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In Hindsight: Mandating Peace Operations

More than two years ago, the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) issued its report, with recommendations to ensure better design and delivery of UN peace operations. Since then, there has been little discussion by the Council of the overall approach of the panel’s report and the implication of its recommendations for the Council’s own practice. The summit-level open debate organised by Ethiopia during its presidency in September provides a timely opportunity for the Council to discuss the way it mandates and oversees peace operations and to hear the views of the broader membership about how this process can be made more strategic and inclusive.

The HIPPO report emphasised that political strategy must drive the design and implementation of peace operations. In a 25 November 2015 presidential statement, the Council underlined “the significant impact its statements and actions can exert in situations of armed conflict or in support of peace processes”. However, the Council has often failed to agree on a political strategy in support of peace operations for many reasons, including decision-making processes that do not favour the emergence of strategic or collective thinking, divergent political priorities, inadequate Secretariat analysis and planning, and the resistance of host states. In recent months, Council members have promoted increased interaction with regional mediators and other actors, such as the chairs of peacebuilding configurations, but formalistic rules continue to prevent these meetings from taking place in consultations. Despite some informal initiatives, troop- and police-contributing countries remain dissatisfied with the quality of triangular consultations.

While engagement with relevant stakeholders is an important part of devising or refining a political strategy, it is not enough. For the Council to develop the political strategies that must underpin peace operations, it needs to change the way it operates. The Council could start by adopting a mandating process that addresses—and as far as possible agrees on—political objectives before negotiating language in drafts; by reviewing and modifying mandates when needs on the ground shift, rather than waiting until the mandate cycles end; by encouraging the emergence of groups of friends on particular situations on its agenda; and by agreeing compacts with host governments. The Council has sometimes had a positive impact in conflict situations when it has been able to deliver unified messages directly to the parties, either through visiting missions or demarches by its President. More effort could be put into ensuring that outcomes of Council discussions reach the parties involved.

In order to allow missions to develop over time, the Panel advocated sequenced and prioritised mandates “rather than trying to do everything at once, and failing”. It proposed a two-stage, sequenced mandating process to design more effective, situation-specific missions with realistic, streamlined and prioritised tasks. The 25 November 2015 presidential statement said that the Council will consider sequenced and phased mandates, where appropriate, when evaluating existing UN peace operations or establishing new ones. The sequenced and prioritised establishment of two consecutive operations in Colombia is an example of how this process can work. To respond to tight timelines agreed to by the parties, the Council established both missions several months before they were expected to start operating. This allowed the Secretary-General to provide recommendations to the Council regarding their size, operational aspects and mandate following an integrated planning process informed by experience on the ground. However, until now, there has been limited emphasis on the sequencing or prioritisation of already existing mandates.

One of the main elements of the HIPPO report that has been subject to Council discussions recently is the strategic partnership with the AU. Resolution 2320 of 18 November 2016 built on the HIPPO report and stressed that the AU-UN partnership should be underpinned by mutual consultations between the Council and the AU Peace and Security Council “based on respective comparative advantage, burden sharing, consultative decision making, joint analysis and planning missions and assessment visits by the UN and AU, monitoring and evaluation, transparency and accountability”.

The Council has often recognised the absence of flexible, sustainable and predictable funding for the AU peace operations it authorises, but members have divergent views on how this should be addressed. The panel recommended the use of UN assessed contributions on a case-by-case basis to support AU peace operations authorised by the Council, including the costs associated with deployed uniformed personnel, to complement funding from the AU and/or African member states. Most recently, the Council has been divided over the UN’s role in relation to the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel). The US and several other major financial contributors did not wish the Council to authorise the force, in part because they considered it unnecessary but also because it could imply a financial obligation. France and the African Council members supported the position of the G5 Sahel countries and the AU that the UN should consider providing funding from assessed contributions. The Secretary-General endorsed such use of assessed contributions in his report on options for authorisation and support for AU peace operations. While the issue of funding will feature prominently in negotiating the draft resolution to be adopted at the September meeting, other important elements of the partnership, such as ensuring coordination throughout the conflict cycle, also deserve emphasis.

The Council has taken note of the HIPPO report and accepted in principle several of its recommendations, with members making frequent references to those which accord with their perspectives, but essential shifts the panel proposed towards the primacy of politics and the flexible use of the spectrum of peace operations still require changes on the part of both the Council and the Secretariat. Several recent mandate renewals have shown again the limitations of a process that continues to be led by one of three permanent members as penholder and driven by numbers. In negotiating these resolutions, Council members often prioritise their national agendas over providing adequate resources for realistic mandates. The gap between mandates and capacity is broadened when Fifth Committee decision-making effectively becomes a partial re-negotiation of mandates.

Some Council members still insist on using the terminology of peacekeeping in a way which runs counter to the panel’s perspective of a spectrum of peace operations, and to a large extent the Council’s working methods undermine the objective it sets for itself of political strategy and flexible transitions. The current insistence of Council members on reviewing peace operations might be an opportunity to address some of the HIPPO recommendations that have gone unimplemented, while the Secretary-General’s new Executive Committee, emphasis on strategic planning and monitoring in his Executive Office, and review of the Secretariat’s peace and security architecture offer the prospect of improved integrated analysis and options from the Secretariat. The Council could use its Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations to draw lessons on how it agrees on strategic objectives for these missions, designs mandates, and monitors the capacity to achieve them. The Working Group could submit recommendations for the Council’s consideration, after engaging with a broad range of actors including Secretariat officials and troop- and police- contributing countries. The open debate can be a platform for member states to contribute their suggestions for improving this critical process.

Expected Council Action

The high-level open debate will be entitled “Reform of UN peacekeeping: implementation and follow-up” and is scheduled for 20 September. Secretary-General António Guterres and Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, are expected to brief the Council, along with a HIPPO representative.

Security Council Consideration of HIPPO Implementation

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