Meeting on the Use of Technology in Peacekeeping Operations
Tomorrow (28 April), the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations will hold a meeting on the use of technology in peacekeeping operations. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous and Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare are expected to brief, along with Ambassadors Ignace Gata Mavita Wa Lufuta of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Masud bin Momen of Bangladesh.
In June 2014, DPKO and DFS commissioned an independent panel to recommend ways in which technology and innovation could be leveraged to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of peacekeeping. The result of this process—the Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping—was released in February 2015. This report, as well as work that both DFS and DPKO have been doing to implement its recommendations, are expected to be the basis for tomorrow’s discussions.
The briefing is also expected to build on recent efforts, within the framework of the peace operations review, to ensure the achievability of mandates. The report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations recommended that the UN embrace “innovation and the responsible use of technology to bridge the considerable gap between what is readily available to and appropriate for UN peace operations and what is actually in use in the field today”. The Secretary-General’s implementation report highlighted how “the adoption of widely available and cost-effective technologies can make huge strides towards improving the safety and security of UN personnel and assets, as well as [the UN’s] capacity to protect civilians and to implement mandates effectively.”
According to a concept note circulated by Ambassador Fodé Seck of Senegal, the Chair of the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, tomorrow’s meeting is expected to discuss ways that technological improvements can enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers, strengthen communications within missions, improve situational awareness, and reduce the environmental impact of peacekeeping operations.
The concept note underscores that certain issues need to be addressed to maximise the full potential of new technologies. These include ensuring full and consistent integration of these technologies in missions by providing access to training, as well as finding ways to allow for testing and evaluating technologies within rigid procurement systems and in harsh environments. The note also raises the issue of confidential and secure management of information within peacekeeping operations.
Several key issues are underscored in the note that could serve as a springboard for discussion. They include, among others, how to use technology to make peacekeeping operations more cost-effective and efficient; how to address confidentiality concerns related to information-gathering by unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles; and how to enhance cooperation among troop- and police-contributing countries, host states, and the Secretariat to reduce capacity gaps in the use of technology.
Even though the Council has had several discussions about the role of new technologies in country-specific situations (such as South Sudan or Mali), this will be the first time that the Council or the Working Group discuss the Final Report of the Expert Panel.
The ambivalence of some member states regarding the use of certain technologies in peacekeeping operations was reflected in the 2016 report of the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34). On the one hand, the C34 report acknowledges the need to improve situational awareness (including through the use of modern technology), and it requests the Secretariat to issue guidance on handling sensitive information. On the other hand, it falls short of welcoming the Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping. Furthermore, the C34 report asks the Secretariat to continue to consult with member states on the way ahead, particularly with regard to the development of a policy framework on the use of technology by peacekeeping operations and the identification of new technological solutions to challenges in the field. Some troop- and police-contributing countries may have concerns about the impact that higher standards on the use of technology could have on their capacity to contribute to peace operations.
The Working Group meeting may provide an opportunity for Council members, the Secretariat and troop- and police-contributing countries and host states to have a discussion about possible ways in which new technologies can help implement peace operations mandates, as well how the Council can support the Secretariat in order to explore, procure and deploy new technologies.