What's In Blue

Posted Thu 18 Jul 2013

Peacekeeping Working Group Meeting on the Use of Technology

Tomorrow morning (19 July) the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, chaired by Pakistan, is scheduled to hold a meeting on the use of modern technologies in peacekeeping. Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, are expected to brief. All troop and police contributing countries have been invited to participate in the meeting.

In preparation for the discussion, Pakistan has circulated a concept note covering how effective use of technology can promote the safety of peacekeepers, increase the responsiveness of peacekeeping operations, and in general, help them to carry out their mandates more effectively. It appears that Pakistan, as well as other Council members, view the meeting as an opportunity to promote cooperation on peacekeeping issues among the Security Council, the Secretariat and troop and police contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs). The meeting is the second in a series of meetings that the Working Group is planning to hold this year on global peacekeeping issues. (The first of these Working Group meetings, held on 3 June, focused on the safety and security of UN peacekeepers.)

In recent months, the use of new technologies in peacekeeping has been an important focus of discussion among the Council, the wider membership (especially TCCs/PCCs) and the Secretariat. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations briefed Council members informally several times earlier this year on the implications of using unarmed, unmanned aerial systems (drones) in peacekeeping operations, and one of the three major topics of discussion during the Council’s briefing on peacekeeping by Force Commanders on 26 June was the use of advanced technologies in peacekeeping (S/PV.6987). (The other two were inter-mission cooperation and pre-deployment training).

There are a number of areas that could be covered in tomorrow’s meeting including gaps in the use of technology in specific peacekeeping operations; the type of training needed for TCCs/PCCs to most effectively employ new technologies; and the financial implications of new technologies on peacekeeping. An issue that came up during the recent discussions on the peacekeeping budget and which may be raised by some members is whether Security Council approval is needed before new technologies are used in peacekeeping.

The use of unarmed, unmanned drones in peacekeeping is likely to be an important topic of tomorrow’s Working Group meeting. Three will soon be deployed in UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), and there has been talk about the potential future use of such aerial systems in other missions, including the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire and UN Mission in South Sudan.

Several Council members, notably France, the UK and the US, appear receptive to the use of this technology, believing that it may be an effective, cost-efficient way to provide surveillance of the activities of armed groups. Nonetheless, some Council members, as well as member states that are not on the Council, have raised concerns about who will have access to the information gathered by the systems (to be operated by commercial contractors) as well as whether their use in border areas could be viewed as a violation of the sovereignty of states adjacent to countries hosting peacekeeping missions. There are also some Council members, such as Russia and Rwanda, who prefer to withhold judgment on the utility of drones until their performance can be assessed in MONUSCO. A number of these issues may be raised in tomorrow’s discussion.

While much attention has been focused on the use of drones, tomorrow’s discussion – and the Council’s focus on new technologies in general – will be much broader in scope. It is likely that both Council members and troop and police contributing countries – as well as Ladsous and Haq – will also highlight the impact of other technologies on peacekeeping.

Along these lines, there is widespread interest in how a wide range of technologies can be used to enhance the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of peacekeeping. For example, in the context of MONUSCO, its Force Commander (Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz), briefing the Council in June, noted that the mission already benefits from infrared systems on aircraft and helicopters and GPS technology in vehicles, while adding that night-sight capacity for weapons and man-portable surveillance radar would also be very useful. Among Council members, France has noted that new technologies may be able to help helicopters enhance their fuel efficiency and fly more safely; Luxembourg, referring particularly to the DRC, has questioned whether modern communications equipment can be made accessible to civilians in volatile areas to help them provide early warning in case they are attacked; and Morocco has suggested that new technologies should be explored to help the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) not deplete the water supply in Mali, given the extremely arid conditions there. (Morocco was referring specifically to a Council briefing in which Haq noted that MINUSMA was investigating the possibility of generating water from humidity in the Kidal area in order to avoid sapping the local supply of water [S/PV.6985].)

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