United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) agenda in 2018 as an initiative to improve the effectiveness of peacekeeping. Much attention has been given to A4P implementation in the UN’s largest peacekeeping missions, while those in “frozen” conflicts—where efforts to find a political solution have stalled—are rarely discussed. Such missions, considered stagnant, are often overlooked due to the day-to-day challenges of enormous, multidimensional missions.
With roughly 350 staff members and a $38 million budget, the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), is one of the UN’s smallest. Despite a political impasse and its modest size, UNMIK has made remarkable progress in realizing the A4P agenda as it works to consolidate peace in Kosovo and offers valuable lessons for peacekeeping globally, particularly how peacekeeping missions in frozen conflicts can be utilized to foster innovation. How UNMIK was able to do this can be gleaned from examining the five thematic areas at the core of the A4P agenda: the primacy of politics, a people-centered approach, sustaining peace, partnerships, and performance.
Politics: How Can a Peacekeeping Mission Ensure the Primacy of Politics?
Frozen conflicts feature entrenched political stances and belligerent leaders—a large majority of whom are men. Historically excluded from political processes, women leaders present an opportunity to deliver breakthroughs in longstanding conflicts. A4P acknowledges this fact when it calls for the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in peace processes within the women, peace, and security (WPS) framework. UNMIK advocated recently for a gender perspective and women’s participation in the Belgrade-Pristina European Union Dialogue process (Kosovo’s negotiating team in the dialogue is currently all-male) at a high-level seminar organized by UN Women and Italy. UNMIK also created a dedicated section on WPS in Secretary-General Guterres’ reports on Kosovo, which has, in part, brought increased attention to WPS at UN Security Council briefings on Kosovo (in 2019, 73 percent of Council members addressed WPS in their statements).
The A4P Declaration of Shared Commitments also demands that peacekeeping “advance political solutions to conflict” and complement “political objectives and integrated strategies, including at national and regional levels.” Such an approach is critical for UN peacekeeping operations in frozen conflicts, such as Lebanon, Syria, India-Pakistan, Western Sahara, and Kosovo, which sit in critical parts of the world with the potential to become regional flashpoints. Through synthesized, reinvigorated political reporting across multiple duty stations, UNMIK has linked the challenges Kosovo faces to its wider region. As part of this orientation UNMIK has actively encouraged the development of the UN Action Plan for The Western Balkans: Sustaining Peace Through Trust-Building, Dialogue and Reconciliation—an innovative initiative to increase collaboration across the UN system, address the root causes of conflicts, and de-escalate tensions across the region.
By actualizing the primacy of politics through increased regional analysis and advancing women’s participation in peacemaking, peacekeeping missions can encourage new inroads in stalled conflict zones.
People: How Can a Peacekeeping Mission Be “People-Centered?”
Decades-long conflicts span generations and inhibit interaction across affected communities. A4P endorses a people-centric approach which in frozen conflicts carries the potential to normalize relationships across opposing groups. UNMIK has advanced local reconciliation in Kosovo through fostering the development of a multifaceted, locally-crafted, inter-community trust-building framework. Developed by 120 participants from across Kosovo at the 2018 UN Kosovo Trust-building Forum, the framework identified 135 recommendations endorsed by convening partners including the UN Kosovo Team, EU, and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
One outcome of this approach has been the UNMIK’s efforts to engage Kosovo’s population through town hall debates implemented by a respected regional media network. The town hall initiative has facilitated robust, constructive discussions with audiences on contemporary challenges in Kosovo, featuring panel discussions and televised debates. While time-intensive, such concerted efforts and innovations in public affairs and civil affairs (see also this example from the UN Mission in Cyprus) carry the promise to advance local-level solutions to historic conflicts. Transforming missions in protracted conflicts into “people-centric” ones can advance the effectiveness of peacekeeping in consolidating peace at the community level.
Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace: How Can a Peacekeeping Mission Prevent Relapse Into Conflict?
Recent developments such as a proposed “land-swap” deal to partition territory along Kosovo’s borders based on ethnicity; a clash at the Israel-Lebanon border; and shelling between India and Pakistan in Kashmir all demonstrate the fragility of frozen conflicts and how they have the potential to escalate into flashpoints of conflict.
