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Shock and Awe: The C34 Finishes Its Report

9 Apr

After 30 days of negotiation, re-negotiation, and a little bit more negotiation, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations — also known by its shorter title of ‘the C34’ — produced a report for 2014. The report, which examines the ‘whole question’ of peacekeeping – from DDR to policies on procurement – is meant to offer guidance on UN peacekeeping policy. (We will have more to say about the report shortly.) Thus we trust that some of the key recommendations will now be ‘operationalised’ primarily through the UN’s Department of Field Support, and Department of Peacekeeping Operations. As far as intergovernmental processes go, completing a report does not register much surprise. However, it is quite an achievement for the assorted members of the committee to produce this report after they failed to do so during the previous year’s session.

With the success of the process this year (delegates even managed to wrap things up by 17.30 on the final day), one could easily be deceived into believing that all is fine in the land of peacekeeping governance.  However, the development of peacekeeping over the last 6-12 months has demonstrated the degree to which the C34 process is in need of stringent examination, a process which continually reminds the actors involved in peacekeeping policy of the precarious situation that such policy now often finds itself in.

The state of peacekeeping policymaking at the UN can be visualized as three concentric rings, or cogs:

1)    First, Longer term policy developments – this is the slowest of the cogs in the UN system, as it involves the widest array of actors and policy issues. This is where the C34 comes in, supplementing the development of structural changes in the DPKO/DFS and doctrinal developments (‘principles and guidelines’) such as in the new Horizons Process. The fruits of this process often have to find agreement of a wider range of member states, as well as operationalization by the Secretariat.

2)    Second are Operational demands –These refer to responses to threats taking the form of mandates for peacekeeping operations through the Security Council and Secretariat, from the surge in operations at the beginning and end of the 1990s to current developments in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of those operations have considerable ramifications for what we have traditionally come to know as ‘peacekeeping.’

3)    The final cog is comprised of ‘Shocks’ – these come in the form of often-avoidable events which shake up peacekeeping practice. For instance: The killing of US servicemen in Somalia in 1992, the Rwandan Genocide, the massacre in Srebrenica, the sexual exploitation and abuse scandals in the early 2000s, and the possible political and legal ramifications from the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. At times these shocks happen due to significant failures at a tactical level. However, sometimes they come about as a result of urgent operational demands working on a different timeline than longer term policy developments.

It can be observed that peacekeeping in the UN is currently stretched in such a policy dynamic: in particular the shorter-term operational and the longer-term policy seem to be working at dramatically different speeds. This is to be expected to a certain extent as, from time to time, urgent operational demands must overtake careful policy development. Moreover, longer-term policy cannot always spin on a dime, with the most coherent and effective policy sometimes taking a considerable time and patience to develop.

However, the past six months have seen operational demands which have significantly challenged the core principles of peacekeeping – the impartiality of a deployed peacekeeping force, the need for strategic consent from the host state, and changes regarding the minimum use of force (apart from self defence and the defence of the mandate). There is a clear and even stark contrast between operational developments – most clearly seen in the Security Council – and deliberations related to longer-term planning — seen through statements from the C34 in which member states consistently refer back to the prominence of core principles.

For instance, in his briefing to the Security Council about the UNMISS operation in South Sudan, USG for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, failed to acknowledge the role of consent as a pillar of the UNMISS operation, while outlining his plan to withdraw capacity building for the government and opposition and focus purely on the impartial protection of civilians. As laudable as the protection of civilians is in South Sudan, the deafening silence concerning host nation consent sets the operation on a precarious path, particularly when the UN’s own reports cite the host government as a primary coordinator of attacks against UNMISS. In the larger picture of peacekeeping policy development, this is even more problematic – if a peacekeeping mission can continue to be deployed without host nation support, what does this mean for peacekeeping’s claim of impartial response?

Additionally, the assessment of UNMISS, and planning for deployment in the Central African Republic are both taking place at the same time as the UN is undertaking tricky negotiations over reimbursement rates for peacekeepers. Levels of financial reimbursement are being closely linked by some states to levels of preparedness of peacekeepers and the equipment that accompanies them in the field. Moreover, Troop Contributors wish to see an even higher rate of reimbursement in situations where they send soldiers into particularly hazardous environments. Linking this to debates in the Security Council where peacekeepers are being mandated to deploy in areas with high levels of insecurity, with little formalized peace processes in place, and (as in the case of MONUSCO) with part of the mission recalibrated to launch offensive combat operations against belligerents, gaps in the timing of policy formulation – including policy on reimbursement — are more pronounced.

In addition to these gaps, a trend exists which considers the Security Council as the primary anchor point in peacekeeping policy, particularly visible among advocacy groups. For instance, advocacy around the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has seen a considerable level of activity at the UN Security Council (most pertinently around operations), but nothing comparable at the C34. No statement from the joint office on R2P/genocide prevention has been made at the C34; the concept is not referred to at all in this year’s C34 report, nor does it appear in other iterations of the UN’s peacekeeping policy machinery (for instance the Principles and Guidelines). The level of ‘impact’ from advocacy at Security Council level may potentially be greater, but there is a danger in neglecting other capacities established to develop peacekeeping policy, thereby reinforcing the belief by Security Council membership (in particular Permanent Members), that they are the only drivers of such policy.

From our perspective, strengthening the role and functionality of the C34 is essential – that this year’s report was approved is no small feat. However, work towards the strengthening of the report, the level to which the report’s policy recommendations can be operationalized, is a task for the coming year. Secondly, there needs to be a bit more humility from those member states in the Security Council who too often feel that their idea of peacekeeping is the only viable way forward. Statements made regarding the CAR as being a ‘new type of operation’ seemed to ride roughshod over years of (admittedly imperfect) peacekeeping development which began at the end of the 1990s. Thirdly, contributors to the C34 need to develop and utilize their own strengths to facilitate peacekeeping research. The growth of peacekeeping training centers within a growing number of states brings with it opportunities of spreading “lessons learned” and cultivating more nuanced levels of understanding. Finally, those advocacy groups seeking policy relevance solely through tracking Security Council resolutions and debates may have to revisit their strategies, or at least examine the extent to which they can also support the longer term policy approaches represented by the C34.

The fear is that if longer term policy and shorter-term operational demands continue to move at such radically different speeds, then the UN could find itself in a similar position as the beginning of the 1990’s. As those who follow the history of peacekeeping knows, the 1990’s contained plenty of shocks.  Another generation of preventable ‘shocks’ is in the best interests of no one.

Dr. David Curran, GAPW Peacekeeping Fellow