What's In Blue

Posted Tue 10 Jun 2014

Open Debate on New Trends in UN Peacekeeping

Tomorrow (11 June), the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on new trends in peacekeeping, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expected to brief. At press time, the prospects for issuing an outcome were expected to be determined on the basis of the debate. (The last open debate on peacekeeping took place on 21 January 2013 under the presidency of Pakistan.)

The debate seems to be an attempt to have a lively exchange among Council members, the Secretariat and the wider membership on some recent developments on peacekeeping that the Council has so far tackled in a fragmented way. It will focus on issues such as the establishment of more robust mandates, the use of new technology in peacekeeping operations, inter-mission cooperation and multidimensional mandates.

Peacekeeping and Use of Force

According to the concept note circulated by Russia ahead of tomorrow’s debate, the increasing deployment of peacekeeping operations in intrastate conflicts, where there is little or no peace to keep, results in peacekeepers facing heightened security risks (S/2014/384). For at least the past year, the complexities of robust peacekeeping operations have garnered heightened attention among Council members. The boundaries of traditional peacekeeping and whether or not UN peacekeepers should engage in peace enforcement activities was a major source of discussion at the 22-23 April 2013 annual Security Council retreat with the Secretary-General.

The enhanced focus on these issues was sparked largely by developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mali. In quick succession, the Council adopted resolutions in March and April 2013 to address unraveling security situations in both these countries. Responding to the threat posed by the March 23 Movement (M23)—a source of instability and massive displacement of civilians in the DRC—the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2098 on 28 March 2013. The resolution established an intervention brigade based in Goma for an initial period of one year that consisted of three infantry battalions and auxiliary forces under the command of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Its key task, renewed in resolution 2147, is to carry out offensive operations to neutralise armed groups that threaten state authority and civilian security. Less than a month later, on 25 April 2013, the Council adopted resolution 2100, establishing the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and authorising French troops to operate parallel to MINUSMA. The mission is authorised to use all necessary measures to stabilise “the key population centres, especially in the north of Mali and, in this context, to deter threats and take active steps to prevent the return of armed elements to those areas”.

China, Russia and some elected troop-contributing Council members raised concerns about resolution 2098. They believed that involvement in peace enforcement could compromise the impartiality of UN peacekeeping operations and the safety and security of peacekeepers. Russia, the only Council member that explained its vote on resolution 2100, expressed its concern about the growing shift towards the military aspects of peacekeeping and highlighted that “what was once the exception now threatens to become unacknowledged standard practice”(S/PV.6952). Russia and like-minded members felt that the legal protection for UN peacekeepers, historically connected to their impartiality, might be challenged if those missions are considered a party to an armed conflict, with implications under international humanitarian law, namely being considered combatants and legitimate targets. Largely in response to this uneasiness, caveats were inserted in both resolutions, underscoring in the case of resolution 2098 its exceptional nature and, in resolution 2100, reaffirming the agreed principles of peacekeeping—“including consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force, except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.” However, concerns about a potential shift away from traditional peacekeeping principles are likely to persist, and may be addressed in tomorrow’s discussion.

A related issue that may also be discussed in the debate is the posture of peacekeeping missions with muscular mandates operating in dangerous environments. For example, even if a mission has a robust mandate, there are questions about the willingness of troop contributors to take risks to fulfill their mandates effectively. Along these lines, some member states might express their perspectives on the 7 March evaluation of the implementation and results of protection of civilians mandates in UN peacekeeping operations produced by the Office of Internal Oversight Services and currently being considered in the Fifth Committee (A/68/787). The report emphasises that there is a persistent pattern of peacekeeping operations not intervening with force when civilians are under attack.

New Technologies

The use of new technologies in peacekeeping operations is also likely to be discussed tomorrow. The Council has addressed this issue before, for example, in a meeting of its Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations on 19 July 2013 attended by several troop- and police- contributing countries (TCC-PCCs) and as one of the topics addressed in the 26 June 2013 annual Council briefing by UN Force Commanders.

One new peacekeeping tool that will likely feature in the conversation is the use of unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The UAVs, which started deploying in the DRC on 1 December 2013, are used to identify armed movements, monitor camps for internally displaced persons and provide timely reconnaissance over vast and sensitive areas. Although they are unarmed, they may deter hostile actions by providing accurate information to trigger the use of rapid reaction forces if needed.

Some Council members are receptive to the use of UAVs, believing that they are an effective, cost-efficient way of monitoring armed groups, tracking displaced persons and providing reconnaissance. However, it also appears that there are Council members who have some concerns about the use of UAVs. During the 26 June 2013 briefing, Russia raised the need for a careful analysis of the use of UAVs and emphasised that this was not a carte blanche for similar steps in other missions. When Council members had taken note on 22 January 2013 of the Secretariat’s intention to use UAVs in MONUSCO on a trial basis, they stressed that this was to enhance situational awareness, was on a case-by-case basis and would not prejudice the ongoing consideration by relevant UN bodies of legal, financial and technical implications of the use of UAVs (S/2013/44). Other issues raised regarding the deployment of UAVs have had to do with access to the information gathered by these systems (operated by commercial contractors) and concerns about sovereignty whenever they fly over border zones. On 4 June, the Secretariat appointed a five-member Expert Panel to advise on how best to use new technologies and innovations in UN peacekeeping.

There may also be discussion in tomorrow’s debate of other types of technology used to enhance the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of UN peacekeeping missions. For example, in the 26 June 2013 debate, MONUSCO Force Commander Carlos Alberto do Santos Cruz noted that the mission 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 be useful enhancements for the mission. These improvements come as the UN develops a “capability-driven approach” to peacekeeping, outlined in the July 2009 New Horizon document, which underlined the need to move from a quantitative focus on numbers to a qualitative approach emphasizing the generation of capabilities.

Inter-Mission Cooperation and Multidimensional Mandates

Council members might also want to discuss the limitations of inter-mission cooperation as a manner of effectively responding to unforeseen events in peacekeeping operations. Although inter-mission cooperation can provide key assets through pooling or temporary redeployment of equipment and personnel, as shown by the sluggish reinforcement of the UN Mission in South Sudan approved on 24 December 2013, it faces legal, political and logistical challenges for the shifting of assets requiring the approval of TCC-PCCs.

Prompted by the concept note, Council members might also raise the increasing adoption of complex multidimensional mandates whose many objectives compete for limited operational and financial resources and make prioritisation and coordination of tasks by UN missions difficult. Moreover, as most peacekeeping missions are subject to short-term renewals, they may not be ideally positioned to pursue more holistic long-term efforts.

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