Research Report

Posted 5 May 2016
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The Security Council and Peace Operations: Reform and Deliver


This is Security Council Report’s first research report on peace operations. To view the full report, please download the PDF. 

Peace operations are the most visible tool that the Council has to address on the ground situations that threaten international peace and security. Whether multidimensional operations with a military component or smaller political field missions, the largest proportion of the Council’s time and energy is devoted to mandating and overseeing the work of these peace operations. In a context of increasing demand and difficulties, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the initiative and appointed a high-level panel to review peace operations. The panel’s report—alongside two other reviews in the field of peace and security—and the Secretary-General’s subsequent proposals have focused the attention of member states on the need for reforms. While some of these are being implemented by the Secretariat, this report examines the challenge for the Security Council to modify its own practice if it is to design better mandates and deliver more effective responses to the challenges of today.

The last major review of peacekeeping operations took place in 2000. In the wake of the UN’s devastating failures to protect civilians in Rwanda and at Srebrenica, a panel chaired by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi was tasked by then Secretary-General Kofi Annan to undertake a thorough review of the UN peace and security activities and make recommendations for improvement. The recommendations of what was soon known as the Brahimi report on issues such as the need for a robust posture to protect civilians and the emphasis on peacebuilding and rule-of-law objectives framed the way peace operations were to be established in the early years of the 21st century. However, many of the report’s recommendations were not implemented fully, if at all, and aspects of its critique remain unresolved. They include inadequate strategic analysis and intelligence capabilities within the UN Secretariat, the difficulties of rapid deployment, the gap between goals identified by the Council and the resources available to meet them, the importance of frank assessments by the Secretariat and the need for mandates to be clear, credible and achievable.

The number and scale of peace operations have grown substantially since the start of the millennium. In 2000, there were 37,800 uniformed personnel from 89 troop- and police- contributing countries (TCC/PCCs) deployed in 16 peacekeeping operations. In early 2016, there are more than 104,500 uniformed personnel deployed in 16 peacekeeping operations, drawing on 123 TCC/PCCs. The number of field-based special political missions has also grown in the last decades; from only three in 1993, their number increased to eleven at the end of 2015.

The spectrum of peace operations ranges from regional offices focused on conducting good offices to full-fledged multidimensional peace operations with military, police and civilian components. The average length of their deployment has been increasing, and while new operations have been established to address emerging issues such as disarmament of chemical weapons (jointly with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) or health crises (UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response), more than a third of UN peacekeeping operations still existing today were deployed before the end of the Cold War.

Peace operations are increasingly being tasked by the Council to deploy in fragile environments. In this context, peace operations are becoming the target of asymmetric attacks. As of March 2016, some 55 peacekeepers had died as a result of malicious acts against the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali since its establishment in 2013. At the same time, there appears to be a trend of lack of cooperation, even hostility toward peace operations on the part of some host governments, who have placed significant constraints on missions including in Western Sahara, Sudan, South Sudan and the DRC, among others. Even though this trend is not new (it has happened before with peace operations deployed in Eritrea, Chad and Burundi), the mounting hostility by several host governments is testing the Council’s will and capability to support politically the operations it has authorised.

In this context, briefing the Council on 11 June 2014 in an open debate on new trends in peacekeeping operations held under the presidency of Russia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the need for a broad discussion about how UN peacekeeping should adapt to new demands, and the capabilities and resources needed to accomplish its objectives. Recalling the upcoming 15-year anniversary of the Brahimi report, he expressed his intention to work towards a shared view on the way forward by reviewing UN peacekeeping. Although the process was initially announced as a review of “peacekeeping operations”, the Secretary-General soon decided that the review should extend to all “peace operations”, encompassing special political missions as well as peacekeeping operations.

On 31 October 2014, 14 members were appointed to the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) under the chairmanship of José Ramos-Horta, former president of Timor-Leste, to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the state of UN peace operations and the emerging needs of the future. Following criticism from within the UN system and from NGOs that only three women were among the 14 initial appointees, on 1 December 2014 the Secretary-General added three more women members. The outgoing Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Ameerah Haq, was appointed vice-chair.

The HIPPO submitted its report to the Secretary-General on 16 June 2015. It called for four essential shifts that would allow the UN to position its peace operations to better respond to current and future challenges: ensuring the primacy of politics, a flexible use of the full spectrum of peace operations, the need for stronger partnerships and a field-focused UN Secretariat and people-centred peace operations.

The Secretary-General reacted to the HIPPO’s recommendations in an implementation report issued on 2 September 2015. This report outlines the Secretary-General’s priorities in the implementation of the peace and security agenda in the remaining period of his tenure around three pillars: renewed focus on prevention and mediation; stronger regional-global partnerships; and new ways of planning and conducting UN peace operations to make them faster, more responsive and more accountable to the needs of countries and people in conflict.

The peace operations review coincided with two other peace and security review processes, namely the review of the UN peacebuilding architecture and the global study on the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. These three processes led to similar conclusions on issues such as the focus on prevention and political solutions, the importance of a people-centered approach and community engagement with a strong gender dimension, the need to develop more tailored responses based on the analysis of requirements and possibilities in the field rather than the application of templates, the need for greater coherence within the UN and the importance of partnerships.

The HIPPO and Secretary-General’s reports on peace operations set out a lengthy series of recommendations which require action by the Secretariat, the Council and the General Assembly. Even though much of the review focuses on changes internal to the Secretariat, some of the most challenging issues relate to the strategic alignment among the Council, the Secretariat and TCC/PCCs, as well as some of the Council’s working methods that frame (and limit) the Council’s authorisation, design and oversight of peace operations.

Even though the Council has taken on board particular recommendations of the peace operations review already, much remains to be done to improve comprehensively how peace operations are handled. This report addresses what the review requires of the Council and identifies how the Council’s usual conduct of business often undermines the objectives it sets for itself, whether in preventing conflict or in designing realistic mandates. Substantial changes in the Council’s own working methods regarding the mandating, monitoring and support of peace operations seem to be fundamental to achieving real improvement.

This report, therefore, starts by outlining how member states, including the Council, have so far responded to the recommendations of the peace operations review. It then addresses the ways in which the Council can reinforce its role in preventing conflict and the challenges it faces in doing so, as a result of both its internal working methods and the interaction with the Secretariat. The forms of political engagement of the Council in exerting its collective leverage both to prevent conflict and in support of peace processes are analysed in the next section. The report then proceeds to examine the Council’s mandating and oversight of operations, highlighting the case for sequenced and prioritised mandates, the importance of the quality of analysis received by Council members and the negative impact of negotiation patterns in the drafting of mandates. In its final sections, the report considers two major aspects of the review which frame member states’ current discussions on peace operations: the protection of civilians, the use of force and the principles of peacekeeping; and the important role of partnerships, particularly that with the AU. The report concludes that no reform of peace operations will be complete if the Council does not reflect on and modify its role in designing, reviewing and supporting peace operations, with delivery in the field its key priority.

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