Time for a New United Nations Peacekeeping Organization

Report Global Politics

Time for a New United Nations Peacekeeping Organization

February 13, 2007 37 min read Download Report
Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center
Brett is the Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

One of the United Nations' primary responsibili­ties--and one with which most Americans agree--is to maintain international peace and security, but the United Nations has come under increasing criticism, both within the United States and around the world, for its inability to keep the peace where peace is most needed. The U.N. Charter places principal responsi­bility for this task on the U.N. Security Council.[1] The Charter gives the Security Council extensive powers to investigate disputes to determine whether they endan­ger international peace and security; to call on partic­ipants in a dispute to settle the conflict through peaceful negotiation; to impose mandatory economic, travel, and diplomatic sanctions; and ultimately to authorize the use of military force.

Traditionally, United Nations-led operations have involved deployments into relatively low-risk situa­tions such as truce monitoring. U.N. peace operations were rare during the organization's first 45 years, and missions were rarely authorized with the expectation of the use of force. Since the end of the Cold War, however, U.N. peace operations have become more common and frequently involve more robust deploy­ments with greater risk to the peacekeepers, and these deployments have met with mixed success.

In general, the U.N. and its member states have accepted the fact--in the wake of the Somalia, Yugo­slavia, and Sierra Leone missions in which there was no peace to keep--that U.N. peace operations should not include a mandate to enforce peace outside of lim­ited circumstances and should focus instead on assist­ing countries to shift from conflict to a negotiated peace and from peace agreements to legitimate gov­ernance and development.[2] As noted in the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (the Brahimi Report):

[T]he United Nations does not wage war. Where enforcement action is required, it has consistently been entrusted to coalitions of willing States, with the authorization of the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter.[3]

Yet the situations short of war that may involve a U.N. peace operation are often rife with danger and subject to great demands in personnel, resources, and management.

The unprecedented frequency and size of recent U.N. deployments and the resulting financial de­mands have challenged the willingness of member states to contribute troops and uniformed personnel in support of U.N. peace operations and have over­whelmed the capabilities of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and other parts of the Secretariat like the Department of Manage­ment that have a role in supporting peace opera­tions, leading to mismanagement, misconduct, poor planning, corruption, sexual abuse, unclear mandates, and other weaknesses. The Administra­tion and Congress need to consider carefully any requests by the United Nations for additional fund­ing for a system in which procurement problems have wasted millions of dollars, sexual abuse by personnel participating in U.N. peace operations is still occurring, and significant problems challenge the ability of the U.N. to fulfill the objectives of peace operations efficiently and effectively.

Just tinkering with the U.N. bureaucracy will not resolve these serious ongoing problems, but Charter reform, a slow and arduous process fraught with political pitfalls, is not necessary. Instead, establish­ing a new, independent U.N. Peacekeeping Organi­zation (UNPKO) overseen by an Executive Peacekeeping Board of member states that contrib­ute heavily to U.N. peace operations and charged with planning, managing, and overseeing peace operations authorized by the Security Council could make U.N. peace operations more coherent, trans­parent, efficient, and accountable and give more influence to the countries that contribute greatly to U.N. peace operations. As a new, independent orga­nization, the UNPKO could immediately adopt modern management, procurement, logistical, and oversight practices, sidestepping the deadlock in the General Assembly over management and human resources that has stalled broader U.N. reform.

Before laying out the structure and methods for establishing such a new organization, it is necessary to outline why such a reform is needed now, why the current system is no longer sufficient, and how such a revitalized U.N. peacekeeping organization could best be instituted, given the political environ­ment at the United Nations.

Evolution of U.N. Peace Operations

Article I of the U.N. Charter states that a primary purpose of United Nations is:

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.[4]

The Charter outlines only a limited role for the General Assembly in maintaining international peace and security:

The General Assembly may consider the general principles of co-operation in the maintenance of international peace and security...may discuss any questions relating to the maintenance of international peace and security brought before it...may make recommendations with regard to any such questions to the state or states concerned or to the Security Council or to both...[and] may call the attention of the Security Council to situations which are likely to endanger international peace and security.[5]

In addition, "the General Assembly may recom­mend measures for the peaceful adjustment of any situation, regardless of origin, which it deems likely to impair the general welfare or friendly relations among nations."[6]

The Charter clearly places the primary responsi­bility for maintaining international peace and secu­rity on the Security Council, specifying that the General Assembly shall refer any question about the maintenance of international peace and security to the Security Council. The Charter also restrains the General Assembly from making recommendations if the Security Council is dealing with the matter, except upon request of the Security Council.[7]

Security Council powers in regard to the mainte­nance of international peace and security are clearly defined in the Charter. The Security Council can "call upon the parties to settle their dispute"; "inves­tigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute"; seek a solution through negotiation, inquiry, media­tion, conciliation, arbitration, or judicial settlement; resort to regional agencies or arrangements; enforce peace through sanctions or use of force; and call on member states to render assistance.[8]

In matters of international peace and security, the U.N. Security Council was envisioned as responsi­ble for approving and using force to address threats to international peace and security, except for the inherent right of every state to defend itself if attacked, if facing an imminent attack, or if facing an immediate threat, which the Charter explicitly acknowledges.[9] This robust, activist role for the organization quickly ran athwart the interests of the member states, particularly during the Cold War when opposing alliances prevented the council from taking decisive action except when the inter­ests of the major powers were minimal.

