HIPPO REPORT: Uniting our strengths for peace, politics, partnership and people
In 1948, the first peacekeeping mission and the first high-profile mediator were deployed as innovative solutions by a young United Nations. Nearly seventy years later, United Nations (UN) peace operations – which span peacekeeping operations to special political missions, good offices and mediation initiatives – are a central part of the Organization’s efforts to improve the lives of people around the world. More than 128,000 women and men serve under the blue flag in almost 40 missions across four continents working to prevent conflicts, help mediate peace processes, protect civilians and sustain fragile peace processes.
UN peace operations have proven highly adaptable and contributed significantly to the successful resolution of conflicts and to a declining number of conflicts over two decades. Today, however, there is evidence of a worrisome reversal of some of this trend and a widely shared concern that changes in conflict may be outpacing the ability of UN peace operations to respond. The spread of violent extremism, overlaid onto long- simmering local or regional conflicts and the growing aspirations of populations for change, is placing pressure on governments and the international system to respond. As UN peace operations struggle to achieve their objectives, change is required to adapt them to new circumstances and to ensure their increased effectiveness and appropriate use in future.
A number of peace operations today are deployed in an environment where there is little or no peace to keep. In many settings today, the strain on their operational capabilities and support systems is showing, and political support is often stretched thin. There is a clear sense of a widening gap between what is being asked of UN peace operations today and what they are able to deliver. This gap can be – must be – narrowed to ensure that the Organization’s peace operations are able to respond effectively and appropriately to the challenges to come. With a current generation of conflicts proving difficult to resolve and with new ones emerging, it is essential that UN peace operations, along with regional and other partners, combine their respective comparative advantages and unite their strengths in the service of peace and security.
Progress in implementing the New Deal
In many ways, UN peace operations have become more professional and capable over the past decade but significant chronic challenges remain. Resources for prevention and mediation work have been scarce and the United Nations is often too slow to engage with emerging crises. Too often, mandates and missions are produced on the basis of templates instead of tailored to support situation-specific political strategies, and technical and military approaches come at the expense of strengthened political efforts. In the face of a surge in demand over the past decade, the Organization has not been able to deploy sufficient peacekeeping forces quickly and often relies on under-resourced military and vii
police capacities. Rapidly deployable specialist capabilities are difficult to mobilize and UN forces have little or no interoperability. Secretariat departments and UN agencies, funds and programmes struggle to integrate their efforts in the face of competing pressures, at times, contradictory messages and different funding sources. UN bureaucratic systems configured for a headquarters environment limit the speed, mobility and agility of response in the field. These chronic challenges are significant but they can, and should, be addressed.
Four essential shifts must be embraced in the future design and delivery of UN peace operations if real progress is to be made and if UN peace operations are to realize their potential for better results in the field.
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.