Peace Support: A New Concept for UN Peacekeeping?


  • 2013•05•29

    Peter Nadin

    Peace Support: A New Concept for UN Peacekeeping?

    Photo UN Photo/Staton Winter

    The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is observed each year on 29 May to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of service as UN “Blue Helmets” and to thank those currently serving in that role.

    In response to the 2013 theme of “UN Peacekeeping: Adapting to New Challenges”, UNU-ISP intern Peter Nadin suggests that on-going insecurity in complex environments can be better addressed by a “peace support” model which allows a mission to adapt its posture between peacekeeping and peace enforcement.

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    In the present era of United Nations peacekeeping, underpinned by doctrine and best practice, why is it that peacekeepers continue to struggle with the implementation of their mandates?

    In an ideal world, peace agreements provide security. The parties to an agreement fulfil their obligations, and armed groups operating outside of the agreement submit to the rule of law. In reality, however, spoilers of the peace readily perpetuate the conditions of insecurity, as their agendas are often best served by means of violence.

    In these circumstances, what are UN peacekeepers to do? Are they to stand idly by and allow insecurity to predominate? Should not the first priority of a UN peacekeeping mission be the achievement of negative peace — that is, the absence of violent conflict, and thus “public security”?

    Doctrine dictates that peacekeepers have a responsibility to respond robustly to threats to their mandate by the tactical use of force. Yet, if one takes the example of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), insecurity has become the status quo despite the presence of the robustly mandated peacekeeping operation known as MONUSCO.

    To address this deficit between doctrine and practice, the UN Security Council recently adopted resolution 2098 that authorised a South African Development Community (SADC) “intervention brigade” to carry out “targeted offensive operations to neutralize armed groups with the intent of preventing violence against civilians and protecting civilians under imminent threat”. The new intervention brigade is partly reflective of a model known as “peace support”.

    In this prescriptive article, I will argue that peace support could be part of the answer to the challenges of on-going insecurity in complex peacekeeping environments.

    Peace support: goals and principles

    The idea behind peace support is not particularly revolutionary. In essence, peace support missions are designed to undertake a range of civilian and military tasks, including the maintenance of public order, policing, mentoring of security forces, infrastructure reconstruction and national reconciliation. The peace support model operates on the basis of flexibility, allowing the mission to adapt its posture between peacekeeping and peace enforcement depending on the compliance of the parties.

    The first goal of peace support is the achievement of negative peace. To achieve this, the use of force must be monopolized by a legitimate actor. In an ideal world, democratically accountable and effective state security forces would monopolize the use of force and uphold the rule of law. However, the reality is that state security forces are often unaccountable and ineffective.

    In these situations, a UN or multi-national force might step into the breach by providing public security. Many would argue, though, that UN peacekeepers do not possess the capacity to provide public security. For example, 20,000 troops thinly spread across a territory the size Western Europe (in the case of the DRC) or France (in the case of Darfur) does not represent a credible security force.

    This argument, however, neglects the typical nature of security threats. A competent combat company, well-trained and well-commanded, can make a very real difference to security if that company was to create and implement a strong operational design. Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone, EUFOR Artemis in the DRC, and INTERFET in Timor-Leste are all operations that have successfully assisted in the restoration of public security in complex environments, albeit over limited timeframes.

    As suggested, there are indications that the peace support model could potentially be applied in UN peacekeeping. In May 2000, the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF), a spoiler to the Lome Peace Agreement, captured 500 UN peacekeepers (UNAMSIL) and began an advance on the country’s capital, Freetown.

    In response to this incident, the British government launched Operation Palliser, comprising a small force supported by an over-the-horizon naval task force. This robust force, operating with UNAMSIL, quickly confronted the RUF, capturing its leader (Foday Sankoh) and repelling the RUF advance on Freetown. The robust use of force, applied judiciously by the British (and UNAMSIL during Operation Khukri), was certainly a critical factor in the creation of a permissive security environment (a genuinely secure environment for the population) in Sierra Leone immediately following the intervention.

    The equation

    When confronted with a robust peace support operation, armed groups have three options open to them:

    • Option 1: pursue peace; negotiate an agreement; and then disarm, demobilize and reintegrate
    • Option 2: pursue peace; negotiate an agreement; but renege on the agreement and continue the conflict
    • Option 3: continue the conflict (status quo)

    Armed groups pursuing insecurity for their own gains are likely to continue their peace-spoiling activity, unless they can be persuaded otherwise. The job of a peace support operation is to convince armed groups of the futility of pursing Options 2 and 3 by attaching a cost to violence. To do this, UN forces (or a separate multi-national force) should adopt a robust posture — the idea being to coerce (or preferably co-opt) armed groups into pursuing Option 1: peace.

    Adopting a robust posture requires an understanding of the complex environments (characterized by complex physical and human terrain), in which peace support missions are tasked to operate. It also requires a strategy and a set of tactics to match.

    Good peacekeeping (as with good counter-insurgency) is akin to “armed social work”, wherein military means serve a political strategy. It’s all about undermining a spoiler’s strategy (“fight his strategy, not his forces”) by building trust with the local population. The end goal is not necessarily the complete defeat of an armed group, but the disarmament of its combatants through coercion.

    Once a spoiler understands that he can’t pursue war, at zero cost, peace through disarmament becomes a real possibility. Obviously, UN forces must be adequately equipped to deal with and deter spoilers. This requires bridging of the gap between mandate and means, through the provision of force enablers (such as close-air support, logistics, intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities) and the establishment of cross-mission coordination mechanisms (such as joint operations headquarters).

    So what happens once a permissive security environment has been created? The legacy of any UN mission must be the creation of a well-trained, well-paid, accountable and effective local security force. The creation of such a force must be one of the central priorities of UN missions.

    Security is the foundation of the state; without it, state institutions are liable to fail. UN missions should, therefore, abandon the tendency to pursue the goal of positive peace (“sustainable peace”) before first attaining the goal of negative peace (“the absence of war”).

    In conclusion

    The model suggested above is merely a set of prescriptive musings on the topic of improving UN peace operations. The suggestions themselves emerge from a recognition that, in their present state, peace operations are not capable of adequately filling the security vacuums that exist in many peacekeeping environments.

    What is required is a model better focused on the provision of security — a model focused on establishing the necessary bedrock upon which post-conflict states can be rebuilt.