Secretary-General Urges Security Council to Keep Peacekeeping Mandates Relevant by Setting Clear Priorities

SC/12781
6 April 2017
7918th Meeting (PM)

Secretary-General Urges Security Council to Keep Peacekeeping Mandates Relevant by Setting Clear Priorities

Review of Operations Focuses on Reform as Delegate Questions ‘Artificial’ Mandate Expansion, Assignment of Non-core Tasks

Often perceived as overstretched and under siege, United Nations peacekeeping was at a crossroads, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council today, pressing it to keep operations relevant by providing clear mandates with well-identified priorities, adequate sequencing and the flexibility to evolve.

Speaking during the Council’s review of United Nations peacekeeping operations, he said peacekeepers were often deployed where peace itself was at stake, at times facing hostility and lack of cooperation on the part of host Governments, while dealing with issues arising from terrorism and the growth of transnational crime at others.  Some of the largest operations were divorced from political processes and appeared to be stuck, he said.  “We must take a hard look at these challenges and get peacekeeping right.”

He went on to note that appalling cases of sexual exploitation and abuse had tarnished the reputation of the United Nations across the board, adding that he had set out his new approach to tackling that blight and was determined to implement it.  That strategy should consider the entire peace continuum, based on the principle that there was no “one-size-fits-all” peace operation.  Emphasizing the need to accord priority to the protection of civilians throughout a mission’s existence, he said it was also important to end operations that had achieved their goals and to reform those that no longer met needs on the ground.  The success of each mission hinged on an active political process, and the Council had a vital role to play in securing the commitment of all stakeholders, particularly Governments.

Going forward, he stressed the need for greater efficiency and accountability, and for women to play a far more active role in peace operations as troops, police and civilian staff.  He also encouraged more coordinated planning, control and leadership of operations and strategy, as well as use of modern technology and deeper ties with regional and subregional partners.  The objective of every peacekeeping mission was to do the job with which it had been entrusted, “and from start to finish, to be cost-effective”, he said.

In the ensuing debate, members underlined the Council’s essential role in making peacekeeping operations more adaptable to their respective environments, notably through early political engagement.  “Political solutions must always underpin the design and deployment of peacekeeping missions,” said Uruguay’s representative, warning that missions could be severely compromised when the Council lacked unity, as in South Sudan.

Senegal’s representative said that when properly equipped and provided with achievable mandates, peacekeeping missions were among the Organization’s best tools.  Regrettably, however, that was not currently the case, he said, reiterating that beyond consent, the cooperation of the host State was critical.

Reinforcing that point, the United Kingdom’s representative said that when a host Government hampered or failed to cooperate with mission operations, the Council could play an enormous role, using all tools at its disposal.  The Council’s messages had been confusing in the case of South Sudan, but it must recognize whether a mission, once deployed, was succeeding in its job, he said.

The representative of the United States said the goal of reform was to identify operations that lacked underlying political strategies for success.  For example, the Government used the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), to selectively neutralize only certain armed groups while leaving others untouched.

Japan’s representative, underlining his country’s standing as the third-largest contributor to the United Nations peacekeeping budget, said the priority was not simply to scale back or downsize an operation, but to ensure it was effectively employed where it could make a difference with limited resources.  The Council must reconsider adding different capacities to missions in response to their individual circumstances, he added.

On that point, the Russian Federation’s representative cautioned against artificially expanding mandates by assigning non-core tasks.  Noting that broadly interpreted tasks such as civilian protection were often entrusted to expensive civilian staff, he questioned the economic justification, objecting also to burdening missions with social and humanitarian tasks that were difficult to realize and posed no threat to international peace and security.

Ukraine’s representative pointed out that when peacekeeping missions lost the trust of local populations, political processes had “minimum chance” of succeeding.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kazakhstan, China, France, Italy, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Sweden and Egypt.

The meeting began at 4:35 p.m. and ended at 6:50 p.m.

Opening Remarks

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, described the “Blue Helmets” as the expression of the Organization’s determination to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.  Their achievements were a source of great pride, and their failures “drive us to improve”, he said, recalling that United Nations peacekeepers had contributed to a legacy of stability, from El Salvador to Namibia, from East Timor to Côte d’Ivoire, and from Mozambique to Cambodia.

Fifty-four missions had completed their mandates and closed, and two more would do so in the coming months, he said, adding that the objective for every peacekeeping mission was to do the job entrusted to it:  save lives, prevent mass atrocities, set the stage for stability and close.  “And, from start to finish, to be cost-effective,” he said, noting that the peacekeeping budget today was less than half of 1 per cent of global military spending.