As a result, between 1945 and 1990, the Security Council established only 18 peace operations, despite a multitude of conflicts during that period that threatened international peace and security to greater or lesser degree.[10] Moreover, the bulk of these peace operations were fact-finding missions, observer missions, and other roles in assisting peace processes in which the parties had agreed to cease hostilities. For example, the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was estab­lished in 1948 to observe the cease-fire agreements among Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel and still operates today.

Interestingly, the first venture into peacekeeping was taken by the General Assembly in 1956 after the Security Council was unable to reach a consen­sus on the Suez Crisis. The General Assembly established the U.N. Emergency Force (UNEF I) to separate Egyptian and Israeli forces and to facilitate the transition of the Suez Canal when British and French forces left. Because the UNEF resolutions were not passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, Egypt had to approve the deployment. The UNTSO and UNEF I missions are examples of "tra­ditional" U.N. peace operations:

[Such missions are characterized by] the de­ployment of a United Nations presence in the field, with the consent of all the parties concerned, as a confidence building measure to monitor a truce while diplomats negoti­ated a comprehensive peace. Peacekeeping was therefore designed as an interim arrange­ment where there was no formal determina­tion of aggression, and was frequently used to monitor a truce, establish and police a buffer zone, and assist the negotiation of a peace.... Monitoring and traditional peace­keeping operations were strictly bound by the principle of consent.... It reduces the risk to the peacekeepers and preserves the sovereignty of the host state.[11]

By contrast, U.N. peace enforcement operations "extend from low-level military operations to protect the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the enforcement of cease-fires and, when necessary, authoritative assistance in the rebuilding of so-called failed states."[12] Such operations are more complex and more dangerous for mission troops and person­nel because they may not have the support of the government or all parties involved in the conflict.

The first U.N. venture into peace enforcement was the U.N. Operation in the Congo (1960- 1964), in which U.N.-led forces confronted a mutiny by Congolese armed forces against the gov­ernment, sought to maintain the Congo's territorial integrity, and tried to prevent civil war after the province of Katanga seceded. According to a RAND Corporation study:

UN achievements in the Congo came at considerable cost in men lost, money spent, and controversy raised.... As a result of these costs and controversies, neither the United Nations' leadership nor its member nations were eager to repeat the experience. For the next 25 years the United Nations restricted its military interventions to interpositional peacekeeping, policing ceasefires, and pa­trolling disengagement zones in circum­stances where all parties invited its presence and armed force was to be used by UN troops only in self-defense.[13]

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.N. Security Council has been far more active in establishing peace operations. The Security Council has approved over 40 new peace operations since 1990. (See Chart 1.) These new operations often involved a dramatic expansion in scope, purpose, and responsibilities beyond traditional peace operations. Moreover, these missions reflected a change in the nature of conflict from interstate conflict between nations to intrastate conflict within states by authorizing a number of mis­sions focused on quelling civil wars, instability, or other violence within a nation.[14] This trend was pur­sued despite questions about territorial inviola­bility espoused in the Charter, which states:

Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to inter­vene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not preju­dice the application of enforcement mea­sures under Chapter VII.[15]


Such issues were circumvented through the exer­cise of Chapter VII of the Charter and justified by pointing out the international consequences of the conflict, such as refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, or the necessity of upholding interna­tional human rights standards in the country. While such actions may be justified in some cases, they represent a dramatic shift from earlier doctrine and interpretation of the Charter. As a result, from a rather modest history of monitoring cease-fires, demilitarized zones, and post-conflict security, U.N. peace operations have expanded to include multi­ple responsibilities including robust military inter­ventions, civilian police duties, human rights interventions, reconstruction, overseeing elections, and post-conflict reconstruction.

As of February 2007, there were 16 U.N. peace operations led by the U.N. Department of Peace­keeping Operations and another two political mis­sions (in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone) directed and supported by the DPKO. Half of these operations were in Africa; one was in Latin America (Haiti); two were in Europe (Kosovo and Cyprus); and the remaining missions were in Asia and the Middle East. The 16 peace operations involved 80,094 uni­formed personnel, including 68,923 troops, 2,446 military observers, and 8,675 police personnel. The total number of U.N., local, and volunteer person­nel serving in 18 DPKO-led peace operations was 101,642 individuals.[16] (See Chart 2.) The U.N. has more troops deployed than are deployed by any nation in the world, except for the United States.[17]

In general, the U.S. has supported this trend. It contributes the greatest share of funding for the operations and provides logistical and lift capabili­ties for many missions. Multiple Administrations have concluded that it is in America's interest to sup­port U.N. operations as a useful, cost-effective way to influence situations that affect the U.S. national interest but do not rise to the level of requiring direct U.S. intervention. Although the U.N. peacekeeping record includes significant failures, U.N. peace oper­ations overall have proven to be a convenient multi­lateral means for addressing humanitarian concerns in situations where conflict or instability make civil­ians vulnerable to atrocities, for promoting peace efforts, and for supporting the transition to democ­racy and post-conflict rebuilding.

