Furthering the European Reengagement With Peacekeeping in Africa

Event Video: 

A number of European countries have deployed to United Nations missions in Africa after years of absence from the continent, and on January 21st IPI hosted a policy forum to discuss this renewed engagement and launch a policy paper on the subject. Co-sponsored by IPI, the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN, and the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, the event featured experts including the authors of the paper, Non-resident IPI Senior Adviser Arthur Boutellis, and Major General (ret.) Michael Beary, former Head of Mission and Force Commander, UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Gen. Beary introduced the subject by outlining several of the key reasons why countries like Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden— as well as Canada—had reengaged. Northern Africa and the Sahel are strategically important for Europe, he said, peacekeeping contributions are weighed heavily in bids for seats on the Security Council, and after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) drawdown in Afghanistan, NATO and the European Union (EU) members need to participate in international operations to keep their capabilities operational and funded. Of note, he added, is that individual countries pursued reengagement in different ways. “We would emphasize in our report that the return is not a monolithic bloc, and reasons for return are based on different national interests, military traditions, and historical backgrounds.”

Among the challenges for these troop-contributing countries (TCCs), he singled out the “trust deficit” among mission staff—he described it as “who controls what?­”—and compliance with the UN’s rigorous “10-1-2” medical support rule which calls for enhanced first aid within ten minutes, enhanced field care within one hour, and damage-control surgery and acute medicine within two hours.  Meeting those standards was “vital” to maintaining public support, he explained.

Going forward, Gen. Beary said that the UN planning process should allow for more input from the European TCCs and that European forces should be prepared for longer deployments that extend beyond one year. Alluding to another goal that needed to be addressed urgently, he said, “We also must meaningfully engage uniformed females in all segments of UN peacekeeping.”

Mr. Boutellis, in comments made via video, said that the European TCCs added great value to UN peacekeeping through their top-tier technology, adaptive vehicles, and the financial support they attract. “The presence of European TCCs helps keep the attention of Brussels and of the Security Council,” (on these peacekeeping missions) he added. On the down side, he noted that there were problems associated with the Europeans not accepting UN command and control, which created “trust and confidence concerns… Also, sometimes the European TCCs want to be treated differently,” he remarked. “In some missions, they refuse to paint their vehicles or aircraft white.” They may also have their own camps, dividing them away from the rest of the mission, which creates further security concerns.

He pointed out that the part of the paper that dealt with how the other TCCs viewed the European TCCs was reassuringly entitled “not so bad after all.” For example, he said, they valued the air coverage and the training capabilities that the Europeans brought and “understand the imperative to satisfy the political concerns of their capitals.” He stressed, however, that the UN had to “engage European capitals more strategically, be up front about mission expectations, and keep working to gain the trust of the European TCCs.”

Col. Richard Gray, Counsellor, Military Adviser of the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN, said his country had absented itself from UN peacekeeping for eight years and that “this interlude from peacekeeping had some consequences, including a loss of capabilities for how to deploy within UN peacekeeping. We had to relearn, and thankfully, the UN system helped with that.” He asserted that its experience with NATO in Afghanistan did furnish Sweden with some fresh capabilities that helped when it participated in the UN peacekeeping operation in Mali. He credited requests from Canada and EU countries with leading to the development of better Medevac (medical evacuation) policies. “Capacity building of TCCs goes both ways,” he said, “and all TCCs can learn from each other.”

Adam Smith, Team Leader, Strategic Force Generation and Capabilities Planning Cell, UN Department of Peace Operations (DPO), said he took heart from the title of the report Sharing the Burden: Lessons from the European Return to Multidimensional Peacekeeping. “‘Sharing the burden’ encapsulates what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re engaging the Europeans because we realize that peacekeeping has changed, and Europeans have high capabilities which need to keep up with changing peacekeeping contexts… Much work remains to be done to educate European TCCs and Canada about what UN peacekeeping is and how it has changed.”

Madalene O’Donnell, Team Leader for Partnerships, Divisions of Policy, Evaluation, and Training, UNDPO/DPET listed five objectives that guide her office’s efforts to facilitate member states’ contributions to UN peace operations:

  • Encouraging member states to establish informal coordination among themselves and to create a mechanism to enable collective action;
  • Positioning these dialogues within the broader conversation about the state of the multilateral system;
  • Increasing the participation of women;
  • Conducting greater joint diplomacy so as to “tell a better story” about UN peacekeeping; and
  • Using the “new EU mechanisms and priorities to garner better EU participation in peacekeeping.”

Closing remarks were offered by Col. Richard Decombe, Military Adviser, Permanent Mission of France to the UN, and Brian Flynn, Deputy Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN.

Col. Decombe said the characteristics essential to good multilateral peacekeeping were “credibility” to attract support and funding, “solidarity” to enable European countries to work in concert with other countries, and “complementarity.” Elaborating on the last point, he said, “This is not a question of competition or making useless comparisons but making the most of how the TCCs complement each other.”  

Ambassador Flynn noted that Ireland had an “unbroken record” of 60 years of participating in UN peacekeeping. “How we can support our European partners to contribute to UN peacekeeping is something that we prioritize,” he said. “We recognize that the burden of peacekeeping has for some time not been shared evenly, and we must all be ready to step up and play our role, and we have to look at how we can help and encourage other countries to do so.”

The discussion was moderated by Jake Sherman, Director of IPI’s Brian Urquhart Center for Peace Operations.