In Hindsight: When Does the Security Council use “Technical Rollovers”?
The practice of extending a peace operation’s mandate—usually for a brief period—through a “technical rollover” has become fairly common. The term has not been used in Security Council decisions, however, and is rarely found in UN documents. Frequently, a technical rollover refers to an unaltered mandate that is extended by a concise resolution for a shorter period than is customary. These elements recurred in three mandate renewals in September 2021: the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) (twice) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
With the term “technical rollover” remaining undefined, some diplomats have used it more broadly simply to describe the regular extension of an essentially unchanged mandate, regardless of the length of the resolution.
The Council has found technical rollovers useful. One common use of the technical rollover is to buy additional time when negotiations have reached an impasse and a mandate is about to expire. In such cases—that is, where mandate termination is not the Council’s intention—the Council renews the mandate for a short period. Such situations generally reflect difficult Council dynamics on the file in question, especially among the veto-wielding permanent members, and the rollover may be used to avoid a potential veto. The Council rolled over the mandate of UNSMIL twice for this reason in September. Resolution 2595 of 15 September extended the mandate for two weeks until 30 September and resolution 2599 extended it for four months until 31 January 2022. Members disagreed over how the draft text should address the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya and the implementation of the recommendations of an independent strategic review of UNSMIL. Russia, in particular, had difficulties with how these issues were approached in the initial texts proposed by the UK, the penholder on Libya.
The Council may also use a technical rollover to give it more time to make a decision when significant developments on the ground necessitate a reevaluation of the mandate. The fallout from the August 2008 war between Georgia and Russia led the Council to extend the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) for several short periods while it considered the future UN peacekeeping presence in the country. The 9 October 2008 resolution (1839) extending the UNOMIG mandate until 15 February 2009 “took note” of the 3 October report of the Secretary-General, in which he recommended that the Council “extend the mandate of the Mission on a technical basis for a period of four months”. Resolution 1839 was the first of three UNOMIG technical rollovers aimed at giving members more time to negotiate the mandate of a future mission. UNOMIG expired on 15 June 2009, when Russia vetoed a draft resolution that would have rolled over the mission’s mandate for two more weeks.
The current situation in Afghanistan is a recent example of momentous events on the ground compelling the reevaluation of a peace operation and leading to a technical rollover. On 17 September, one month after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the Council adopted resolution 2596, renewing UNAMA’s mandate for six months (until 17 March 2022), rather than the customary 12 months. The resolution appears to have been designed to allow the Council more time to give careful consideration to the evolving situation before determining the future configuration or responsibilities of the mission.
This objective was reflected in the extensive reporting requirements the Council placed on the Secretary-General. The resolution asked the Secretary-General to brief the Council on the situation in Afghanistan and UNAMA’s work every other month until the end of the mandate. It further requested that the Secretary-General submit a written report on strategic and operational recommendations for the mission’s mandate in light of recent political, security and social developments by 31 January 2022.
The circumstances of the recent UNAMA rollover also reflected a third reason for technical rollovers: namely, that the Council may pursue a technical rollover because it wishes to evaluate the findings of a strategic assessment before taking key decisions. On 15 May 2018, the Council adopted resolution 2415, which reauthorised the mandate of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for two and one-half months rather than the traditional one-year period. This was done because the completion of a joint UN-AU comprehensive assessment of AMISOM’s concept of operations, which was expected to feed into AMISOM’s May 2018 reauthorisation, was delayed until June 2018. As a result, Council members agreed that it would be prudent to adopt a “technical rollover” reauthorising AMISOM for a brief period in order to allow for the consideration of the assessment report before a longer reauthorisation. Accordingly, the preamble of resolution 2415 recognised the importance of adequate time to consider the report’s recommendations.
The Council has rolled over a mission mandate at the request of a group of members. In this regard, the Council adopted resolution 2563 on 25 February 2021, rolling over the AMISOM mandate until 14 March because the A3 plus one (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) requested the postponement of the negotiations on the draft text, citing the need for more time to consult with their capitals. They also wanted to wait for an AU assessment of AMISOM, scheduled to be completed in May, before reauthorsing the mission’s mandate for a longer period. They felt this would allow for recommendations from the assessment to be taken into consideration; however, the Council ultimately only rolled over the mandate until mid-March.
Technical rollovers have been used as a way of applying political pressure. This was the case with Côte d’Ivoire until 2011. Having established the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) through resolution 1528 (2004), the Council extended it by just one month through resolution 1594 of 4 April 2005, in order to put pressure on the parties to finalise a peace agreement. In addition, the Council, having established the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), for a period of 12 months by resolution 1740 (2007), subsequently extended UNMIN in six-month increments through 23 January 2010, and then in four-month increments until the mission ceased operations on 15 January 2011, having emphasised its intention that this special political mission be of limited scope and duration.
The Council has also briefly rolled over a mandate when extraordinary conditions prevented it from carrying out its normal activities. In late October 2012, New York City shut down for several days because of Hurricane Sandy. Unable to properly consider the reauthorisation of the AMISOM mandate due to the suspension of activities at UN headquarters, the Council met on 30 October (one day before the expiration of the mandate) to adopt resolution 2072, which rolled over the reauthorisation until 11 November. In the resolution, the Council recognised the need for a short mandate extension due to “the exceptional circumstances in New York City arising from Hurricane Sandy”.
A technical rollover has been used to delay the downsizing of a mission during a crisis. At the height of West Africa Ebola epidemic, the Secretary-General wrote in his 28 August 2014 letter to the president of the Security Council regarding the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL): “Given the exceptional circumstances described above, I am recommending a technical rollover of the mandate of UNMIL for a period of three months” (S/2014/644). Just prior to UNMIL’s mandate expiry, on 15 September, the Council adopted resolution 2176 endorsing the Secretary-General’s recommendations and renewing the mandate until 31 December while also deferring consideration of previously planned mandate adjustments.
When some diplomats use “technical rollover” to describe the extension of a mandate, essentially unchanged and for the customary period, the implication is usually that there is widespread agreement on the mandate and that the negotiations are straightforward. The most recent compendium of working methods, the 2017 presidential note (S/2017/507), where the “technical rollover” is mentioned in the context of negotiating outcomes, reflects this view. In its paragraph 81 the note says: “[F]or each draft resolution which is not a technical rollover…the members of the Security Council encourage the penholder or co-penholders to present and discuss the draft with all members of the Security Council in at least one round of informal consultations or informal-informals”. This language addressed the concerns of elected members, in particular, at being bypassed until a very late stage in the negotiation of some resolutions. The suggestion is also that technical rollovers, as understood here, generally do not require significant negotiation because the mandate remains the same and is uncontroversial.
Straightforward mandate renewals—which fit the most liberal interpretation of a technical rollover—can take different forms in terms of the content of the text. The text can be short, and state that the mandate (which is unaltered) will be carried out in accordance with a previous resolution or previous resolutions in which the mandate is elaborated in more detail. This was the case, for example, with the one-year mandate renewals of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia in 2018 (S/RES/2435) and in 2019 (S/RES/2487), which were both less than one page in length and consisted of only two operative paragraphs. Or the text can be longer, both referring to one or more previous resolutions and also mapping out the unchanged mandate in greater detail. Several of the annual resolutions renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) fit this description prior to 2016, when the Council requested the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review of the mission.
Evading a single definition, the technical rollover is nonetheless a commonly used working method of the Security Council. The imprecision of the term is one reason why it can be applied to many different scenarios. Nonetheless, in all cases, boiled down to its essence, the technical rollover is an extension of a mandate where the core functions of the mission are unaltered.