While the U.S. clearly should support U.N. peacekeeping operations when they support Amer­ica's national interests, broadening U.N. peace oper­ations into nontraditional missions like peace enforcement and the inability to garner broad inter­national support in terms of troop contributions, logistics support, and funding raise legitimate ques­tions as to whether or not the U.N. should be engaged in the current number of missions and whether these situations are best addressed through the U.N. or through regional, multilateral, or ad hoc efforts, ideally with Security Council support. Con­cerns are growing that the system for assessing the U.N. peacekeeping budget is inappropriate, given the far larger financial demands of this expanded role for U.N. peacekeeping. Such questions are pri­marily political questions that can be resolved only by the member states.[18]

Outside the political realm, however, is the fun­damental question of whether the system as cur­rently structured is capable of meeting its growing responsibilities. Indisputably, the unprecedented frequency and size of recent U.N. deployments and the resulting financial demands have challenged and overwhelmed the capabilities of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations and other U.N. departments charged with supporting U.N. peace operations, leading to serious problems of mismanagement, misconduct, poor planning, cor­ruption, sexual abuse, unclear mandates, and other weaknesses.

Problems with U.N. Peacekeeping

U.N. peace operations now include situations that, prior to 1990, were almost exclusively left to national authorities or addressed through unilateral or multilateral interventions outside of the United Nations. The increasing demands of expanded peace operations led the U.N. to establish the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 1992 to plan, manage, deploy, support, and provide execu­tive direction to U.N. peace operations. In short, the DPKO is required to evaluate the requirements of peace operations under consideration, provide rec­ommendations to the Security Council through the Secretary-General, plan the mission, recruit troops and other necessary personnel from contributing countries, determine equipment and logistical requirements, coordinate pre-deployment training, match mission requirements to the budget, and finally deploy the forces and implement the mis­sion. The DPKO must also maintain liaison with other U.N. partners in-country to coordinate efforts.

The logistical challenges for these operations are immense. Over the past three years alone, nine operations have been established or expanded, and three others are starting up or being expanded.[19] As noted by the DPKO:

In 2005 alone, U.N. peacekeeping opera­tions rotated 161,386 military and police personnel on 864 separate flights, and car­ried 271,651 cubic meters of cargo. Peace­keeping operations undertook long-term charters on 207 aircraft for the movement of 711,224 passengers within peacekeep­ing missions and DPKO operated or de­ployed some 220 medical clinics and 21 military hospitals.[20]

As a result of these expanded responsibilities, former Under-Secretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini observed, "DPKO is a huge opera­tional department. Its current budget is far larger than that of the Secretariat, yet it operates institu­tionally like a staff department [of the Secretariat]."[21]

As of October 2006, the estimated budget for the DKPO--just one department in the U.N. Secretar­iat--from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, was $4.75 billion.[22] Including budgetary requirements for the peacekeeping operations support account and the U.N. logistics base in Italy, the estimated budget from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, was nearly $5.3 billion as of February 2007.[23] Expenditures could reach as high as $7 billion if U.N. missions in East Timor, Darfur, and Lebanon become fully oper­ational.[24] By comparison, the annualized regular budget for the rest of the Secretariat was $1.9 billion in 2006. (See Chart 2.)

All of these peace operations activities are over­seen by only 600 headquarters personnel and for the most part continue to operate under restrictions designed for less operational parts of the Secretar­iat.[25] According to Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno:

I feel that the rules and regulations of the United Nations were designed for a head­quarters organization that would run confer­ences but that would not run field operations. So there is a disconnect between the kind of life that we live in the field, de­ploying in the middle of nowhere, having to organize bases, and organizing conferences in New York....

What we need is much more...flexibility and a different approach to the management of human resources, for instance so that peo­ple can go back and forth between head­quarters and the field.... [I]n the DPKO we have much more movement between field and headquarters than in other parts of the secretariat. But...the rules, the status... doesn't really encouraged [sic] that.

In the...budget, finance...we have processes that are not at all in sync with the operational needs of the field, to move quickly, to be adapted to all the uncertainties of an opera­tion where a true (contributor?) will delay departure, or there will be a need to acceler­ate. All that is completely not factored in the rules and regulations.[26]

Given the limited staff and inappropriate con­straints applying to the DPKO as part of the U.N. Secretariat, it is no surprise that the current struc­ture for planning, managing, and overseeing U.N. peace operations systems is overstretched, over­whelmed, and poorly structured for dealing with its new responsibilities. In 2000, a panel headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, created after 500 U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage in Sierra Leone by a rebel group and had to be rescued by the Brit­ish military,[27] made a number of recommenda­tions to improve U.N. peacekeeping, including the admonition that, while the U.N. should not "wage war," it must be able to "project credible force" to defend mission personnel and civilians from aggression.[28]

According to The Economist, Brahimi's recom­mendation to create multinational brigades around the world ready to deploy at short notice has made "only fitful progress," but the U.N. has acted on proposals for creating "a more powerful head­quarters to oversee the UN effort; stockpiling equipment; compiling lists of military officers, police, and other experts who will be on call to join UN missions; and meshing peacekeeping with ordinary policing, government reform, and economic development." However, many prob­lems remain.[29]

