United Nations Peacekeeping Offensive Operations: Concepts and Command Centres
The decision to strategically mandate offensive operations in the post-cold war peacekeeping era, is for the most part unchartered territory and will require forward thinking and some amount of trial and error. This article is a continuation of the research published in my previous paper, ‘United Nations Peacekeeping Offensive Operations: Theory and Doctrine’. Where theory provides a construct for the conduct of operations, doctrine should guide the execution of operations without being overly prescriptive (US, 2014: 70). Doctrine provides the ‘how to’ in the conduct of operations where concepts look to the future of peacekeeping offensive operations.
The study of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping offensive operations is at a critical moment and is highlighted by a higher operational intensity as indicated in the recent battle in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 15 peacekeepers were killed and approximately 40 were injured. The UN Secretary General (SG) Antonio Guterres condemned the attack stating that, “this is the worst attack on UN peacekeepers in the Organization’s recent history” (SG, 2017). The increasing casualties of UN peacekeepers in Mali as well as the Central African Republic are further examples of a higher operational tempo in African theatres. The aim of this paper is to put forward a proposed future peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone and operating concept and command infrastructure amendments on the strategic and operational levels of peacekeeping.
United Nations Future Peacekeeping Offensive Operations Cornerstone and Operating Concept
This paper proposes the creation of a future peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone and operating concept which should guide the application of peacekeeping offensive operations. Concepts consider the use of future capabilities to achieve missions while providing intellectual foundation for modernisation (US, 2014: 7). The cornerstone concept should indicate the UN’s overarching philosophy regarding the use of force in peacekeeping. The UN future operating concept should be subordinate to the cornerstone concept, and it should guide the way that UN military forces operate in peacekeeping.
The suggested concepts draw from the practical experience and historical context of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) as the first modern offensively mandated UN peacekeeping offensive force. Following the initial success of the FIB in their attainment of strategic and tactical objectives, its performance has been lacklustre. The proposed peacekeeping cornerstone concept could thus provide clarity on their role and function on the strategic, operational and tactical levels of peacekeeping.
The UN cornerstone and operating concepts should respond to the constantly changing international trends and threats in security and conflict. International security trends have shown a considerable increase asymmetrical and extremist threats, guerrilla attacks as well as terrorism (Ladsous, 2015; UK, 2012) – the conflict in Mali and the recent attack in the DRC, Beni are current examples of this trend. The strategic threat perspective which informs the functioning of the various UN apparatus should guide the UN future strategies for peacekeeping.
The UN foundational and guiding documents on peacekeeping operations provide the basis for the understanding of future concepts. Concepts look forward while doctrine guides the current thinking and practice in operations. The evolution of post-Cold War peacekeeping is demonstrated through the substantial guidance which include but are not limited to: the ‘Brahimi Report’ (2000), Capstone Doctrine (2008), ‘New Partnership Agenda: Charting a New Horizon for Peacekeeping’ (2009), ‘Global Field Support Strategy’ (2010), ‘The Contribution of United Nations Peacekeeping to Early Peacebuilding: A DPKO/DFS Strategy for Peacekeeping’ (2011), ‘The Planning Toolkit’ (2012), ‘Strategic Planning in the United Nations System’ (2012); ‘Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous Statement to the Fourth Committee’ (2015), ‘Use of Force by Military Components in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations’ (2017). Where these documents provide the foundations for strategic understanding - the cornerstone and operating concepts should inform forecasted trends in conflict and the UN’s proposed response.
The UN cornerstone concept should be inextricably intertwined with force generation planning and philosophies. Force generation strategies are principally concerned with quantities and not necessarily military capabilities (Smith, 2013) by which it addresses the ‘means’ of future peacekeeping. This paper builds on the thinking surrounding force generation and the acquisition of capabilities for future peace missions.
