What's In Blue

UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL): Vote on Mandate Renewal*

Tomorrow morning (31 August), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for one year, until 31 August 2023. The draft text in blue retains UNIFIL’s core mandate and tasks, as set out most recently in resolution 2591 of 30 August 2021.

Although Council members are generally supportive of UNIFIL, the negotiations have proved difficult. France, the penholder on Lebanon, shared a first draft of the resolution with Council members on 16 August and convened a first round of negotiations on 18 August. France circulated a revised text on 19 August and convened a second round of negotiations on 22 August. A second revised text was circulated on 24 August and put under silence until the morning of 25 August. China and Russia broke silence and, subsequently, many delegations—including India, Ireland, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US—submitted comments. On 26 August, France circulated a third revised draft and put it under silence until yesterday morning (29 August). However, India and the UAE broke silence on 26 August, followed by China on the morning of 29 August. As a result of the multiple silence breaks and revisions, the vote, which was initially scheduled for today (30 August), was moved to tomorrow. After Russia broke silence on 29 August on a fourth revised draft that France had circulated that day, a fifth revised draft was put in blue today.

A key point of contention in the earlier phases of the negotiations was whether and how to include language on UNIFIL’s support to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) through the supply of non-lethal, material and logistical support in the framework of the LAF-UNIFIL joint activities. This provision was introduced in resolution 2591—which emphasised that such assistance had to be provided on a temporary basis and within existing resources—because of concerns about the impact of Lebanon’s socioeconomic crisis on the LAF’s capacity to adequately carry out its functions in UNIFIL’s area of operations.

During last year’s negotiations, China and Russia expressed concerns that the measures risked modifying the relationship between UNIFIL and the host country authorities, and creating a precedent where other UN peacekeeping missions would be asked to provide material and logistical support to national armies, generating unsustainable demands on the limited UN peacekeeping budget. To address these members’ concerns, resolution 2591 specified that the measures “should not be considered as a precedent” and that the provision of support (described as “fuel, food and medicine”) should be limited to a period of six months.

In his latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701, dated 14 July, the Secretary-General said that the support provided by UNIFIL thus far “appears to have had a positive impact on the capacity and reach” of the LAF. Accordingly, he called for support to the Lebanese government’s 15 March request for an extension, a message the Secretary-General reiterated in his 9 August letter to the Council, which also recommended the extension of UNIFIL’s mandate for one year.

The initial draft text circulated by France proposed to “exceptionally extend” the temporary and special measures until 31 August 2023 (that is, for one year) while emphasising that they should not be considered “a long-term solution”. Many Council members supported the re-authorisation of the temporary and special measures for one year. However, China and Russia opposed this provision, apparently stressing that last year they had assented to the measures on a temporary basis and that re-authorising them this year would be tantamount to establishing a precedent. France retained the language re-authorising the measures for one year in the first and second revised drafts. However, after China and Russia broke silence on 25 August, the penholder reduced the period to six months “and no longer than 28 February 2023” in the third and all subsequent revised drafts.

Following Russia’s 29 August silence break, the draft was modified to request the Secretary-General to include in his reporting on resolution 1701 an annex on the implementation of these measures. It seems that India broke silence on 26 August to request the inclusion of language giving UNIFIL the possibility to adjust, if needed, its plan of operations in light of possible additional costs which the mission may incur because of the temporary measures. However, this request was not accommodated.

Another major friction point during the negotiations revolved around proposed new language that, in various parts of the text, addresses restrictions to UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and access, or the presence of weapons outside the control of the state in southern Lebanon. While Council members are generally supportive of the need for UNIFIL to operate effectively in its area of operations, they diverge in their views on how this issue should be addressed.

Some members, including the UAE and the UK, apparently demanded the inclusion of stronger language condemning the presence of weapons outside Lebanon’s control and, in the UK’s case, explicitly mentioning the Shi’a group Hezbollah. It seems that these requests were not included in earlier drafts of the text, leading the UAE to break silence on 26 August to demand the inclusion of stronger language condemning the possession of weapons by “armed groups” outside of the state’s control, a request which was accommodated by France in the fourth revised draft.

While the draft resolution in blue retains this language, references in the preambular section of the resolution with similar content, which had been introduced by the penholder and strengthened following requests by the UK and UAE were deleted, apparently in response to Russia’s 29 August silence break.

A new element in this year’s resolution is language put forward by France requesting UNIFIL to address “disinformation and misinformation” against the mission, an indirect reference to perceptions reported among some in southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is not authorised to patrol without the presence of the LAF. Some members expressed concern that the language proposed by the penholder—which requests UNIFIL to “raise awareness on its mandate, its role, and its authority to operate independently”, and develop a strategy to counter disinformation and misinformation—may create new tasks for UNIFIL, possibly giving rise to additional costs and needs. It also seems that one member preferred incorporating efforts to address misinformation under a broader focus on strengthening the mission’s outreach and communication efforts. It appears, however, that the language proposed by the penholder was ultimately largely retained unchanged in the final draft.

Another related area of contention was text introduced by France saying that, pursuant to the Agreement on the Status of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (SOFA), which was signed between Lebanon and the UN in 1995, “UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently”. It seems that Council members have diverging interpretations of the SOFA; while it says that UNIFIL shall enjoy “freedom of movement throughout Lebanon”, it also states that this freedom shall, in certain circumstances, be coordinated with the Lebanese government. Although some members expressed concern that the proposed language may go beyond what the SOFA established, or may need to be further clarified, language on UNIFIL being allowed to conduct its operation independently was retained in the draft in blue.

It appears that during the negotiations, Ireland and Mexico—the co-chairs of the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security—proposed language drawing on the recommendations in the co-chairs’ summary report on the 28-30 June visit to Lebanon by IEG members. However, it appears that these proposals were not included. Other suggestions which were not incorporated include language proposed jointly by Brazil, China and Kenya on the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), a proposal by the US to increase the frequency of the Secretary-General’s reports on resolution 1701 from every four months to every three months, and language on the use of renewable energy in UNIFIL put forward by Norway.

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*Post-script: On 31 August, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2650, which extended the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year, until 31 August 2023.

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