Noting that United Nations peace operations were diverse in nature and their operating environments highly complex, he emphasized the collective responsibility to adapt them to a changing world.  As made clear by the High-level Panel on Peace Operations, there was a gap between ambitions and capacities, and as a result, peacekeeping was often perceived as overstretched and under siege.  In many places, peacekeepers were deployed in places where peace itself was at stake, facing hostility and lack of cooperation from host Governments at times, and dealing with challenges arising from terrorism and transnational crime at others.

Some of the largest operations were divorced from political processes and appeared to be stuck, he said.  “We must take a hard look at these challenges and get peacekeeping right,” he emphasized, urging the Secretariat to be more effective, efficient and accountable.  Noting that the Organization looked to troop- and police-contributing countries for well-trained personnel, he said appalling cases of sexual exploitation and abuse had tarnished its reputation across the board.  “I have set out my new approach to tackle this blight and I am determined to implement it, with your support,” he declared, underlining the need for a strategy that would support the diverse range of missions.

That strategy should consider the entire peace continuum, from prevention, through conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and development, he said, in line with the basic principle that there was no “one-size-fits-all” peace operation.  Throughout, the protection of civilians would be a key priority, he said, adding that the success of every mission hinged upon an active political process enjoying the commitment of all stakeholders, particularly Governments.  The Council had a vital role to play in securing that commitment, he said, emphasizing that he would personally support that goal in any way possible.

Describing recent peacekeeping reforms, he cited a larger pool of troop- and police-contributing countries and improved force-generation capacity that could facilitate more rapid deployments.  Key functions had been decentralized and both performance management and accountability were being strengthened, he said, pointing out that those changes had reduced the cost per capita of uniformed peacekeepers by 18 per cent since 2008.

Going forward, it would be important to end operations that had achieved their goals, and to reform those that no longer met needs on the ground, he said, noting that the changing situation in Darfur might call for a significant reduction of forces there.  Each mission must be considered within its own unique political context, he said.  Noting that the team considering how to improve the peace and security architecture would report back to him by June, he emphasized the need for greater efficiency and accountability, saying too many Secretariat rules and regulations appeared designed to prevent work rather than facilitate it.

Indeed, peacekeeping operations required clear, realistic and up-to-date mandates from the Council, with well-identified priorities, adequate sequencing and flexibility to evolve, he said.  Women must play a far more active role as troops, police and civilian staff, and there must be more coordinated planning, control and leadership of operations and strategy.  He also stressed the need to use modern technology, increase awareness that United Nations peacekeepers were achieving results, and deepen ties with regional and subregional partners.

He went on to underline that those partnerships must be based on predictable funding, and encouraged the Council to consider supporting missions backed by a resolution with assessed contributions, or by promoting other predictable financing mechanisms.  “Peace operations are at a crossroads,” he emphasized.  “Our task is to keep them relevant with clear and achievable mandates and the right strategies and support.”  Success would depend on collective efforts, he said, adding that the Council could count on his full commitment.

Statements

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), pointing out that his delegation chaired the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, recalled that Senegal had been participating in United Nations peacekeeping since independence and now had troops deployed in eight missions.  Such operations were mandated to undertake complex tasks, such as protecting civilians, against a backdrop of challenging environments and limited resources.  “There is a real need today to adapt peacekeeping missions to the specific challenges of each theatre,” he emphasized, adding that they were among the Organization’s best tools when properly equipped and operating under achievable mandates.  Regrettably, that was not currently the case, he said, noting that beyond consent, the cooperation of the host State was critical.  Missions must maintain a trust-based relationship with host countries, he emphasized.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said it had been two years since the publication of the High-level Independent Panel’s recommendations on peacekeeping reform, yet they still remained valid.  Expressing support for the ongoing review process, he said successful reform could not be realized without the support of the Council and that of the troop- and police-contributing countries.  The Council in particular must shoulder its responsibility to ensure peacekeeping operations were effective and always underpinned by political solutions, he emphasized, warning that such missions could be severely compromised when the Council lacked unity, as in the case of South Sudan.  They must also become more flexible and priority-based, and have clear and achievable mandates.  In addition, the Council was obliged to obtain the full support of the host State, thereby helping to guarantee the safety of peacekeeping personnel.

PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) described peacekeeping as a “key tool in the United Nations arsenal”, saying it was especially necessary today in the context of escalating security concerns and global political challenges.  It was critical to strengthen the effectiveness of peacekeeping missions by placing an emphasis on political solutions, he said, while warning against artificially expanding mandates by assigning non-core tasks.  Noting that such “broadly interpreted tasks” as protection of civilians were often entrusted to expensive civilian staff, he asked:  “Is this really necessary and economically justified?”

