Action for Peacekeeping: Making Good on Shared Commitments

Vehicles of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) roll past during a ceremony marking the transition of Force Commanders. (UN Photo/Arnold Felfer)

The recent completion of the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping missions in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, and their subsequent closure, demonstrated that when host governments, troop- and police-contributing countries, regional stakeholders, the Security Council, and the UN Secretariat work together, peacekeeping can help to end war and accompany a nation towards reconstruction and recovery.

UN peacekeeping is a constantly evolving instrument of global burden sharing and collective responsibility. Peacekeeping today deploys some 100,000 military, police, and civilians in all corners of the globe. It requires the constant engagement of member states on all matters from force generation, training, and, critically, to provide consistent and robust political support to help resolve conflicts and build a lasting peace.

All peacekeeping missions seek to chart a course towards the stability and security that will allow them to withdraw. Yet in too many cases today, such a course is hard to discern. Reaching the point where an operation can safely draw down is difficult and depends on extraneous political factors that are often beyond its span of control. In so-called frozen conflicts, a peacekeeping presence keeps instability and conflict at bay while long-term political resolution is sought. In countries emerging from civil war and suffering state weakness, the path to reconciliation, institution-building, and development is long and non-linear. Often, there is little or no peace to keep. Peace agreements are fragile or non-existent. Regional insecurity can compound conflict. Peacekeeping missions have themselves become the target of armed groups.

Yet despite the challenges, failure is not an option—any mission failure would represent a catastrophe to the populations that look with hope to peacekeepers as a bulwark against war and the bridge to eventual peace.

What then, is needed to succeed? While each situation is unique, the requisite components include: a combination of the right mandates and operational resources provided by member states; dedicated, brave, and accountable personnel; skilled leadership from the UN to chart an effective strategy; host states and conflict parties ready to work towards peace; and an international community of states providing wider support for political mediation, humanitarian needs, and peacebuilding. Mustering this broad collective action is fundamental to giving peacekeeping operations their best chance of success. This has never been more urgent given the increasingly challenging environments into which we deploy. Failure to work effectively together will result in missed political opportunities, peacekeepers being placed at greater risk, and persistent gaps in capabilities, preventing our missions from effectively helping communities emerge from conflict.

Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) is Secretary-General António Guterres’ clarion call to rally member states to this cause. It calls for action from the Secretariat and its peacekeeping operations, and it is also a call for each member state, whether as a host government, troop or police contributor, as a Security Council or General Assembly member, or as a financial contributor, to fulfill their role in strengthening peacekeeping.

That is why today the secretary-general is convening a High-Level Event on the margins of the General Assembly debate. Attended by over 101 heads of state, government, and ministers, it will be an extraordinary convergence of countries across the globe reaffirming their commitment to the unique tool of UN peacekeeping.

At the event, member states will celebrate the 70th anniversary of peacekeeping by recalling its successes, but also by taking stock of new challenges and how to face them. Central to this will be the recently created Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations, which was developed over the summer by member states, the Secretariat and partner organizations.

The Declaration sets a new agenda to renew political commitment to peacekeeping, and outlines commitments that all contributors to peacekeeping should fulfill in order to make UN peacekeeping more effective. It focuses on seven key areas: 1) enhancing the political impact of peacekeeping; 2) strengthening protection provided by peacekeeping; 3) safety and security; 4) performance and accountability; 5) peacekeeping impact on sustaining peace; 6) partnerships; 7) the conduct of peacekeeping operations and of personnel.

The Declaration is not intended to be a policy document with prescriptions to resolve long-standing challenges in peacekeeping. Rather, the intention was to reassert the need for political leadership to fulfill commitments that remain unimplemented. The problem facing peacekeeping is not a lack of analysis or policy proposals, but too often a lack of tangible and unified political will, whether on political or operational aspects. The spirit of the Declaration is also one of unity and coherence in policies and approaches to war-torn countries—be it between organizations that intervene, within member state administrations, or across UN bodies.

The response to the Declaration has been resounding: as of September 24, 145 member states across all five UN regional groups had endorsed the Declaration, including 12 host countries, troop- and police-contributors accounting for 96 percent of all deployed personnel, all current and incoming Security Council members, and many others. The African Union, European Union, the Organisation internationale de la francophonie, and NATO have also expressed their support for the Declaration.

At the UN, process can be as important as outcome, and perhaps the most significant reason for the strong, cross-regional support the Declaration has received to date is the manner in which it was created. All involved in developing the document—member states and the UN Secretariat alike—recognized that only an inclusive, transparent, and truly consultative process would lead to a document carrying the weight of shared and mutually defined commitments.

In the fall, member states and the Secretariat will begin to work together to implement the commitments in the Declaration. The document provides the basis for tangible action to strengthen peacekeeping and progress must ultimately be measured against actual effects on the ground.

