Research Report

Prioritisation and Sequencing of Council Mandates: Walking the Walk?

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The Security Council, the UN Secretariat and external assessments have emphasised how better prioritisation and sequencing of Council mandates could contribute to the effectiveness of peace operations. Building on examples from several peace operations—including peacekeeping and special political missions—this report identifies the obstacles that the Council and the Secretariat face in applying these concepts. While acknowledging the structural challenges, the report makes recommendations that would pave the way for incremental changes in how the Council, the Secretariat and field missions approach the mandating process.

The report finds that the examples analysed do not show a clear trend towards greater prioritisation and sequencing. Moreover, the potential for greater prioritisation and sequencing to shape more effective implementation has been insufficiently explored. Although ten of the 17 peace operations whose mandates are renewed regularly by the Council articulate some sort of prioritisation within their tasks, the meaning of this concept remains unclear. The report provides elements for a definition of both concepts. On the one hand, a prioritisation effort has to be clear as to the strategic objectives of the operation, focus on a limited number of tasks and be able to anticipate the future inclusion (and funding) of revised priorities based on the evolution of the conflict and the judgment of the mission. On the other hand, a sequencing effort should determine a logical progression of the mandate through time, ensuring its adequacy to address the situation on the ground. In order to be effective, this progression needs to be laid out initially in line with the strategic guidance of the Council, but with sufficient flexibility to be adjusted over time.

The Secretariat, the Council and member states should aim to define these concepts in their own terms, and re-evaluate their usefulness. One of the most difficult issues remains resolving the tension between mandate content that is politically acceptable to key stakeholders, and content which is operationally necessary. Addressing these routine dynamics at play in the current mandating system requires the Secretariat to provide genuinely frank advice and the Council to devote most of its attention, when negotiating mandates, to endorsing the strategic direction for the mission.