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Briefing on UN Peacekeeping Operations

This afternoon (7 September), the Security Council will hold its annual meeting on UN peacekeeping pursuant to resolution 2378 of 20 September 2017. This resolution requested the Secretary-General to provide a comprehensive annual briefing on peacekeeping reform every 12 months and to update the Council on the “continuous efforts made in filling the existing gaps in terms of force generation and capabilities”. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to brief.

As has been the case for the past five years, Lacroix is expected to use this afternoon’s meeting to update Council members on the progress and challenges in implementing such initiatives as the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) and Action for Peacekeeping Plus (A4P+). (A4P seeks to enhance the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping and address its key challenges, while A4P+ outlines the key priorities for peacekeeping reform for 2021-2023.) Lacroix’s briefing will be based on a 1 September report by the Secretary-General on the overall performance of UN peacekeeping operations (S/2023/646), which was submitted to the Council pursuant to a 31 August 2022 presidential statement on peace and security in Africa. The presidential statement, among other matters, recognised the need to review and adjust the mandates of peacekeeping missions to ensure their effectiveness and requested the Secretary-General to provide the Security Council with a report on this issue in the context of his comprehensive annual briefing. In this regard, the Secretary-General’s report describes efforts to improve peacekeeping performance since the launch of A4P in March 2018 and the A4P+ implementation plan for 2021-2023. It also highlights strategic and contextual challenges to effective peacekeeping and provides recommendations for possible improvements.

In his briefing, Lacroix is likely to describe efforts to enhance peacekeeping performance in the context of the A4P priorities, namely: collective coherence behind a political strategy, strategic and operational integration, capabilities and mindsets, accountability to peacekeepers, accountability of peacekeepers, strategic communications, and cooperation with host countries. Since last year, the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) has been producing biannual reports to document progress in the A4P’s implementation, the latest of which was released in June. Lacroix may also describe the tools being used to assess the performance of the various components of UN peacekeeping (military, police, and civilian) and mention the Integrated Peacekeeping Performance and Accountability Framework (IPPAF), which was developed in 2020 by bringing together all UN policies, guidance, and tools on performance and accountability. The Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System (CPAS) is another tool that has been used in the past five years to review progress towards implementation of peacekeeping mandates. The Secretary-General’s report notes, however, the methodological challenge in conducting a comparative analysis of the performance of different missions specifically, and of UN peacekeeping in general. This requires, according to the report, accounting for “the range of variables and the uniqueness of political and operational contexts in which missions are deployed”.

Lacroix may highlight the challenges facing peacekeeping operations in the context of long-standing and protracted conflicts, which are increasingly affected by complex domestic, regional, and geopolitical dynamics. The Security Council’s decision in June to terminate the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) following the host country’s request for the mission to withdraw without delay is a clear example of the “crisis of consent” that UN peacekeeping operations are facing. As the Secretary-General noted in his 18 August letter submitted pursuant to resolution 2690 of 30 June, which terminated MINUSMA’s mandate, the decision “did not allow for a transition period” and, consequently, “some tasks performed by MINUSMA will not be handed over”. There are therefore increasing concerns about the possible implications of this decision on the protection of civilians, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the implementation of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali.

On 1 September, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government also sent a letter requesting the UN to accelerate the implementation of the revised transition plan for the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and to start the mission’s withdrawal before the end of this year. At the time of writing, it was unclear whether the Congolese government’s request is analogous to that of Mali or whether it will allow adequate time for the implementation of the revised transition plan agreed with MONUSCO. On 2 August, the Secretary-General submitted options for the mission’s reconfiguration pursuant to resolution 2666, which renewed MONUSCO’s mandate on 20 December 2022.

With the DRC’s geopolitical context being quite different to that of Mali, it seems that the Congolese government’s letter may be connected to domestic political dynamics, particularly in light of the upcoming national elections in December. The letter was sent following an anti-MONUSCO protest that took place on 30 August in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, during which at least 43 people were reportedly killed and a further 53 injured in clashes with local authorities. A similar protest that took place in Goma in July 2022 quickly spread to other cities, resulting in the deaths of several people, including three UN peacekeepers.

Lacroix may refer to the Secretary-General’s 20 July policy brief titled A New Agenda for Peace, which recognises the doctrinal and operational limitations faced by peacekeeping missions and calls for “a serious and broad-based reflection” by the Security Council and the General Assembly on the future of peacekeeping. A New Agenda for Peace also underscores the need to move towards “nimble adaptable models with appropriate, forward-looking transition and exit strategies”. Today’s meeting will provide an opportunity for Council members to reflect on the policy brief and its recommendations on peacekeeping, particularly on Security Council authorisations of peace enforcement, counter-terrorism, and counter-insurgency operations by regional and subregional organisations.

While this afternoon’s briefing is likely to feature a general discussion on peacekeeping, some Council members may choose to highlight specific thematic issues and regional priorities. The A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) might raise the financing of African Union (AU)-led peace support operations. This issue has gathered momentum in the Security Council since last year, as the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) requested the A3 in May to “resume consultations with the relevant stakeholders towards the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution on financing AU-led PSOs”. At the time of writing, the A3 have yet to introduce a draft resolution on the matter. (For more information, see our 26 April research report titled The Financing of AU Peace Support Operations: Prospects for Progress in the Security Council?) On 23 September, the AUPSC is expected to hold a ministerial-level meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level segment to discuss this issue. UN Security Council members are also expected to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next month for their annual consultation meeting with the AUPSC, which is scheduled to take place on 5 and 6 October.

The US is particularly interested in peacekeeping performance, and it facilitated the adoption of resolution 2436 of 21 September 2018, which emphasised the importance of training and capacity building to promote the effective implementation of peacekeeping mandates, among other matters. As five years have passed since the adoption of resolution 2436, the US might wish the Council to take stock of the progress and challenges in its implementation. During the negotiations on the 31 August 2022 presidential statement, the US apparently proposed to request the Secretary-General to submit an “independent strategic review on the overall performance” of UN peacekeeping operations by 28 February 2023. Other Council members, however, objected to this proposal, and in an apparent compromise, the presidential statement requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on the overall performance of peacekeeping as part of his comprehensive annual briefing to the Security Council pursuant to resolution 2378.

At last year’s annual briefing, China argued that “[t]he unchecked expansion of mandates interferes with the Council’s core mission, strains peacekeeping resources and raises excessive expectations for missions”. It therefore underscored the need to “streamline and optimize the mandates of peacekeeping operations so that missions can focus on fulfilling their core tasks”. Russia also stressed the need “to reduce peacekeepers’ secondary and non-core tasks, especially those on the human rights, social and gender fronts, which distract peacekeepers from their primary functions and require considerable funding”. In this context, China and Russia have apparently been placing greater emphasis on the support that peacekeeping operations provide for the implementation of peace processes, the extension of state authority, and security sector reform (SSR) in mandate renewal negotiations. Both members also highlight the importance of strengthening cooperation with host countries to ensure the effective implementation of peacekeeping mandates.

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