Highlight 37/2021 – What should be the future of UN peacekeeping missions?
Jake Van Grieken, 14 December 2021
Peacekeeping missions have always been an integral part of the United Nations’ functioning. They have evolved from limited conflict-containment operations to extensive, multidimensional missions. However, evolving issues again necessitate a transformation of UN peacekeeping: the rise of cyber threats and terrorism, the effects of increased urbanisation and of climate change, all pose new challenges. Furthermore, peacekeeping faces challenges from within the UN itself. An increasingly polarised UN Security Council has resulted in the reduction of size and funding of missions, with a reduction of 21% in peacekeeping expenditure and 20.5% in uniformed troops between 2015-19. Compounding this are the financial constraints on the UN as a result of the economic effects of Covid-19 on its Member States. If UN peacekeeping missions are to continue to be an effective tool for ensuring peace, they must adapt.
From military to civilian missions
Military operations have failed to sufficiently address the underlying causes of conflict and create long-term stability. They have frequently been driven by national interests, with States seeking to gain international recognition. Moreover, financial pressures and a lack of international consensus make these large military operations increasingly unsustainable.
Future missions ought to be people-centred and focused on protecting civilians. Peacekeeping needs to address the root causes of violence in order to mitigate conflict and its drivers. Mandates should be grounded in local dialogue, involving grassroots actors and robust diplomacy. Only where absolutely necessary should uniformed personnel be used. There ought to be a greater emphasis on deploying human rights monitors, protecting civilians and developing relief efforts.
Planning and capacity building
Peacekeeping missions must be accompanied by more comprehensive planning and capacity building. There is a need for the UN to adopt a more preventative and proactive approach to peacekeeping. The peace and security pillar of the UN should contribute to producing preventative measures, improving diplomacy and developing early warning systems. In strengthening strategic planning and foresight, there needs to be more emphasis on amassing knowledge and expertise on areas of deployment and of emerging threats, for example through predictive analysis and modelling. The UN must embrace and expand upon existing analytical tools such as the Situational Awareness Geospatial Enterprise (SAGE) to predict trends in armed violence and to improve risk mitigation.
Training and composition of peacekeeping forces
Peacekeeping missions must be more representative and better trained in order to better protect civilians. Peacekeeping forces should be extensively trained in humanitarian law, UN principles and mediation. Women should be an integral part in peacebuilding to make peacekeeping missions more representative. Female forces provide more effective protection against sexual violence (an issue that has historically marred UN peacekeeping) and can build trust, particularly in areas where the majority of displaced people are women. Additionally, a greater effort must be made to enhance capacity building and ensure availability of targeted training and resources to troop contributing countries, particularly in the development and sharing of technology.
To achieve an effective delivery of a more civilian and pre-emptive peacekeeping mandate, it will be crucial for the UN to develop closer partnerships. The UN can benefit from a broader spectrum of expertise and a larger operational capacity, helping bear the brunt of the financial and military burden of peacekeeping. In particular, developing regional partnerships in the implementation of peacekeeping will give the UN increased political legitimacy.
In the future, UN peacekeeping will be confronted with new challenges to which it must adapt. Financial pressures and increased international division have made the large, multidimensional and military-based operations of today unsustainable and ineffective. Thus the future of peacekeeping should lie in more pre-emptive, civilian-focused missions, supported by comprehensive planning and capacity building.
Jake Van Grieken, What should be the future of UN peacekeeping missions?, Highlight 37/2021, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.