Security Council Retreat with the Secretary-General
The annual Security Council retreat with the Secretary-General will start this evening (1 May) and continue throughout the day tomorrow (2 May) at the Greentree Estate on Long Island. The Secretary-General and senior UN Secretariat staff will meet with the permanent representatives of the 15 Council members. The retreat offers an opportunity for Council members to engage in collective brainstorming on specific issues alongside the Secretariat.
The retreat is expected to cover the Council’s current approach to mandating and supporting peace operations. Implementation of the recommendations of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) will likely provide a backdrop for discussions. A primary focus is expected to be the mandating of peace operations in a manner that accounts for the increasingly complex environments in which missions are being deployed, while maintaining the HIPPO’s strong recommendation that political solutions remain the primary objective of Council-mandated peace operations. A related issue likely to be discussed is how the Council can more effectively mandate and support regional forces to act on behalf of the Council in pursuit of international peace and security.
UN Peace Operations in Complex Environments
The increasingly complex and diverse operating environments for peace operations are a reoccurring theme in Council discussions. Peace operations are being mandated by the Council to pursue a wide range of difficult tasks. Examples include the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), which combines a traditional peacekeeping role with the offensively-orientated Force Intervention Brigade; the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), where peacekeepers face regular attacks from terrorist groups; and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which maintains a protection of civilians mandate in the absence of peace.
The challenges facing many contemporary peace operations can potentially distract from or even undermine attempts to prioritise an operation’s primary objective: contributing to the political settlement of conflict. One example of this risk is where UN peace operations operating alongside non-UN military operations, such as in Mali, may undermine the perceived neutrality required to mediate and support a political process. Another example may be where measures to protect civilians, such as enforcement of weapons free zones, can put peace operations at odds with host states.
How to pursue more coherent and flexible approaches to mandating will most likely be an issue discussed at the retreat. This includes setting clear mission objectives and benchmarks for implementation. It also means having mandates that are more readily adjusted to reflect political progress and the realities of peace operations’ operating environments.
Council members are likely to discuss the concrete ways in which they can bring the Council’s collective leverage to bear in support of political solutions. This includes revisiting current decision-making processes that do not prioritise the emergence of strategic or collective thinking, enhancing the Council’s in-country and in-region engagement, and increasing its convening role, including with regional actors and host states.
The Security Council and Regional Initiatives
The second major topic of discussion during the retreat is expected to be the ongoing question of when and how the Council should authorise and support regional organisations or forces to act in pursuit of the maintenance of international peace and security. The Council has to date taken an ad hoc approach to partnering with regional and subregional forces, with differing approaches being taken in Darfur, Somalia and Kosovo. The UN and regional and subregional organisations can benefit from their comparative advantages in peace and security partnerships.
The unresolved question expected to be the focus of Council members’ discussion is to what extent Council authorisation or endorsement of regional action should be accompanied by financial support. A related question is what degree of oversight, both operationally and in pursuit of strategic political outcomes, should the Council be expected to maintain for regional missions that receive financial support from the UN. This topic is particularly timely given the decision of the Group of Five Sahel (G5)—Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger—to create a regional force to combat terrorism and transnational crime. On 13 April, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) authorised the deployment of the G5 force for an initial period of twelve months. The AU PSC urged the UN Security Council to approve the deployment of the force and to authorise the Secretary-General to “identify the modalities of sustainable and predictable financial and logistical support to be provided to the force, including through MINUSMA”.
The annual retreat (which is being held for the 18th time) is often seen as a useful opportunity for senior Secretariat staff and permanent representatives on the Council to reflect at a strategic level on key peace and security issues in an informal setting. No formal outcome is produced, however, and there has been limited evidence of follow-up to previous years’ retreats. The dominance of prepared statements, rather than frank and open discussions, in the Council reinforces the need for the informal opportunities the retreat offers. This year’s targeted focus on peace operations with deeper examination of the identified topics creates an opportunity for more evident results. A frank discussion on the present state and future outlook of peace operations could contribute to greater effectiveness of the Council in meeting the challenges of contemporary threats to international peace and security.