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 new 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.
19 March 2016 marks the 38th anniversary of the deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), one of the UN’s longest-running peacekeeping missions. UNIFIL serves as a good example of the evolution of peacekeeping: over the years its mandate has become more multidimensional, combining political, civilian, police and military solutions, and more ‘robust’, with a particular emphasis on protecting civilians. It is also among the largest and most expensive peacekeeping missions, located in a region where the political and humanitarian situation continues to worsen. UNIFIL sadly exemplifies that peacekeeping is not only the past, but also the present and future of the United Nations.
Predicting the future is a minefield, but undoubtedly one of the toughest challenges for the new UN Secretary-General will be how to steer the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). Not only because it is one of the most expensive activities of the system, but also because it needs to reconcile two of the core values of the UN: the maintenance of international peace and security, on the one hand, and human security, on the other.
While peacekeeping has certainly led to peaceful transitions and the rebuilding of legitimate and functioning states in many places (from Cambodia to Liberia and Sierra Leone), it still faces many internal and external challenges that need to be addressed. First, DPKO needs to ensure political support from host states – which can be extremely difficult in places like Sudan (UNAMID), Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Then striking the right balance between state consent for mission deployment and the international duty to protect civilians is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. While it is clear that the UN has a humanitarian obligation towards people, it also has to respect the principle of state sovereignty.
Another problem is a fundamental crisis of confidence. First, the limitations of DPKO’s mandate, budget, equipment and troops deployed often prevent it from meeting national and international expectations. Second, recent cases of sexual misconduct have severely damaged its reputation alongside that of the Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) involved. Then, the fact that mandates are now multidimensional, focusing on civil and political affairs along with ‘traditional’ military tasks, creates further challenges for cooperation. It is now more important than ever to ensure DPKO cooperates with the entire UN system when operating in any given country, which in turn requires a constant and frank dialogue between the UN and its member states and between the UN Country Team (UNCT) and the Mission – as well as numerous NGOs in the host state.
The environment peacekeepers are facing has also changed dramatically over the last few decades. While the number of conflicts worldwide has decreased since the 1990s, more wars are protracted or recurring and are often more deadly than previous conflicts. These wars mostly occur in nations without clear political structures or peace agreements, which increases the pressure on peacekeeping to include political stabilisation. Peacekeepers are now mostly deployed in areas where wars are fought asymmetrically between countries and rebel groups, between rebel groups and between combinations of the two. The weapons and tactics used by armed groups are constantly changing, which endangers not only civilians but also peacekeepers, and requires the Department to analyse which current rules of engagement are most effective and which actors need to be involved.
In short, peacekeeping faces considerable, constantly evolving threats, increased levels of violence and deep societal divisions – all of which present more and more diverse challenges for the United Nations. Nowhere is this more visible than Syria: with an ongoing conflict that has created the gravest humanitarian catastrophe of the past two decades and contributed to the largest refugee flows since the Second World War. The UN is now working toward a grand strategy to protect more refugees while fostering negotiations for a political solution on the ground. And as the DPKO already has three missions deployed in the area it can be expected to play an even more comprehensive role in the future.
Although it is far from clear when or how this conflict will end, the multiple rounds of negotiations happening in Geneva have a chance of achieving a political solution which could cover a significant part of Syria. In this context, it is likely that sometime in the near future the United Nations will be asked to deploy a Peacekeeping Operation. This would be a massive undertaking, which would put the concept of multidimensional peacekeeping to the test. Achieving any long-term solution to the crisis in Syria will need a holistic approach, combining security for people still in the country with the reconstruction of functional state institutions, civil society and infrastructure.
Against this backdrop, we want to reflect on the principle and practice of peacekeeping, on DPKO’s mandate and on the changing environments in which it works. With this in mind, the United Nations University in Maastricht has decided to launch a blog series on the Challenges of Peacekeeping in the 21st Century. We are joined in this endeavour by The Hague Institute for Global Justice, the Hague, and the Stimson Center, Washington DC.
Throughout this series, we will provide innovative analysis and solutions for major challenges in peacekeeping. Inclusion will be an important theme for the series – one blog post will consider how better to include women in peacekeeping processes and forces, another will be concerned with engaging civil society actors to try to achieve more meaningful local ownership. How peacekeepers operate will be another theme, as more and more are deployed into active conflict situations and extremely unstable environments, perhaps necessitating the use of military tactics used by peacekeepers. The series will also discuss how peacekeeping can and should engage with new transnational actors including violent extremists and organised crime. We look forward to your feedback on these and other issues.
UN Photo / J.Isaac; P.Gorriz
Challenges to Peacekeeping in the 21st Century: Ortrun Merkle, Diego Salama and Khalid Koser
Women in the Syrian Peace Process: More Than a Seat at the Table? Karen Lock
The Role of Civil Society in Peacekeeping Missions: Tamara Kool
Peacekeeping in Cities: Is the UN Prepared? UNU-CPR
Is Hybrid Peacekeeping a Model of Success? The Case of UNAMID: Diego Salama