Future conflict trends are likely to be marked by uncertainty and further complexity in operations. The cornerstone concept should envision the future aims and threats to future operations as well as the means and ways to overcome challenges and achieve mission objectives. In so doing the concept should shape the way that the UN leadership think about future peacekeeping operations. The UN cornerstone concept will thus guide future peacekeeping forces’ knowledge and understanding of future threats and challenges while preparing them for peacekeeping operations.
The proposed title for the future UN peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone concept is proposed as: Adaptable offensive operations: neutralising armed groups in complex international contexts. The cornerstone concept should thus indicate higher level ends and ways, while highlighting strategic intent. This proposed concept ties in with the strategic intent of the United Nations Security Council (UN SC) as stated in Resolution 2348, which mandated the neutralisation of Armed Groups in the DRC through offensive operations, “robust, highly mobile and versatile” (UN, 2017:11). The thoughts of Hervé Ladsous the Under Secretary General (USG) of peacekeeping echoes this sentiment asserting the necessity of, “adapting our capabilities and our field support to allow Missions to act in an agile, mobile, robust and pre-emptive manner” (Ladsous, 2015). The UN peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone concept should then be linked to the UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept.
The UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept should address the forecasted practicalities of future missions while focussing on the operational level of peacekeeping. This operating concept should be based on the changing character of the peace and security landscape. Furthermore the UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept addresses any obstacles to operational efficiency - in so doing the operating concept should guide the organisaton’s philosophical approach in dealing with current and future operations. USG Ladsous, in his statement to the Fourth Committee referred to the ‘challenges of operating effectively in new environments’, citing the complexity and robust nature of operations in MONUSCO, and UN missions in CAR, MINUSCA and in Mali, MINUSMA. Ladsous further highlighted the limitations of tough, and challenging terrain augmented by determined attacks of Armed Groups, utilising small arms and increasingly sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) (Ladsous, 2015). The increased operational intensity of UN peacekeeping in Africa, indicates the need for a clear concept for future operations.
The proposed UN offensive peacekeeping operating concept considers one of the primary objectives of peacekeeping which is fundamentally linked to Protection of Civilians (POC). The proposed UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept links offensive operations - the neutralising of Armed Groups as stipulated in UN SC Resolution 2348, with POC (UN, 2017:11). Without military control of an area, it would be difficult for civilian peacekeepers to effectively operate and achieve POC objectives. The recent attack by the on UN FIB forces outside Beni, DRC where 15 Tanzanian soldiers were killed and approximately 40 injured, is a case in point. In a situation where an active, aggressive and reasonably well organised armed group caries out harassing operations, it becomes increasingly difficult for civilian peacekeepers to effectively carry out their function in support of a POC mandate.
The UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept should focus on the tactical realities and obstacles within the operational theatre. Thus the proposed UN operating concept should address the complex tactical issues including crucial capabilities such as air support and engineer units which as force multipliers assist in overcoming complex physical and human terrain. A suggested title for the proposed future UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept is, Enabling protection of civilians through mobile operations in complex peacekeeping environments. A case that supports this concept was the neutralisation of M23 which in turn enabled MONUSCO to resume their POC mandate and further promoted regional responsibility in response to a crisis. The UN future peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept should guide the future operations of the FIB, UN elements in support of combat operations (Mali) and other peace missions, such as South Sudan, Darfur and CAR amongst others.
The strategic level command should ensure that the UN offensive force has the resources and mandate to achieve the required combat objectives. Based on the strategic objectives, the operational level must conceptualise and plan the required campaigns through operational art. In this regard the UN has made great strides in its work towards standby forces, strategic force generation and rapidly deployable brigades. Where national Departments of Defence develop their strategic vision with national interests in mind, regional military bodies such as the NATO develop their strategic concept considering regional security objectives and concerns. Similarly and more broadly the UN should develop its future peacekeeping cornerstone and operating concept to address complex missions worldwide.
