In a global political climate where critics of multilateralism grow in numbers and conflicts become increasingly complex, peacekeeping missions are facing major challenges. Enhanced coordination, sustainable training and innovative thinking are therefore crucial in overcoming those obstacles.
An Interview with Benedikt van den Woldenberg and Diego Salama
I first met Diego Salama several years ago as a reliable expert on peacekeeping and the inner workings of the UN with a distinct interest in developments in the MENA region. In addition to insightful conversations, we have since carried out together two Greater Middle East simulations with graduate students at the United Nations University’s (UNU) Maastricht branch. The UNU is a remarkable institution that aims at providing top-notch, practice-oriented research skills for its students. This interview directly relates to one of Diego’s core areas of expertise, as he also co-edits the blog series Challenges to Peacekeeping in the 21st Century at the UNU.
The former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld once famously said that peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers but only soldiers can do it. What do you think makes a successful peacekeeping operation in the 21st century?
I think any and all peacekeeping missions should properly understand the terrain they are operating in. This process begins even before the mission itself is deployed. First of all, it is fundamental for the UN Security Council and the Secretariat to be fully aware of the situation on the ground and take that into account while drafting the mandate. Second, the risks and realities of the conflict in question should be widely discussed with the Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) who will, more often than not, express caveats which are maximum levels of risks they are willing to put their troops in. Third, the Secretariat ought to ensure that the TCCs properly train the soldiers they are about to deploy, so they are effective and behave themselves in a manner befitting the job they have to do.
The 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) highlighted that once the mission is deployed it should always be people-centered. That means that it is no longer enough to create an absence of violence; missions have a duty to collaborate in rebuilding civil society. Peacekeeping missions have to provide traditional security alongside human security which essentially means that the people should enjoy freedom from fear and freedom from want. All operations have to be part of the work done by the entire UN system in that particular country and they must cooperate with all convened agencies, funds and programmes to make sure the country in question achieves the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The world is becoming more complex and so is the setup of peacekeeping operations. Where do you see capabilities that need to be expanded?
Peacekeeping must expand training capabilities before and during deployment. If the Security Council continues to deploy ‘stabilisation’ missions like MINUSMA in Mali, MINUSCA in the Central African Republic and MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which authorises them to go after terrorist organisations, then the TCCs have to commit to provide well-trained troops and state of the art technologies especially when things get difficult. One key issue that also needs to be addressed is resilience. There are some TCCs with a very low resilience level and the moment things get dangerous they pull their troops out or limit their movement severely.
Furthermore, it is fundamental to get more regional organisations involved. The experiment of deploying the first hybrid peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID) proved that although it’s critical the explicit support of institutional entities like in this case the African Union can help the UN have a smoother relationship with relevant actors. Missions can benefit from their knowledge, network and contributions – both in terms of fundings and troops.
Which part in preparing personnel can institutions such as the United Nations University (UNU) play in improving the training of peacekeepers?
Over the past four decades, the UNU has been a permanent bridge between academia and the United Nations. Today more than ever before it is important to ensure both that research is as policy-relevant as possible and that policymaking takes evidence-based research into account while drafting and executing policies. The UNU stands at a unique place in the UN system because through its 13 research and training institutes and programmes we essentially conduct research on issues relating to all 17 SDGs. We can therefore provide training to civilian staff (local and international) and military staff on issues that span from migration to social protection, from natural resources to gender issues.
As recommended in the HIPPO report, the missions have to be better trained on the issues related to the country they are operating in. And this process has to start before the troops are deployed, but it also ought to continue throughout their deployment. Agencies like the UNU, the UN System Staff College, UNITAR and others can be important partners for these missions because they can train their own staff. Perhaps more importantly they can train local government officials and civil society leaders, so they will contribute to their country’s path towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Which parts of UN peacekeeping operations do you see threatened the most by budget cuts?
The overarching lesson to be learned from the current political climate is that, for the time being, UN peacekeeping will have to do more with less. However, budget cuts should not necessarily be seen as bad by UN advocates or as good by UN critics. They are simply a new reality.
On the one hand, it is important to consider that budget cuts may be an opportunity. As my colleagues from the UNU Adam Day and Lauren Spink stated, budget cuts can be used to reform peacekeeping, ensure peak efficiency and effectiveness. In fact, the approved 600 million USD cut from the UN’s 8 billion budget has triggered a review of all 15 missions. If done correctly this can have positive effects. Of course, in order for this to have a net positive outlook, the Secretariat will need to employ creativity in terms of how they manage their resources.
On the other hand, I co-wrote an article where we argued that budget cuts if done too drastically can create gaps in terms of protecting civilians, particularly girls and women. I think the area which is more worrisome is the protection of civilians. Aggressive cuts would mean that while missions may stabilise the country in question they may not have the resources to fully achieve human security.
Diego Salama is a communications officer at the United Nations University (UNU-MERIT) and a PhD candidate in history of international relations at Leiden University. He worked as a research assistant to the academic director at UNU-MERIT and at the United Nations Information Centre in Lima. Diego holds a BA in international relations from University College Maastricht and a MA in international relations (cum laude) with an emphasis on history from Leiden University.
The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.
Image source: “MINUSMA Transport Company Delivers Water to Airport Guards”, United Nations Photo, http://bit.ly/2FVUgRA, licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.
Benedikt van den Woldenberg
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