What can we expect from the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations?

The UN Secretary-General appointed a High-Level Independent Panel to review UN peace operations in October 2014. The Panel is expected to publish its report in June 2015. The Panel is led by Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Timor Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta. With 17 members it has a broad geographical spread and a wide range of experiences, including former special representatives, force commanders, ambassadors, scholars and civil society leaders. The last such major external review of peacekeeping operations was undertaken in 2000 and led by Lahkdar Brahimi. The Brahimi report had a considerable impact on the direction of peacekeeping operations, even though many of its recommendations have not been implemented. It is thus not surprising that the Ramos-Horta report has raised similar high expectations.

One significant difference between these two reports is that the Ramos-Horta panel have been tasked with assessing both peacekeeping operations and special political missions. This expanded focus reflects a significant shift in the orientation of UN peacekeeping from conflict resolution to conflict management. A decade ago, most UN peacekeepers were engaged in post-conflict peace agreement implementation missions in countries like Sierra Leone, Burundi, Liberia and Sudan. Today, approximately two thirds of the UN’s peacekeepers are deployed amidst on-going conflict in missions where there is ‘no peace to keep’. Over this same period the UN has developed a significant operational political and peacemaking capacity. As a result a division of work has emerged where UN peacekeeping missions are increasingly limited to containing violence, whilst UN special political missions and special envoys are tasked to seek enduring political solutions.

The missions in CAR (MINUSCA), the DRC (MONUSCO) and Mali (MINUSMA), together with an earlier generation example in Haiti (MINUSTAH), are indicative of this shift and represent a new category of UN stabilization operations. These missions are tasked to protect a government and its people against aggressors identified by the UN Security Council, and in the case of the Force Intervention Brigade in eastern DRC, to undertake offensive operations to forcefully disarm the aggressors. These stabilization missions should not, however, be misunderstood as military solutions – they should rather be seen as part of a larger strategy to proactively shape the security environment in order to create space for political solutions.

In light of these developments it is thus not surprising that the most important issue that the Ramos-Horta Panel will have to consider and provide guidance on is how far we can stretch UN peacekeeping along the use of force trajectory, before the core principles of UN peacekeeping – consent, impartiality and minimum use of force – loose its relevance? The Panel is likely to emphasize that force can only be meaningfully applied in a peace operations context if it is part of a strategy to achieve a peaceful outcome. This raises the question, however, of who is tasked with overseeing the execution of such an over-arching strategy and ensuring system-wide UN coherence? Is it necessary to update the UN’s integrated approach and One UN policies to reflect these new developments? And will the Panel speak out on the potential merging of the UN Secretariat’s departments of political affairs and peacekeeping operations, to create a new integrated geographically organized peace and security department?

Another closely related issue the Panel is expected to give guidance on is the degree to which the financing of the UN’s peace and security worked has been skewed towards peacekeeping. Currently the UN’s peacekeeping operations cost almost 9 billion USD annually, whilst less than a billion is allocated to early warning, prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding. This imbalance is untenable, but sustained by the practice of using assessed contributions for peacekeeping operations. The Panel may recommend that special political missions, including special envoys, should also be funded using assessed contributions because their contribution is equally critical to maintaining international peace and security. At the same time, and to the relief of the major contributors to assessed contributions, the Panel may question the size of UN peacekeeping missions, and especially the causal assumptions behind the number of peacekeepers and the expanding comprehensiveness of mandates. The Panel may argue for a return to the basics, with a more narrow focus on the political and security dimensions of peacekeeping.

Other important issues the Panel is likely to address is the critical role of gender in peace and security, the role of state-society relations and the strategic importance of partnerships with regional organizations. On gender, peace and security the Panel is likely to coordinate closely with the review of Security Council resolution 1325, and offer recommendations for increasing the number of women in peacekeeping and special political missions, including especially in senior positions; stronger action against sexual abuse and exploitation and more resources for combatting conflict related sexual violence.

On state-society relations the Panel – that made a special effort to include civil society in its regional consultations – may call for a more people’s orientated approach to peace operations, to counter the UN tendency to benchmark the withdrawal of peace operations against the improved capacity of State institutions. Such an approach can include benchmarks that monitor the progress of peace operations against improvements in the perceptions of safety and wellbeing of the people the UN is tasked to protect, rather than only monitoring improvements in the capacity of the state to provide safety and security.

On strategic partnerships, the most important regional relationship for the UN is its relationship with the African Union (AU). African capacities are an important resource for UN peacekeeping, currently contributing approximately 45% of the UN’s uniformed personnel. UN support is a critical enabler for AU operations, and the UN is an important exit strategy partner for the AU. The effectiveness of both the UN and the AU are thus mutually interdependent on several levels.

At the strategic level the Panel could encourage the UN and AU to foster a common narrative that is mutually re-enforcing and respectful of each other’s roles. At the operational level the Panel can recommend that the UN and AU should develop mechanisms to ensure strategic guidance and joint guidelines on transitions, so that it becomes easier for both organizations to involve each other from the earliest stages in assessments, planning, coordination mechanisms, mission support, benchmarks and evaluation.

More efforts are needed to creatively and innovatively find ways to support African peace operations. For instance, the Panel can recommend that the UN Department of Field Service make some of its capabilities available to the AU, including its Brindisi and Kampala logistical depots; include the AU in some on-call procurement arrangements, for instance strategic airlift; and partner with the AU in developing essential mission support planning and managing capabilities in the AU Commission and AU missions.

Most important, however, is the issue of making use of UN assessed contributions to support AU operations. The Panel would be amiss if it does not come out in support of the UN supporting those AU operations that are critical for maintaining international peace and security. African peace operations represent regional and local responses to global problems. Most African conflicts are global in the sense that they are heavily influenced, if not driven, by external factors like the international agenda of Islamic extremist and the global war on terror; the exploitation of natural resources by multinationals; capital flight facilitated and solicited by the international banking system, and transnational organized crime, driven by markets in the West for narcotics, human trafficking, timber and illegally caught fish. Effective African peace operations thus represent a significant contribution to the global common good and prevent the UN, as a last resort, from being prematurely drawn into a stabilization role.

First published as: “Will the High-level Independent Panel Manage to Revitalise a New Generation of UN Peace Operations?” ACUNS Quarterly Newsletter 2015: Issue 2, available at: http://issuu.com/wilfridlaurieruniversity/docs/acuns-60-may15_acuns_newsletter__2_

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