Interview: What Will Peace Operations Look Like in 2025?

In this interview, Tobias von Gienanth, author of Peace Operations 2025, and Almut Wieland-Karimi,  director of the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), discussed how the publication, a collection of possible scenarios for the future of peace operations in the year 2025, came about and the different factors that were used to determine the scenarios.

“We thought a lot has been said about peacekeeping and peace building and peace operations, but no one has really applied modern scenario methodology to peace operations,” said Ms. Wieland-Karimi.

“We gathered a group of about 25 experts from the UN, the EU, OCE, other regional organizations… and we met in three workshops on three continents—in Berlin, in Addis Ababa, and in New York—and then we went through various steps of the scenario methodology, with the help of a foresight company.”

Ms. Wieland-Karimi discussed the four scenarios presented in the book: erratic progress, national interest, regional diversity, and global cooperation.

“Our idea is that people work with these scenarios. It’s not meant to be just another publication that is thought-provoking or stimulating, then after a while, you’ll put it on your shelf, and that’s it. But rather, the idea is that we use it,” she said.

Ms. Wieland-Karimi also explained the role of private security companies in the scenarios. “In the past, we were used to the fact that peace operations basically were being organized by multilateral organizations,” she said. “However, in the recent years, we have seen that there are more and more new actors.”

The interview was conducted by Adam Smith, Research Fellow and Manager of Peace Operations Program at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Adam Smith: I am here with Tobias Gienanth, who is the main author of Peace Operations 2025, a production of the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), located in Berlin, and I am also joined by the director of ZIF, Almut Wieland-Karimi. Welcome to both of you.

My first question is what is Peace Operations 2025, what is this publication, and how do you do it, how did you go about making it?

Almut Wieland-Karimi: It’s a publication on the future of peace operations. We thought a lot has been said about peacekeeping and peace building and peace operations, but no one has really applied modern scenario methodology to peace operations. So the process, how we developed peace operations, has been really interesting and stimulating because we gathered a group of about 25 experts from the UN, the EU, OCE, other regional organizations—some of them decision makers, others practitioners, and experts and deliberately we also invited a couple of non-peace operations insiders, people who kind of think outside the box, who come from a totally different field and not take everything for granted, as we do in the insider community. And we met in three workshops on three continents, in Berlin, in Addis Ababa, and in New York, and then we went through various steps of the scenario methodology with the help of a foresight company.

And at the end, we came up with 12 key factors, and these key factors will be the ones on which we build the scenarios. So for each key factor we had a projection, usually various projections, we combined these projections, and put together the four scenarios. But interesting of course are the key factors in the projections not really the scenarios because they are only fictions, they are only a text to build on these key factors.

Now we have four scenarios. One is erratic progress, that’s basically what we are in right now. We could have called it “mulling through.” Then we kind of have the worst-case scenario, which is called “national interest.” Then we have something like in between, it’s called “the regional diversity.” And the last one that is really the optimistic outlook is called “global cooperation.”

AS: Now, what were some of the key factors that you identified? You mentioned 12 factors. What were they, and what were the more important ones, cause they all obviously wouldn’t influence the same.

Tobias von Gienanth: Well, actually we identified 14 factors in all. Only two are what we call “given factors.” The difference between a given factor and a key factor is that with the given factor, we know the future development and those two are climate change and demographic growth. We know that world climate is going to change and we know that while population is going to grow.

The other 12 factors have, as already mentioned, at least two projections. They can go up and down or stay the same. A very important example, of course, would be the state of the world economy, which is obviously crucial because it determines the amount of funding available for peace operations.

Other factors, for example, are the evolution of international organizations, the role of emerging powers, and the role they will choose to play—whether they will engage with multilateral peace operations, whether they will want to disengage or maybe find new ways for themselves in this field—and we also have a number of smaller factors, such as the role of modern technologies, which are probably more of a sideshow but can have, in specific instances, very important effects.

AS: Speaking of new actors, I noticed throughout the publication, there are several references to the role of the private sector. So private security companies figure in, I think, two of the scenarios, and then one of the scenarios actually has corporations financing some of the equipment that peacekeepers use and things like that. Can you tell me a little but about how your thinking on the private sector played into some of the scenarios, and how big of a factor it was?

AWK: Well, I will say, in the past, we were used to the fact that peace operations basically were being organized by multilateral organizations. However in the recent years, we have seen that there are more and more new actors. Fifteen-to-twenty years ago, civil society, all these NGOs evolved as actors, important actors, in conflict and crisis context. But we’ve also found what we call the norms or social entrepreneurs like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, who do spend a lot of money in areas of crisis. And some of them are really involved in the same areas where peace operations are being implemented.We thought, if you also think about the role of private security companies, that in an increasingly manner support logistics, also peace operations themselves, that in the future, there might be a bigger role for private companies. And, of course, especially in times of austerity, it will become an issue, considering partnerships—private and public partnerships—with companies that might support the logistic base of a peace operations, or that might provide all the cars or that might even provide helicopters that are in dear need of so this was the idea that they probably will play a much bigger role in the future.

AS: My next question is, who is Grace Kimunya?

