International peacekeeping is a vital tool in the United Nations’ proverbial ‘toolbox’ for upholding its Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). May 29 was celebrated as International UN Peacekeeping Day to the refrain of “Force for the Future,” kicking off a six-month initiative to raise political support for the modernization of UN peacekeeping with the hopes of further realizing its value and cost-effectiveness, and meeting the present realities faced by today’s ‘blue helmets’.
In the words of the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edward Mulet, “The world is changing. The threats are changing. The levels of conflict are changing in many places in the world…so we have to adapt and we have to evolve and we have to learn how to deal with these new challenges.”
These new challenges are linked to a number of features of modern conflict. Today’s conflicts tend to be intra-as opposed to inter-state, and disproportionately affect civilians populations who are often targeted by armed groups. Conflicts are becoming more complex and multi-dimensional, as are the threats they produce. Furthermore, it is common for operations to be launched in the midst of a conflict, where there is in fact no peace to keep. These developments are challenging the precepts that characterise what has been called the ‘holy trinity’ of ‘classical peacekeeping,’ namely: host-government consent, impartiality, and minimal use of force.
Protection of Civilians (PoC) and Other Evolving Trends
A recent report by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the implementation of Protection of Civilian (PoC) mandates in UN peacekeeping operations touches on an important evolutionary characteristic of “modern” operations. The report notes that to date, thirteen UN peacekeeping missions have included a robust PoC mandate – nine of which are current. In addition, several have included an “all means necessary” stipulation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
The PoC agenda evolved from the same discourse that spawned RtoP and shares much of the underpinning legal and moral justification. Indeed, the two agendas reinforce each other in many ways. However, it is important to note that PoC and RtoP remain separate areas. A crucial distinction is that RtoP is narrowly focused on the four mass atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. RtoP does not extend beyond these crimes, though it does extend to situations outside of armed conflict. On the other hand, PoC is narrowly focused on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, but applies to a larger range of human rights violations than just the four crimes. For more information on the distinctions and similarities between the two agendas, visit ICRtoP’s PoC information page.
Along with the proliferation of PoC mandates and Chapter VII authorizations, developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be indicative of another new trend. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2098 established the UN ‘Force Intervention Brigade’ (FIB) in DRC, providing MONUSCO with the capacity and authorization to proactively engage in the protection of civilians through disarmament of Congo’s many armed groups, unambiguously approving the use of force with “targeted offensive operations.” The brigade played a decisive role in the defeat of the M23 movement last year. However, as it stands now, this remains an exceptional case and indeed was only agreed to by Russia and China on this condition.
How effective have PoC Mandates Been?
While it is important to continuously adapt to new challenges, it is also important to assess how these are being implemented in actuality.
On the issue of civilian protection, OIOS found several obstacles to the effective implementation of PoC mandates. Strikingly, the report found that, for a number of reasons, force is almost never used to protect civilians – even as a last resort and with legal authorization to do so. Such reasons include the interpretive viewpoint of mission commanders, an aversion to putting troops in harm’s way, a shortage of troops and resources, fear of consequence for the misuse of force, and confusion over how the notion of consent applies in instances where government forces appear to be instigating or perpetrating violence against civilians.
OIOS made a number of recommendations for improving this record, importantly pointing to the necessity of bridging operational understanding at all levels to mend the broken “chain” of activities designed to protect civilians. It also recommended reporting to the Security Council in the event that instructions are not fully carried out in regards to civilian protection, along with improved coordination between peacekeeping and humanitarian entities.
Security Council Holds Open Debate on New Trends in UN Peacekeeping
The open debate held on June 11, 2014 brought together troop, police and finance-contributing countries (TCCs, PCCs, and FCCs respectively) to discuss these findings, as well as other recent trends in UN peacekeeping.
A concept note that preceded the debate highlighted technological innovations that have presented the UN with new tools for carrying out their mandates more effectively. This includes the use of Unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UUAVs) and new medical and engineering equipment. Such technological innovation is said to“… contribute to the fuller implementation of mandates by peacekeepers and improved safety and security of personnel, as well as better situational awareness.”