Mismanagement, Fraud, and Corruption. The Secretariat procured over $1.6 billion in goods and services in 2005, mostly to support peacekeeping, which has more than quadrupled in size since 1999. An Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) audit of $1 billion in DPKO procurement contracts over a six-year period found that at least $265 mil­lion was subject to waste, fraud, or abuse.[30] The U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded:

While the U.N. Department of Management is responsible for U.N. procurement, field procurement staff are instead supervised by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Oper­ations, which currently lacks the expertise and capacities needed to manage field pro­curement activities.[31]

As Ambassador John Bolton noted:

Without accountable, cost-effective, efficient and transparent U.N. procurement practices, the U.N. will not have its essential goods and services, billions of dollars of contributions might be ill-spent or not properly accounted and the effectiveness of U.N. peacekeeping operations would be jeopardized.[32]

In reaction to the OIOS audit, the Department of Management and the DPKO accepted a major­ity of the 32 OIOS audit recommendations for addressing the findings.[33] However, a number of disagreements remain, and it remains to be seen whether these new procedures are fully imple­mented or are sufficient to prevent a recurrence of fraud and corruption.

In a related area, political pressure, favoritism, and cronyism still plague appointments to U.N. peace operations and the DPKO, resulting in insti­tutional weaknesses and a staff that is less than ide­ally equipped to complete the required tasks.

Sexual Misconduct. In recent years, there have been several harrowing reports of crimes committed by U.N. personnel, from rape to the forced prostitu­tion of women and young girls, the most notorious of which involved the U.N. Mission in the Demo­cratic Republic of Congo. Indeed, allegations and confirmed incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel have become depressingly routine, with allegations being reported in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.[34] The alleged per­petrators of these abuses include U.N. military and civilian personnel from a number of U.N. member states involved in peace operations and from U.N. funds and programs. The victims are refugees-- many of them children--who have been terrorized by years of war and look to the U.N. for safety and protection.[35]

After intense lobbying by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Mission to the United Nations since early 2004, as well as pressure from several key Members of Congress, the U.N. Secretariat agreed to adopt stricter requirements for peacekeeping troops and their contributing countries.[36] The U.S. also helped the DPKO publish a resource manual on trafficking for U.N. peacekeepers.

In 2005, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein of Jordan, the Secretary-General's adviser on sexual exploita­tion and abuse by U.N. peacekeeping personnel, submitted his report to the Secretary-General with recommendations on how to address the sexual abuse problem, including imposing a uniform stan­dard of conduct, conducting professional investiga­tions, and holding troop-contributing countries accountable for the actions of their soldiers and for proper disciplinary action. In June 2005, the Gen­eral Assembly adopted the recommendations in principle, and some recommendations have been implemented. For instance, contact and discipline teams are now present in most missions, and troops are now required to undergo briefing and training on behavior and conduct.[37]

However, despite this action and then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan's announcement of a "zero toler­ance" policy, the perpetrators of these crimes are rarely punished, as was revealed in a January 2007 news report on U.N. abuses in southern Sudan.[38] The standard memorandum of understanding between the U.N. and troop contributors clearly grants troop-contributing countries jurisdiction over military members participating in U.N. peace opera­tions, but little is done if these countries fail to inves­tigate, try, and punish those guilty of such crimes.

In addition to the horrible mistreatment of those under the protection of the U.N., sexual exploita­tion and abuse undermines the credibility of U.N. peace operations and must be addressed through an effective plan and commitment to end abuses and ensure accountability.[39]

Unclear Mandate for the Use of Force. After the Cold War ended, the U.N. Security Council began to authorize U.N. peace operations in situations in which the threat of military force was greater than was typically the case during the Cold War period. Yet it neglected to update its rules of engagement to meet these new circumstances. As a result, U.N. peacekeepers were often unsure of what they were or were not permitted to do in the performance of their duty. This uncertainty contributed to tragic, embarrassing, and disastrous situations such as the willful decision to stand down in the face of atroci­ties in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995; U.N. peacekeepers failing to defend themselves and being taken hostage, as happened with 350 Dutch peacekeepers in 1995 near Sarajevo and 500 peace­keepers in Sierra Leone in 2000; and the inability to quickly support U.S. troops who came under fire in Somalia 1993.

As U.N. peace operations become more robust and missions are charged with peace enforcement and other responsibilities that are likely to result in military action, the mission mandates must provide robust mission statements and clear rules of engage­ment that permit the use of lethal force to protect peacekeepers, civilians, and mission objectives. The U.N. addressed some of these issues by implement­ing recommendations in the Brahimi Report, such as expanding mission mandates to include protec­tion of civilians and including language that instructs peacekeepers to protect civilians under imminent threat in all mandates for Chapter VII operations since 1999. However, considerable uncertainty remains over lines of authority, differing understanding over when and to what extent defen­sive use of force is permitted, and when aggressive action is permitted.

