IPI Panel Debates Need for Stabilization Doctrine

Event Video

“Stabilization denotes a level of robustness that not all member states are comfortable with,” Michael Grant, Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN, told the audience at a March 23rd IPI book launch. The book, UN Peacekeeping Doctrine in a New Era: Adapting to Stabilisation, Protection and New Threats (edited by Cedric de Coning, Chiyuki Aoi, and John Karlsrud), seeks to address the growing gap between practice and doctrine in peacekeeping.

“Stabilization is not counterterrorism, [but] peacekeepers operate where spoilers are present, and …if we don’t train and equip peacekeepers for stabilization missions, then their lives will be at risk.” said Mr. Grant, summing up a key challenge presented by recent UN missions to the traditional peacekeeping principles of consent, impartiality and minimum use of force.”

The Permanent Mission of Canada co-sponsored the event along with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).

Cedric de Coning, co-editor of the book, argued that a gap between practice and doctrine affects the abilities of an operation to achieve its aims, thus imperiling the lives of civilians and peacekeepers. He noted that military contingents deployed under the UN flag are particularly concerned with doctrine, as it determines the circumstances and manner in which they are permitted or expected to use force.

Vigorously calling for clarity around the use of the term stabilization, Dr. de Coning said, “We must better define what we mean by stabilization, so we avoid doing stabilization with a peacekeeping mindset.” He warned that “the larger the potential room for misunderstanding and misperception, the larger the potential for ineffectiveness that these missions have.”

While Aditi Gorur, Director of the Protecting Civilians in Conflict Program at the Stimson Center, made clear her belief that stabilization missions do not pose a threat to the principles of peacekeeping, she argued that the word “stabilization” holds no meaning at the UN. This view was based on her visits to Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Mali, where stabilization missions are currently underway.

Ms. Gorur discussed several different interpretations of stabilization she had heard in the field, and noted that field staff rarely see force as an inherent part of stabilization. Remarking that “60 people in a room means 72 opinions on the definition of stabilization,” Ms. Gorur nonetheless proposed to define stabilization efforts as missions “that try in some way to support the transfer of territorial control from spoilers to legitimate authorities.” With the exception of the Force Intervention Brigade in DRC, she argued that even the use of force towards such a goal was not necessarily incompatible with the traditional principles of peacekeeping.

Dimitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions at UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO), chose not to emphasize the definition of stabilization as the key issue, instead taking the stance that “whether we call these activities early peacebuilding, stabilization, peace consolidation, the most crucial thing is delivery.” Mr. Titov agreed that “debating the issue was right,” but that “delivery is key… and if we don’t deliver on whatever concept we have, then we have failed very badly.” Mr. Titov also emphasized that stabilization is a complex endeavor, in which military or kinetic operations can play only a limited role.

David Gressly, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), argued that there was a need for stabilization to “go back to basics.” Addressing the aims of the UN Security Council, which authorizes peace operations to address threats to international peace and security, Mr. Gressly said, “I think we’re looking for a degree of stability so that there’s a reasonable expectation the country will not return to a significant level of threat.” He extolled the importance of working with the host government, saying, “We need to establish what our exit conditions look like and get that agreement with a government early on.”

Mr. Gressly, who was heavily involved in stabilization missions in both Mali and DRC, summed up the importance of clarity around the term “stabilization” by saying, “We’re not looking for perfection, just a degree of stability. If we can define that better then we’ll be in a better position to achieve it.”

Arthur Boutellis, Director of IPI’s Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations, moderated the discussion.