He went on to caution against burdening peacekeeping missions with tasks of a social or humanitarian nature, saying they were difficult to achieve and posed no threat to international peace and security.  Indeed, it was the successful resolution of a conflict that was needed in order to improve the human rights situation in a given country, not the other way around, he said, describing as “unacceptable” calls for flexibility in peacekeeping mandates, as well as attempts to artificially politicize their functions.  “Blue Helmets must never become a party to any conflict,” which was exactly what would happen if such trends continued, he warned.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the Council had a duty to peacekeepers to ask tough fundamental questions about deployments.  As the jewel in the United Nations crown, peacekeeping was a good investment that saved lives.  Like all investments, situations should be considered in order to determine whether peacekeeping was in fact the right tool, with the right mandate and exit strategy.  When a host Government hampered or failed to cooperate with mission operations, the Council had an enormous role to play, using all the tools at its disposal.  Yet, the Council’s recent messages had been confusing, as in the case of South Sudan, he said.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said that despite their limitations, peacekeeping operations had helped countries move away from conflict and towards development.  Emphasizing that they should never become the overriding focus, he urged that peacekeeping must go hand in hand with conflict prevention, peacebuilding and peace enforcement.  A focus on early warning systems was needed, he said, underscoring the role of regional and neighbouring organizations in finding local solutions to local problems.  The General Assembly and Member States were positive contributors as well, he added, stressing that both host Governments and parties on the ground must take ownership of the process.  For its part, the Council must take into account whether parties to a conflict were committed to a peace process and call for a periodic assessment to identify all possible options for United Nations engagement.  When ending or downsizing missions, it was critical to ensure that vacuums not be filled by terrorist groups.

LIU JIEYI (China) said peacekeepers played an important role in an ever changing security landscape.  Urging impartiality and non-use of force, he said operations must respect the sovereignty and values of the host country, including when it requested an exit strategy.  A clear mandate must be established at the outset, guided by conflict resolution and the concept of sustaining peace.  Meanwhile, communication and coordination with troop-contributing countries must be enhanced, as should early warning systems.  Among 16 operations, nine were in Africa, he said, calling for increased assistance to the continent and highlighting the African Union’s considerable success in its peacekeeping missions.  Expressing support for Africa’s peacekeeping capacity-building, he said the United Nations should provide more support, with a view to creating a stable funding mechanism.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the Blue Helmets prevented conflict, protected civilians and opened spaces for political processes, while operating on an $8 billion budget, which amounted to 0.5 per cent of total global military spending.  Recent multidimensional mission mandates, which had included civilian protection and long-term tasks, required an integrated approach by all United Nations actors, he said, underlining the importance of partnering with regional organizations.  Operations must be fairly and critically assessed and violations such as sexual abuse and exploitation must be addressed.  Once mandates had been fulfilled, operations should end, as in Côte d’Ivoire.  The Council must be unified, he said, advocating increased support for political processes and structured relations with host countries.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) said that, as a global security provider, his country participated regularly in political missions.  Peacekeeping was a critical tool amid increased security challenges, as could be seen in the mediation role played by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) through its tripartite mechanism.  A more holistic approach was needed, however, where political solutions were the primary goal.  Strategic patience should be at the core of assessments.  Peacekeeping missions should support political processes and the protection of civilians, and have clear entry and exit strategies.  Local ownership should also be put into practice to prevent dependency on a mission.  He highlighted the need for predictable financial support, including for missions of the African Union.  Providing excellent training was essential for achieving the highest standards of conduct across operations.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that, as an active troop- and police-contributing country in which a foreign-led armed conflict continued to rage, his country continued to view conflict prevention as one of the Organization’s most important tasks.  Emphasizing that peacekeeping operations were a tool and not a solution to conflict, he said peacebuilding would not be possible without a robust international security presence, capable of ensuring all security-related provisions until law-enforcement institutions were established.  Peacekeeping operations must be provided with adequate technical, human and financial resources.  He noted that when peacekeeping missions lost the trust locally, any political process had “minimum chance” of success.  They must be provided with clear and coherent mandates to ensure the security and safety of civilians, he emphasized.  Applauding the steady restoration of peace in Côte d’Ivoire, he said a similar approach could be applied to neighbouring Liberia.  However, he warned against overreliance on a mission’s support, emphasizing that although the goal of a peacekeeping operation was to make every mission a success, it should not turn into an infinite process with no end in sight.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) noted that today’s meeting had drawn much attention among the wider United Nations membership, declaring:  “This meeting affords us a great opportunity to lay a strong basis for the implementation of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations recommendations.”  Today the United Nations had a Secretary-General who was committed to reform, he said.  Noting that many constraints facing peacekeeping were political in nature, he called for greater support for peacekeeping missions and for a clear political strategy in response to the current global challenges.  Warning that reforms must go beyond mere cost-effectiveness to succeed in executing the crucial mandate of saving lives, he emphasized that they must have clear exit strategies, adding that strategic global partnerships were no longer a matter of choice, but of critical necessity.

