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Peacekeeping Operations

Expected Council Action

In March, at the initiative of the Netherlands, the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on “Collective Action to Improve UN Peacekeeping Operations”. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief the Council at the meeting, which will be chaired by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. A presidential statement taking into consideration the positions stated at the meeting is likely to be negotiated following the open debate.

Background and Key Recent Developments

The open debate will be an opportunity to discuss how to reform peacekeeping operations to make them respond better to challenges on the ground. In 2015, the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) noted that mandates have become lengthier and more detailed and at times less realistic, manageable or achievable. The report pointed out how mandates are not always in line with the operational challenges in the field, and made extensive recommendations for improving speed, capability and performance for uniformed personnel, many of which then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accepted in his follow-up report for implementation. Since then, the Secretariat and member states have undertaken some efforts to address the gap between mandates and their implementation.

Among the issues that the Council, member states and the Secretariat face is how to adapt to the deployment of peace operations in complex and high-risk environments where peacekeepers are targeted by asymmetrical attacks. In 2017, 61 peacekeepers were killed as a result of hostile acts, the highest number since 1994. A report on improving the security of UN peacekeepers, commissioned by the Secretariat, was published in December 2017. The report, prepared by a team headed by Lieutenant General (ret.) Carlos dos Santos Cruz, concluded that a change of mindset is needed to adapt to the new contexts in which the UN flag no longer offers “natural” protection, and break from a certain “Chapter VI Syndrome” that leads peacekeepers to deploy without a full appreciation of security risks and the operational approach needed to address them. The report argues that a more proactive posture will contribute to the credibility of peacekeeping operations and their ability to protect civilians and their own personnel.  

Participants in the open debate may also take into account the report of an Independent Special Investigation assessing the performance of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) after a July 2016 crisis in Juba, led by Major General (ret.) Patrick Cammaert. The report described how lack of preparedness, ineffective command and control, deficient leadership, and a risk-averse posture contributed to a failure to effectively protect civilians in need, and made recommendations that the Secretariat committed to implement in UNMISS and other missions.

In addition to increased threats and performance issues, the Council and member states have focused increasingly on the lack of adequate capabilities to fulfil Council mandates. Force enablers such as helicopters and aircraft are critical to the success of missions in high-risk environments. In the case of Mali, for example, the Council has repeatedly urged member states to provide troops and police with the adequate capabilities, training and equipment to fill outstanding gaps and develop creative ways of ensuring critical capabilities, such as through long-term rotation schemes.

At a Council briefing on 6 April 2017 on the review of peacekeeping operations, Guterres stressed that these operations “need clear, realistic and up-to-date mandates from the Council, with well-identified priorities, adequate sequencing and flexibility to evolve over time”. This was in line with one of the key conclusions of the HIPPO report, which underlined that political strategy must drive the design and implementation of peace operations. Over the last year, the Council has requested several strategic reviews of peacekeeping operations (in Cyprus, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and special political missions (in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya). In parallel, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) began commissioning senior independent experts to lead the reviews of various peacekeeping operations in 2017 and 2018. The first such review carried out at the initiative of the Secretariat, focusing on the operation in South Sudan, has just been completed. The stated aim of these reviews is to examine in depth the conditions for success in each operation and to inform a strategic dialogue with member states on the efficiency, role and perspectives of UN peacekeeping. These reviews are expected to offer bold options and proposals on restructuring and on alignment between mission resources and mandate implementation.

The Council took note of the intention expressed by the Secretary-General to conduct reviews of peacekeeping missions in a 21 December 2017 presidential statement. This statement identified seven areas—linked with peacebuilding and sustaining peace—that the Council said it will consider when reviewing the mandates and configuration of peacekeeping operations:

  • assessment of mandate implementation in all its dimensions, including cooperation of the host state, with a view to ensuring the full delivery of the mandated tasks as well as, when relevant, the adjustment of tasks;
  • support to the national ownership of the political processes;
  • existence of clearly defined goals and objectives guided by specific, agreed-upon milestones towards peacebuilding and sustaining peace;
  • periodic strategic and integrated analysis of the opportunities, risks and challenges faced by national and local authorities to build and sustain peace;
  • progress in and quality of delivering the political and operational aspects of the mission’s mandate in a coherent manner;
  • clarity on roles and responsibilities of UN peacekeeping operations, UN country teams and other relevant actors; and
  • existence of an exit strategy that seeks to help lay the foundation for long-term and sustainable peace.

The open debate may provide an opportunity, following discussions in the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34), for the broader membership to address some of the issues mentioned above and devise ways to deliver in a more effective way on the collective responsibility to improve peacekeeping operations.

Key Issues and Options

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. 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 outcome of such processes could benefit from the engagement of all Council members on the overall direction of the mission before the proper negotiation of the renewal resolution. 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. As DPKO continues to roll out a new methodology to carry out strategic reviews, including an independent element, the Council could agree on the way in which it expects to consider the conclusions of such reviews. The presidential statement that is expected to be adopted at the meeting could cover how the Council plans to address some of these issues.

Council Dynamics

One of the defining elements of the discussions on peace operations is the gap between those who decide on the mandates of peace operations and carry their financial burden and those who deploy troops and police to implement them. The financial pressure from the US to cut the peacekeeping budget has featured prominently in mandate renewal discussions over the last year. In the past, some of the issues mentioned above, such as the posture of peacekeeping operations or references to performance, have been controversial and further polarised the relationship between the Council and troop- and police-contributing countries.

Côte d'Ivoire chairs the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations.

UN DOCUMENTS ON PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS

Security Council Presidential Statement
21 December 2017 S/PRST/2017/27 This was a presidential statement that laid out the elements related to peacebuilding and sustaining peace to be considered when reviewing the mandates and configuration of peacekeeping missions.
Secretary-General's Report
2 September 2015 S/2015/682 This was the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations’ recommendations.
Security Council Letters
1 November 2016 S/2016/924 This was the Executive Summary of the report of the special independent investigation into the July 2016 violence in Juba.
17 June 2015 S/2015/446 This was the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.

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