Rescuing the Functional Legitimacy of the C34

4 Nov

At no given time would the malfunctioning of the UN’s ‘Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations’ (or its shortened name – the C34) be a welcome development for the world of international peacekeeping. However the signs from this year’s Fourth Committee’s discussion on the substantive question of peacekeeping operations indicate that it couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time.

In the interests of providing some ‘geography’ to this post, the ‘Fourth Committee’ is one of six committees that work under the umbrella of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Peacekeeping, however, is one of many subjects the Committee discusses (its full name is the ‘Special Political and Decolonization Committee’). The ‘C34’ works under the Fourth Committee, and is the UN’s intergovernmental body mandated specifically to discuss areas of peacekeeping practice, and make policy recommendations to the UN secretariat. Created in 1965 (under General Assembly Resolution 2006) the committee works to produce a report which aims to distil the various views of the 147 member states involved in one way or another in Peacekeeping operations (Troop and Police Contributing Countries (TCCs/PCCs), funders, equipment providers, policymakers) into recommendations which are then taken to the UN’s General Assembly[1].

Trouble has been brewing in the C34. In the 2012 session, the report was subject to a prolonged six-month negotiation process before publication[2].  In 2013 things got worse, and negotiations broke down, resulting in no agreement on what should be included in the substantive report. Therefore, no 2013 report went to the General Assembly, and the 2012 report was merely reissued[3]. Therefore, there has for the past year been no formal reflection on peacekeeping policy and practice from the C34.

This failure has been reflected in member states’ statements to the Fourth Committee. The failure to produce anything was met with ‘regret’, ‘profound regret’, and ‘profound disappointment’, as well as hope that the committee could work better in the forthcoming year.

There are, however, very important and interlinked reasons why this committee is fundamental at the present time. These thematic areas have been picked up through member states’ statements.

Firstly, Peacekeeping operations are working in complex operating environments. Existing operations have seen an unlikely resurgence in conflict in their areas of deployment. For example, peacekeepers from the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) (set up in 1974 to manage interstate conflict between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights) have had to deal with a significant deterioration in safety due to the conflict in Syria, including the kidnapping of Filipino peacekeepers earlier this year. Recent deployments are entering environments with more diverse threats to security. The operation in Mali, MINUSMA, was recently attacked by a suicide bomber, resulting in the death of two Chadian Peacekeepers and a number of civilians. The dangerous operating environment in Mali was outlined by Under Secretary-General Herve Lasdous’ speech to the 4th Committee, where he noted that ‘careful reflection’ was needed on how peacekeeping can ‘adapt to effectively fulfill its multidimensional mandates’[4]. The examples used by the USG to underline this point – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere – were notable not so much for their peacekeeping presence (Somalia being one possible exception), but for their counter-insurgency focus. Such challenges to peacekeeping, and the implication on mandates provide the first reason why oversight, reflection and policy recommendation is critical at present.

Moreover, it should be borne in mind that although such challenges are very much due the ‘changing nature of conflict’, they could in part be attributed to the UN Security Council’s willingness to mandate operations to deploy into environments where there is little peace to keep. This brings up the second challenge – that of the relationship between the Security Council and peacekeeping practice.

The Security Council, as the body charged with maintaining international peace and security, mandates peacekeeping operations as a response to crises. The Council is guided by principles in setting up operations[5], but arguably there exists room to manoeuvre within them. Moreover, there are only 15 member states on the Security Council, and the extent to which these states are involved in peacekeeping varies. This leads to the issue of the processes involved mandating and deploying peacekeeping operations, and the extent to which 15 member states can effectively make decisions on behalf of a much broader peacekeeping constituency.

A number of statements in the 4th Committee questioned the extent to which such decisions are made with the full participation of the TCCs and PCCs, and advocated more consultation in this area. Moreover, the recent deployment of the ‘Force intervention Brigade’ (a force designed for ‘neutralize and disarm’ armed rebel elements in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) was referred to by diplomats as it ‘blurred the lines’ between Peacekeeping and Peace Enforcement. For instance, the Argentina delegation noted that discussion on the brigade by the broadest range of actors was a necessity. The Security Council has recently produced guidelines on consultation with TCCs and PCCs, and mechanisms are sought to increase effectiveness in the build up to mandate formulation for new missions. However, the lack of a functioning body (such as the C34) to track these efforts, and make systematic policy recommendations may mean that these efforts will be ad hoc.

