Thursday April 19, 2018Together, these changes have transformed the
operational environment of peacekeeping — and increased the threat to
peacekeepers. (The U.N. mission in Mali, for instance, has lost more
peacekeepers to hostile actions than any U.N. mission since Yugoslavia.)
That’s why Secretary-General António Guterres is correct to have
launched a review of peace operations. The world must decide how it now
understands, and plans to use, peace operations.
By Jean-Marie Guéhenno
The United Nations needs to accept that it's possible to fight and broker peace agreements at the same time.
troops from Ethiopia and deployed in the United Nations (UN) Interim
Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) patrol in a UN vehicle at night in
Abyei town, Abyei state, on December 14, 2016. (ALBERT GONZALEZ
Almost two decades ago, United Nations
Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked Lakhdar Brahimi, one of the most
experienced diplomats to have ever served the U.N., to chair a
commission to examine the peacekeeping disasters of the 1990s, from
Bosnia to Somalia and Rwanda, to see if any lessons could be learned.
His hard-hitting report guided my actions as head of U.N. peacekeeping
from 2000 to 2008. And its recommendation to “tell the Security Council
what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear” is as valid as ever —
which is why we must acknowledge that peacekeeping today has changed
dramatically since the Brahimi Report’s publication in 2000.
key recommendation of the report was not to send peacekeepers where
there was no peace to keep. But most peacekeeping missions are now
deployed precisely in such places. Moreover, terrorism, almost absent in
2000, is present in several countries where peacekeepers are deployed,
because it thrives on civil wars. Containing violence and stopping the
spread of terrorism have thus displaced earlier ambitions of
state-building, which have proven much harder to fulfill than
The U.N. faces a
dilemma: Its most important comparative advantage is its impartiality.
Traditionally, peacekeepers have been provided by countries that did not
have a national stake in the conflict, and thus had little incentive to
join any fighting. In recent years, countries — especially those that
neighbor a given conflict — have volunteered for peacekeeping for
precisely the opposite reason: because they had an interest in the
outcome. Tanzania, for instance, deployed in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo, just as Ethiopia and Kenya have deployed in the
U.N.-supported African Union mission in Somalia. In such situations, the
peacekeepers from these countries also have incentive to take greater
military risks in their engagement with the conflicts, in accordance
with their political objectives.
Can one fight and broker a peace
agreement at the same time? The short answer is yes, because peace will
often have enemies. Terrorists need to be defeated, and spoilers need
to be deterred: Sabotaging a peace process should not be cost-free. But
the reality is complex. A big part of defeating terrorism, as well as
marginalizing spoilers, is separating hardcore terrorists with a
transnational agenda, or criminal actors who benefit from war, from
those whose grievances should be addressed in a political process.
requires a new framework to organize this process. A recent report by a
former, and very effective, U.N. force commander, Gen. Carlos Alberto
dos Santos Cruz, recommends that U.N. forces not shy away from tactical
offensive operations to preempt hostile acts, instead of becoming
sitting ducks who lose the respect of the population and actually end up
increasing risks for themselves. He is right, and his recommendations
complement rather than contradict the conclusions of another recent U.N.
report, the so-called HIPPO report, which reaffirmed the primacy of
politics in the success of peace operations. The two approaches now need
to be combined in a single strategic vision.
The U.N. is not
going to become a war machine: Most troop contributors don’t want that,
and blue helmets do not have the level of integration, strength of
command and control, intelligence assets, and willingness to fight that
the effective conduct of war requires. Peacekeepers need to learn how to
operate alongside forces better designed and better motivated to
conduct offensive operations, and they should not be embarrassed by such
cooperation. An interesting test case is on display in the
counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of Africa, where there
is an ongoing U.N. mission in Mali, alongside a French-led military
mission called Operation Barkhane, and a newly formed institution, the
G5 Sahel, designed to coordinate the military operations of several
Force should never define peacekeeping
strategy, of course, whether in the name of “countering violent
extremism” or of “protecting civilians” as in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo. The ultimate goal of complex operations should be to help
national authorities restore their failing sovereignty. But peace
operations’ political goals can be lost if they fall into what might be
called “the peacekeeping trap”: The presence of peacekeepers can relieve
national actors of their core responsibility to build trust with the
population, but their departure may lead to resumption of violence. The
exit strategy of a mission should therefore be in place from the outset,
making the composition and behavior of new national security forces a
That should lead to time-bound commitments with
clear benchmarks. U.N. peace operations enjoy the great advantage of
having reliable and predictable funding, which discourages spoilers on
the ground who oppose peace. But that must not become an excuse for
open-ended deployments that will exhaust the patience of the major
financial contributors to the peacekeeping budget and send the wrong
signal to national actors.
Whether it is against terrorists or
criminal militias, national actors provide the only sustainable
response. The role of peace operations is to empower them, not
substitute for them. Whatever else the U.N. review of peacekeeping
decides, that basic fact will likely be at the center of its
Jean-Marie Guéhenno is a former
undersecretary-general of the United Nations for peacekeeping. He is a
member of the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation created by U.N.
Secretary-General António Guterres.