Unreliable Troop Contributions. Because the U.N. has no standing armed forces, it is entirely dependent on member states to donate troops and other personnel to fulfill peace operation mandates. Nations should maintain control of their armed forces and refuse to support the establishment of armed forces outside of direct national oversight and responsibility. However, the current arrange­ment's weaknesses are evident.

The result is an ad hoc system plagued by inade­quately trained personnel; insufficient numbers of military troops, military observers, civilian police, and civilian staff; inadequate planning; inadequate or non-functional equipment; and logistical gaps. Recently, the authorized operations in the Demo­cratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and Lebanon all experienced difficulties in raising the numbers of troops authorized by the Security Council.

The U.N. has established a Stand-by Arrange­ments System (UNSAS), wherein member states make conditional commitments to prepare and maintain specified resources (military units, special­ized personnel, services, materiel, and equipment) on "stand-by" in their home countries to fulfill spec­ified tasks or functions for U.N. peace operations.[40] However, the resources committed under the UNSAS fall far short of needs. As Under-Secretary-General Guéhenno noted:

[A]s the mandate gets more challenging, you need very specialized capacities to be able to deliver the mandate--force enablers, force multipliers--that kind of capacity in any army in the world is always in short supply. So if you have a limited pool of countries to get those capacities, you are in trouble. We've been looking sometimes for a year to find the transport units.[41]

Moreover, while the DPKO has the authority to set training and equipment specifications for troops and personnel contributed by member states through a memorandum of agreement and on-site inspection and evaluation, contributions often fall short of agreed specifications. Yet, because of the extreme difficulty in getting personnel, the U.N. is very reluctant to send personnel back to the con­tributing nations even if they fall well below agreed specification. The U.N. needs a better system for identifying, locating, and securing qualified troops for its operations.

The Need for Fundamental Reform. Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely con­tinue and expand as new responsibilities are given to U.N. peacekeepers. Many of these problems also plague the broader U.N. Secretariat, but the urgency of dealing with the problems within the DPKO is ele­vated by its enormous budget and the consequences of failure by U.N. peace operations for civilians, peacekeepers, and international peace and security.

New Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has unoffi­cially voiced similar concerns. According to news reports, Ban argued that the extraordinary period of growth in peacekeeping activities in the field is straining the DPKO's capabilities:

While the current figure of field-based peacekeeping personnel is now just under 100,000, maintaining this presence requires that the DPKO actually manage roughly twice that number on an annual basis, given the constant rate of troop/police rotations, personnel transfers, and new mission require­ments that must be taken into account....

The nature of the challenge is far more than a quantitative one. Qualitatively, many of the newer peacekeeping missions operate at ex­treme levels of sensitivity, visibility and risk, with complex mandates to assist state-restoration and state-building processes after decades of conflict, in remote, austere and in­creasingly quite dangerous environments-- sometimes with factions outside the peace process totally hostile to a U.N. presence.[42]

According to Secretary-General Ban, the sensi­tive nature of these operations requires coherent, clearly articulated, and efficient structures, man­agement systems, and work processes. Without change, the risk of inefficiency, ineffectiveness, or abuse in U.N. peace operations and management is greatly increased.[43]

What Is Needed to Improve U.N. Peacekeeping

At a minimum, an overhauled U.N. peace opera­tions structure should:

  • Transform the DPKO organizational structure to enable it to handle increased peace opera­tions demands and plan for future operations more effectively. This requires more indepen­dence; more resources for staff, supplies, and training; and greatly improved oversight by an independent inspector general dedicated to peace operations. A key element of this should include transforming the DPKO to incorporate greater flexibility so that it can rapidly expand and contract to meet varying levels of peace operations activity. A core professional military staff must be maintained and utilized, but the DPKO should also be able to rely on gratis mil­itary and other professionals to meet excep­tional demands on U.N. peace operations. This would readily provide the expertise and experi­ence needed to assess the requirements of man­dates under consideration, including troop numbers, equipment, timeline, and rules of engagement, both efficiently and realistically. Current U.N. rules do not permit the necessary authority and discretion in hiring and shifting resources to meet priorities.[44]
  • Build a database of qualified, trained, pre-screened military, civilian, and police special­ists that countries have made available for U.N. peace operations. This database should include information on individuals' and units' past experience in U.N. operations; disciplinary issues; performance evaluations; expertise (e.g., language, engineering, and combat skills); and availability for deployment.
  • Equip a logistics base with increased amounts of equipment and commonly required sup­plies to facilitate new and ongoing operations. The DPKO could update the U.N. logistics base in Brindisi, Italy, which coordinates the U.N.'s strate­gic deployment stocks, or establish a logistics base in Africa or another region that would be closer to most of its large peace operations.
  • Implement a modern logistics system and streamline procurement procedures so that missions receive what they need when they need it. To be effective, procurement and con­tracting must "have a formal governance struc­ture responsible for its oversight and direction," as former Under-Secretary-General for Manage­ment Catherine Bertini advised Congress in 2005.[45] Critically, the new logistics system and the procurement system must be subject to appropriate transparency, rigorous accountabil­ity, and independent oversight accompanied by robust investigatory capabilities and a reliable system of internal justice.[46]
  • Draft contingency plans in anticipation of potential deployments and scenarios that are likely to require peace operations, including estimates of required personnel and support, so that the DPKO can quickly implement Security Council decisions. Contingency planning is standard practice in the Pentagon and other modern militaries. For example, U.S. regional combatant commands have multiple war plans on the shelf to respond to specific scenarios. While the plans may not be ideally suited to a specific emergency, they can be adapted to the specific circumstances in less time than creating a new plan from scratch would take.
  • Implement mandatory, uniform standards of conduct for civilian and military personnel participating in U.N. peace operations. This would be a concrete step toward ending sexual exploitation, abuse, and other misconduct by peacekeepers. Member states contributing per­sonnel to U.N. peace operations should be required to cooperate with investigations of abuses or misconduct conducted by the U.N. or authorities in the nation where the alleged crime occurred. It should not necessarily involve yielding jurisdiction over personnel to the U.N. or non-national judicial authority, but it should entail commitments by member states to investigate, try, and punish their personnel when credible evidence exists and, critically, to inform the U.N. and the host nation of the results of such efforts. Equally important, a reformed DPKO must be more willing to hold member countries to these standards. States that fail to fulfill their commitments to disci­pline their troops should be barred from pro­viding troops for peace operations.

