Robust Mandates, Mission Drawdown, New Technology among Main Topics of Discussion
The commanders of four United Nations peacekeeping missions briefed the Security Council this afternoon, emphasizing the need to “go beyond the traditional peacekeeping box” and overcome bureaucratic hurdles, as the Organization’s signature function adapted to ever-evolving challenges.
Lieutenant General Balla Keïta, Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), said the concept of robust mandates should be translated equally into the political, administrative and legal arenas. The Council had demonstrated political support for missions, but it should also adopt stronger and more tailored sanctions regimes, he stressed.
“Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that some [troop-contributing countries] are reticent and the Council is divided with regard to strategic interests,” he told the annual meeting of Force Commanders ahead of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, observed on 29 May. The internal structure of peacekeeping operations must also be reconsidered so as to make them swifter and more effective, he said. Peacekeeping forces should reflect realities on the ground in terms of troop numbers, equipment, preparation and morale, while rules of engagement must be revisited to ensure strong operations capable of protecting civilians, although, that did not imply “carte blanche” for missions to use force, he emphasized.
Lieutenant General Derrick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi, Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), drew attention to the impact of a Council-mandated reduction in that Mission’s troop ceiling at a time when MONUSCO was expected to protect civilians in a country as large as Western Europe. He also emphasized the challenge of moving troops over vast distances with insufficient air assets, and the consequent delays must be discussed beforehand with the Office of Military Affairs and with troop-contributing Member States.
Major General Jai Shanker Menon, Force Commander and Head of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), described the unprecedented challenges facing his 40-year-old mission, pointing in particular to the emergence of a third belligerent party, not bound by any previous agreement or established conventions. In such a context, peacekeeping operations must be able to remain flexible and adaptive, while tailoring forces and altering deployments as required by the situation, he said. “Just because something was acceptable or successful or agreeable in the past does not mean it is the right course of action now.”
Major General Saihu Zaway Uba, Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), focused on the issue of mission drawdown, recalling that his Mission’s 14-year presence had been reduced to just 434 troops on the ground and was expected to be fully liquidated in June 2018. Pointing out that peacekeeping operations were expected to adapt to rapidly changing post-conflict environments, he recommended “clear and flexible” planning considerations in the transition phase, and a graduated approach to drawdown, among other measures.
Introducing the Force Commanders, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, recalled the recent deaths of peacekeepers in northern Mali and the Central African Republic. “Blue Helmets” deserved both gratitude and best efforts in discharging their mandates and protecting the people they served, he said.
In the ensuing discussion, Member States solicited the Force Commanders’ views on a variety of topics, including the introduction of new technology in peacekeeping missions, MINUSCA’s recent use of attack helicopters and bureaucratic red tape. Several representatives raised the question of “caveats” that enabled some troop-contributing countries to limit the roles of their personnel while on peacekeeping duty.
The United Kingdom’s delegate said peacekeeping must reform like the rest of the United Nations, including through better mission planning, staffing and performance.
China’s representative emphasized that all peacekeeping operations must respect the sovereignty and wishes of their host countries.
Senegal’s representative stressed the importance of adapting missions and mandates to current realities. In similar vein, Egypt’s representative underlined that no peacekeeping operation should be unrealistically burdened with objectives that exceeded its capability or failed to take political and security realities into account.
Also speaking were representatives of Italy, Sweden, United States, France, Ukraine, Japan, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Uruguay.
The meeting began at 3:37 p.m. and ended at 6:44 p.m.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, described this week’s annual conference of force commanders at New York Headquarters as an opportunity for useful and valuable exchanges. Recalling the recent deaths of peacekeepers in northern Mali and in the Central African Republic, he said force commanders and their soldiers deserved both gratitude and best efforts in order to discharge their mandates and protect the people they served.
