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The Need for a Peacekeeping Review

The Need for a Peacekeeping Review

Speech by FCO Minister of State, John Battle, at a United nations Association seminar, Lancaster House. Source: FCO, London, Wednesday 28 March 2001.

Ladies and Gentlemen. I am delighted to have the opportunity to welcome you today to this seminar. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a long history of co-operation with the United Nations Association, and it is with great pleasure that we have collaborated on this venture. The fact that groups of thinking people such as UNA members up and down the UK are prepared to focus on issues of world peace, to lobby and to co-ordinate with government and policy makers, shows how important these issues are to all of us.

Last week I was in Geneva, visiting some of the different organisations which make up the UN family. I was struck that 50 years after the creation of the UN, there is still faith in the ideal of the UN, which shines through the day-to-day issues of budgets and reform.

The need for a Peacekeeping Review

Conflict is part of our everyday life - from everyday neighbourhood and family disputes, through to the most complex and bloody conflicts in Africa and the Balkans. The principles for dealing with conflict are much the same, but the scale differs widely, and it was the problem of coordinating and organising the huge-scale operations required by the UN that led to the review which is the springboard for our discussions today.

My first overseas visit after joining the FCO was to Jakarta, where I met Xanama Gusmao who we were giving shelter in the British Ambassador's residence. I met Habibi and had to try to persuade him to invite the UN in to East Timor. At the time I was pressed by journalists to 'send in the UN Peacekeepers immediately'. These exhortations were based on two premises: firstly, that the UN could somehow 'fight its way in', and secondly that there existed somewhere a standing army of peacekeepers ready to take to the field at a moment's notice. Both premises are far from reality. But the public expectations underlined the need for looking again at the need to streamline UN operations.

In March 2000, the UN Secretary-General convened a high level panel, chaired by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, to conduct a thorough review of UN peace and security issues. The Secretary-General tasked Mr Brahimi to look at the whole range of peacekeeping activities, from upstream conflict prevention - spotting and stopping conflicts before they break out - to peacekeeping itself and to the downstream peacebuilding activities vital to assisting the return to normality and to accountability of civilian governmental institutions. The Secretary-General's initiative was taken in response to a recognition that the UN needed to revisit its whole approach to peacekeeping in the light of two main developments:

First - the nature of conflict has changed dramatically since the adoption of the UN charter in 1947: neighbourhood disputes which required a UN presence to monitor a border or ceasefire line have largely been replaced by multi-dimensional conflicts, often with both inter and intra-state elements. The 'classic' two-party peacekeeping operation exemplified by the UN patrolling of the Green Line in Cyprus is now the rarity in terms of where the UN is being called on to devote its resources. Instead, the UN is being called upon to help in conflicts such as in Sierra Leone, where the UN is trying to assist the democratically elected government to restore its authority across the country faced with aggressive rebel insurgents. Or the UN is asked to keep the peace while also rebuilding civil society: the most striking example of this is East Timor. When I visited Timor in the early stages of UNTAET, the UN was at the very beginning of an enormous task, having to rebuild the offices from which it was to carry out its administrative tasks in an entirely devastated society.

The second issue facing the UN is overstretch. The size and number of peacekeeping operations has grown. With it has come the strain on the management of peacekeeping both in the Secretariat in New York and at local level. This is a serious problem which must be addressed.

The Brahimi Panel took all this on. Its task was to review the whole range of the UN's peacekeeping activities, from the nature of the Security Council resolutions mandating UN missions, to the planning, inter-agency co-ordination and running of the peacekeeping and peacebuilding elements of a UN peacekeeping operation. Conflict prevention, which we will look at in our sessions this morning, is a key element in Brahimi's Report on which the Secretary-General will present a full response later this year. But on peacekeeping itself, we already have a full plan of action from the Secretary-General, taking the recommendations and applying them to UN systems based on 'lessons learned' from previous and continuing missions.

Operational recommendations on Peacekeeping

Among the Report's operational recommendations on peacekeeping were:

  • More robust and unambiguous Security Council mandates, ensuring that UN peacekeepers have the authority to defend themselves and their Mission. The hostage-taking in Sierra Leone last year served as a chilling reminder of what could happen if a UN force were not mandated to take robust action against those who might threaten them. It is vital that a force has the credibility provided by an appropriate mandate. It is also important the UN forces exercise their mandate impartially with each party to a conflict, rather than remain as a neutral observer. The forces need to recognise where one or more parties are the aggressor in a conflict, and provide a framework for both mediation and restitution.
  • Improving co-ordination and co-operation within the UN system when planning and establishing peacekeeping operations, reflecting the number of agencies, authorities and troop-contributing countries involved. The modern peacekeeping operation involves a plethora of different strands, which vary from Mission to Mission. Co-ordinating all these strands is a task in itself. In Kosovo, for example, there are 42,000 NATO-led troops working alongside UNMIK's 4,500 civilian police from 52 countries, as well as the EU, which has responsibility for reconstruction, and the OSCE, responsible for democratisation. This is before you begin to consider the various UN bodies and NGOs involved in humanitarian work, demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration, and peace-building elements of a Mission. And these elements are a vital part of the process.
  • One of the key ways the Report suggested that co-operation could be improved is by the creation of Integrated Mission Task Forces, comprising personnel from all key functions, to plan a mission before it hits the ground, to avoid some of the logistics problems and UN inter-agency turf battles which I remember hampered UNTAET's efficiency in its early days. Co-ordination is also needed between the Mission on the ground and New York. There would be little point spending hours in New York, crafting the perfect mandate, working out the most brilliant concept of operations, taking expert advice, if this were not part of a two-way process between the Force Commander in the Field and the Secretariat in New York.
  • If organisation in New York is important, improving the ability of potential troop contributors to meet the required standards of training and equipment is a vital step towards better missions. Imagine the implications of bringing together troops from five or six different countries, as diverse as Fiji, Finland, France and Nepal (just some of the contributors to UNIFIL). Think about the language and culture barriers that ordinary citizens would face. Then consider that each of these nations might have differences in their military doctrines that affect the way their troops deploy. The UK Army, for instance, devolves responsibility quite a long way down the line to junior NCOs, while troops in some other countries tend to have a more directive approach. The consequent capabilities at various levels of the force are quite different. Add to that the fact that the UN has had to grapple with troops with widely differing levels of training, equipment and approaches to rules of engagement in their own countries and you will begin to get the picture of what the UN faces in putting together a peacekeeping force.
  • The Brahimi report provides the basis for a much-needed common strategy for improving the effectiveness of peacekeeping. It emphasises the need for effective command and control structures and enhanced levels of interoperability (to you and me, the ability of soldiers from different countries to work side-by-side under perhaps a third country's command, with a military doctrine which may differ from any they have previously worked under). It also stresses the importance of training troops to understand and operate with more robust rules of engagement; and that effective peacekeeping and peace enforcement requires good military skills, which cannot be taken for granted.

If all this were not enough, Brahimi also pointed out that the UN peacekeeping force needs to be in a position to deploy rapidly. The report suggested that 'traditional peacekeeping operations' should be able to deploy in 30 days, and more complex ones within 90 days. Given the challenges I have already mentioned, this is a tall order, but a goal to which the UN should be committed. There are those who say that lack of speed led to tragedy in Srebrenica and Rwanda. It must certainly be a priority to have the capacity to respond quickly in that type of situation.

I have talked about the practical aspects, identified by the Brahimi report, of improving peacekeeping. We also need to address the root causes of conflict, and to respond in a timely fashion to deteriorating situations.

In this context, the report emphasised the need for better early warning systems in the UN to detect international crises and an enhanced analysis capacity of information already within the UN system. This is a big and sensitive issue. But part of the idea is that these are essential tools for enabling the UN to be involved in peace processes at their inception. It is no longer possible to sit back and wait for the parties to a dispute to reach an agreement before sending in monitors to verify compliance. Constructive engagement in pre or actual conflict situations is essential. Peace agreements which are to involve UN forces must provide a realistic framework for those forces to deploy. There is no point in an agreement being reached which requires a UN force of 20,000 troops to keep the peace, if the Member States are simply unable to provide that number of appropriate, available, trained and equipped forces in the timescale required. That is why the Security Council and the Secretariat have been involved in the Arusha peace process for Burundi, for example, keeping a close watch on progress to a settlement and already considering what part, if any, the UN might play. This is essential for troop contributors considering sending their own contingents to be able to make an informed judgement on participation.

