April 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 March 2017
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Reviewing Peacekeeping Operations

Expected Council Action

In April, at the initiative of the US, the Council is expected to hold a briefing on reviewing peacekeeping operations. Secretary-General António Guterres will brief.


A concept note circulated ahead of the meeting stresses the important role that political foundations play in the success of peacekeeping missions. One of the conclusions of the 2014-2015 review by the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) was the “primacy of politics”, which implied the need for the Council to bring its collective leverage to bear in support of political solutions. In a 25 November 2015 presidential statement, the Council underlined “the significant impact its statements and actions can exert in situations of armed conflict or in support of peace processes.” However, the Council has often failed to agree on a political strategy in support of peace operations for many reasons, including decision-making processes that do not prioritise the emergence of strategic or collective thinking, divergent political priorities, inadequate Secretariat analysis and planning, and host state hostility.

The concept note encourages Council members to review missions and identify areas where mandates no longer match political realities, asking whether it is advisable or possible to operate a mission without the strategic consent of the host government. Even though the Council resolved in 2016 to send a regional protection force to Juba in South Sudan, and a police component to Burundi, these decisions have not been implemented promptly, if at all, in part due to the resistance of host states. The fact that the resolutions adopting these decisions were non-consensual testifies to the divisions among Council members faced with host state resistance. However, host state hostility has also featured in situations where the Council has continued to unanimously extend mandates of long-standing missions in Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The achievability of Council mandates and the need to bridge the gap between expectations and resources have been a key element in the discussions related to peace operations reform since at least 2000. The HIPPO report observed how, in recent years, mandates have become lengthier and more specific, and at times less realistic, manageable or achievable. It maintained that “too often, mandates and missions are produced on the basis of templates instead of tailored to support situation-specific political strategies”. This is particularly relevant in missions facing “conflict management” situations for which the concepts, tools, mission structures and doctrine originally developed for peace implementation tasks may not be well suited. The Secretariat and the Council have been unable to escape the so-called “Christmas tree mandates”, where template language for many tasks routinely appears in mission mandates. This is influenced by the lack of restraint on the part of Council members—and those lobbying them—in pressing specific issues, and internal Secretariat negotiations reflecting an arbitrage of interests rather than prioritisation. Although the 25 November 2015 presidential statement stated that the Council will consider sequenced and phased mandates, where appropriate, when evaluating existing UN peace operations or establishing new ones, so far this agreement in principle has had little impact on the Council’s mandating patterns. Prioritised and sequenced mandates, geared towards the achievement of clear objectives, could also provide a framework for clearer exit strategies. The concept note asks what the Council should do in situations where missions serve a valuable protection role, but without any conceivable conclusion to this role, and quotes the HIPPO report’s injunction that “protection mandates must be realistic and linked to a wider political approach.”

One of the issues raised in the concept note is the need for the Council to re-examine the value of a mission where there is no political process or the political process breaks down. In Council practice, most mandates are reviewed at the end of their cycles, irrespective of developments, unless these are especially dramatic, as in South Sudan in December 2013. Even though the conditions on the ground might change (for example, an increase in asymmetric attacks, a change in the nature of threats to civilians or the unravelling of the political process), Council members are often reluctant to reassess the appropriateness of mandates in light of bad news in the hope that tactical changes within the existing mandates can mitigate the new threats. The HIPPO report recommended that independent evaluations of peace operations should be commissioned at key decision points to provide objective assessments of progress in mandate implementation and overall context. The Secretariat has conducted several “strategic reviews” of peace operations, sometimes at the request of the Council, but these have had no independent element.

Some recent dynamics show increased attention to the political context of peace operations: Council members are now regularly inviting regional actors, including mediators, to engage with them, formally and informally; and despite political divisions, Council members are increasingly striving to deliver unified messages after private meetings or during visiting missions. At the meeting, Council members are expected to discuss the range of options at the Council’s disposal to exert its political leverage.

The US decision to hold this discussion follows Ambassador Nikki Haley’s statement, in her Senate confirmation hearing, regarding the need for a mission-by-mission review of peacekeeping as well as the intention of the US administration to reduce its peacekeeping funding. The case for a close re-examination of the assumptions underpinning Council mandates throughout the life spans of peace operations challenges the past management of mandates by the Council, dominated by the P3 as penholders, as well as by the Secretariat. Other Council members may resist an approach which appears budget-driven, while recognising that these are issues which have not been sufficiently addressed since the HIPPO report. Council negotiations regarding the reduction of the troop ceiling in the renewal of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) have already seen divisions. The briefing constitutes an opportunity for the Secretary-General to lay out his approach to greater effectiveness of peace operations reform and for the Council to have a candid discussion about the way it establishes and oversees mandates.

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Security Council Presidential Statements
25 November 2015 S/PRST/2015/22 The Council took note of the recommendations of the HIPPO report and the Secretary-General’s implementation report.
Security Council Letters
17 June 2015 S/2015/446 This was the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.


The Security Council and Peace Operations: Reform and Deliver, Security Council Report, May 2016

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