UNMIK has actively worked with partners to sustain peace. The mission annually supports eighteen rapidly-implementable confidence-building projects, as well as other notable initiatives (a multi-ethnic Missing Persons Resource Centre; a multi-ethnic gender-based violence shelter; and the first online Albanian-Serbian/Serbian-Albanian dictionary). Supporting future leaders (youth makeup 70 percent of Kosovo’s population), the mission has adopted a wide-reaching framework on youth, peace, and security anchored by annual UN Kosovo Youth Assemblies, the largest local multi-ethnic platform for youth empowerment. Such strategically-designed peacebuilding efforts can help reduce the likelihood of conflict by providing opportunities and building community bonds. In line with A4P, the Security Council and budgeting committees should ensure that missions, particularly those in contexts with the potential to escalate, have the funding and mandate to implement such initiatives.
Partnerships: How Can a Peacekeeping Mission Best Utilize Partnerships to Deliver on its Mandate?
Secretary-General Guterres has said that the A4P agenda is “aimed at mobilizing all partners and stakeholders to support the great enterprise of United Nations peacekeeping.” Often smaller in size than their fellow missions—which can dominate the operational theater (e.g., missions in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, and South Sudan)—those in frozen conflict zones may be more inclined and capable to collaborate with partner agencies and organizations.
Kosovo serves as an example of how the Security Council can foster partnerships. In Kosovo, resolution 1244 provides a joint mandate for UNMIK, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), the OSCE, EU, and Council of Europe. In practice, UNMIK has intentionally reached out to international partners and UN agencies to develop joint strategic frameworks and initiatives, including the 2019 Global Open Day on Women, Peace, and Security (organized with the UN Kosovo Team, UN Women, and the EU) as well as the 2019 UN Kosovo Youth Assembly (implemented together with UNICEF and the UN Peacebuilding Fund).
Kosovo illustrates that the Security Council can further the A4P objective of partnerships by including regional organizations in a mission’s mandate. UNMIK’s recent efforts to mobilize partners in executing its mandate demonstrates that smaller peacekeeping missions are perhaps better able to deliver on this component of the A4P agenda.
Performance: How Can a Small Peacekeeping Mission Lead in Peacekeeping Performance?
While missions in frozen conflicts face unique challenges, they also generally have the advantage of being in stable environments and often more compact in size. These factors provide smaller peacekeeping missions with a comparative advantage to maximize their performance, another pillar of the A4P agenda. UNMIK, for example, has maximized performance by implementing supply chain operations reference (SCOR) methodologies; becoming the first mission to receive ISO 9001 Quality Management certification; and reducing its environmental footprint through the use of hybrid vehicles and solar panels.
A significant achievement of smaller missions has been their ability to effectively reduce sexual exploitation and abuse. According to the official UN field mission database on sexual exploitation and abuse, since 2007 (which is the first year the online database provides statistics), UNMIK reported zero cases. Other small missions like the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), and the UN Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP) all reported one. While these may not represent all cases of sexual abuse and exploitation, the experience of these missions offers the potential to improve conduct and performance efficiencies in line with A4P.
In a moment of global instability, frozen conflicts are at greater risk to revert to active conflict. This reality demands a serious reassessment of missions in such contexts to ensure they are fit to sustain peace. Moreover, UNMIK demonstrates that such missions can be utilized to pilot a wide variety of peacekeeping initiatives. As efforts to evaluate peacekeeping performance (Security Council resolution 2436 and the Comprehensive Performance Assessment System) roll out, Kosovo is an early indicator that A4P can indeed improve a mission’s performance, relevance, and the perception of peacekeeping itself.
Despite vastly different contexts, larger missions share similar thematic challenges as Kosovo: in Mali, women’s participation in mechanisms for implementation of the Algiers Agreement is sorely lacking despite existing legal quotas; in South Sudan, youth engagement has been prioritized in a country where 70 percent of the population are youth; and in DRC, where trust-building initiatives could reduce intercommunity violence and support peace consolidation. Senior decision-makers must take full advantage of the opportunities offered by smaller missions, like UNMIK, to help realize A4P across peacekeeping globally.
Pushkar Sharma has worked for the United Nations in Kosovo, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Colombia, and Myanmar in peacekeeping and political affairs. He is a 2020 Fellow at the New Leaders Council where his work focuses on advancing a renewed commitment to the global rights-based international order. Previously a Fellow at the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, he tweets @PushkarMSharma.