Avoiding Half Measures

Former Secretary-General Annan had recom­mended reforms to address some of the problems afflicting U.N. management and implementation of peace operations, particularly weak oversight and accountability in the DPKO, but those reforms fell victim to infighting in the General Assembly.[47] Secretary-General Ban has proposed splitting the overburdened U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations into two departments: a Department of Peace Operations focused on mis­sion operations and a Department of Field Sup­port focused on management, procurement, and logistics. Each department would be headed by an Under-Secretary-General.[48]

While the details of Ban's proposal have yet to be formally announced, two "non-papers"[49] justifying the restructuring have been given to U.N. political and regional groups. Reportedly, the non-papers are vague on the details. For instance, it is unclear to whom the two new peacekeeping departments would report and which department would have precedence in various situations. While Ban should be commended for recognizing the need to reform the DPKO, his plan is unlikely to address the cur­rent system's many weaknesses. Indeed, his plan appears to be more of a cosmetic reorganization than a fundamental transformation.

The problems identified by Secretaries-General Ban and Annan were also noted in the 2005 report of the congressionally mandated U.S.Institute of Peace (USIP) Task Force on the United Nations, which recommended that:

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations should become a more independent pro­gram, with separate staff support and distinct rules and regulations appropriate for its oper­ational responsibility for comprehensive peacekeeping missions. Its responsibilities must include coordination with broader re­construction and development activities of the United Nations.[50]

The USIP task force also observed that the DPKO cannot fulfill its responsibilities while hobbled by member-state micromanagement of the current budgetary and oversight process. To address this sit­uation, it recommended a separate and streamlined management, organizational, and budget process that provides strong roles for major financial and troop contributors.

These recommendations echo those made by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke in 2000. In the wake of the embarrassing kidnapping of U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Hol­brooke declared a need for "true reform--in the way we finance peacekeeping, and in the way U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations func­tions--or else the very future of the United Nations is endangered."[51] More specifically, he declared a dire need to bolster DPKO staff, streamline logistics and procurement, and get resources to the field more quickly.

While Secretary-General Ban and the USIP task force have correctly recognized the weaknesses of the DPKO, both make the mistake of recommend­ing that a restructured DPKO remain within the Secretariat. It is difficult to understand how such an arrangement would permit greater independence or lead to necessary reforms in a timely fashion.

A Better Option: Create a New U.N. Peacekeeping Organization

The proposals by the USIP task force on U.N. reform and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are not likely to overcome the DPKO's problems. The strug­gle to adopt U.N. management reforms over the past few years shows that reforming the U.N. will probably be slow and arduous. Already, Ban's pro­posal is meeting strong resistance in the General Assembly.[52] Moreover, the current structure--task­ing a single subsidiary organ (the DPKO) in the Sec­retariat with implementing the instructions of the Security Council, with all of the accompanying costs and responsibilities--is seriously flawed.

Based on the recent experience of creating the Peacebuilding Commission as an advisory organ sub­sidiary to both the Security Council and the General Assembly, creating a new, independent U.N. organiza­tion might be a swifter and more effective approach to addressing the weaknesses of U.N. peacekeeping than tinkering with the current structure would be. This new organization could be called the U.N. Peacekeep­ing Organization (UNPKO).

Structure. The new UNPKO would be beholden primarily to the Security Council because the Secu­rity Council is the body responsible for authorizing U.N. peace operations. All current U.N. peace oper­ations and political missions led by the DPKO would be placed under the authority of the new UNPKO, which should be given responsibility for planning, managing, and overseeing those opera­tions and reporting to the Security Council on their status.[53] The UNPKO should be given the addi­tional resources and independence necessary for it to be an apolitical advisory and operational vehicle for investigating, planning, managing, supporting, and implementing Security Council-mandated peace operations.