DERRICK MBUYISELO MGWEBI, Force Commander, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said that its current mandate — set out in resolution 2348 (2017) under Chapter VII of the Charter — had seen its troop ceiling reduced. That created a challenge at a time when the Mission was expected to protect civilians in a country as large as Western Europe, when it was also required to support the conduct of elections. Noting that troops had previously been deployed mainly in the east, he said problems were now occurring further to the south. Moving peacekeepers from one region to another meant talking to the Office of Military Affairs, as well as permanent missions, which, in turn, consulted their respective capitals. That took time and created delays, he said, proposing that force commanders be allowed to deploy forces anywhere in the host country rather than in specific areas.
Another challenge was moving assets and capabilities in a country with poor infrastructure, he said, pointing out that MONUSCO was expected to be agile, versatile and mobile while it lacked air assets. Three weeks after peacekeepers had been sent into the Kasai region with only their personal equipment, for example, the Mission was still awaiting the arrival of an aircraft to transport supplies to them. In the meantime, the troops found themselves in a vulnerable situation, he said. He went on to cite a recent report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which stated that the chain linking the Council’s intentions to the actions of the Secretariat, troop- and police-contributing countries and peacekeeping missions broke when it came to the use of force. That question must be examined because the use of forces was interpreted differently by various contingents on the ground, he emphasized. Thought must also be given to invisible caveats that individual troop-contributing countries attached to their own use of force, he added.
JAI SHANKER MENON, Force Commander and Head of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), noted that, while the core peacekeeping principles remained constant — particularly consent, impartiality and the non-use of force except in cases of legitimate defence — violence against civilians had reached new levels of cruelty, marked by a rise in ethnic cleansing, genocide, rape, forced displacement and the use of chemical or other banned weapons. That cruelty had led to the emergence of another principle — the need to protect civilian populations, human rights and humanitarian operations.
Every peacekeeping operations should have a clear end-of-mission vision, he said, emphasizing that he was referring not necessarily to an exit strategy, but to a clear idea of what constituted success. For UNDOF, the challenge at hand was the presence of a third belligerent party, not bound by any previous agreement or established conventions, he said. In such a context, a peacekeeping mission must have a clear and robust mandate, but also remain flexible and adaptive, he stressed. The operation must be able to respond to challenges, tailor its forces and alter its deployments as required by the situation.
He went on to say that third parties could not be ignored, adding that “just because something was acceptable or successful or agreeable in the past does not mean it is the right course of action now”. UNDOF was currently changing its mode of operation as a result of the evolving political, security and operational situation on the ground, he said. Indeed, its operational parameters for the last 40 years — agreed by Israel and Syria, the parties to the Disengagement Agreement — were no longer suitable. “The Organization must be willing and able to learn, and quickly, if the situation demands it,” he said.
Pointing out that no mission could operate without the appropriate capability, he said that meant having “the right equipment, in the right place, at the right time, with the right people”. In UNDOF’s case, troop-contributing countries had been attempting to match the mission’s requirement with the right capability, but the newly developed capability was not fully developed. The mission sought to turn a traditional light infantry force into one equipped with armoured protection and firepower as critical force-protection measures. Indeed, UNDOF was an excellent example of the challenges facing Chapter VI peacekeeping, he said, noting that the mission observed and reported on an agreement between two sovereign States attempting to avoid war. That had all changed since 2011, and the mission was now required to fulfil its mandate in whatever manner it could manage, including by gradually moving back into Syria and the areas from which it had withdrawn in 2014.
BALLA KEÏTA, Force Commander, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), described recent changes in peacekeeping environments, including more chaotic situations characterized by increasing violence and “uncontrollable parties” on the ground. “The move towards more robust mandates was inevitable,” he said, citing the successful introduction of MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade as an example. Halfway between peacekeeping and peace enforcement, the main goal of such forces was to provide missions with the necessary operational credibility, especially with respect to spoilers, and to allow them to better protect civilians. However, the desire for robust action free from the “artificial constraints of neutrality” had fallen short of expectations, he said.
