Last month, the Global Observatory published a series of articles on the report of Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers,” on peacekeeping fatalities and injuries. Since the report’s publication, dozens of articles have been written commenting on its analysis or criticizing it.
With the aim of providing more context, the Global Observatory interviewed Lieutenant General Santos Cruz for his view on what has been said about his report and its relevance for present-day peacekeeping.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is the central message you hope to convey about peacekeeping reforms?
To summarize all the recommendations in a central message, I would say that the United Nations, troop- and police-contributing countries, and civilians participating in peacekeeping need to change their mindset and behavior in order to reduce the number of fatalities and of peacekeepers seriously injured in UN missions.
The objective while researching and writing the report was to directly respond to the questions that we were supposed to answer: why there was an increase in fatalities in peacekeeping missions as a consequence of acts of violence and what the UN needs to do to reduce the number of fatalities and peacekeeping seriously injured in the missions. Then the focus was on recommendations for what is necessary to preserve the life of peacekeepers. When people are dying, you realize that you need to change the system.
You have served in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and visited Mali and the Central African Republic for the report. Do your recommendations apply to all contexts and missions equally?
I think the recommendations are valid for all situations but should be adapted on a case-by-case basis. UN peacekeeping missions are not equivalent and therefore behavior and solutions should not be standard; however, the principles to be followed are the same. Sometimes, even inside the same mission, behavior and posture should be completely different and appropriate to a particular situation. For instance, in DRC, operational behavior in the fight against the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces] in Beni is different from military and police activities inside or around Goma.
The recommendations in the report are related to many areas, including leadership and accountability, operational behavior, action and the use of force, initiative, the appropriate selection of troop- and police-contributing countries, training, equipment, intelligence, technology, medical support, military, police, and UN bases, coherent deployment, creating a more agile administration, and holding criminals accountable.
The translation of ideas in these areas to local realities is useful in all situations.
The need for better intelligence is emphasized in your report. What would it take for a UN mission to operationalize intelligence?
Intelligence is fundamental to having situational awareness, to understanding the context, and to guiding operational actions. But it is not only useful to understanding the big picture. It is necessary to have knowledge about operational details, terrain, individuals, groups, interests, and activities.
Another aspect is how intelligence is used from a structural standpoint. The missions have structure, but they are not integrated. There are groups of experts, political affairs, civil affairs, the JMAC [Joint Mission Analysis Centre], U2 [military intelligence], military units, community liaisons, police contingents, and others, but they don’t work as an integrated system. Sometimes there is a good level of knowledge available, but it isn’t translated into appropriate, coordinated action. UN administration does not function based on operational logistics; it is bureaucratic. It does not follow operational needs, but when people are dying, you need to change.
Also, sometimes the military, police, and civilians don’t have training about what information they need to collect or how to report. It is frequent that the military patrols without interpreters to talk to the population, to know what is going on in the area. Sometimes the missions have high technology—drones, for instance—but don’t have the ability to take pictures. The mission doesn’t buy cell phones or provide credit to facilitate some locals to collect information. Frequently, some military units are deployed in three or four different bases without specialists in intelligence, because the battalions don’t have three or four intelligence teams.
It is still almost impossible to work with informants and guides. Criminals assassinate peacekeepers and there is not a reward for useful information to arrest them. The budget for tactical and operational intelligence is almost nonexistent. Human intelligence is so important and sometimes more important than what is collected with advanced technology. Often knowledge generates reports and not actions. No intelligence is translated into action. Intelligence and administration are areas where the UN needs many operational improvements. When you are deployed in tough environments, administration and logistics should follow operations, not the reverse as is currently the case.
Are there contradictions between your recommendation of a robust apparatus and increasing budget constraints, along with a lack of willingness on the part of major troop-contributing countries?
If there is a contradiction, it is much more related to willingness, behavior, and attitude than to the increasing budget constraints. First, what I recommend is a more robust posture, and not exactly a robust apparatus. Obviously, it is necessary to have the means necessary to operate. But material and technology are meaningless if there is not a mindset and a positive attitude towards using it to produce knowledge and take action.