The current system of assessing the U.N. peace­keeping budget is no longer appropriate, given the far larger financial demands of the expanded role of U.N. peace operations. As Ambassador Holbrooke noted:

The UN's system for financing was created in a bygone Cold War era, the result of a last-minute compromise in 1973. The system was designed for a single, $30 million operation in the Sinai. Everyone...who spoke in that debate 27 years ago agreed that the arrange­ment was temporary, just for one operation, and not precedent-setting. Yet it has never been revised or properly reexamined. Now it has put the United Nations in a potentially fatal financial straightjacket.[54]

Inherent in these problems is the lack of linkages between those who make decisions and those who are responsible for supporting and carrying out those decisions.[55] If a UNPKO is created, the General Assembly should no longer have a role in setting the U.N. peacekeeping budget or setting the scale of assessments--no more than the General Assembly sets the budget of other U.N. funds, programs, spe­cialized agencies, or independent bodies, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Instead, a new Executive Peacekeeping Board of member governments should oversee the new UNPKO and prepare the budget for approval by UNPKO member states. Similarly, the board would make recommendations to the member states on the scale of assessments and policies for assessed and voluntary contributions to support U.N. peace operations authorized by the Security Council. One option for the makeup of the new UNPKO Board, based on relevant criteria, could be as follows:

  • Seven members of the Security Council, in­cluding all permanent members.
  • The seven top financial contributors to U.N. peace operations not already on the board. Contributions would include the assessed U.N. peacekeeping budget and, possibly, vol­untary contributions in support of U.N. peace operations.
  • The seven top providers of uniformed person­nel to U.N. missions not already on the board.
  • Six additional members elected by the General Assembly to reduce geographical imbalances or include countries greatly affected by conflicts or instability addressed through existing U.N. peace operations.

The authority to approve peace operations would remain solely with the Security Council as required by the U.N. Charter, but having the Executive Peacekeeping Board report to the Security Council would elevate the authority of its recommendations because they would be coming from member states rather than just from a Secretariat department via the Secretary-General. This would make its recom­mendations more difficult to ignore.

A new UNPKO Board would also provide the ancillary but significant benefit of permitting major contributors to U.N. peace operations to exercise greater input through UNPKO reports to the Secu­rity Council and greater influence over the manage­ment and implementation of peace operations. In addition, while the Security Council would remain in New York, current technology capabilities would make it possible for the UNPKO to be located vir­tually anywhere in the world. Locations in Europe or Africa, for example, would have the advantages of being close to active missions or supply and training bases.

The Executive Peacekeeping Board should also assume the responsibility of selecting the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (perhaps renamed the Special Representative of the Security Council or the Executive Peacekeeping Board) who heads each peace operation and is responsible for implementing the mission's mandate. Although the integrated missions planning process is increasingly well developed and should be adapted for the new UNPKO,[56] the Security Council should more clearly identify the Special Representative as the overall authority and empower this individual to direct or approve all U.N. system activities in-coun­try for the duration of the peace operation. This enhanced authority should also result in the Special Representative's being held responsible for lack of coordination, mismanagement, and misconduct and any inability to meet mission objectives due to factors within his control.

UNPKO Staff. As with other funds, programs, and specialized agencies, UNPKO daily operations would be overseen by a director and senior staff. Without support staff and military expertise, the UNPKO would just become another layer of bureaucracy.

To make U.N. peace operations more effective, the UNPKO must oversee the operational and man­agement aspects of U.N. peace operations currently embedded within the Secretariat. The functional elements of the DPKO, including the Office of the Military Adviser and the Civilian Police Adviser,[57] along with other relevant offices in other parts of the Secretariat that are focused predominantly on peace operations or funded through the peacekeeping support account, should be transferred to the newly formed UNPKO. As a new, independent organiza­tion, the UNPKO should also immediately adopt modern management, procurement, logistical, and oversight practices. This would permit U.N. peace operations to sidestep the deadlock in the General Assembly over management and human resources reform. Critically, the UNPKO should be subjected to strengthened oversight and accountability by a new, independent inspector general dedicated to auditing, overseeing, and investigating misconduct, procurement, and procedures.

However, simply transferring relevant portions of the DPKO staff to the UNPKO would not address the strategic assessment and advisory shortfalls. For instance, noting that there was no mission imple­mentation plan nine months after the Haiti mission started, the USIP task force observed:

This absence of strategic guidance reflects not only a problem within the mission, but also deficiencies in the general develop­ment of common doctrine, which would identify roles, missions, and force employ­ment principles to address the contempo­rary challenges faced by peacekeepers. These problems in Haiti also appear to re­flect deficiencies in strategic and tactical planning within the UN Secretariat.[58]

Based on recommendations in the Brahimi Report, the U.N. is striving to adopt integrated mis­sion plans for most operations to merge and coordi­nate the stages from ending a conflict to establishing a peace to post-conflict peace building and develop­ment.[59] However, as illustrated in the USIP task force report, the DPKO's 600-person staff is not capable of meeting current demands. Staff levels need to be strengthened and augmented to permit better development of integrated plans that incor­porate and coordinate political, police, military sup­port, and other specialized activities. The most expeditious ways to address this staffing shortfall would be to rely on seconded military and other professionals provided gratis by member states to meet exceptional demands for U.N. peace opera­tions and to permit the UNPKO to use short-term contracts to meet surge demands. As an indepen­dent organization, the UNPKO would not be sub­ject to the restrictions on gratis personnel that constrain the Secretariat.