Member states have already indicated they wish to play an active role in implementing the Declaration, whether in Security Council chambers shaping peacekeeping mandates, or in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee legislating on the resources to allocate to missions, or indeed in preparing military or police personnel to deploy into a UN mission. Host governments will play a central role, not only in fulfilling the commitments that pertain to them, but also in seeking accountability and fidelity to commitments made by other member states and the Secretariat.

For the Secretariat’s part, we have begun stepping up our efforts. We will work comprehensively on all our commitments, but some areas are worth highlighting. First, we will develop and put forward options to better implement mandates, including proposing new thinking on their sequencing and prioritization. Improving mandate implementation also pertains to our commitment on the protection of civilians. Both in the field and at UN headquarters, we must ensure that we are adapting our responses to specific threats, avoiding unintentionally exposing civilians to greater risk through our presence, and ensuring that we prevent and react to violence against civilians in a timely and effective manner.

Second, we will build on ongoing work to strengthen safety and security, including though the Dos Santos Cruz Action Plan, which has already contributed to a 30 percent reduction in fatalities this year compared to last. We will also continue to pursue the development of an integrated performance policy framework, in order to gain a strategic, holistic, and data-driven understanding of how our missions are performing. The need for such a framework was most recently highlighted by the Security Council in its resolution 2436. Our training plan sets out how we propose to strengthen UN police and troops.

Third, peacekeeping will continue to build and strengthen relationships with partners, whether within the UN system or amongst regional organizations, including the African Union and European Union. The A4P process will benefit from the other strand of reforms initiated by the secretary-general, that of the peace and security architecture and management reform. The new structures are designed to enable a greater focus on the strategic objectives of conflict prevention, management, and resolution, with more effective and efficient operational delivery. This should provide simpler decision-making pathways to implement the Declaration’s commitments.

Support from member states for all these initiatives will be critical, whether in the form of cooperation arrangements whereby countries with expertise and know-how share their knowledge with troop or police contributors, or by ensuring rigorous and thorough pre-deployment training.

Fulfilling the commitments related to technical areas—on performance, training, safety and security, conduct—is a complex, multi-actor effort. Arguably more difficult is fulfillment of commitments that require fundamental shifts or that are of a political nature. This is particularly the case under the rubric of “advancing political solutions and enhancing the impact of peacekeeping.” Here, the Declaration re-iterates well-worn but vital—and as yet only partially fulfilled—proposals for improving peacekeeping mandates. One is to make mandates more focused, prioritized, sequenced and achievable—to avoid pulling missions into many, and sometimes contradictory directions, and to make sure that we are responding to the specific needs of the people and country of deployment. Another aspect is to ensure that the aspirations reflected in peacekeeping mandates are matched by requisite resources, a challenge that stems from bifurcated decision-making within the UN between the Security Council which decides on mandates, and the General Assembly which decides on budgets. The Declaration also makes a commitment to strengthen consent and ownership of peacekeeping mandates through better consultation, whether with host countries or between the triangle of Security Council, troop and police contributors, and the Secretariat.

The commitments on enhancing the political impact of peacekeeping also touch on greater strategic coherence. A novel commitment involves endorsers supporting the implementation of Security Council resolutions through bilateral and multilateral engagements. This is critical: it recognizes that fulfilling mandates depends on each member state aligning their policies vis-à-vis a peacekeeping host country with Security Council decisions, and provides space for greater alignment of strategic objectives with regional organizations or international financial institutions. Fulfilling this commitment lies squarely with member states.

These political commitments will require leadership from member states, including particularly within the Security Council, to blow wind in the sails of Declaration implementation. Creativity and innovation from all endorsers will be required to implement the commitments, both at the field and at UN Headquarters.

The Declaration also reflects areas that member states are already committed to support. Peacebuilding and sustaining peace in peacekeeping requires a strong linkage between immediate and long-term objectives. It is an area that would benefit from a strong coalition of member states that could articulate ways in which the collective commitment “to strong coordination, coherence, and cooperation between the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission” (PBC) could be carried out. This could include measures to increase alignment of the PBC’s calendar with that of the Security Council, defining a clearer role for the PBC including during transitions, and increased use of informal interactive dialogues.

The Way Forward

The Declaration intentionally leaves as much space as possible for the endorsers to determine how best to take implementation forward. We are heartened by the endorsements received so far. This is encouraging, not least because none of the commitments—even those undertaken by the Secretariat—will materialize without the backing and leadership of the Declaration’s endorsers. The success or failure of the Declaration will depend on our collective efforts.

The long list of endorsers is testament to the strong consensus around the principle that if we are sending peacekeepers out into the field to face danger each day, we must collectively ensure that they have the political and material backing they need to fulfill their mandates. The Declaration of Shared Commitments offers all peacekeeping stakeholders a solid basis for doing so, and the urgency of acting has never been greater.

David Haeri is Director of the Policy, Evaluation and Training Division in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations/Department of Field Support (DPKO/DFS). Naomi Miyashita is Policy Planning Team Leader in DPKO/DFS, and Salvator Cusimano is a Political Affairs Officer in DPKO/DFS.