There is an operational behavior we may call “classic peacekeeping” that is still strongly connected with the interpretations of Chapter VI, which I call in the report the “syndrome of Chapter VI.” It is a behavior adopted over a long time, consolidated in the peacekeeping training centers, and comfortably “justified” with interpretations of the UN Charter, principles of peacekeeping, and even with mandates’ “convenient interpretations.”
The report emphasized the need for good pre-deployment and in-mission training. Can the UN work with troops it already has and train or mentor them in mission, or does it also need new troop-contributing countries?
I think the UN should do both—employ troops already used to participate in peacekeeping and attract new troop- and police- contributing countries. They should also support them heavily from the very beginning, in pre-deployment and in-mission training and with equipment, especially when they are going to risky areas. There are 15 UN peacekeeping missions, each with a unique operational environment. Four or five are classified as high-risk missions. We need to demand changes, redefining clearly to traditional troop- and police-contributing countries what the UN’s expectations are, and changing and supervising training during pre-deployment and in-mission.
In some areas, like Mali and DRC, it is fundamental to have in-mission training. In risky areas and dangerous missions, there are some contributing countries who are paying the highest price with casualties. These countries should be supported with priority and differently in training, equipment, and financial resources. They need to have priority immediately.
You are calling for new troop-contributing countries, but who could they be? Western states remain reluctant, and Latin American countries do not seem to be willing to increase their contribution significantly.
I think Western states are not attracted to peacekeeping missions. They have a NATO standard, and normally the UN system is different from the one they are used to. Latin American contributions are not significant, with few exceptions.
However, African countries are participating in missions in Africa, suffering almost one hundred percent of the casualties because of possible difficulties in training and equipment, but mainly because they are going to the most dangerous sites. These troop- and police-contributing countries should receive, on an urgent basis, equipment, training, and financial support that is different from the usual. We should be more respectful of their sacrifice, and stop losing poor soldiers from poor countries.
Your report focused on the military component of missions in the context of reducing fatalities, whereas the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) focused on the primacy of politics. How do you see your report in relation to the HIPPO report?
The difference between my report and the HIPPO is that I am talking about real life, about life and death for the military, police, and civilians. The HIPPO analyzes the UN peacekeeping system as a whole.
Obviously, mission success normally depends on political arrangements and agreements. During mission development, all the actions should be coordinated to try to achieve the mission goals. But the life of personnel is above all these ideal and doctrinal considerations. I think a strong posture to make UN personnel and the mission safer is fundamental to contributing to the political success in a risky peacekeeping mission. Normally a weak posture reduces mission prestige and make even political achievements difficult.
The use of force generates the need for better political performance. The use of force should always be harmonized with the mission political posture.
I think the reports have different focuses, but may be considered as complementary to each other in their impact on practical life at missions. The UN is not giving the correct value to the military dimension of its operations, and this has to change. Civilian and military lives should be considered on the same level.
Where do you think responsibility lies for implementing reforms? How can the burden in sharing between various stakeholders of peacekeeping be more balanced?
With the focus only on the prevention and reduction of fatalities and personnel seriously injured, we should follow and uphold some principles. The main responsibility for implementing reforms lies at headquarters in New York, where the leaders are designated and selected, mission structures created, and supervision and implementing accountability conducted.
However, for sure, all stakeholders are responsible, each one in its domain. The troop- and police-contributing countries are responsible for developing first-quality training and equipment, and for selecting commanders with the highest standards of leadership. In the same level of responsibility are the different civilian sectors in the mission, including the administration and the UN country team.
To balance the burden of sharing, the UN should increase its mechanisms of supervision and accountability. We should also not forget that the mission prestige and success as a whole creates a safer environment for all.
Lieutenant General (Retired) Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz is the co-author of the report “Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers,” and a former Force Commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Currently, he is the National Secretary for Public Security in the Ministry of Justice and Public Security of Brazil.