A Health Regimen for Peacekeeping Operations:   Becoming “Fit” for Purpose, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Feb

One of the exxiting things about working with GAPW is having access to so many persons, some still  a bit too far off the UN’s radar, who are thinking and sharing ideas that can help ‘get into shape’ our guiding norms and strategies of implementation.

Recently, we received reflections from Paul Okumu of Africa Platform (www.africaplatform.org) which he recently shared at an African event intended to contribute to the UN’s peacekeeping review initiated by the UN Secretary General.  In his “We the Peoples: Will Civilians Triumph in Latest Review of UN Peacekeeping Operations,” Okumu wonders if this review will “deliver anything new” or end up as one of the “many reports that drown every year?” Many others are inclined to wonder the same, including those of us who highly honor peacekeepers and greatly respect the work of DPKO.

Okumu registers other noteworthy assessments of existing peacekeeping operations at the same time that he affirms the central role that PKOs should be (and sometimes are) playing with regard to the protection of civilians. Perhaps the best of these refer to the “elite bargains and quick elections” that constitute the UN’s “beaten path” to address threats of violence, a path that too easily compromises both conflict prevention and civilian protection which Okumu (and many others) consider to be core objectives of UN practice.  As we have noted often ourselves, peacekeeping is in danger of being discredited (and even of placing other UN staff in danger) the moment it is seen as a militarily ‘partisan’ substitute for robust diplomatic engagement to prevent violent conflict, a ‘substitute’ now tasked with managing the complex carnage left in the wake of our diplomatic inadequacies.

Okumu also points out the extent to which peacemaking and peacebuilding are being taken up, each and every day, by community residents, leaders of civil society, and other stakeholders.  We act, he notes, as though civilians are only the beneficiaries of our peacekeeping largesse but are not also and increasingly the drivers of sustainable peace.  Why, Okumu wonders, do PKOs so often ignore “the power of citizen-led mediation, the power of citizen mobilization?”  As peacekeeping mandates become more and more complex, and as we default too quickly to militarized responses to problems that should have been addressed at earlier stages, ignoring relevant local capacities is questionable practice. We have allowed ourselves to become too much in the business of ‘restoring’ the peace rather than maintaining it in the first place, and then attempting this restoration with far too many skills neglected on the sidelines.

Of course, the view of PKOs from UN headquarters, especially at this moment as the GA’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) deliberates on its own contributions to peacekeeping doctrine and practice, is a bit different from Paul’s in Nairobi.  He asked GAPW to reflect on some of the gaps in his paper.  There are no gaps to speak of, but perhaps some different points of emphasis.

First of all, we have to be careful insisting on more robust civilian protection measures without also insisting that the best ‘protection’ lies in prevention.   Once the house is fully in flames, options for more carefully crafted, humane response become more limited.   As Paul knows well and as some inside the UN articulate often, attention to the ‘drivers’ of conflict, including poverty, discrimination and environmental decay, are far less expensive in energy, money and lives than our seemingly endless efforts to restore destroyed infrastructure, broken lives and failed states from armed violence that probably didn’t need to occur in the first place.

Secondly, at the same time that many acknowledge stubborn limitations (albeit fixable) in peacekeeping training, in timely deployment, in logistical support, and in ready availability of highly skilled peacekeepers, we continue to heap more and more responsibility on peacekeeping operations.   This policy is a bit like asking nurses in an overstretched urban hospital to perform emergency surgery, counsel distraught families, clean messy hospital rooms and cook ‘special’ meals for sick patients.   It’s hard enough just being a nurse.   It’s hard enough being peacekeepers encountering deadly violence from actors in a culture not their own, while also being asked to monitor elections, counter terrorism, restore legal institutions and rebuild infrastructure – and all this while attempting to protect both civilians and the physical integrity of related UN operations.   Peacekeepers should never become the ‘secretaries’ on whom bosses can dump piles of confusing paperwork and other responsibilities for which they are still largely unprepared.  And real-life secretaries rarely, if ever, have entire human communities that they are obligated by mandate to protect.

Finally, it is essential to re-attach the business of “keeping the peace” to other UN business – eliminating poverty and other inequalities, ending impunity for gender based violence and human rights abuse, and many other responsibilities consistent with the three “pillars” of UN policy.  As there are assets “in the field” that could more fully be incorporated into a spectrum of peacekeeping activities, there are also assets at UN headquarters that should be energized and encouraged to contribute to a world where peacekeepers are not needed so very often.  The pillars, after all, are intended to identify with a full-fledged system of global governance, not with a series of discrete (and often distracted) policy offices.

Whatever “Health Regimen’ for PKOs arises from ongoing C-34 discussions and the SG-mandated review, it must insist on open and expansive access while affirming that ‘health’ is a fully systemic endeavor not given to restrictive obsessions over one or another part of the ‘body.’  If conflict prevention and civilian protection are to fully emerge as cardinal principles of UN response, that response deserves comprehensive, careful policy attention system-wide.   Such response must leave no relevant stakeholder behind, either as agents of conflict prevention or as recovering victims of operations that have become too complex and too militarized to protect the peace long-term. We must do more, consistently and respectfully, to encourage Council members and other policy leaders to interpret robust, militarized ‘protection’ mandates, not so much as a triumph of multilateral consensus but as more of a collective failure of preventive discipline.

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One Response to “A Health Regimen for Peacekeeping Operations:   Becoming “Fit” for Purpose, Dr. Robert Zuber”

  1. marta benavides February 24, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

    GRACIAS FOR SHARING THE DISCERNMENT.. IT IS MUST NEEDED.. AND FOR ME URGENT. GIVEN THE MANY MORE CONFLICTS ARISING EACH DAY.. IT REFLECTS CLEARLY FOR US IN THE LAC REGION, THE SITUATION OF HAITI, AND THE REASONS BEHIND THE CAMPAIGNS TO END THE UN PEACE KEEPING OPERATION THERE.. THERE IS NO PEACE IN HAITI, NOR A RESOLUTION TO THE LOOTING GOING ON, NOT BY THE PEOPLE, BUT BY THE NUMBER OF INGOs THERE

    IF PEACE IS AT THE CENTER OF THE UN MANDATE..WHAT DO WE LEARN ABOUT PEACE KEEPING?

    ABRAZOS..MARTA.

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