29 July 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference by outgoing Under-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations


Outgoing Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno said today that despite risks, on-the-ground complexities and political sensitivities, United Nations peace operations were “making a difference” and, as one of the world body’s core functions, required the necessary financial and political backing of Member States.


“I have seen in a number of places, from Liberia to Haiti to Sierra Leone, where a difference was made -- insufficient, imperfect -- but a difference was made and I think it’s important for the United Nations to be able to continue to make that difference […] because for many people it’s their only hope and the UN is the institution of last resort,” he said at his farewell Headquarters press conference.


Reflecting on his nearly eight years as head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which witnessed a staggering growth in peacekeeping, Mr. Guéhenno noted that today the Organization had 20 peacekeeping operations deployed around the world, with some 110,000 personnel in the field -- not including the joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  That operation was slated to have an authorized strength of 26,000 peacekeepers.  That growth in size had been accompanied by growth in complexity.  “It is truly a matter of orchestration […]; my successor will have his hands full,” the Under-Secretary-General said.


After the end of the cold war, United Nations peacekeeping had benefited from an ability to reflect on a “tragic foundation” -- the horrific genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica, he noted.  It had also been informed by the landmark Brahimi Report, which recommended sweeping changes in the way that peacekeeping and post-conflict peacebuilding were conceived.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations had developed a greater sense of self-awareness as a result.


Throughout the mid-1990s and into the twenty-first century, peacekeeping had become one of the Organization’s core activities, he said.  It was clear that operations had to be well managed and backed by solid doctrine and systems that allowed individuals to give their full measure because they were supported by a sound structure.  The involvement of, and the relationship and cooperation among, Member States, troop contributors, donors and the Secretariat had also been important to the growth of United Nations peacekeeping.


As for the state of United Nations peacekeeping today, Mr. Guéhenno said some lessons had been learned the hard way.  Indeed, it was clear that the world was “long past the time” when unarmed observers could be put in place.  With the proliferation of intra-State conflicts, being respected on the ground had become essential.  The Department had pushed for “robust” peacekeeping in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in the slums of Port-au-Prince.  “I am one who believes that force does matter.”


At the same time, he said that, while force was a very blunt instrument that could certainly change the political equations and actions of conflict parties on the ground, the notion that peace could be “enforced” was over-ambitious.  What force could do was deter spoilers in the margins of a conflict.  “But peace has to be made by the parties who entered into war.  At the end of the day, what makes peace is a political process that is supported by force [and] if one ignores that at the heart of any peacekeeping effort there is a political strategy, I think peacekeeping is in danger.”


He went on to say that two of the most fundamental elements of peacekeeping were beyond the Department’s control:  the will of the conflict parties actually to take steps to ensure lasting peace; and the level of engagement of and unity among Member States, especially the Security Council.  If the Council was divided, then its edicts would be weak and its divisions would be played out by the various parties.  When the Council was truly united, it was a “formidable force”.


The troop contributors were also important, he said, pointing out that the Department had tried to build a better relationship to make them more comfortable with mandates that were increasingly demanding.  However, lagging engagement and commitment from the troop contributors was very apparent today as peacekeeping operations were “very stretched” and lacked critical materiel and equipment.


Underscoring the important role played by funding States, he said the United Nations peacekeeping budget stood at some $7 billion today.  While that was a lot of money in absolute terms, it was a tiny percentage when compared to overall military spending worldwide.  “If one believes that the deployment of a force is necessary, then one shouldn’t cut corners.”  Sometimes it seemed as though the United Nations was “doing peacekeeping on the cheap”.  The Department called on those States that contributed the most to peace operations not to cut funding to the missions any further as that would only undercut their effectiveness in carrying out their mandates.


Responding to a host of questions regarding UNAMID and its lagging deployment, he acknowledged the ethical challenge that the Security Council must be facing.  On the one hand, one could not say no to a mission in war-torn Darfur, but on the other, it was clear that the requisite political process was not in place to support peace.  The Organization should rethink what was essentially a “piecemeal approach” to the Sudan and consider the future of the country as a whole.  A more comprehensive approach would address a raft of “question marks”, including the North-South peace accord, the situation in Darfur and Khartoum’s relationship with the wider Sudan, its parties and people.


Turning briefly to the situation in Somalia, which had recently called on the Security Council urgently to consider deploying peacekeepers, he said the political process in that Horn of Africa nation was equally elusive.  Overall, there was a need to ascertain how much control the people who signed agreements had over the guns on the ground.  Such solid political groundwork was vital, especially at a time when United Nations systems were dramatically stretched and contributing countries were short on troops.  “I’m worried that we might give hope that we will not be in a position to fulfil because political foundations have the risk of crumbling under our feet and military resources are just not available.”


Asked to share his personal views on Darfur, he said the political context must evolve significantly towards a solidly backed peace agreement.  Failing that, even a significantly strengthened peacekeeping force would be incapable of living up to the hopes that had been placed in it.  “It sort of angers me that, there we are, wanting to make a difference, but not having the means, the resources or the context in which we can make all the difference we would like to make.”


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For information media • not an official record