Both approaches would incorporate supplemen­tary staff with the expertise and experience neces­sary to assist the core staff in tracking threats to peace and security around the world in anticipation of peace operation requirements, providing threat assessments and options for addressing situations under consideration by the Security Council, main­taining liaison with their national militaries, solicit­ing threat assessments and intelligence, updating the capability and willingness of nations to provide soldiers and other personnel, coordinating training, assessing the capabilities of available personnel, estimating deployment timelines, estimating the minimum requirements to meet mission objectives, and preparing appropriate rules of engagement to ensure the safety of peacekeepers and civilians and to achieve mission objectives.

An important advantage of gratis personnel is that they would place a minimal financial burden on the U.N. system. If the demand for U.N. peace operations ebbs, they could be sent back to their countries without the concerns that reducing career staff would entail.

Troop and Personnel Contributions. Even if the U.N.'s capacities to organize, manage, and oversee its peace operations improve, success ultimately depends on member states' willingness to contribute troops to support U.N. operations. At present, not enough countries are willing or able to contribute the assets or personnel needed for difficult and dan­gerous peace operations, and not enough have spe­cialized enablers like engineers, aviation, or medical units to contribute to peacekeeping operations. An additional problem is that personnel contributed by developing nations often require outside materiel and support from the U.N. and developed nations, including logistics, equipment, planning and organi­zational support, and transportation.[60]

Although some developed countries regularly provide lift and logistics support, many developed countries that possess trained personnel and other essential resources are generally reluctant to partic­ipate directly in U.N. peace operations. As noted in Table 2, the five permanent members contribute a total of only about 5 percent of U.N. uniformed per­sonnel. The top 10 contributors are Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Nepal, Ghana, Uruguay, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa.[61] A number of reasons account for this situation, including the fact that major contributors use U.N. participation as a form of training and income[62] and the fact that countries like the U.S., while providing the bulk of financial resources, are focusing troops and other personnel on efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Having the major troop-contributing countries on the UNPKO Executive Peacekeeping Board would provide the Security Council with a readily available assessment of how many troops key coun­tries would be willing to provide for specific mis­sions. One possible solution for getting the permanent members of the Security Council more involved in peace operations would be to revive the largely ignored Military Staff Committee, which is made up of military representatives from the perma­nent members of the Security Council.[63] It could advise the Security Council and the UNPKO on the threats to international peace and security, propose options for addressing a range of situations, esti­mate the resources and personnel needed to fulfill those options, and detail the available resources and anticipated deployment timetables.

Giving the armed forces of major powers more input into U.N. operations could help to engage those countries in peacekeeping and provide a hot­line back to capitals about the requirements for mis­sions under consideration. Input from both sources could help to ensure that Security Council decisions are grounded in realistic assessments and expecta­tions based on capabilities and resources.

Another alternative is for the U.N. Security Council to rely more heavily on regional and multi­lateral efforts to address threats to international peace and security, especially in situations that may require war fighting or robust rules of engage­ment--areas in which the U.N. has proven less capable than national and coalition-led efforts. Indeed, perhaps driven by limited resources, the U.N. Security Council has recently demonstrated increased willingness to support regional and mul­tilateral efforts to address threats to international peace and security, such as Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force effort in Afghanistan, African Union interven­tion in Burundi and Sudan, European Union deployment in the Democratic Republic of Congo to assist U.N. forces during the election, and inter­vention by the Economic Community of West Afri­can States in Liberia. In several cases, once the peace was secured, the operations were turned over to a U.N. mission.

While such efforts may need additional support,[64] it makes sense for regional actors to lead such efforts. As Sir Winston Churchill noted, "Only those coun­tries whose interests were directly affected by a dis­pute...could be expected to apply themselves with sufficient vigor to secure a settlement."[65]


Although the United States often chooses not to commit personnel to U.N. peace operations, it should support U.N. operations that are in the national interest. The U.N. offers a useful means for the U.S. to act upon situations that affect the national interest but do not require direct U.S. intervention. U.N. peace operations can be used to address humanitarian concerns where conflict or instability makes civilians vulnerable to atrocities, to promote peace efforts, or to support a country's transition to democracy and post-conflict rebuilding.

The utility of U.N. peace operations has led to a sharp increase in their number and complexity, but their mixed record of success since the end of the Cold War indicates that the Security Council may not be giving sufficient consideration to mission man­dates, circumstances, and available resources when deciding to authorize operations and should exercise more caution. Barring a disaster like Somalia, which led to a decline in U.N. peace operations in the mid-1990s, however, there seems to be little indication that the current enthusiasm for U.N. peace operations will ebb. It is therefore essential that member states-- especially members of the Security Council, which approves peace operations--ensure that peace opera­tions are equipped and managed in a manner that enables them to meet their mandates.

The increasing complexity, size, and frequency of U.N. peace operations have revealed significant weaknesses in oversight, accountability, and con­duct. Without fundamental reform of the organiza­tion itself, the problems afflicting U.N. peace operations will likely grow as the number of opera­tions increases. Altho


Brett Schaefer

Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center