UNAMID Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari in Darfur. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID
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The United Nation’s relationships with regional organisations are quickly becoming a key aspect of peacekeeping missions. These bodies are playing more assertive roles both politically and militarily.
The most prominent recent example is the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). In 2007, as a result of the threat to international peace and security from Darfur, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1769 authorising the deployment of the first-ever hybrid peacekeeping operation (PKO): UNAMID.
A hybrid mission is a joint effort where a regional organisation — in this case, the African Union (AU) — shares the political, financial, logistical and military burdens with the UN. In hybrid missions, the partners are theoretically equals and align their agendas to achieve the mandate. There is a single political representative and a single military commander.
Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General at the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), described UNAMID as: “an unprecedented operation. Never before in the history of the United Nations has the UN and UN peacekeepers worked explicitly with another international organization.”
Now that we are approaching the 10th anniversary of the deployment, it is relevant to analyse whether the hybrid component of the mission has served its purpose, and whether it should be used in future missions.
Beyond being the first hybrid PKO ever deployed, UNAMID is the second-largest mission in peacekeeping history — and also one of the most expensive endeavours ever conducted by the UN. In June 2015, the DPKO reported that the mission has 23,438 people deployed (military, police, and civilian staff). Moreover, the mission has a budget of US$1,153,611,300 per fiscal year, representing 1/8th of the entire budget of the Department (which currently supports a total of 17 missions).
The hybrid peacekeeping model has the opportunity to create a paradigm shift in how missions are planned and governed. Still, UNAMID has proven that cooperation between the UN and regional bodies is a complex issue. As Paul Williams and Arthur Boutellis put it, “the relationship between the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) has at times been characterized by considerable conflict, mistrust, and tension, often hindering the predictability and conduct of effective peace operations”.
UNAMID is a creature of compromise between both parties, because while the AU needs the UN’s resources to intervene in Africa at the scale required, the UN needs the political support of the AU to secure Sudan’s authorisation and to rally African States to contribute troops. This is the true essence of a hybrid PKO: both institutions need each other, and cooperation serves them in equal measure.
The AU has so far been able to cope with the mandate entrusted to it by the UN Security Council. However, the relationship is not symmetrical, and the AU shows deficiencies that hinder its ability to meet its duties. First of all, it lacks the necessary budget to make a contribution to the mission; UNAMID is completely funded through the UNDPKO regular channels, which basically means that the AU is dependent on the UN’s budget and resources. So, even though the partnership is de jure equal, the UN has de facto more influence over the mission.
Yet there is an important caveat: the relationship is of course asymmetrical. The AU was only established 15 years ago, and it is only just starting to learn how to conduct PKOs. It is also an organisation with considerably fewer resources than the UN, both in terms of financial and human capital. It would be unrealistic to expect the AU to cope with the challenges of handling a hybrid PKO on an equal footing.
The question, therefore, is how can hybrid PKOs create equal partnerships between unequal partners?
Essentially, UNAMID has two very unequal partners. The UN only needs troops and political clout; it can take care of the other areas by itself, as it does in every other PKO. Moreover, UNAMID’s model has shown that hybrid missions add a layer of complexity to peacekeeping that neither the DPKO nor the AU have been able, entirely, to cope with successfully.
The UN and regional bodies will hopefully learn from UNAMID; it is entirely possible that the next PKO will not be hybrid but will still have hybrid components. For example, while the UNDPKO would oversee the operational necessities of the mission, the Secretary-General in cooperation with the head of the regional organisation would jointly appoint a Special Representative together — as the UN and the Arab League appointed a joint envoy for Syria.
Even if the concept and practice of hybrid peacekeeping work on some levels, UNAMID’s model should never be “exported as is” into future missions. All regional organisations are different, and they will always have different needs and capacities. The UN Security Council should evaluate each very carefully and use its own unique strengths to compensate for any weaknesses.
It is important for the UN to approach future missions with flexibility and creativity, and regional organisations will certainly be important in these efforts. For now, UNAMID will remain on the ground, but its efficiency will, of course, remain questioned by Member States and the millions of civilians whose lives have been shattered by this conflict, despite the efforts of the mission.