This ad hoc nature is a concern to a number of member states, who note the Security Council’s willingness to expand its policy making with regard to peacekeeping operations. This unease is probably best summed up by the Indian delegation’s statement:

Peacekeeping’s agenda today is generated mostly outside the General Assembly. Major Peacekeeping initiatives get on-boarded outside the C34. This encourages a reliance on factors outside the confines of the General Assembly. Moreover, this allows ourselves to be judged by those who do not even take part in peacekeeping. Over a period of time this has distorted peacekeeping’s policy universe[6]

A wide constituency of peacekeeping contributors share this unease. The Non Aligned Movement (representing 120 member states, including many of the top TCCs and PCCs) called on the secretariat to ‘refrain from working on streams of policy that have not been agreed in an intergovernmental process’[7]. The role of the Security Council in extending its powers into areas previously ‘off limits’ to the body has been critically analysed by observers in the system. Phillip Cunliffe’s 2009 observations in ‘International Peacekeeping’ are just as pertinent now:

[T]he Council’s expanded consultation procedures since the end of the cold war reflect the extension of Council authority, which now draws on a broad variety of ‘constituents’… In other words, this signals not the uplifting of poor contributing states as much as their being locked into a new means by which the Council has consolidated its control over UN procedure and institutional politics.[8]

This links to the third and final reason why a functioning of the C34 is critical: it provides an important valve in the relationship between the Security Council and the TCCs and PCCs. Peacekeeping relationships are not only driven by doctrinal and mandate functions, but also by the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the process of deploying and undertaking peacekeeping operations. Member states raised strong concerns with issues of troop reimbursement, issues of contingent-owned equipment, safety and security of peacekeepers in the field, and the extent to which expectations are placed on TCCs/PCCs without appropriate consultation. The UN Secretariat is formulating working groups on both issues, but again, a lack of a fully functioning formal body to constructively debate and distill these issues, and move towards a consensus-based approach may mean that the anxiety expressed in statements may not go anywhere positive within the UN system.

On the bright side(!) it does appear from member states that there will be renewed efforts to kick-start the C34, including agreement on the working methods of the ‘Group of Friends of the Chair (Ambassador Joy Ugwu of Nigeria). The C34 may not be perfect, but its function is important. It provides a space where member states with stakes in the peacekeeping enterprise can formulate policy, thus ensuring a broad constituency has effective buy-in to policy-making procedures. Critically, this mitigates against an unhealthy balance towards the Security Council.

With this in mind, it was reassuring to hear member states encouraging the use of conflict resolution techniques in order to move the process onwards. In this, the words of the Swiss delegation are notable. They argued that effective partnership ‘can only exist if every group and delegation is able to understand the needs of others, to negotiate in good faith, and especially to compromise’[9]. One can hope these sentiments are acted upon

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

[1] UN, General Assembly and Peacekeeping, (found at

[2] UN Department of Public Information, Growing Demand, Emerging Conflicts Dominate Debate as Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations Opens 2013 Session: Members Hear From Heads Of Peacekeeping, Field Support As Chair Urges ‘Spirit Of Give And Take’ To Avoid Repeating 2012 Impasse (GA/PK/2012), 19 February 2013, (found at

[3]  UN Department of Public Information, Special Committee On Peacekeeping Operations Adopts Procedural Report, Concluding 2013 Substantive Session (GA/PK/2016), 6 September 2013 (found at


[4] UN, Statement by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous to the Fourth Committee, 28th October 2013 (Found at

[5] UN, Role of the Security Council in Peacekeeping, (found at

[6] Statement by Mr. Mohammed Adeep, Honorable member of Parliament and Member of the Indian Delegation, on Agenda Item 53: Comprehensive Review of the whole question of Peacekeeping operations in all their aspects, 30th October 2013, (Found at

[7] Statement by The Delegation of Arab republic of Egypt On behalf of

The Non-Aligned Movement before The Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) Item 53: Comprehensive Review of the whole question of Peacekeeping operations in all their aspects, 28th October 2013 (Found at

[8] Cunliffe, Phillip, The Politics of Global Governance in UN Peacekeeping, International Peacekeeping, 16:3, 326

[9] Étude d’ensemble de toute la question des opérations de maintien de la paix sous tous leurs aspects Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects, 29th October 2013, (Found at


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