Interview with the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Year in Review: As we enter 2007, why this unprecedented demand for UN peacekeepers?
USG Guéhenno: A number of conflicts are coming to an end.That’s the positive side of this surge. You don’t deploy peacekeepers without a prospect for peace. So in that sense the enormous growth of peacekeeping is a welcome sign. At the same time, turning to UN peacekeepers should not be the only answer. One has to continue to carefully assess whether a given situation is really best addressed by a UN peacekeeping operation. It would jeopardize all the progress made in peacekeeping if the lessons of the 1990s were forgotten, if – just because peacekeeping has enjoyed a string of successes – it is again seen as the universal solution. That’s not the case.
YiR: Isn’t the demand for UN peacekeepers in places where there is ongoing fighting or no real peace agreement – such as Darfur,Chad or even Lebanon – a risky direction for peacekeeping?
JMG: There is a risk. Often the international community focuses only on the material and materiel sides – will we find the troops, the resources, etc. Those are valid questions because as we reach the present levels of some 85,000 troops and police, it gets harder and harder to get troops and to get the capacities, enablers, force multipliers we need to ensure their efficiency. But the other concern mentioned less often, but as important, is when there are so many peacekeeping operations, will there be enough international engagement and diplomatic attention to each situation? With so many deployments at one time, the danger of this “political overstretch”will also need to be watched carefully.
YiR: What were the major achievements of peacekeeping during the past year?
JMG: It was a welcome change to see thousands of European troops deploying extremely quickly in Lebanon this summer and a good illustration that the combination of UN assistance – which has been considerably strengthened –and political will can lead to very rapid deployment.Will that mean that we will now see systematically much more troops from developed countries in peacekeeping? It’s too early to tell.
The greatest success of the year was what happened in the DRC – to have the largest and most complex elections ever in the history of the UN, in a country with no infrastructure, which had not had a free election in more than 40 years. To organize an election that has been widely recognized by international observers as free and fair in a country that just a few years ago was devastated by war with several foreign armies occupying it: that is something of historic proportions which can be a strategic turning point for a big part of Africa, if not for the whole continent. But all that needs to be consolidated. There is still a State that needs to be rebuilt. So the partnership between the Congolese people and the international community is not over with the elections. On the contrary, the next challenge is to keep that engagement vital and dynamic, and to ensure that it continues to address the evolving situation.
YiR: This year there were demonstrations demanding UN peacekeepers in Darfur. How would UN peacekeepers help in Darfur?
JMG: Enormous expectations are placed on the UN.That’s the dilemma of peacekeeping. The more successful we are, the more expectations we build. We must not forget the preconditions for successful UN peacekeeping: for peace to come back to Darfur, there has to be a political process of reconciliation. That political process has to be underpinned by a solid, robust military force able to carry out its mandate and to deter potential spoilers. But it would be a mistake to think that force alone can address the challenges of Darfur. In Darfur we are working in partnership with the African Union.We have developed a hybrid operation, to join forces with the AU. It’s a good illustration of the productive interaction between Africa and the UN.
YiR: You have for the past couple of years pointed to the managerial challenges of operating so many missions. How can the UN meet these challenges in 2007?
JMG: The comparative advantage of the UN is to combine all our political, military, police and development resources to support the missions in an integrated manner. That’s what makes the strength of UN multidimensional operations, and this kind of integrated support is also what missions expect of headquarters.We are engaged in a multi-year programme to transform peacekeeping – “Peace Operations 2010”– and we believe that the surge has confirmed the need to continue with our reform process.We’re looking at the restructuring of headquarters that would promote integration of peace operations to strengthen our oversight; have more resources at headquarters to make sure missions have a solid, comprehensive response attuned to the needs of the field; while concurrently examining and reevaluating the sometimes outdated rules and regulations that govern peacekeeping. What we are seeing in peace operations is the transformation of an organization created to run conferences into a field-driven organization. So structures and regulations have to be adapted to be supportive of the needs of the field, and preserving the unity of command is fundamental strength of UN peacekeeping.
YiR: What surprised you in the past year?
JMG: When I look at the big African picture, when one sees the positive developments in West and Central Africa, it’s been a strategic shift. In West Africa, we have one big question mark, which is how Côte d’Ivoire will turn out. But when you see Liberia, Sierra Leone… They are fragile, but with major improvements. Combined with the DRC and Burundi, you have a major part of the African continent over which many people despaired just a few years ago, and now there are hopeful signs. Nothing is guaranteed and it needs continued attention, but certainly it’s in much better shape, with much better prospects today than three years ago.
That has to be nuanced by all the big questions that arise with the Horn of Africa.We have the unresolved issues in Sudan, but certainly the fact that the conflict between North and South Sudan has ended is a positive development. But the continuing violence in Darfur can have a negative impact beyond Darfur.You see the unresolved issues in Somalia, the absence of resolution between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which – some years ago – was celebrated as a success story, while DRC was seen as a hopeless situation. There’s a remarkable reversal of perceptions: the picture of Africa at the end of 2006 is quite different from what one would have anticipated in 2003.
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2007