Proposed Amended UN DPKO/DFS Command Infrastructure for Peacekeeping Offensive Operations
The choice to make use of offensive operations, requires the UN to have specific methods to command, control and manage the execution of such operations on the various levels of peacekeeping. One can draw a comparison between war and peacekeeping offensive operations in that they “are not won or lost on the tactical level but at the strategic and operational levels” (Vego, 2015: 60). Thus, the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) of Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs), which feature at the tactical level, are of less importance than the strategic and operational considerations. Furthermore, the choice of a combat-oriented commander who can execute offensive operations is critical to the success of the mission.
Strategic Command Centre
Peacekeeping missions are headed by the SG and the respective force commanders and Special Representatives of the Secretary General (SRSG). The strategic level is thus comprised of the SG, the USGs and relevant departments. Where the SC determines the mandate objectives, the strategic leadership guides mandate implementation. This paper thus proposes that a small strategic command centre or cell be created, or amended from existing resources, for specific command, control and guidance of mandated offensive operations at HQ level. The proposed strategic command centre will assist the strategic leadership by providing legal and doctrinal guidance and staff analyses. Furthermore the centre will assist in advising the SG and the SC regarding the challenges, strategic options and the operationalisation of mandate objectives. There is a definite link between a particular mission’s success and the balance of resources, context, leadership and operational realities.
As a prime example the history of MONUSCO and its predecessor MONUC is highlighted which experienced both success and failure in utilising offensive operations. The experience of previous MONUSCO force headquarters command and staff was inclined towards multidimensional peacekeeping with limited offensive operations. It could be argued that the success and commitment to combat operations is subjective to the risk appetite of the respective commanders, TCCs and Security General. Cammaert’s proactive leadership against rebel groups in the DRC in 2005 is an example of the effective results which can be achieved with a combination of a suitable force commander and capable blue helmets (Baker and Jordaan, 2010: 152). By ensuring military security, the mission is able to continue with the implementation of POC and other mandate objectives. The proposed strategic command centre could assist in advising the SG and SC on the probabilities of success and failure of offensive operations in a given context, and provide doctrinal guidance on (this is subject to the creation of doctrine for UN offensive operations across the levels of peacekeeping). This point becomes even more crucial as peacekeeping missions are deployed and made to take on complex security challenges, by being introduced and forced to operate in combat and combat support roles against asymmetric and other guerrilla threats.
On the topic of operating in complex environments, the US Army states that, “strategic leaders must have some grasp of the ongoing debate about cultural diversity and the understanding of war in fundamentally differing cultural contexts” (US Army, 2001: 22). As such the strategic leadership must have a broad vision and clear understanding of the mission context (Vego, 2015: 60). Strategic guidance thus informs the operational level of war and provides options in terms of the balance of ends, ways and means, which historically has always been considered a difficult task (Jablonsky, 1987: 65). The UN has a daunting task in providing strategic guidance to offensive mandated operations which may include cooperation with regional partners. The UN’s institutional culture and values are different to that of other regional actors such as NATO, which has on previous occasions led to a challenging partnership in dealing with violent conflict (Harsch, 2015). The compatibility of UN, regional and TCC security infrastructure is a fundamentally important consideration, and becomes a central point in the operationalisation of strategic objectives.
The proposed strategic command centre will thus further inform and guide the operational level of peacekeeping. Where the Rules of Engagement, Status of Force Agreement and CONOPS (UN DPKO/DFS, 2008: 14) are often decided at the start of a mission, the operational level should continuously guide, balance and adjust mission objectives between the changing continuum of tactical execution and the fluctuating strategic landscape.
The SC Resolution 2348 (2017) indicated specific strategic military objectives to be attained through offensive operations in the DRC. In order to achieve these strategic objectives, the aims, as indicated by the SC must be operationalised. The primary responsibility to operationalise these objective lies within the UN Secretariat, DPKO/DFS, Mission leadership and the Force headquarters. There is also a command imperative from the TCC national commands who are stakeholders in the mission. The CONOPS is discussed and formed with TCCs during the strategic force generation process. It is important to ensure continuity from the creation of the CONOPS to the implementation phase in theatre. In this regard senior personnel of TCCs who were involved in the mission planning and CONOPS should have appointments at the proposed strategic command centre.
