Demystifying Intelligence in UN Peace Operations

Event Video

At the United Nations, intelligence has traditionally been a “dirty word.” Yet, the organization has over the years engaged in many different forms of intelligence gathering and production, resulting in an ad-hoc approach and context-specific responses, as well as confusion around this concept amongst member states.

With UN peace operations engaged in increasingly more complex and volatile conflict environments, the need for accurate information and proper analysis to support decision-making emerge as critical. It is in this context that IPI’s New Issues Observatory hosted a policy panel on Monday, July 18, 2016, to launch its new report: “Demystifying Intelligence in UN Peace Operations: Toward an Organizational Doctrine.”

Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, opened the event by highlighting benefits of improved intelligence. “It would enable us to better ensure the safety and security of our peacekeepers and assets; it will enable us to better plan our missions; and it will enable us to better carry out our mandates and protect civilians,” he said. He also called for a “whole-system approach” to intelligence, that would build on existing structures in the UN. He also called for the establishment of a body of oversight to ensure standards of governance and accountability are upheld with regards to UN peace operations.

“The UN Secretariat has been walking on eggs with the issue of intelligence for years, doing it without saying it, doing it without realizing it,” said Alexandra Novosselloff, who along with Olga Abilova presented the main findings of their report. The report argues that rather than investing in new intelligence infrastructure, the priority of the UN should be to improve its informational analysis capacity. Furthermore, for intelligence to serve the core objective of UN missions to contribute to a long-term political solution, it should not be limited to “military intelligence,” and thus requires processes and structures that favor common assessment, information sharing and integration across civilian, the police and military components – for a proper multidimensional analysis. Arthur Boutellis, the Director of IPI’s Center for Peace Operations (CPO) summarized their message: “There is no need for a revolution at the UN with regards to intelligence, but rather – an evolution.”

“The UN already has a wealth of information available and the right analytical tools in place, but lacks the culture and organizational habits to use these tools in a cohesive and coordinated manner,” said Ms. Abilova.

Hervé Ladsous, UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, echoed the call for a deliberate and systematic approach to intelligence for UN peace operations to be able to operate challenging environments, such as South-Sudan and Mali. The UN’s Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is currently developing an intelligence framework to be implemented across the organization. While most member states seem to agree that this is a critical area of modernization, it remains a sensitive issue, and questions from member states in the audience reflected the need to continue broad member states consultations to reach a common consensus. Ensuring confidence and trust in the security of the UN’s intelligence system, and most importantly having the acceptance of the host country, were mentioned by Mr. Ladsous as priorities.

Another challenge in developing a common framework for the organization is that needs for intelligence are often context-specific, and might require different responses. As an example, Mr. Ladsous contrasted the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the former has much more the need for police intelligence, while the latter has developed an approach based on unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles (UUAVs), electronic intelligence and information gathered from human sources.

Panelists agreed on the legal and ethical limitations that exist for UN peace operations, and the need to develop a UN-specific approach which clearly states that the organization is not to engage in covert and clandestine operations. UN peace operations intelligence must be wary of not compromising the core principles of the organization of transparency and inclusivity, which are the source of the UN’s legitimacy.

The event was co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations.

Arthur Boutellis, Director of the Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations at IPI, moderated the conversation.