The note also mentions that missions have become much more multi-dimensional in nature, with military, police and civilian components deployed by various international actors existing simultaneously. This covers the full spectrum of intervention, from the brokering and monitoring of a ceasefire, to disarmament, reconciliation, peacebuilding and statebuilding activities.
Thus far, these have been implemented within a “fragmented policy and legal framework”, making consensus and standard guidance crucial – particularly as the time-honored principles of neutrality, consent and minimal use of force are being challenged.
Different Perspectives on Peacekeeping Developments
While 47 delegates made statements during the debate, a few samples from major TCC, PCC, and FCCs illustrate the scope of concerns.
As the third largest African troop and police contributing country, as well as the current Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Rwandan Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana touched on some key issues. The Ambassador voiced his support for robust peacekeeping mandates stating:
“Given the nature of current threats to peacekeeping, Rwanda believes that the deployment of robust peacekeepers is essential to not only effectively protect civilians but also to protect themselves in increasingly hostile and volatile environments.”
However, he qualified this statement with the warning that:
“…we cannot expect peacekeepers to engage in robust peacekeeping tasks without necessary preparation and resources. If we do not have the ability to insert forces and to conduct casualty and medical evacuations or airlifts, then we have major problems and should not have deployed in the first place.”
On the question of new technologies, Gasana recognized its value as a key enabler, but simultaneously cautioned that, regarding the use of UUAV’s, “Questions still exist regarding control of information collected, confidentiality, and third party impartiality.” The concern over use and legalities were common themes among many member states.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis of the Permanent Mission of the United States spoke for the world’s largest FCC, and mirrored the concerns of other countries that insist the traditional model of peacekeeping is outdated. Like Rwanda, they were supportive of more robust peacekeeping mandates. The focus of their concern was on ensuring mandates are implemented as effectively as possible, particularly given the bleak findings of the OIOS report. Reflecting on this, the Ambassador lamented:
“At its essence, the report reveals a significant gap that has emerged between the commitments we set down on paper – which constitute a responsibility to act – and the way missions perform in practice. The larger this gap grows, the more vulnerable civilians become, and the less credible this organization and the peacekeepers representing it become.” The Ambassador urged consideration of the report’s conclusions.
Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, the Permanent Representative of India provided a different perspective. A noted skeptic of the expanding role of UN peacekeeping, India was particularly vocal in its opposition to the FIB:
“In our view, such a mixing of mandates directly affects the operational effectiveness of the peacekeeping operation, exposing traditional peacekeepers to unnecessary threats from armed internal conflicts which the United Nations has not itself instigated.”
Furthermore, India bemoaned the lack of funding and resources being volunteered for peacekeeping operations, particularly in complex and multi-dimensional environments:
“On the one hand, the new mandates of UNPKOs are ambitiously drafted, running into many pages, as good governance templates. On the other hand, the very same pen-holders drafting these new mandates cavil at having to pay more money for peacekeepers tasked to implement these mandates.”
India’s comments represent a number of states who expressed similar reservations over the use of force and overly-ambitious mandates, seen as threatening classical peacekeeping.
Key Recommendations for Improvement
Though an outcome document has yet to emerge from the debate, it is possible to piece together some of the main recommendations to address concerns of TCCs, PCCs and FCCs alike. These include:
- Inclusive consultations between the Security Council and the General Assembly to derive consensus on delicate issues, such as use of force, equipment and mission costs.
- Providing clear mandates with standard operating procedures plainly defined.
- Better communication at command and tactical levels to bridge the gap between planning and implementation.
- A standard regulatory framework for the use of new technologies, such as UUAV’s.
- Improvement of inter-mission cooperation to fill logistical and capacity gaps and leverage synergies.
- Matching ambitious multi-dimensional mandates with adequate resource and funding commitments.
- Continuing to recognize and create an enabling environment for activities that lead to sustainable peace and development – including incorporating a Women’s Peace and Security lens, security and justice sector reform, and dialogue and reconciliatory efforts.
Steps such as these could help reconcile the need for innovation and adaptability with the concerns of states that are leery of leading UN peacekeeping too far from its roots. Ultimately, this will ensure peacekeeping operations are better prepared and equipped to protect vulnerable civilians from mass atrocities, securing its status as a key tool in the RtoP toolkit and making it a true “Force for the Future.”