Expected Council Action
In July, the Security Council will hold a high-level debate on strategic communications in peacekeeping. Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franco França is expected to chair the meeting. Secretary-General António Guterres will deliver remarks. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix; Force Commander for the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) General Marcos De Sá Affonso Da Costa; and Jenna Russo, Director of Research and Head of the Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations at the International Peace Institute (IPI), are the anticipated briefers.
A presidential statement is a possible outcome.
Key Recent Developments
Several UN peace operations are deployed in increasingly volatile security environments, and the changing technological landscape can further complicate their task. As much as digital technologies offer new capabilities to enhance the effectiveness of UN peace operations, they are also creating difficulties by shaping the conflict environment and influencing public opinion against UN peace operations. In his remarks at the Security Council open debate on technology and peacekeeping on 18 August 2021, Guterres noted that “new technologies are changing the scale and speed of attack, as well as the character and nature of violence and destruction in war, with an indelible impact on civilian populations”.
These changes have added challenges to several UN peace operations. In the case of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), there has been “a significant increase in disinformation activity”, which is “increasingly systematic and orchestrated, and synchronized on an industrial scale to utilize local and pan-African networks as well as social media”, according to the Secretary-General’s 31 May report. In the Central African Republic, disinformation campaigns by platforms and individuals close to the ruling party have continued to target the UN and other domestic and international actors in the country, as indicated in the Secretary-General’s 15 February report on the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). In his latest report on MINUSCA released on 16 June, while the Secretary-General noted a downward trend in the targeted disinformation campaign against the mission, he expressed his continued concern about persistent disinformation campaigns “that seek to incite hatred and violence, particularly those on local and social media targeting minorities and political opposition”. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN has recently documented several instances of alleged hate speech and disinformation, stoking tensions and exacerbating conflict in the volatile eastern provinces. These and similar challenges not only pose serious risks to the safety and security of peacekeepers but also further complicate their responsibility to protect civilians.
The UN has recognised the significance of strategic communications to effectively engage with local populations, conflict parties, regional and other international actors, and partners on the ground. The 2015 High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (HIPPO) stressed the need to “prioritize the development of tailored and dynamic communications strategies that support mandate implementation” and “maximize relevant communication tools for particular audiences”, including radio, social media and other platforms.
The UN Secretariat has identified strategic communications as one of the key priorities under the Action for Peacekeeping Plus (A4P+) initiative, citing it as an important enabler and multiplier across all mandated areas to help accelerate progress in the reform of UN peace operations. In this context, the UN aims “to promote successes, manage expectations, and help address disinformation, misinformation and hate speech” by engaging with all key stakeholders at the local, regional and international level. In this regard, it developed a Strategy for the Digital Transformation of UN Peacekeeping, dated 17 September 2021, which seeks to help missions in implementing their mandates effectively by harnessing the potential of digital technologies and mitigating their risks.
In May, Brazil organised a side event on the “Protection of Civilians in UN Peacekeeping Missions: Strategic Communications as a key enabler” during the annual Protection of Civilians (PoC) week. The meeting facilitated a discussion about how peacekeeping missions can communicate effectively at all levels for the successful implementation of PoC mandates and exchanged lessons and best practices from the field in promoting community engagement by using new communication technologies. The high-level open debate in July will have a broader focus, as set out in the concept note Brazil has prepared to help guide the discussion, which underscores the key role of strategic communications in peacekeeping mandate implementation and specifically its contribution to protecting civilians; promoting the safety and security of peacekeepers; and advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
Key Issues and Options
The key issue for Council members is how to enhance the effectiveness of peacekeeping by using strategic communications as an important tool for mandate implementation. In relation to this, Brazil would like Council members and the wider UN membership to address the following issues:
- the effectiveness of the UN Secretariat and peacekeeping missions in communicating with key audiences;
- the internal and external challenges faced by UN peacekeeping operations in terms of strategic communications and how these challenges can be addressed;
- the potential for the Strategy for the Digital Transformation of UN Peacekeeping to contribute to improving the communications capabilities of missions;
- the role of the UN Secretariat and peacekeeping missions to better monitor and evaluate the impact of strategic communications on mandate implementation and the safety and security of peacekeepers;
- the ways in which the Security Council, the UN Secretariat, peacekeeping missions and troop- and police-contributing countries (T/PCCs) can increase the impact of strategic communications on the protection of civilians and the advancement of the Women, Peace and Security agenda;
- the role of strategic communications in the context of peacekeeping transitions;
- concrete measures the Security Council could take to improve strategic communications within peacekeeping operations; and
- the contributions of T/PCCs to improving missions’ communications with relevant stakeholders, notably local communities.
A possible option for Council members is to adopt a presidential statement on the significance of strategic communications in peacekeeping.
Council and Wider Dynamics
This is the first time the Security Council will be discussing strategic communications in peacekeeping. Council members are likely to be broadly supportive of a discussion about this issue, given the challenges that peace operations are facing on the ground. It remains to be seen, however, whether Council members will be keen to agree on a related product.
The issue of strategic communications has resonated with the wider UN membership. The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations—a subsidiary body of the General Assembly that consists of more than 150 UN member states and is mandated to deal with the question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects—recommended in its 2021 report that “the Secretary-General, in consultation with United Nations country teams and other relevant stakeholders, establish a framework for strategic communication in peacekeeping, including how to address the issue of anti-United Nations propaganda, which encourages attacks against peacekeepers and United Nations personnel in the field”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON PEACEKEEPING
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|18 August 2021S/PRST/2021/17||This presidential statement highlighted the significance of existing and new technologies in supporting not only the safety and security of peacekeepers but also the protection of civilians by enabling effective and timely decision-making, including through early warning and response.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|18 August 2021S/PV.8838||This was a Security Council meeting on the use of technology in peacekeeping.|
|17 June 2015S/2015/446||This was the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.|