TG: A figment of, in this case, literally, of my imagination. We came up with the idea that we wanted these four scenarios, the actually narratives—we wanted to connect them somehow. And an idea that we came up with when we were literally sitting around the table together, just like here now: let’s take a person, a person that’s active in peace operations today and think about what this person will do in—well, our time horizon is 2025—let’s look from, I think it’s New Years Eve of 2025, and where this person is, what —in this case, she —is actually doing then, and use her as a mirror of where peace operations can go. In one case, for example, she is working in the Museum of Peace Operations in the negative scenario.

AS: It seems like, in three out of the four scenarios, Grace is slightly disappointed in where she is when we meet her in the end of 2025. Did what they led to these four different scenarios that you came up with, did it make you or less optimistic about the future of peacekeeping operations, given all the analysis that went into this?

AWK: It’s a good question. We have actually discussed it among colleagues, and you will find that 50% will tell you that they are more pessimistic, because basically these scenarios are, apart from the global diversity one, not optimistic outlooks. But there will be the other 50% that tells us you have to be realistic. And we do know the nature of conflict and crisis will change. That’s no news, I will say. But I think what we really want to contribute with these scenarios is dialogue on how to get better with maybe limited resources.

So I will say, I am not depressed, to use that word, or I am not pessimistic. It’s rather the idea to create scenarios that stimulate thinking, thinking that hasn’t been around before in a different way. I think nobody in the group really felt that they are too pessimistic, because everybody would think that this erratic progress is basically what we have now, but twelve years later. And of course there’s always very positive developments, there’s many things being conceptual doctrine, evolving regional organizations taking more responsibilities. We have, of course, a long list of positive developments. However, we also know about all the shortcomings, and we have to focus on the shortcomings, of course.

AS: In terms of what you do with these scenarios, moving forward, can you say a little something about how usefully these could be, or what uses you could have for them?

AWK: Well basically, our idea is that people work with these scenarios. It’s not meant to be just another publication that is thought provoking or stimulating, then after a while, you’ll put it on your shelf, and that’s it. But rather, the idea is that we use it. For example, we at ZIF use it at our training courses, and the idea is that people use this scenarios and discuss the relevance for it today and see what developments do we have to support to get to a more preventive, proactive mode in peace operations, and what do we have to do to avoid a more negative future, so to say, in the world of peace operations. So, we’re also doing a series of workshops where people come together in order to explore the operations implications out of these scenarios for today’s work. We really see it as a living document.

AS: Where there any surprises that you came out with after doing all this analysis where you got to the end and you were surprised by the influence of certain factors, or where certain factors led you down the road to of final outcome?

TG: One thing I certainly wasn’t aware of, and that is again probably because of our background, because we’re very much caught up in the day-to-day work of the major implementing organizations or course, and these points all came from the experts, from outside of our field. For example, the potential for the role of social media, in a positive and negative way, of course, and the role of technology in peace operations and the possibilities for that. That was certainly a surprise. And I simply wasn’t aware of how much funding is already made available by the private sector, particularly through the mega-foundations, which is quite a sobering thought when you compare that number to, for example, the operating budget of the United Nations.

AS: Just for our listeners, can you sketch out in a little more detail each of the four scenarios?

TG: The first one—and we try to avoid that, but it is the status quo scenario—the erratic progress. This really is very much the world of peace operations today just down the road.

The other three are, in that sense, more interesting, although they are probably less realistic because they’re actually quite different. Well, you could say our short names were the status quo, the positive, the negative, and the regionalization scenarios, that really, I think, gives you a first idea of what they’re about.

In a sense, I think what was also the impression that the feedback we got from the various presentations we’ve done so far is that the regionalization is, in a sense, the most interesting one. And the underlying idea is that the UN is no longer seen by at least by some of the major players as satisfactory, or as sufficient at least. So what you find there are regional blocs, for example in Latin America, obviously in Africa, but also in Asia, where the UN is possibility used as giving a mandate, but all the implementation is really done by greatly strengthened regional actors. In some cases, existing ones such as the African Union and in other cases, we wrote in, so to speak, new regional organizations: for example, in Latin America.

And then, of course, are the positive and negative ones that are really the dream and nightmare scenarios, so to speak. They’re both very much based on the question of which way the world economy is going. On the one, you obviously have a world economic crisis and nations draw inwards. In a sense you could almost says it’s a bit like the 1920s and 30s and the end of the League of Nations, so to speak, the same thing happening now to peace operations, where the only areas that are really left of international cooperation is on border control and policing. All other multilateral activities basically come to a stop. And that is the one we basically call “national interest” scenario.

And then there’s the “global cooperation,” which really is just that: a new golden age, so to speak, based on economic growth. And we also invented a solution to the world energy crisis, which always helps. In all of these, of course, there’s either a virtuous circle or vicious circle as the economy is doing well, probably the number of conflicts worldwide is going down and at the same time more money is available, so everything becomes a lot easier. The negative case is obviously the opposite. You not only have more conflicts, you also have less resources to address them.

AS: Excellent, very interesting. I want to thank Almut Wieland-Karimi, the director for the Center for International Peace Operations in Berlin, and the main author of Peace Operations 2025, Tobias Gienanth. Thank you very much.

AWK: Thank you.

TG: Thank you.