In September 2016, another summit focusing on evaluating UN peace operations in the aftermath of the HIPPO report was held in London. As UK defence minister claimed in his opening address, there is a need to ensure that UN peace operations become more effective. He suggested that there are three central elements than need to be considered to achieving this: planning, pledges and performance. In essence missions need to be better planned, more appropriately resourced and implemented. Taking these three P’s as a useful approach to analysis these thoughts suggest that in addition to the instrumentalisation approach to responding to challenges that are present in UN peacekeeping within each of these ‘P’s’ there is also a need to ensure that we do not overlook some of the larger obstacles that are currently facing the UN: conceptual disagreement.
Whilst these practical and pragmatic elements to develop peace operations are clearly important, and there can be no denial of the need to also address a number of underlying tensions in trying to achieve these goals. This piece reflects on a number of observations gleamed from a series of research trips to the UN in New York as well as to Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
It seems obvious and rather simple to suggest that missions need to be better planned in order to be more successful. However, it is not solely individual missions that need to be better planned, rather planning should be conceived of in a more holistic sense. The objectives, the criteria for success, the reporting structures, and the responses to requests from the field, the relationship between UN departments and agencies, all need to be developed within and across missions.
Central to these plans and the general approach to better planned missions is a need for a common understanding of the distinction between peacekeeping and peace operations (also known as the robust turn in peace operations). While some states (primarily Western) have readily adopted the language and the concept of peace operations (as a compound concept encompassing traditional peacekeeping, but also peace building and peace enforcement), non-western states (particularly those who are contributing the largest numbers of troops – details of country profiles are available from IPI) remain uncomfortable with the fusing of these distinct concepts not least because of the potential that peacekeepers – as noted by Alex Bellamy – may be at greater risk in these operations.
This is also understandable, in part because it has a discernible effect on the planning of operations but also has an effect on assessments of whether missions are successful. If the objective and mandate is for a peacekeeping operation, seeking the cessation of hostilities and to be impartial in the conflict, then troops don’t need the same equipment, they are less likely to become targets of any of the belligerents, and they have the opportunity to protect civilians not involved in the conflict. Whereas, in more robust peace operations, troops need different training, resourcing, and have (or potentially have) a different relationship to the host population. Hence, prior to better planning is a need for conceptual cohesion of what peacekeeping is or should be in the 21st century – side-stepping fundamental differences doesn’t mean this is not an issue, but rather creates problems later.
These problems are then only likely to be amplified as there is an increasing disconnection between the states contributing troops and those shaping the conceptual discussion – and although consultations with troops contributing countries have increased and they have been more able to inform mandates and renewals, the working methods of the Security Council still privileges a few voices. Hence, better planning is also needed in how different branches of the UN talk to each other.
As noted in the speech made in September 2016, in 2015 countries pledged around 40,000 additional troops to UN PKO. However, a year later, only a handful have actually been sent to a mission and become a reality. Yet, perhaps this is understandable – even from just a practical perspective, troops for peace operations need specific training and resourcing and this is not a short term activity, rather it requires changes and planning at the national as well as international level.
In April 2016, at an IPI and Republic of Korea co-organised event, Ban-Ki Moon, Ameerah Haq(the vice chair of the HIPPO report) and others re-iterated that this is the moment where momentum is either converted into concrete changes or is lost and HIPPO is reduced to a footnote in the annuals of UN history. However, there are two dangers here: the first is the loss of momentum and the HIPPO report being lost in new emerging political realities; the second danger is to act too fast without all states fully on board. Having more peace operatives (military, police and advisors) may solve a number of challenges, however, having poorly prepared troops and other forces, in missions of diverse national contingents with leaders selected for political rather than competence reasons. As a result, there is at least the potential that increasing numbers of troops asymmetrically to managing other problems concerning mission diversity and leadership could be counter-productive – not least because of the reputational costs this could have.
A further element that needs to be considered in terms of pledges made by states are the conditions under which these troops would be in a ready-response reaction force and therefore deployed at any time to any operation, or whether their deployment would still be contingent on individual mission approval from capitals. As has been the case with UNEPS, the rules under which rapid response troops are supplied could see a significant limitation on their use even when states indicate that they are ready to use.
A focus and development of operation performance, in the terms of the speech by the Rt Hon Michael Fallon the UK defence minister, seeks to address the issue of quality and diversity of the personnel deployed. In particular, he sought to highlight the need for more female peacekeepers, as well as effective training and leadership. This element would then seem to address some of the previous critiques of his comments on planning and pledges. However, aside from indicating that troops need to be properly trained and more of them should be women, he gave no indication of what types of training they should have before deployment, nor did he indicate the net benefit of having female peacekeepers.
It is then outside the UK summit where we might need to look to see evidence of the need and benefits of training and deploying troops with more diverse backgrounds but also consideration of the problems this can cause. In a substantial body of research by Vanessa Newby, there is evidence that we need to explore the mirco-processes in Peace operations, as well as the diversity and communications within the operation and in relation to the broader security context. Furthermore, as the HIPPO report as well as Vincenzo Bove and Andrea Ruggeri have demonstrated, there is also a need to interrogate further the performance of the leadership in peace deployments.
In conclusion, I would argue that there are additional three central and cross cutting themes among the three P’s challenges (which were noted in a Peace operations review event in New York in April 2016) are trust, credibility, and leadership. I would argue that without addressing these cross-cutting elements of the challenges, any instrumental and practical changes that are made will only be partially successful at best.