British conflict prevention funds

We in the UK are also pressing forward in a ground-breaking initiative to co-ordinate our conflict prevention and peacekeeping activity across Whitehall. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development have a shared interest in reducing conflict worldwide. By combining forces and adapting shared strategies they can have a greater impact. From April this year, the conflict prevention funds from all three departments will be gathered together to create two new pooled funds - one for Sub-Saharan Africa and the other for the rest of the world. These will be jointly managed to ensure swifter, better co-ordinated and more effective action, to help prevent conflicts breaking out and to manage them if they do. This initiative of co-operation between different government departments is an important step in improving the capacity of the UK Government to work with others to address both the causes of conflict and its resolution.

To illustrate the sort of creative initiatives we might undertake I would mention a few of the projects we have sponsored in the past year under the FCO's Conflict Prevention Fund. For example, in Angola radio can be an effective means of getting diverse messages out to communities that are otherwise hard to access. We therefore funded a series of radio peacebuilding programmes, highlighting interviews and dialogues with church and civil peace initiatives, presentations of non-violent methods of conflict resolution between people, the role of women in peace-building, the impact of war on children and the plight of child soldiers.

In Indonesia too there is a great need to reach communities to address the underlying causes and issues associated with conflict. Indonesian society is undergoing a challenging period of transition from thirty years of authoritarian government to a more democratic system of governance. There we have funded a programme which aims to capitalise on the enthusiasm shown among the Indonesia media for ways in which they can become part of the solution to conflicts and to the development needs of its transitional society. The programme has helped train journalists from both Christian and Muslim media in balanced reporting and peace journalism and to turn theory into practice with field visits. The centrepiece has been work in the conflict area of Central Sulawesi where participants have been set the task of gathering material for publication which frames the conflict in such a way as to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, which informs audiences and provides material which colleagues back at base will welcome as a good addition to existing output.

In the Philippines we have funded a programme designed to bring together leaders of indigenous, tribal and settler communities in Mindanao to explore, develop and document traditional methods of resolving and preventing conflict at the grassroots level. By promoting such cross-cultural dialogue in peacemaking strategies we aim to demonstrate to the participants that many of their existing prejudices are groundless and built upon stereotyping and misinformation. Building trust and understanding between peoples in this way will contribute to reducing the likelihood or existence of conflict.

The UK also has expertise to share in peacekeeping. We hope to find ways to share this more widely with others, through training assistance and exercises led by our experts. These pooled budgets have given us the opportunity to put together packages of assistance which address all elements of operational need.


I have outlined some of the challenges the UN faces and responses highlighted in the Brahimi Report. My final question is where do we go from here? How can we stop this report becoming just another piece of UN-speak? Can we breathe real and lasting life into its recommendations? It is important that we should. Imagine the next Sierra Leone or East Timor. Wouldn't it make a real difference if an Integrated Mission Task Force, convened in New York, brought together all the interested agencies, the Security Council crafted a mandate which addressed all their activity and the Mission deployed rapidly and efficiently into theatre, respected and welcomed, in place within 30 days, with well-equipped, efficient and motivated troops. We have been set on the path of doing peacekeeping better by Brahimi. The next steps are for all Member States to engage in the process of reform. It is not a task beyond our practical imagination.

These issues are all ones with which the UK is grappling. I hope you will find today's debates stimulating and that we will all learn from the discussion, with ideas on where we go next. We are privileged to have speakers from the UK and UN, officials and NGOs. Kofi Annan said in 1999: 'For the United Nations, there is no higher goal, no deeper commitment and no greater ambition than preventing armed conflict'. That is the challenge for our international agenda for the 21st Century. We should respond and shape a safer, more peaceful world.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).