A Civilian Mission in a Warzone

Ambassadors, military advisors, and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) secretariat discussed the future of peace operations at an IPI Vienna roundtable. The November 5th informal brainstorming session drew thirty participants and focused on peace operations in the OSCE area.

Arthur Boutellis, Director of IPI’s Center for Peace Operations, gave an overview of the recent UN report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations (HIPPO). He emphasized four main points from the report: the primacy of politics; the introduction of the term “peace operations” that covers a wide spectrum of tools; the importance of partnership, for example with regional arrangements; and the emphasis on a field-focused/people-centered approach.

The Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan, shared his impression of the evolution of the SMM under difficult and constantly changing conditions. He stressed that the SMM’s most important task is to be present. He attributed the mission’s success to its ability to adapt – without changing its mandate – and to be impartial and objective. He highlighted the challenges of being “a civilian mission in a war zone.” It was pointed out that the precedent of civilian “monitors” could be copied in other parts of the world, like Colombia.

IPI Vice President Walter Kemp presented an overview of the OSCE’s field activities throughout the conflict cycle, aligning key UN and OSCE deployment concepts, from preventive diplomacy through peacemaking and peacekeeping to post-conflict peacebuilding, under the unifying umbrella of “peace operations.” It was noted that while the OSCE has a more than twenty-year tradition of conflict prevention, it has also engaged in crisis management in volatile environments (including Albania in 1997 and Kyrgyzstan in 2010), as well as monitoring and stabilization operations (like in Kosovo in 1999 and eastern Ukraine today). The OSCE’s policing work was also highlighted.

Several participants spoke of the “primacy of politics,” a point made in the HIPPO report as well as the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on lessons learned from the OSCE’s engagement in Ukraine. Furthermore it was stressed that “the mandate must be clear and achievable and linked to a political strategy.”

One suggestion for shrinking the distance between the political and operational leadership of OSCE field activities was to appoint Special Representatives of the OSCE Secretary-General rather than Personal Representatives of the Chairmanship or Heads of Mission.

Among the issues raised was the challenge of civilian missions carrying out military tasks. It was noted that people with military skills are often integrated into civilian missions; or services like medevac, de-mining, or airlift are increasingly provided by private contractors. Several speakers emphasized the need for civilian leadership of such peace operations.

In the discussion, participants underlined the need for greater planning capacity in the OSCE Secretariat, as well as sufficient resources and administrative procedures to quickly launch field activities. The challenges of force generation, command and control, and overcoming the lack of a legal personality for the OSCE were also raised.

There was a debate about whether the OSCE was well placed and well equipped to carry out peacekeeping operations. It was recalled that the OSCE has a mandate for peacekeeping dating back to the Helsinki Document of 1992, and a high-level planning group has been preparing different scenarios for a peace operation in Nagorno-Karabakh for two decades. While some said the OSCE should never have “boots on the ground,” others suggested that this option should not be taken off the table.

The HIPPO report says that the UN “should embrace a future role of not only working alongside regional organizations but also enabling them to share the burden in accordance with the UN Charter.” Participants discussed how to strengthen the OSCE’s profile as a regional arrangement under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.

As part of its Innovative Peace Incubator (IPI+) project, funded by Switzerland, IPI is supporting the ongoing internal OSCE review process on Peace Operations through its research and convening capacity.