Operational Command Centre
This paper postulates that the Force headquarters of missions mandated specifically for offensive operations, be further developed to include a broad command centre with an operational staff with the specific function of developing military options for tactical execution. The aforementioned operational command centre could be linked to the G3 but should be made up exclusively of TCCs mandated for offensive operations. This will contribute to the overall efficiency of the mission. The envisioned operational level command centre and staff section will also increase efficiency in the provision of logistics and the management of resources. Furthermore, this staff section should not exist in isolation but should form part of the Force command staff and possibly the senior management team.
This paper does not presume dictate how the proposed amendment to the operational and strategic command be set up, but rather alludes to their importance. Where offensive operations are mandated, the strategic command centre could be created at the headquarters (New York City or Regional country) and the operational command centre and staff compartment for offensive operations, could be created at the respective mission headquarters.
The operational level in peacekeeping must inform the tactical level in terms of attaining strategic mandate objectives. The proposed operational level of command in peacekeeping is based on the operational level in war which is designed to “determine the sequence of actions most likely to produce the military conditions that will achieve the strategic goals” (Jablonsky, 1987: 65). Operational commanders in peacekeeping should think operationally and not tactically and should thus be able to build a strategic and operational picture of the theatre of operations which addresses military and non-military aspects which influence the mission (Vega, 2015: 62).
This paper thus proposes that the UN create a command centre and operational staff compartment for offensive operations which will be required to determine the tasks required in order to achieve the SC’s mandate objectives. UN offensive operations within multidimensional peacekeeping missions are generally low intensity when compared to conventional wars of attrition. In cases of lower intensity operations, the operational level is usually smaller than in high intensity conflict (Vego, 2007: XII-28). The operational thinking on this level of peacekeeping informs the operational vision which determines the centres of gravity of the opposing force (Vega, 2015, 62). UN missions with offensive mandates, such as the FIB, should thus have a small operational command centre and staff compartment that guides tactical execution, in neutralising the Armed Groups’ centres of gravity/critical vulnerability, in order to achieve strategic objectives as part of the broader mission.
This paper proposes the creation of a future peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone and operating concepts which should guide the application of force in peacekeeping operations. The cornerstone concept should guide the UN’s overarching philosophy regarding the use of force in peacekeeping and the operating concept should guide the way that UN military forces operate in offensive peacekeeping missions.
The proposed title for the future UN peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone concept: Adaptable offensive operations: neutralising armed groups in complex international contexts. A suggested title for the future UN peacekeeping offensive operations operating concept is Enabling protection of civilians through mobile operations in complex peacekeeping environments.
The paper suggests that the UN make a minor amendment to the strategic and operational command centres, so as to include staff, exclusively dedicated to mandated offensive operations. This staff will assist the strategic and operational commanders in operationalising strategic objectives, facilitating CONOPS, and advising the SG and SC on critical failings, strategic options, challenges and combat mandates.
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 See, UN, “The Contribution of United Nations Peacekeeping to Early Peacebuilding: A DPKO/DFS Strategy for Peacekeeping”, 2011.
 See, A. Smith and A. Boutellis, ‘Rethinking Force Generation: Filling the Capability Gaps in UN Peacekeeping, International Peace Institute, 2013.
 A comparison can be made with a military capstone concept which aims to prepare military forces to face future threats: Association of the US Army, ‘Defence Report: The U.S. Army Capstone Concept: Defining the Army of 2020’, Institute of Land Warfare, 2013, 1.
 The suggested UN future peacekeeping offensive operations cornerstone concept requires further research and analysis so as to be developed into a complete document.
