Successful UN peace operations must consider their exit at the outset, say top officials

Peacekeepers in action

12 February 2010 – United Nations officials today stressed the need to consider the exit strategy of a peacekeeping operation – whether large and multidimensional, or small and specialized – at the start of the mission so it can contribute to lasting peace and ensure a successful transition when it leaves.

The past decade has seen a surge in UN peacekeeping operations, reaching an all-time high with over 96,000 men and women serving across the world, at a cost of $7.8 billion.

“No one can predict the future, but in the years ahead we are likely to focus not so much on new missions, but on ensuring that current missions – and their successor presences – can help consolidate peace and support lasting stability so they can withdraw,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council, which met today to discuss transition and exit strategies for UN peacekeeping operations.

“To achieve this, a peacekeeping mission requires a good entrance,” including ensuring that the mission’s mandate addresses the root causes of a conflict, articulating a clear goal and providing enough human and material resources to get the job done, he stated.

At the same time, exits must be equally well considered from the very outset of a mission, the Secretary-General added.

“Peacekeeping missions should not stay longer than necessary. But we should also be wary of withdrawing prematurely only to have to return because of renewed violence.”

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy, one of some 40 speakers addressing today’s debate, noted that debates on staying too late versus leaving too soon is only one dimension.

“Getting the mission mandate and structure right from the outset is also critical for a successful transition and eventual exit,” he pointed out. “We need the right tools to address quickly evolving dynamics and adjust accordingly.”

As an example, he recalled that more Formed Police Units (FPUs) rather than troops were needed in Haiti to manage public order and to address the challenges of gangs and policing. However, FPUs are not the right tool for institutional transformation of national police institutions, which require a combination of individual police officers and civilian capacities that can support and advise the national police and assist in strategic planning.

Sharing their insights on how challenges play out on the ground were the heads of the UN peace operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“Ideally our entry strategy would define our exit strategy and set out the benchmarks to guide that process,” noted Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC. “But reality usually reveals that in failed States the predictability of progress is highly tenuous.”

He stated that transition and exit strategies should not be conceived as a linear exercise with one step leading inexorably to another, adding that progress is neither inevitable nor predestined.

“Sadly, it is just as possible to go back as to go forward. On the other hand, it is possible to move ahead with recovery and State-building and economic development while there is still active conflict somewhere in the country,” he said. “Transition strategies, therefore, have to be flexible and opportunistic.”

Based on her experience as Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Ellen Margrethe Løj stated that exit strategies should be incorporated from the early days of a mission, even if they are not fully formulated. “Otherwise, the mission will act like a ship without a clear destination.”

She also highlighted the importance of developing benchmarks to monitor the consolidation, drawdown and withdrawal of a mission, calling them a vital tool to guide transition.

The head of the UN office in Sierra Leone, where the world body’s presence has transitioned from a full-fledged peacekeeping mission to a small, fully civilian peacebuilding office, noted that integrated peacebuilding missions could provide Member States with a “less risky and less abrupt” exit strategy for peacekeeping operations and provide an interim arrangement before the ultimate transition to the UN resident coordinator system.

A UN peacebuilding mission “has the advantage of a continued political mandate from the Security Council, giving the head of the mission the ability to intervene in political conflicts and promote conflict prevention measures,” said Michael von der Schulenburg, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative and head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL).

As the UN presence in a country undergoes different configurations, so also does the support provided by the Organization, specifically through the Department of Field Support, which was created in 2007 to provide logistics and administrative support for the world body’s operations in the field.

“The support needs alter over time as the mission goes through its life cycle – start-up and surge, maturity/maintenance and reconfiguration/drawdown to exit – and change according to the political developments on the ground and the mandates emanating from this Council,” stated Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra.

“As a consequence, we need to be responsive, agile and flexible,” she said, adding that the Department is working to improve the framework for the support it provides.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Efforts ongoing to achieve robust peacekeeping, say top UN officials

Related Stories





Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses Council - 12 Feb. '10

More videos »


In-depth Interviews