Research Report

Posted 22 February 2019
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Is Christmas Really Over? Improving the Mandating of Peace Operations

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A core task of the Security Council is to adopt peace operations mandates and assess their implementation. Council members meet throughout the year to discuss the challenges and achievements of missions with a range of mandates, from a verification mission with unarmed observers in Colombia to a 16,000-strong peacekeeping operation authorised to use force to protect civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Central as mandate-crafting is to its work, the Council has been criticised for “Christmas-tree mandates” that respond inadequately to realities on the ground, are circumscribed by political and cost considerations of member states rather than driven by what the situation demands, and lack strategic focus.

Mandates are not the only factor in the success or failure of a peace operation. Domestic and regional political dynamics, the performance of civilian and uniformed personnel, the availability of resources, and the engagement and support of senior leadership at headquarters and at the mission are important contributing factors. However, mandates are among the few elements entirely under the purview of the Council, which could invest in rethinking how mandates are designed and reviewed.

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 as one example that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) could not possibly implement its 209 mandated tasks. “By attempting too much, we dilute our efforts and weaken our impact. I hope that our mission reviews will help to end this mandate inflation,” he said.

Since that open debate, much has happened with the framework of the A4P initiative. The UN Secretariat partnered with ten member states to lead broad consultations on five priority areas: politics, partnerships, performance, people and peacebuilding. Once consultations were concluded, the Secretariat, in consultation with member states, proceeded to draw up a Declaration of Shared Commitments that had by the end of 2018 been endorsed by 151 countries and four intergovernmental organisations.

The member state consultations on politics were led by Côte d’Ivoire and the UK. At a 25 June 2018 meeting, many member states underscored the primacy of politics in guiding peacekeeping operations and expressed overall agreement about the need to improve the mandating process. Issues raised included the need for more realistic mandates, the importance of consultations with relevant stakeholders and the interest in setting clear strategic objectives for peacekeeping operations. Although the Declaration was informed by the statements made in that meeting, Council members have not agreed on how the Council might adjust its own practices. A draft resolution on mandating circulated by Côte d’Ivoire and the Netherlands in mid-November 2018 was met with reluctance by some permanent members collectively to set parameters for the mandating process and was put on hold at the end of the year.

What follows is the case for improving the mandating process, and ideas to help those in the Council and beyond chart a way forward to making mandates more realistic and achievable.