Making Peacekeeping Policy Among Stakeholders at the United Nations

Event Video

Partnerships are essential for effective UN peacekeeping policy making, but consensus on how to go forward can elude stakeholders because they suffer from a divergence of interests, limited access to critical information, and confusion over the responsibilities of UN bodies. To discuss the problem, IPI and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) held a policy forum on May 16th on bettering the intergovernmental processes underlying the policy decisions.

“My first plea is that the intergovernmental processes need to meet our personnel where they are,” said David Haeri, Director of the Department of Policy, Evaluation and Training at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). Debates about “what protection of civilians should be” have been ongoing since its first inclusion in a mandate in 1999, he said. This theoretical discussion is important, but while it is was ongoing, “tens and thousands of men and women woke up with those mandates every day and tens of thousands of civilians came running to our bases seeking protection; so this is the gap we have to be sure to fill and this is what good intergovernmental processes can do.”

Where the personnel are, he said, is the field. “The reality is the field is leading us,” he said. “They are out there facing the challenges.” He said that meant that “we need good policy-making at headquarters to drive interoperability and support in the field.”

The forum also served to launch a new joint IPI and ASPI report on the subject, which Gillian Bird, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN, commended as a “constructive” approach to the overall problem. “To advance implementation of UN and peacekeeping reform in practice,” she said, “a key takeaway is that to adapt peacekeeping to complex challenges, we must commit, all of us, to working together collaboratively, transparently and frankly.”

The author of the report, Lisa Sharland, head of the International Program at ASPI, examined the complicated consultative process in New York involving key stakeholders such as major troop- and police-contributing countries (TCCs/PCCs), financial contributors, Security Council, and two General Assembly committees, the budget-making Fifth Committee, and the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34).

She made five key recommendations: foster understanding of UN peacekeeping challenges and the policymaking process; strengthen consultation mechanisms; demonstrate leadership and identify a shared vision; improve information sharing, reporting, and accountability; and encourage awareness of challenges in the field among stakeholders in New York.

Inderjit Nijjar, First Secretary, Peacekeeping from the Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN, said there was a continuing conversation in New York on how to improve the C-34’s ability to measure performance in the field and have a greater impact on outcomes. She said she was particularly intrigued by the report’s recommendation to reach out and do table top exercises “to sensitize member states here [in New York] a bit more to what’s happening in the field.”

Eugene Chen, a special assistant in the office of the Under-Secretary General for Field Support, addressed the role and responsibilities of the Fifth Committee in connection with peacekeeping.

He listed four reasons for the committee’s “outsized role.” First, there is a dedicated four-week session to consider exclusively peacekeeping each year. Second, peacekeeping missions can be shut down overnight if their budgets are not approved, because they would no longer have the authority to incur expenses or to make expenditure. Third, the committee considers all the UN’s regulations and rules, and peacekeeping, as the largest aspect of the UN budget, is under scrutiny as part of broader management reform.

Finally, the committee is inundated with supplementary information on peacekeeping. Mr. Chen said that for a single committee session last year, there were 1,635 pages on peacekeeping budgets submitted, in addition to another 100 peacekeeping related reports considered annually. Despite having one of the most critical roles in peacekeeping, he said, “it’s also one whose delegates oftentimes have the least specific knowledge and experience with peacekeeping policy itself.” In summary, with these four elements in play, members of the Fifth Committee “always have an opportunity to make its voice heard on peacekeeping.”

Mr. Chen said there was an overall need for more dialogue, even within the same national delegation. He cited the case where one country’s delegate might push for more air assets as an essential component of a mission in one forum, while that same country’s counterpart in another committee would pursue an overall reduction of air fleets. “The two objectives are actually mutually exclusive, so sometimes the Secretariat is caught between a rock and a hard place when reconciling a lot of these positions,” he said.

He implored the participants to “make sure that everybody understands all the different dimensions to key issues that are on the legislative agenda,” by speaking with each other.

Colonel Sandeep Kapoor, Military Adviser to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, focused on the importance of clear mandates. “Mandates are the cornerstone for any peacekeeping mission, and mandates provide the authority and the legal framework for the mission to accomplish their tasks, and from the mandates are drawn the concept of operations and the rules of engagement, which dictate the use of force, use of weapon systems, authority to carry weapons, authority to detain, search, and disarm, and the reaction to civil action, unrest.” As such, he said, “It is very important that the mandates are simple, realistic, and achievable.”

The Secretariat’s role in keeping the Security Council up to date on how the mission is performing is crucial for mid-course correction, he said. Quoting the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (“Brahimi Report”) of 2000, he said the Secretariat must tell the Council, “not what they want to hear, but what they should hear.”

Craig Mills, First Secretary, Peacekeeping and Africa at the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN, commented that in making peacekeeping policy in the Security Council there was merit to both the “gung-ho” approach and “a more slow approach…the consensus route.” In the C-34, he noted, everything had to be decided by consensus, meaning you sometimes ended up with “the lowest common denominator,” though he added that there was often off-setting “wide buy-in.”

He suggested three aspects that would improve the process. First, delegates need to arrive with a better understanding of the issues. Before departing from capitals, he recommended reading the report being discussed, in order to arrive prepared in New York. Part of that preparation was an understanding of the importance of developing personal relationships outside the intergovernmental process. These could be fostered everywhere from groups of friends to informal lunches, but are key for the exchange of ideas, he said.

Second, member states and the field need closer links. A shared experience on the ground through C-34 field trips helped delegates better identify common problems, and work towards their solutions. Mr. Mills said he thought “the Security Council would benefit from that as well.”

Finally, states must stop trying to “control” the Secretariat, Mr. Mills said. Trust could only be fostered by giving the intergovernmental processes the space to develop policies that would set the strategic direction. The Security Council, C-34, Fifth Committee, and the Contingent-Owned Equipment Working Group each have a unique role to play, and its “members need to stop attempting to use one intergovernmental process to control all others,” he said.

Mr. Mills concluded, “The system is messy, but it is a system that we as
member states have put together, and it’s a system that can work.”

The moderator was IPI Senior Visiting Fellow Alexandra Novosseloff.