In Hindsight: Better Process for Better Mandates
A core task of the Security Council is to design the mandates of UN peace operations and assess their implementation. Central as mandate-crafting is to its work, the Council’s products have been criticised for not responding adequately to realities on the ground, for being circumscribed by political and cost considerations of member states rather than driven by what the situation demands, and for lacking strategic focus.
At a Council open debate on 28 March 2018, Secretary-General António Guterres announced the launch of “Action for Peacekeeping” (A4P), an initiative aimed at renewing states’ political commitment to peacekeeping operations. Guterres urged Council members to put an end to mandates that look like “Christmas trees”, trailing streams of templated components. “Christmas is over”, he declared, calling for sharpened and streamlined mandates and pointing out that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) could not possibly implement its 209 mandated tasks. This criticism is not new; it can be found in Lakhdar Brahimi’s milestone report in 2000 and in the 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), which highlighted the long-standing gap between mandates and reality.
After a broad consultation process, the UN Secretariat prepared a Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations. By the end of November, it had been endorsed by 151 member states and four organisations. The declaration included the commitment “to provide clear, focused, sequenced, prioritized and achievable mandates by the Security Council matched by appropriate resources; to seek measures to enable greater coherence between mandates and resources; and to support the implementation of Security Council resolutions through bilateral and multilateral engagements”. This commitment provides an opening for Council members and other member states to undertake deeper reflection on the mandating process, notably around strategic objectives, timing, priorities and results.
Well-established mandate cycles provide a predictable time frame that can be used to forge or review a common strategic approach among Council members ahead of each renewal, but such exercises are uncommon. Despite endorsing it in the abstract, the Council has had difficulty implementing the “primacy of politics”. In recent years, there has been a push, led by penholders, to state more clearly in resolutions the strategic objectives of several peacekeeping operations (including the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic) although this has not happened systematically. The Council could begin the mandating process by addressing—and, as far as possible, agreeing on—the main objective(s) for the mission with the Secretariat and the mission itself. This would be a departure from the current focus on delineating tasks, which emphasises outputs rather than the intended outcomes. A strategic articulation of objectives would centre on the question of how every single mandated task (and mission component) supports the achievement of the desired objectives.
To accomplish this, higher-level engagement early in the process would be needed. Permanent representatives or their deputies could, with the Secretariat, outline strategic objectives before Council experts engage in the actual negotiation of the draft. Council members, on the basis of advice from the Secretariat and the missions on the ground, could develop a multi-year strategic framework beyond the annual mandate horizon and finetune it regularly—in 2012, for instance, the Council endorsed troop drawdown planning with a three-year horizon for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), based on a strategic assessment earlier that year. Missions should not need to frontload posts and resources before they are necessary for fear that if not budgeted at the outset, they would be hard to add later.
At present, most discussions on mandate renewal among all Council members take place only after the penholder circulates a first-draft resolution to the full Council, often less than two weeks before the mandate is to expire. Within this narrow window, Council members may struggle to consolidate substantive input for the text from their capitals and embassies in the affected countries. Recently, the 13 days allotted by the penholder to discuss the extension of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) proved insufficient. With some matters unresolved, notably references to the ICC and parallel mediation initiatives, a one-month technical rollover of the existing mandate was adopted on 15 November.
Furthermore, the starting point in mandate renewal is commonly the language of the existing resolution, to which amendments are proposed. Given the short time frame for negotiations, there is a tendency to preserve already “agreed language” on issues susceptible to controversy and to add new paragraphs, as proposed by Council members, without deleting the outdated or irrelevant.
Usually, Council members hold one or two rounds of negotiations, after which salient issues are discussed bilaterally or over email. Troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs) have consistently complained about their limited input to the mandating process, including through triangular consultations which lack interactivity and are largely pro-forma.
HIPPO’s emphasis on the prioritisation and sequencing of mandates has led the Council to embrace in principle the need to set priorities within the mandates it authorises. At present, of the 17 mandates of peace operations (peacekeeping and special political missions) that are renewed regularly, eight articulate some sort of prioritisation. In some cases, the mandates differentiate clearly between sets of priority tasks and other tasks that are “mutually reinforcing”. However, this emphasis is largely ad hoc and depends on the initiative of the penholder and the clarity of the recommendations put forward by the Secretariat.
The better the Council’s understanding of how the language of its resolutions is implemented in practice, the more likely members will be to avoid mandate inflation. Vehicles for better understanding include, but are not limited to, routine briefings by the head of mission, annual meetings with the heads of military and police components, Council visiting missions and the reports of the Secretary-General, particularly those published just before a mandate renewal. Some Council members find that these reports, which mostly consist of fact-based narratives, could be a stronger source of recommendations at a critical time. They may present several options for the Council to consider, even when only one option is manifestly feasible, and there have been instances of influential member states applying pressure to shape the content of these reports. In this connection, the development of benchmarks can be a useful tool to measure progress against objectives, and benchmarking reports to the Council can offer a sharper, more precise narrative snapshot of conditions on the ground. Council members could also benefit from receiving analysis and input ahead of a mandate renewal by organising meetings of subsidiary organs and informal discussions not on the Council’s agenda, including with external experts.
To be more effective, the Council’s collective leverage needs to be exercised throughout the lifespan of a peace operation, not only when the mandate comes up for renewal. Mandate effectiveness requires the sustained engagement of Council members, which is not necessarily correlated with the number of times that they meet on an issue, but with their collective capacity to provide political backing to the efforts of the missions on the ground.
Revising the mandating process should be a core element of the current push to improve peacekeeping effectiveness. Most changes require the leadership of a few Council members, permanent or not, willing to invest political capital in addressing this issue. The Council will send a strong signal to TCCs/PCCs, the Secretariat and host states about its seriousness regarding reform, and contribute to rebuilding trust in the mandating process along the way.
For more analysis and options regarding the mandating process, please refer to Security Council Report’s research report to be published later this month.