A robust mandate must be manifested at all levels, from the Council to the troops on the ground, he said, emphasizing that the concept of a robust mandate had suffered thus far because the intention to conduct offensive action had only taken operational form. It should have been translated equally into the political, administrative and legal arenas. Indeed, there was a fundamental contradiction between declared intent to take a more robust posture and the ongoing frame of reference under Chapter VI of the Charter. In order for a robust mandate to prompt decisive action, a mission’s political posture and the resources provided to it “have to go beyond the traditional peacekeeping box”, he said, emphasizing that the paradigm shift under way in United Nations peacekeeping must be completed. The Council had demonstrated its political support for missions, but it should also adopt stronger and more tailored sanctions regimes, he stressed. “Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that some [troop-contributing countries] are reticent and the Council is divided with regard to strategic interests.”
The internal structure of peacekeeping operations must also be reconsidered so they could be swifter and more effective, he said. Urging particular attention to reducing red tape and cumbersome administrative rules, he stressed the need to critically review the exemption of troop contingents deployed under memoranda of understanding reviewed, describing the latter as among the most limiting elements, reducing the capacity for the vigorous action required by robust mandates. Peacekeeping forces should themselves reflect the realities on the ground in terms of troop numbers, equipment, preparation and morale, he said, adding that they should be subject to strict oversight before and during deployment. Rules of engagement must also be revisited in order to enable strong operations capable of protecting civilians and enjoying free movement. However, that did not imply “carte blanche” for missions to use force, he emphasized. He urged a critical “change of mindset”, pointing out that MINUSCA had already demonstrated the importance of a robust approach by preventing a number of civilian massacres.
SAIHU ZAWAY UBA, Force Commander, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), said that 14 years of back-to-back civil wars had led to the establishment of a robust force comprising about 15,250 troops, with the aim of helping with the peace process and supporting security sector reform. Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Liberia’s first post-conflict democratic elections in 2005, UNMIL had begun to engage in a phased drawdown, adjusting its troop strength to about 8,000. In transition, UNMIL had handed over all security responsibilities to the Government as of 2016 and completed its drawdown in February 2017, leaving only a residual force of 434 troops, he said. The Government had fully taken over all security responsibilities, he said, adding that it had developed a concrete plan and timelines for its third post-conflict general election, scheduled for 10 October.
“It is well known that as countries emerge from conflict, they undergo critical socioeconomic, development and political changes,” he said, “in which United Nations missions are expected to adapt and encourage […] reconciliation and peace consolidation.” UNMIL’s transition, for example, had been planned to support Liberia’s development and security agendas with the goal of consolidating the peace dividend and building a more holistic social system. UNMIL’s drawdown had considered several planning preparations, incorporating guidance from both Headquarters and the field, and outlining clearly mapped objectives with benchmarks and timelines. UNMIL had also incorporated the views of the Government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and other international partners, he said.
Describing key challenges, he said engineering support for the maintenance of the main supply routes had become unfeasible due to heavy rain and poor road conditions. Expired ammunition certification and disposal, as well as poor camp maintenance, had posed additional challenges due to the lack of a qualified workforce, he said, adding that the Mission was “doing the best they could” to provide mentorship, training and logistics to local security agencies. In the lead-up to UNMIL’s planned liquidation in June 2018, he said, its remaining personnel now had a mandate covering the protection of civilians; supporting reform of the justice and security institutions; activities aimed at promoting, protecting and monitoring human rights; protecting United Nations personnel, installations and equipment; and supporting Government efforts to address urgent gaps in election-planning. He laid conclusions for the drawdown of United Nations peacekeeping operations more generally, emphasizing that planning considerations in the transition phase should be “clear and flexible”, that drawdowns be based on a graduated approach, and that missions set aside processes for building national capacities early in their life cycles.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) emphasized the importance of adapting peacekeeping missions and mandates to current realities. Each operation was unique, he said, noting that his country had participated in three missions. He asked the MINUSCA Force Commander to elaborate on the decision to use attack helicopters to halt the advance of armed groups. He also asked the UNMIL Commander to discuss his experience in planning the Mission’s drawdown and exit from Liberia.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said limited resources must be used in a more cost-effective and holistic way, expressing concern about the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and emphasizing that threats in that country called for a more mobile MONUSCO.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that, like the rest of the United Nations, peacekeeping must reform, including through better mission planning, staffing and performance, adding that his delegation would be interested in the Force Commanders’ views on the use of technology. He asked the MONUSCO’s Commander what his colleagues were doing to ensure that all the Mission’s troops understood basic peacekeeping principles, including the use of force.
