Regions of Hope

2 Aug

On the last Monday in July, under Rwanda’s leadership, the Security Council held an open debate on peacekeeping operations, specifically on an examination of the evolution of relationships binding the UN with regional operations such as those developed and maintained by ECOWAS and the African Union.

This issue of ‘regionalization’ had come up earlier in the year when the Council was set to authorize a peacekeeping operation for the Central African Republic, now scheduled for deployment in mid-September.   This authorization, which would involve substantial ‘rehatting’ of troops already committed to the African-led International Support Mission (MISCA), bred some discontent.  At the time of authorization in April, AU officials expressed concern that the Council was undermining the authority of MISCA, authority that would be crucial over the coming months of perilous duty required to protect as many civilians in CAR as possible while patiently awaiting deployment of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (MINUSCA).

While AU representatives were less challenging of the Council during the July debate, it is clear that fault lines persist.  Among those lines, the following should receive more policy consideration:

First, there is general agreement that authorization of regional peacekeeping activity by the Security Council increases its legitimacy.  And, as Russia, China and others noted, it is critically important for regional security organizations to stay connected to the Council.  But at what point does ‘connection’ look too much like ‘permission?’   The Council must find the right balance between fulfilling its Charter obligations and supporting, in the words of the US, the actions of ‘neighbors’ taking responsibility for protecting each other.

Second, the Council must continue to refresh its list of core peacekeeping partners including, as urged by Pakistan, the League of Arab States.   In this context, the apparent willingness of the European Union to consider a return to a more robust engagement with UN peacekeeping is a suggestion that should be readily seized.  Moreover, the increasing capability of regional security organizations, including UNASUR in Latin America, gives comfort that, under the right circumstances and with sufficient confidence building, we can sustain the capacity needed to prevent and protect.

Third, there has been much discussion about the need for ‘rapid response’ capacity, which seems to have evolved steadily from a focus on standing UN capacity to regional iterations. Given the slow speeds at which an over-burdened Council often makes decisions, at what point does the need for authorization undermine the benefits of rapid response?  In other words, at what point in a protracted negotiation with a regional organization seeking to respond to the threat of conflict is ‘rapid’ no longer rapid?

With fires raging on so many regional fronts, it is clear that the Council needs to integrate and support as many partners as possible, not only in Africa but wherever competent, accountable, rapid-response capacity can be found.   It is equally clear that more attention to fire prevention and less to fire extinguishing remain in order, both for the UN and its growing roster of regional partners.

However, the Council has generally and, as noted recently by Jordan, Luxembourg and other members, given short order to early warning, mediation and other prevention measures.   Later this month, the UK as Council president for August will convene a general debate on prevention.   In this effort, partnership development is important, both with existing UN capacities such as the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect as well as with regional entities organized and committed to diverse and robust forms of violence prevention.

At this upcoming debate and elsewhere, the Council must find ways to give places of honor to both sets of partners.   The pattern of addressing conflict past its formative phases and with capacity that is both late arriving and insufficient to some of the massive conflicts that peacekeepers and other agents of UN response are expected to address is one that simply must evolve.    In this context, we especially welcomed Argentina’s recent call for more ‘strategic thinking’ with the entire UN membership that could lead to fewer ‘emergency Council meetings,’ thinking that can help us find the ways and means to fight fires before they actually ignite.  Such thinking could also increase the participation and confidence of member states with their own strategic ties to the regional organizations that have become so critical to the success of UN peacekeeping efforts.

For so many victims or those fearing to become victims, timing is everything; getting the right capacity into the right positions as quickly as possible.   The Council has a moral imperative to ensure diverse and timely capacity to regions in conflict, but an equally critical imperative to ‘maintain’ the peace and not only react once the peace has been shattered.   There is hope that more regional engagement and more preventative measures, together with a Council increasingly seized of its own burdens and limitations, can result in a more effective spectrum of response in these dangerous times.

Dr. Robert Zuber

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