 See, A. Garcia, ‘United Nations Peacekeeping Offensive Operations: Theory and Doctrine’, Small Wars Journal, September 2017.
 A comparison is made with the military operating concept which is based on the character of future war: UK Army, Joint Concept Note 2/12I Future Land Operating Concept (Swindon: Ministry of Defence, 2012), 1-7.
 See, UN, “Draft Lessons Learned: Study on FIB Operations”, 2014; H. Ladsous, “Statement of Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations to the Fourth Committee”, 2015.
 The proposed UN future peacekeeping operating concept requires further research and analysis so as to be developed into a complete document.
 See US Army, TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The US Army Operating Concept, Win in a Complex World 2020 - 2040 (Fort Eustis: TRADOC Publications, 2014); SA Army Vision 2020 Team, SA Army Strategic Profile (Pretoria: SA Army HQ, 2006); Australian Army, Army’s Future Land Operating Concept: Adaptive Campaigning (Canberra: Australian Army HQ, 2009; US Army, US Army Capstone Concept: Draft Version 2.7 (Fort Eustis: TRADOC Publications, 2009).
 See, NATO, NATO Strategic Concept, 2010. The strategic concept for NATO is currently under revision given the change in international threats, terrorism, migration and other factors. For an in-depth analysis on UN-NATO inter-organisation dynamics see, M.F. Harsch, The Power of Dependence, NATO-UN Cooperation in Crisis Management (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 See, M. Vego, “On Operational Leadership” Joint Forces Quarterly, 77, 2, 2015.
 These may include, DPKO, DFS, OMA, and Integrated Operations Teams amongst other elements.
 See, F. Blyth, and P. Cammaert, “Using Force to Protect Civilians in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations”, Chapter in H. Willmot, R. Mamiya, S. Sheeran, and M. Weller, Protection of Civilians. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
 See, A. Garcia, ‘United Nations Peacekeeping Offensive Operations: Theory and Doctrine’, Small Wars Journal, September 2017.
 G3 is the military staff compartment dealing with operations.
 NATO exclusively deploys Joint operational level headquarters, where in peace enforcement or conventional operations: M. H. Clemmesen, ‘Present and Future Command Structure: A Finish View’, Chapter in T. Young, Command in NATO after the Cold War: Alliance, National and Multinational Considerations, (Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 1997), 196.
About the Author(s)
"A lack of leadership and a reluctance to move aggressively against potential attackers are responsible for the worst spate of United Nations peacekeeping fatalities in the organization’s history, according to a report released on Monday." 22 Jan 2018.
Using Mali as an example and recently with Operation SERVAL, we have seen an expanded strategy to confront instability in the G5 Sahel operationalized via BARKHANE. MINUSMA has addressed current and emerging uniformed capability requirements on a routine basis including military, police ,rapid deployment and gender specific capabilities. The mission has also addressed holistic C-IED operations enabled by intelligence capabilities. Capacity-building and training programs are also emphasized.
Much like the other conflicts around the world, no level of offensive operations will remedy the core drivers of instability. Yes, force protection and protection of the population are critical, but are not sustainable indefinitely and absent effective government penetration which provides security and economic resources to the population.
Identity disputes,ideological extremism, mistrustful and disenfranchised populations and lack of effective government penetration plagues Mali. The Malian government is a soap opera of dysfunctional governance that fuels opposition, calls for Azawad/independence and freedom of maneuver for both mutually supporting and competing irregular threat actors.
"Strategic guidance thus informs the operational level of war and provides options in terms of the balance of ends, ways and means, which historically has always been considered a difficult task (Jablonsky, 1987: 65)."
The options for Mali currently are non-military where the UN is threatening sanctions against Malian parties blocking full implementation of a 2015 peace agreement. The next set of options coincide with a series of upcoming elections
in April and presidential elections in mid-July. The enemy gets a vote and will continue high profile attacks and disruption operations in zone as their tactics and options. Unfortunately 2018 is already a bad year for Mali.