Do we need a UN stabilisation doctrine?

UN peacekeeping has become increasingly robust and offensive and is now regularly deployed in the midst of on-going conflicts. This is a radical departure from the Brahimi Panel’s guidance that UN peacekeeping should not be deployed where there is ‘no peace to keep’.

What does ‘stabilisation’ mean in a UN peacekeeping context? What is the difference between UN missions, like MONUSCO, MINUSMA and MINUSCA, that have ‘stabilisation’ in their name and those that don’t? At present neither the Security Council nor the Secretariat is able to answer this question.

If we analyse these missions we can broadly say that what they have in common is that they operate in the midst of on-going conflicts; that their mandates task them to protect a government against an insurgency or identified aggressors; and that they are tasked to undertake robust operations, including offensive operations.

Although they share with many other missions a Protection of Civilian mandate and ethos, they differ fundamentally from missions like UNAMID and UNMISS that are strictly impartial, including to their host governments. In contrast, the stabilisation missions cooperate closely with their host governments, and they may undertake offensive operations against insurgents in support of host government forces.

The essential difference between peacekeeping and stabilization seems to be that in peacekeeping the aim is to arrive at and maintain a cease-fire and/or implement a peace agreement among the parties to a conflict, whilst in stabilization the theory of change is to achieve peace by managing or removing an aggressor.

Conceptual confusion leads to doctrinal confusion, and in all three missions we witness that the Security Council, the Secretariat, the Troop and Police Contributing Countries and the host governments do not share the same understanding of what these missions are meant to do. Some approach these missions as any other UN peacekeeping mission they support or deploy troops to. Others see this as a special type of UN operations that is offensive, and they deploy troops and equipment appropriate for this purpose.

The Panel will have to provide guidance on whether the UN should do stabilisation, and if so, whether it needs to update or expand its doctrine to include stabilisation, so that all those involved can have a common understanding of how UN stabilisation differs from peacekeeping.

* First published in Richard Gowan and Adam C. Smith (eds.) What Needs to Change in UN Peace Operations? An expert briefing book prepared for the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations. New York, Centre on International Cooperation, New York University and International Peace Institute. (2014), pp. 31-32.

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