Peacekeeping is one of the cornerstones of the United Nations and was, is and will be an essential tool for creating lasting peace in war-torn societies. The international system has changed in many ways since the first deployment of peacekeepers in 1948; new actors and challenges have emerged and mandates have evolved. The 21st Century brings enormous challenges to the international community’s peace and security – and peacekeeping will have to address many of these challenges. This series, culminating on International Day of UN Peacekeepers, 29 May, will bring innovative analysis and offer solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing peacekeeping today.
The seventieth anniversary of the United Nations made 2015 a watershed year for international efforts to renew and strengthen two of the world body’s most high profile sets of activities: peacekeeping and peacebuilding. As detailed in the forward-leaning reports of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), the Advisory Group of Experts on the Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture (2015 Peacebuilding Review), and UN Women’s Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (1325 Global Study), peacekeeping and peacebuilding also represent some of the UN’s most costly, complex and politically intrusive endeavours — endeavours in need of both rethinking and retooling.
Though each initiative offers creative, thoughtful and timely ideas for innovating the global response to violent conflict and state fragility, some important gaps remain. Moreover, without a concerted effort by a coalition of like-minded states and non-state actors to champion the most urgently needed changes, reinforced by intellectual and managerial leadership from within the UN system, the reform effort initiated in 2015 risks serious setbacks and possible failure.
To highlight a few of each report’s most far-reaching proposals that merit the attention of international policymakers, scholars and activists concerned about the future of peacekeeping and peacebuilding:
First, though ambitious (and labelled as unrealistic by some critics), the HIPPO report rightly calls for a standing UN “vanguard force … to insert a quickly responding military capability into a new mission area or to reinforce and existing mission.” It also bravely recommends that P5 members (China, France, Russia, UK and US) supply military forces to UN peacekeeping. The HIPPO report has the foresight to further call for the use of UN assessed contributions for Council-mandated operations by regional organisations, which has the potential to invigorate, in particular, future United Nations-African Union hybrid peace operations.
Next, reflecting on lessons from the UN Peacebuilding Architecture’s first decade, the 2015 Peacebuilding Review makes important conceptual contributions through its emphasis on ‘sustaining peace’ (uniting the major pillars of the UN system around a comprehensive approach encompassing prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and post-conflict recovery and reconstruction) and ‘fostering national ownership’ (engaging a wide spectrum of political opinions and domestic actors). But, as elaborated below, the Review does not go nearly far enough in its subsequent proposals to enhance the critical coordination, resource mobilisation, and prevention authorities of the Peacebuilding Commission.
Finally, in reviewing 15 years of progress in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, the 1325 Global Study calls for a variety of measures to overcome the political obstacles to more women contributing to peacebuilding, particularly in regions where extremism prevails; introducing a ‘gender lens’ in all aspects of the work of the Security Council; and identifying new resources to address the “… persistent failure to adequately finance the women, peace and security agenda.”
A crisis of global governance?
Shortly before the release of all three abovementioned path-breaking studies, the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister and UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, issued a related, yet more diverse set of reform recommendations through its report on Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance. Responding to urgent needs and extending beyond the three official UN reports, the Commission advocates:
- Establishing a new UN Civilian Response Capability with a cadre of 500 international staff, key elements of which should be deployable within a week or two and possess technical and managerial skills most needed in today’s operations. This standing group (which would include a specialised track of 50 senior mediators) should be complemented by a 2000-strong standby component of highly skilled and periodically trained international civil servants pulled from across the UN system, including the World Bank and IMF.
- Upgrading the Peacebuilding Commission into an empowered Peacebuilding Council — similar to the Human Rights Commission’s transformation in 2005 — with new coordination authorities, new financial and knowledge resources, and a new focus on prevention, including through ‘peacebuilding audits’. Rather than simply advising the Security Council and General Assembly, the new Peacebuilding Council (possibly inhabiting the chamber of the all-but-defunct Trusteeship Council) could assert leadership on second and third order conflicts, freeing up the Security Council to focus on major crises.
- Increase the prominence of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 National Action Plans within national policy priorities, which will help to ensure two critical components of effective implementation: political will and resources.
But, as stressed earlier, these gap-filling innovations, alongside the proposals advanced by the UN’s high-level studies, will not be realised without a carefully designed and sustained reform effort led by networks of states, non-state actors, and champions from within the UN system secretariat. One idea would be to convene an independently-sponsored multi-stakeholder forum, with key government, UN and civil society allies, to build consensus around a select number of the best and most politically viable reform ideas. This agenda could then form the basis for continuous outreach, advocacy, and assessment efforts over several years, undertaken together by the members of this new coalition of international actors committed to the renewal and strengthening of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment last year of former UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to lead a team to develop a HIPPO report implementation agenda and the ‘UN Peace Operations Review‘ held earlier this month at the United Nations are two positive examples of follow-through. Nevertheless, a longer-term awareness-raising, lobbying, and monitoring programme is essential to achieve marked and sustained progress. In addition to enlisting the next UN Secretary-General in early 2017, this effort will benefit from engaging a diverse range of long-standing and non-traditional countries, scholars and civil society organisations dedicated to preparing UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding for tomorrow’s threats and challenges.
UN Photo / M.Dormino; Flickr / Monusco Photos