Smart Peacekeeping: Toward Tech-Enabled UN Operations

Technicians prepare an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the official launch ceremony of the UN's first UAVs. Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 3, 2013. UN Photo/S. Liedi.

As the world’s technological revolution proceeds, the United Nations can benefit immensely from a plethora of technologies to assist its peace operations. Fortunately, significant progress is being made. The UN has adopted a strategy for technology and peacekeeping and is showing the will and the means to implement it. New concepts, such as “technology-contributing countries” and “participatory peacekeeping” through new information technology, can improve peace operations. New technologies can also help UN field workers “live, move, and work” more effectively and safely, creating the possibility of the “digital peacekeeper.”

This report provides an overview of technological capabilities and how they are being used, explores progress to date and key challenges, and offers a set of practical recommendations. These recommendations include several general principles, such as to:

The electromagnetic spectrum, highlighting examples of technologies to assist peacekeeping. (Click to see full graphic)

The electromagnetic spectrum, highlighting examples of technologies to assist peacekeeping. (Click to see full graphic)

  • Seek the buy-in of host countries and local populations so locals support the technologies;
  • Use greater feedback and reach-back to UN headquarters and other international supporters, made easier as technology allows more information processing and support from farther away;
  • Develop life-cycle equipment management, encouraging a systematic approach that maximizes technological potential; and
  • Manage expectations so that some failures can be tolerated along the road to success and so innovation can flourish without unreasonable fears.

Beyond these general principles, it proposes ideas for new activities and processes:

  • At UN headquarters, develop a “solutions farm” and a “tech watch” with “tech scouts,” annual reviews of UN technology and innovation, technology selection criteria, cooperation with research and development institutes, and national testing and evaluation centers.
  • In the field, institute testing of new equipment, “proofs of concept” and pilot projects, demonstration kits, technology lessons-learned reporting, and special technological missions.
  • Engage troop- and police-contributing countries by incentivizing them to bring in effective modern equipment, providing them training to foster technological expertise, and encouraging technology-contributing countries to assist them.
  • Engage external actors and vendors by hosting a technology fair or “rodeo” and supporting a “hackathon” for smartphone and tablet app-developers on useful applications for peacekeeping.

This paper is part of the Providing for Peacekeeping series.