Small Wars Journal

New Study Suggests Reforms to UN Peacekeeping Operations

Tue, 02/24/2015 - 9:26pm

New Study Suggests Reforms to UN Peacekeeping Operations by William Eagle, Voice of America

A new study suggests reforms to help improve United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world. It includes the better matching of mandates with mission capacity and resources, and clarifying expectations surrounding UN troop deployments.

The goal of the report is to provide input to a UN review that will update peacekeeping operations. It sought feedback on potential reforms from stakeholders - including governments and policy makers -- in Africa and other world regions.

New Risks

Among their concerns are new challenges to traditional peacekeeping, including the spread of international criminal networks and jihadists who cross poorly guarded borders, especially in Africa.  

The author of the report is Jair van der Lign, head of peace operations research at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.  
Van der Lijn said there are steps that can be taken in UN missions like that in Mali, where improved explosive devices and suicide bombers have put peacekeepers at risk.

“Only last year," he said, "I think about 30 peacekeepers were killed due to such attacks in Mali alone. That’s about three-fourths of all deaths as a result of all attacks in total. If you look at all the incidents, most of the fatalities are the result of the IED's that kill people because the vehicles they were traveling in were not IED-proof. So just making sure that particularly Chadian soldiers travel in Mali with the required armed personnel carriers would already save a lot of lives.”

The Use of Force

Van der Lijn said African stakeholders consulted for the study support robust peacekeeping operations that include the use of force to protect civilians.
He said many emerging nations - including China, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, India and Brazil - are reluctant to accept robust missions in their own regions, but are supportive of the use of force in Africa.  They benefit from African stability for trade and access to the continent’s natural resources.

But he said they and other nations that contribute troops sometimes have second thoughts about putting their own forces at risk.  

“That’s why you see some operations remain passive," he said, "even though the mandate is robust and says you should protect civilians. [It’s] not because the force commander of the peace operation does not want to do it, but because the troop contributor decides they think it is too dangerous to protect civilians. "

"The force commander of the UN peace operation should be in charge," he continued, "but in practice, there is a second line of command…and that’s their own capitals. That is a problem the UN is aware of and trying to find solutions.”

Missions and Mandates

Van der Lijn said the UN must make clear the mandates of UN peace operations. For example, he said civilians have been confused about whether the mandate includes a blanket guarantee to protect everyone, or only some - as he says is the case in Mali, South Sudan, and the Eastern Congo. He said troops must also be well-enough equipped to carry out the mission's mandate.

He gave the example of the mission in Kivu Province in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

“The mission was not sufficiently equipped to protect all civilians," said van der Lijn.  "So what should a mandate do and how do you manage expectations? You should explain to the population what you will do and what you’re not going to do. Are you going to protect all civilians of the whole country? That’s what people expect now in DRC, and that’s why people are quite often angry at UN peacekeepers because they are not protected everywhere.”

Cooperation Versus Sovereignty

Some stakeholders consulted by the study suggested that because of porous borders, peace operations should be deployed in several countries of a region at a time.  

But van der Lijn said this is not likely to take place since most states do not want to give up sovereignty. They want to be able to influence operations deployed in their own country rather than working together with neighboring states in dealing with a single UN command. He said it’s also not likely that the influence of large regional powers would be accepted by smaller or weaker neighboring countries. They fear more powerful countries could manipulate peace operations for their own interests.  

However, Van der Lijn said the report does suggest that a comprehensive strategy for peace operations include broad cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union and sub-regional organizations. And he said there should be better coordination between different missions in countries where the activities of the EU, the AU and the UN are following varying agendas.

Alleviating Friction

The study also revealed tensions between nations that finance operations and often make the decisions, mostly Western industrialized countries, and middle and low-income states that provide troops. He says the troop providers are critical of financing nations who in turn often criticize the performance and training of the forces.  

Van der Lijn suggests that countries that provide funding also provide more troops, while those who traditionally send troops should find ways to increase their financial contributions. This would increase understanding between the two groups of countries. He said the dispute has been calmed over the last year by increased financial reimbursements to low-income countries providing soldiers.

There are 16 peace operations with 120,000 UN personnel around the world. Nine of them, with about 81,000 personnel members, are in sub-Saharan Africa.


Dave Maxwell

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:18am

I once wrote a monograph on how SOF could support UN Operations.(can be accessed at this link: ( ) Of course that was in 1995 when we seemed to be involved in or associated with more UN operations. Of course I approached it from a FID perspective (the doctrine then seemed quite adaptable and well suited for use to me). I doubt we will ever again be making significant contributions to UN operations (though I would argue that we should have an interest in seeing that they successfully support policy or mandates).