CARL SKAU (Sweden) said the “primacy of politics” was the key to ensuring effective peace operations. Since sustainable peace could only be based on political solutions, political strategies must therefore be built across all pillars of the system. Clear and measurable objectives, accompanied by benchmarks for follow-up and reporting to the Council should guide integrated mission planning and leadership, he emphasized. Today’s briefings had highlighted the diverse challenges facing different missions, he said, emphasizing the need for a system-wide, context-specific approach. More realistic, context-tailored and flexible mandates were needed, incorporating frank inputs from across the United Nations and more engaged with local communities. A human rights component should be standard in peacekeeping operations, not least when they were tasked with protecting civilians. Regarding mission drawdown, he said there was “room for improvement” in terms of how the Organization dealt with transition. Noting that many looked to Liberia as a test case, he called for a realistic approach to the immediate aftermath of drawdown, coupled with clear Government commitment to further key structural reforms.
MICHELE SISON (United States) said that missions sometimes operated with only “half-hearted commitment” by local leaders, and mandates had become complex and confusing in some cases. Drawing particular attention to performance and accountability, she said that while all actors condemned sexual exploitation and abuse, and called for a zero-tolerance approach, Force Commanders could actually address it on the ground. Similarly, it was better for the Council to learn about performance issues from force leaders early, than to deal with the consequences after the fact. She asked Mr. Keïta whether he felt that he currently possessed the capacity to determine MINUSCA’s changing operational demands. To Mr. Mgwebi, she asked what could be done to ensure that MONUSCO could act quickly when the situation demanded it. She asked Mr. Menon for further details on how to address force-protection concerns while ensuring that UNDOF fulfilled its mandate. Finally, she asked Mr. Uba how UNMIL was preparing its remaining troops to provide security during Liberia’s upcoming elections, and whether lessons learned from that drawdown could be useful for other missions.
WU HAITAO (China) reiterated that the basic principles of United Nations peacekeeping operations remained the same — neutrality, consent of the parties and non-use of force except in self-defence. All peacekeeping operations must continue to respect the sovereignty and wishes of host countries, including by appropriately addressing the issue of an exit strategy. Noting that some global “hot spots” remained persistent and protracted, he pointed out that there was no peace to keep in some areas, stressing that the international community must redouble efforts to promote political solutions. He called for more realistic and actionable mandates, pointing out that, while the protection of civilians had become another common mandate in recent years, its implementation must always be predicated on the wishes of the host country.
SEIF ALLA YOUSSEF KANDEEL (Egypt) said no peacekeeping operation should be unrealistically burdened with objectives exceeding its capability or failing to take political and security realities on the ground into account. Mandates should be adapted to field requirements and not concerned with cutting costs. Strategic partnerships with host countries should be forged alongside efforts to build national security capabilities, he said, while also emphasizing the need for an enhanced partnership between the Secretariat and personnel-contributing countries in order to implement the zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said integrated mission-planning in New York must continue in the field, adding that missions must have the best-trained soldiers without national restrictions. There was need for coherent and unified command structures, around-the-clock medical evacuation capabilities and protective equipment to deal with improvised explosive devices. Robust peacekeeping meant providing missions with appropriate political support, he said, describing “Blue Helmets” as the Council’s “armed branch”.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said United Nations peacekeeping could benefit greatly from sophisticated technologies. Missing such opportunities meant missing chances for peace, he said, noting the Secretariat’s intention to explore options for deploying sense-and-warn technologies. He expressed concern about the flow of weapons and fighters into the Central African Republic from neighbouring States, while saying that the crucial task in Liberia timely transition from peacekeeping to effective peacebuilding. Ukraine was proud to have contributed troops to UNMIL and they would continue to serve with honour in MONUSCO, he said.
YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) expressed concern about the situation in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saying his delegation supported efforts to enhance MONUSCO’s performance and efficiency, in particular, its ability to respond to escalating violence in Kasai in light of its recent troop-ceiling reduction. Japan was also deeply concerned about rising violence against civilians and MINUSCA personnel in the Central African Republic, and therefore supported its proactive and robust posture. Enhancing the Mission’s ability to implement its civilian-protection mandate in full was critical, he added. On UNMIL, he said Liberia’s upcoming elections and peaceful transfer of power would demonstrate the fruits of the Mission’s labour over the last 13 years.
DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia) said that, as one of the world’s largest troop-contributing countries, he shared many of the concerns raised by the briefers. Indeed, peacekeepers today were deployed to many high-risk situations characterized by asymmetric traits, while attacks on peacekeepers had regrettably become the norm rather than the exception. It was imperative that missions adapt to changing security dynamics, including by devising the right strategic and operational approaches, he emphasized. Spotlighting the need for “flexible and pragmatic interpretations” of the original principles of United Nations peacekeeping, he stressed that peacekeepers could not remain indifferent to imminent threats to their own safety or that of civilians. They should, therefore, have robust mandates based on threat assessments and planning. However, a clear mandate and rules of engagement were not enough, he said, underlining that missions must also have the necessary capability and credibility to deter spoilers.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), recalling that his country had been an active participant in United Nations peacekeeping since 1995, echoed concerns about rapidly changing global dynamics, saying they required peacekeeping operations to have the ability to effectively deter violence. He underlined the need to respect the Charter principles of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that missions should continuously exchange information with local authorities and seek the support of their host countries.
PETR V. ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) emphasized that loose interpretation of peacekeeping mandates was unacceptable, noting that “playing too much” with robust mandates risked pulling peacekeepers into conflict. It was also inappropriate to use the protection of civilians as a pretext for using force against a host State. It was puzzling that generic functions were being included in mandates, while, at the same time, efforts were made to cut back on those same functions, he said. Blue Helmets must be deployed in places where they could work effectively and remain neutral, he said, emphasizing that priority should instead be accorded to political mediation.
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) sought the force commanders’ views on greater flexibility in peacekeeping, especially in counter-terrorism terms. Noting that UNMIL had been widely acclaimed as a success story, he said the force commanders’ input would contribute greatly to increasing the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations, as well as peace around the world.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, summarizing the challenges confronting peacekeeping missions. They included unclear mandates, personnel and material shortages, bureaucratic obstacles and the failure or absence of political processes between parties to conflict. The United Nations could not achieve much unless national actors were committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes, he said. So-called caveats, declared or undeclared, could not be tolerated, and nor could a refusal to obey orders or to respond to attacks against civilians.
Mr. LACROIX, responding to Council questions and remarks, said the Secretary-General was striving to make it simpler for peacekeeping operations to discharge their mandates. Status-of-forces agreements and memorandums of understanding would be reviewed, where necessary, to give force commanders more flexibility. Evaluation of operations should be more strict and demanding, and new technology was gradually being introduced, particularly in order to provide better situational awareness. He emphasized that robust use of force must go hand in hand with an equally robust application of political efforts. Moreover, missions with robust mandates required robust support from the Council, particularly against those impeding their efforts. On transitions, he said Council support was crucial and that host States and others must be part of the process to ensure success. As for sexual exploitation and abuse, he said the Department was totally committed to tackling that problem.
Lieutenant General MGWEBI, responding to a question from the United Kingdom’s delegate about peacekeeping principles, emphasized that commanders did understand those principles, especially on the use of force. The language in MONUSCO’s mandate referring to “terrorist operations” created a special responsibility that became a challenge when considering armed groups located near civilians, but which had not yet launched attacks, he said, asking in that context: “Do you proactively attack them or coexist with them?” While the Force Intervention Brigade had relieved some of that pressure, it could not be present all over the country, he pointed out.
In response to a question from the representative of the United States about the rapid movement of troops, he said MONUSCO had asked for a special exemption allowing it to carry out rapid deployment without first seeking permission from Headquarters, “which makes our life easier”.
Asked by Japan’s representative how the Mission was responding to the situation in the Kasai region, he pointed out that no force had previously been stationed there. Recently, two companies had been moved from South Kivu to Kasai, and the region’s boundaries with the South Kivu brigade’s territory were being adjusted to help the latter also cover Kasai.
He said in response to a question from Uruguay’s delegate, on the implications of the recent troop reduction, that MONUSCO’s strategic review spoke to the notion of “force optimization”, and called for increased flexibility and better situational awareness.
Major General MENON, asked about technology, said UNDOF had carried out a detailed study on the extra technology needed to carry out its mandate and was currently building up that capacity. It had already brought in night vision devices and surveillance cameras, he said, adding that the introduction of all new technology was shared with both Israel and Syria.
In response to a question from the delegate of the United States, he said mission personnel now travelled in armoured vehicles instead of the “soft-skinned” ones previously used, and all movements were coordinated with both Syria and Israel in order to keep staff safe. Operations had changed significantly, he said, pointing out that troops no longer worked in small, isolated pockets. Concerning the mission’s capability, he emphasized the need for countries with the necessary capacities to help in crisis situations, rather than relying on nations lacking such capacity to build it up. That serious issue — “capability versus willingness” — must be urgently addressed, he said, encouraging all Member States to step up in that regard.
Concerning the tripartite meeting raised by Italy’s delegate, he said that while both Israel and Syria supported UNDOF’s work, there was still need for agreement on that specific issue.
Lieutenant General KEÏTA, asked by Senegal’s representative about the use of helicopters in Bambari, emphasized that MINUSCA’s credibility had been at stake in that instance. “Were we ready to see one coalition attack another coalition” in the country’s largest city? He pointed out that Bambari’s capture would effectively have split the Central African Republic in two, but the use of air assets had stopped the coalition’s progress into the city while keeping MINUSCA personnel safe on the ground.
Answering a question by the United Kingdom’s representative as to how best to mitigate the impact of red tape, he said that issue was beyond the Force Commanders and ultimately was up to the Council, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and contributing countries. “It is obvious that if you are sending [troops] to deal with an armed situation, then you have to be ready to fight.” That meant accepting risks and removing caveats.
Asked by the delegate of the United States how to achieve success in the worsening security situation, he said he was happy to hear those concerns, because it was commonly believed that the United States only wanted missions to “do more with less”. MINUSCA had indeed worked hard to do more with less, but had reached a breaking point, he said, emphasizing the need to maintain its current strength and invest in “right-sizing” its forces.
Major General UBA, discussing lessons from UNMIL’s drawdown, said the Mission had featured in all facets of Liberian life. However, peacebuilding could have started much earlier, or even at the beginning of the peacekeeping phase, he said. He also noted the need for robust engagement with the host nation, using established benchmarks and timelines, in order to overcome “dependency syndrome” and fears that the nation might relapse back into its previous condition. He emphasized that transition programmes should be all-encompassing and involve not only the host nation and international and strategic partners, but also the downtrodden and the masses, so they could understand what was involved in a peacekeeping mission’s drawdown and closure.