Tomorrow (28 March), the Security Council will hold an open debate on “Collective Action to Improve UN Peacekeeping Operations”. The meeting will be chaired by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte. The Council will be briefed by Secretary-General António Guterres; the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat; and Fatimata Touré, Director of the GREFFA (Groupe de Recherche d’Etude de Formation Femme Action), a Malian non-governmental organisation. A presidential statement taking into consideration the positions stated at the meeting is likely to be negotiated following the open debate.
According to a concept note circulated by the Netherlands ahead of the meeting, the objective is to discuss ways to improve engagement of all actors in support of UN peacekeeping operations. The note recognises that the complex and high-risk environments in which peacekeeping operations are being deployed call for improved impact and performance. It further outlines the shared responsibility of the various stakeholders involved in peacekeeping operations and calls on Council members and member states to discuss how that partnership can work more effectively.
The role of the Council in designing and overseeing the mandates of peacekeeping operations is expected to feature prominently in the open debate. The report of the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (2015) emphasised that political strategy must drive the design and implementation of peace operations. In a 25 November 2015 presidential statement, the Council underlined “the significant impact its statements and actions can exert in situations of armed conflict or in support of peace processes”. During the meeting, member states are expected to share with Council members what they expect from their role in agreeing on a political strategy in support of the peace operations it mandates. They are also expected to stress the importance of prioritising and sequencing mandates in order to come up with realistic and achievable mandates. One of the challenges faced by the Council has been the resistance and sometimes open hostility of host states to the deployment and ongoing conduct of peace operations. Participants in the open debate may articulate how the Council could engage with host governments to address these dynamics.
Troop- and Police-Contributing Countries (T/PCCs), and member states more broadly, are key to the implementation of Council mandates. In the context of asymmetrical attacks, their adequate equipment and capabilities are of vital importance. In 2017, 61 peacekeepers were killed as a result of hostile acts, the highest number since 1994. Members are expected to reiterate concerns about the rising level of casualties in peacekeeping operations.
In this context, participants are expected to react to the conclusions of a recent report on improving the security of UN peacekeepers, commissioned by the Secretariat. The report, prepared by a team headed by Lieutenant General (ret.) Carlos dos Santos Cruz, concluded that a change of mindset is needed to adapt to the new contexts in which the UN flag no longer offers “natural” protection, and break from a certain “Chapter VI Syndrome” that leads peacekeepers to deploy without a full appreciation of security risks and the operational approach needed to address them. The report argues that a more proactive posture will contribute to the credibility of peacekeeping operations and their ability to protect civilians and their own personnel. Building on the report, the Secretariat has developed a plan of action which identifies concrete ways to improve the safety and security of UN personnel. The meeting will offer an opportunity to hear what will most likely be varying perspectives on the conclusions of the report.
Another element for the discussion will be the report of an Independent Special Investigation assessing the performance of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) after a July 2016 crisis in Juba, led by Major General (ret.) Patrick Cammaert. The report described how lack of preparedness, ineffective command and control, deficient leadership, and a risk-averse posture contributed to a failure to effectively protect civilians in need, and made recommendations that the Secretariat committed to implement in UNMISS and other missions. Some of the interventions may focus on lessons learned from this report and how they can be applied to peacekeeping operations in complex environments.
The concept note stresses the role of the UN Secretariat in providing frank analysis and honest reporting to the Council. The concept note also highlights the usefulness of strategic reviews recently commissioned by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The first such review carried out at the initiative of the Secretariat, focusing on the operation in South Sudan, has just been completed. Council members may discuss how they expect to consider the conclusions of these reviews in the upcoming mandate renewals. Along these lines, there may be a discussion about the amount of information from these reviews that reaches the Council (i.e., whether the Council should have access to the reviews in the entirely or in abridged form).
The role of the AU is also expected to be highlighted at the meeting. In addition to the issue of funding, which is often raised, participants may want to discuss how the AU can be more involved in Council consideration of mission mandates, particularly when the AU is in the lead of mediation efforts or there are regional or sub-regional operations deployed alongside UN peacekeeping operations.
Other issues that may be raised tomorrow include the importance of improved triangular consultations between the Council, T/PCCs and the Secretariat and the potential impact of the Secretary-General’s reforms (peace and security architecture, management) in ensuring better delivery by peacekeeping operations.