KORO BESSHO (Japan), noting that his country was the third-largest contributor to the peacekeeping budget, called peacekeeping a cost-effective tool.  For example, an analysis by the United States Government Accountability Office in 2006 had found that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) cost less than what a United States mission of equal size and duration would have required.  “Our priority is not to simply scale back or downsize peacekeeping, but to ensure that it is effectively employed where it can make a difference with limited resources,” he said, advocating in-depth Council discussions on the mandates it operates.

Further, the Council must reconsider adding on different capacities to missions in response to individual circumstances, he said, adding that it should undertake deeper discussions to link political processes more closely to mandates and explore enhanced coordination with the Peacebuilding Commission.  Coordinated initiatives to increase personnel capacities across missions also should be explored, he said, noting that triangular cooperation among the Secretariat, troop-contributing countries and third countries like Japan could help ensure that peacekeepers were well prepared for the field.  He expressed hope that today’s briefing would mark the start of Council discussions involving a wide range of stakeholders on each mission and mandate.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTY (Bolivia) recalled that his country had become a troop-contributing country in 1997 and urged the Council to consider three main elements:  first, the political support required by each mission; the goals for which each mission was deployed; and their specific mandates.  Emphasizing that it would be impossible for peace operations to fulfil their mandates without the host country’s support, he said they must adhere to the principles of peacekeeping by remaining impartial and never being used as an intervention force or a pretext for regime change.  Indeed, peacekeeping operations must always respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the countries in which they were deployed.  They also needed clear and measurable mandates with benchmarks, he said, warning against the common practice of renewing mandates every year with no exit strategy.  In that regard, he called for a “maximum lifespan” for all peacekeeping operations.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) stressed that building effective political strategies required a thorough understanding of a conflict and its context.  In that regard, the Council must be supported with high-quality and reliable conflict analysis, prepared collaboratively by the United Nations system.  Acting on that information, the mandates adopted by the Council should be truly fit for purpose.  Noting that more realistic, context-tailored and flexible mandates would increase the potential for successful outcomes, he said greater coherence between peacekeeping operations and the United Nations development and humanitarian systems was also critical.  The Council’s dialogue with troop- and police-contributing countries must be made more dynamic in both the design and implementation of mandates.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said the changing security environment had made it imperative to reflect on relevant tools for preventing, managing and settling disputes.  Peacekeeping was a critical tool and must be reviewed and enhanced to maintain its effectiveness, he said, adding that current mandates must be assessed to improve results.  Reviews were not intended to cut budgets in order to save money, but to analyse situations and the impact of missions with a view to saving lives.  Integrated political approaches were also required, he said, emphasizing the need to support processes backed by regional and international actors, as with the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and other successful operations.  Exit strategies must be implemented when a United Nations presence was no longer needed, he stressed, adding that realignment and restructuring could improve situations in which missions produced negative outcomes.  Moving forward, effective mandates must include realistic tasks, clear exit strategies and strategic partnerships with host countries, he added.

NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, noting that the “Blue Helmet” was the most recognizable symbol of the United Nations.  The Organization’s most powerful tool, peacekeeping helped to share the burden of promoting global security.  However, “I think we can all agree that peacekeeping is far from perfect”, she said, adding that the Organization must “work smarter” by showing results and demonstrating value.  Citing the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), for example, she pointed out that it remained unable to help vulnerable people return home.  Elsewhere, the Government used the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) selectively to neutralize armed groups that it did not like while leaving others untouched.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) had no real reason to exist, she said.

The goal of reform was to identify peace operations that lacked underlying political strategies for success, she continued.  The Mission in South Sudan, for example, lacked a credible path to peace because the Government lacked any incentive to end the conflict there.  The Council must commit to exerting political pressure on host countries, she said, pointing out that missions often failed for lack of Government support.  Emphasizing that mandates must be realistic and achievable, she warned against “mission creep” as they accumulated more and more tasks and staff.  Calling also for the early design of clear exit strategies, she said the Council must be willing to adjust mandates when situations improved and even when they failed to do so, emphasizing:  “Institutional inertia cannot be allowed to prolong missions.”  She concluded by saying that although many assumed that the United States was interested in peacekeeping reform because it was withdrawing from the global stage, nothing could be further from the truth.

For information media. Not an official record.