With more than 125,000 military and police personnel currently serving as part of 16 missions on four continents, UN peacekeeping now represents the largest deployed military force in the world. In addition to this historic growth in the sheer size of peacekeeping, the responsibilities that UN peacekeepers are expected to carry out—their mandates, in UN parlance—have similarly grown substantially in size and complexity.  These types of activities are also increasingly taking place in dangerous and remote operating environments where there is little actual “peace to keep”. Often, peacekeepers are having to contend with extremist groups and other spoilers that engage in asymmetric tactics and, in some cases, view the peacekeepers themselves as legitimate targets for attack.

Given the evolving nature of peacekeeping, it is clear that a broader strategic review of these operations was necessary to ensure that, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, they “remain an indispensable and effective tool in promoting international peace and security” moving forward. For that reason, in 2014, the Secretary-General announced the creation of a High-Level Independent Panel to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the state of UN peace operations.

“We are here today, together, to strengthen and reform U.N. peacekeeping because our common security demands it.  This is not something that we do for others; this is something that we do collectively because our collective security depends on it.”

– President Obama, September 2015 

 High-Level Panel on Peace Operations Report

On June 17th, the Independent High-Level Panel on Peace Operations submitted a report to the Secretary General. The report took into consideration 80 written submissions from Member States, regional, and other international organizations, civil society, and think tanks. The panel held regional consultations in Asia, Africa, Middle East, Europe, and Latin American and visited three peace operations in DR Congo (MONUSCO), Mali (MINUSMA), and UN Office of West Africa (UNOWA) to gather first-hand information.

Several of the major recommendations of the report are noted below:

“First, politics must drive the design and implementation of peace operations. Lasting peace is achieved not through military and technical engagements, but through political solutions. Political solutions should always guide the design and deployment of UN peace operations. When the momentum behind peace falters, the United Nations, and particularly Member States, must help to mobilize renewed political efforts to keep peace processes on track.”

“Second, the full spectrum of UN peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground. The United Nations has a uniquely broad spectrum of peace operations that it can draw upon to deliver situation-specific responses. And yet, it often struggles to generate and rapidly deploy missions that are well-tailored to the context. The sharp distinctions between peacekeeping operations and special political missions should give way to a continuum of response and smoother transitions between different phases of missions. The United Nations should embrace the term ‘peace operations’ to denote the full spectrum of responses required and invest in strengthening the underlying analysis, strategy and planning that leads to more successful design of missions. Sequenced and prioritized mandates will allow missions to develop over time rather than trying to do everything at once, and failing.”

“Third, a stronger, more inclusive peace and security partnership is needed for the future. A stronger global-regional peace and security partnership is needed to respond to the more challenging crises of tomorrow. Common purpose and resolve must be established from the outset of a new operation and must be maintained throughout through enhanced collaboration and consultation. The UN System too must pull together in a more integrated manner in the service of conflict prevention and peace. All of these partnerships must be underpinned by mutual respect and mutual responsibilities.”

“Fourth, the UN Secretariat must become more field-focused and UN peace operations must be more people-centered. There must be an awakening of UN Headquarters to the distinct and important needs of field missions, and a renewed resolve on the part of UN peace operations personnel to engage with, serve and protect the people they have been mandated to assist.”

Strengthening UN Peacekeeping

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that he “will not hesitate to repatriate entire contingents or terminate deployments where there are failures in command and control, evidence of widespread or systematic violations, or when member states fail repeatedly to respond to requests for investigations or to investigate promptly.”

In 2015, the UN was buffeted by a number of high-profile cases of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) committed by UN peacekeepers, particularly in the Central African Republic. In response to these allegations, on September 17, 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a series of proposals to combat SEA in peacekeeping to a meeting of representatives from 124 troop-contributing countries in New York. These initiatives, some of which are already being implemented, include the following: