately responsible for authorising these decisions, the mandates are usually adopted following specific recommendations provided by the Secretary-General. These operational weaknesses not only hinder the implementation of specific Council mandates but also, more broadly, risk delegitimising the UN’s involvement in such critical situations.
In this context, the MSC seems well-placed to provide a thorough military consideration of the Secretariat’s mission planning prior to the Council’s strategic decisions. The current pool of military advisors within Council members’ missions is a vastly underutilised resource. Council decision-making could benefit from the exchanges of ideas between Council members and the Secretariat’s military professionals. Furthermore, military advisers of troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs) could systematically meet with the MSC ahead of mission renewals (which would probably also enhance the substantive quality of the Council’s periodic meetings with TCCs/PCCs). The Council might explore having the MSC regularly report to it as do the chairs of other subsidiary bodies. Currently, the institutional interaction between the Council and the MSC is non-existent. The only way in which the discussions of the MSC feed into the Council’s decision-making process is through the advice individual permanent representatives receive from their respective military advisors.
Establishing or renewing Council mandates is a process that requires huge investment of time and resources from all Council members. Ensuring that the Council is presented with sound information and realistic options and that the mandates can indeed be implemented on the ground seems fundamental for the credibility of the organisation and is vital for the people the Council strives to serve. Even if the MSC is not to play any role in the planning or conduct of peacekeeping operations, the Council could well benefit from more substantive inputs provided systematically by the MSC on military questions. Increasing the Council’s ownership of military decisions and enhancing the opportunities for careful consideration of operational challenges, may be a way toward better mandate design and enhanced implementation.