Expected Council Action
In August, India is organising a ministerial-level open debate on “Technology and Peacekeeping” as one of the signature events of its presidency. The open debate is expected to provide an opportunity for Council members to exchange views on the challenges and opportunities arising from the application of technology and innovation in peacekeeping. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will preside over the debate. Under-Secretaries-General for Peace Operations and Operational Support, Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Atul Khare, respectively, are expected to brief. A presidential statement is an anticipated outcome of the meeting.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The use of technology in peacekeeping has emerged as a new and important topic of discussion in recent years. There is growing recognition that today’s multidimensional peacekeeping operations, which are deployed in some of the most difficult and challenging security environments, cannot succeed in fulfilling their mandates without the ability to make effective use of technology, including unmanned, unarmed aerial systems, radars, sensors, night vision and night flying capabilities, among many others.
The 2013 report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping (C-34), a committee of the UN General Assembly mandated to conduct a comprehensive review of all issues relating to UN peacekeeping, acknowledged the use of technology in supporting a wide range of peacekeeping tasks related to information and communications, medical support and analysis, and reporting functions. It also said that “the use of unarmed, unmanned aerial surveillance systems can improve the situational awareness, early warning capacity and safety and security of peacekeeping missions and personnel”. The Special Committee was briefed by the relevant departments in 2013 on unmanned aerial surveillance, including legal, operational, technical and financial considerations.
In 2014, the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support commissioned an independent panel, the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in Peacekeeping, to study how the use of technology can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of peacekeeping operations. The panel’s final report provided important recommendations that the relevant departments have been implementing with a view to increasing the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel, improving situational awareness, enhancing field support, and facilitating mandate implementation.
The 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) similarly underscored the need to ensure “effective uptake of field appropriate technology” in support of peace operations. The HIPPO supported the use of new and enabling technologies that are field-focused, reliable and cost-effective and that can improve the safety and security of peacekeepers, enhance capabilities for early warning and protection of civilians, strengthen the health and well-being of peacekeepers, and support shelter and camp management.
Moreover, the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping Initiative (A4P), which the Secretary-General launched in March 2018, makes broad reference to the need for deploying well trained and well-equipped uniformed personnel and continually improving medical, technical and logistical support in peacekeeping operations to strengthen the protection of civilians and enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers. The implicit understanding is that the application of new technological tools will contribute to making a real difference in the field.
In recent years, unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles have been used in several peace operations mandated by the Council including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and South Sudan. In 2016, the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations held a discussion on the use of technology in peacekeeping, based on the recommendations of the expert panel and the HIPPO report. Former Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous said in his briefing to the working group that many of the peacekeeping tools are obsolete, underscoring the need for advances in technology and innovation in the UN’s work. At the same meeting, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support at the time, Atul Khare, highlighted the need to reduce the carbon footprint of peacekeeping missions, for instance through the use of solar powered vehicles.
Key Issues and Options
One of the key issues is how to reduce the gap in, as the HIPPO report describes it, “what is readily available to and appropriate for UN peace operations and what is actually in use in the field today”. A related aspect is the need to bridge the capacity gaps among troop- and police-contributing countries in the use of technology.
As reflected in previous Council discussions in mission-specific contexts, another important issue is the ownership and confidentiality of information gathered and stored through the use of unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles.
Also important is for Council members and the wider UN membership to continue to learn about the applications of new technologies in peacekeeping and how they can be most efficiently and effectively used.
The pursuit of a presidential statement is a likely option. In this statement, the Council could take stock of the implementation of the relevant recommendations of the expert panel and the HIPPO report and draw lessons and best practices from the use of technologies in the field.
Another option that it appears is being considered by India is a separate draft resolution on the protection of peacekeepers, who have increasingly come under asymmetrical attack.
There appears to be broad consensus in the Council about holding this first thematic discussion on the use of technology in peacekeeping. While Council members support the full and effective use of technology in peacekeeping, some Council members may continue to have some reservations about the application of new technologies, including unarmed unmanned aerial surveillance systems. During this month’s meeting and negotiations, they may highlight the challenges posed by using these technologies, including the possible intrusion on the sovereignty of states and the need for host state consent in this regard. This has been a lingering issue, and members may be interested in learning from relevant UN officials about the work that has been done to put in place the necessary policy framework, mission-specific standard operating procedures and a concept of operations for the storage and security classification of information gathered by unarmed unmanned aerial surveillance systems.
UN DOCUMENTS ON PEACEKEEPING
|Security Council Resolutions|
|9 October 2015S/RES/2241||This was a resolution adjusting the mandate of UNMISS to support implementation of the “Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan”. The vote was 13 in favour with two abstentions from Russia and Venezuela.|
|5 March 2014S/RES/2141||This resolution extended until 5 April 2015 the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee.|
|30 November 2015A/70/579||This report was on the implementation of recommendations of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, which contained references on the use of technology.|
|Reports of the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations|
|13 February 2017S/2017/130||This report contained a summary of the discussion of the working group on the use of technology in peacekeeping operations.|
|Security Council Letters|
|17 June 2015S/2015/446||This was the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.|