UN Peacekeeping Operations: Watch This Space

The Brookings Institution held a discussion entitled: United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Fit for Purpose? featuring Anthony Banbury, Noam Unger and William Durch on October 18, 2011. The discussion was timely given the current budget deficit of the United States government, the continued request and need for UN peacekeepers, and the “Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act” sponsored recently in the House of Representatives. Discussants provided examples from their personal experiences in or alongside UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) to help us understand the constraints the operations face and the way forward.

According to Anthony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support at the United Nations, the “short answer” to the discussion’s question is “increasingly so”. The UN is trying to transform PKO field operations based on its own experiences; however any reforms or improvements are also up to member states because they must get passed by the General Assembly. Financial circumstances are linked to UN policies, but not in a way that is efficient for PKO.

The approach for creating and proposing field operations must be considered more holistically, according to Banbury. At times, UN Member States make robust mandates for field operations, which can include strict security requirements for personnel and other costly measures, without grasping the cost structure in advance. Logically, UN officials should instead provide several proposal options for the international community to choose from, presented with the dollar amount required and at different cost levels. The UN understands that the international community is concerned for the cost of PKO; they have the ability to improve synergy in combining functions to make the process more efficient. The Global Field Support Strategy – to be approved by the UNGA – illustrates the way in which the business model is changing to incorporate cost considerations. Banbury believes that once it is approved and changes are made, in 1-3 years, the answer to whether or not UNPKO is fit for purpose “will be yes”.

The past 15-20 years have seen a significant increase in the number of PKOs, led by the UN as well as NATO and other coalitions which have helped shape the way the US views such operations. Brookings Institute Fellow Noam Unger emphasized that since September 11, 2001, the US has maintained a security rational to support PKOs; the US targets weak and failing states in particular for field operations, proclaiming that they provide unstable environments which can engender terrorism or radical sentiments. However, because of growing public enthusiasm for accountability in light of budgetary pressures and financial preservation, funding to the very programs aimed at political and social stability is under attack. Lobby groups on both sides of UN funding arguments continue to lobby the government, and Unger believes that the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act will not get passed into law. Unger boldly stated that if the act did get passed, then there is “something seriously wrong” with the legislators. In any case, the Obama Administration signaled it would veto the act if it did get passed by both houses of Congress.

While in-fighting continues in the US Congress and the government gears up for an election next year, the US must not lose sight of the importance of its international commitments to a more peaceful and equitable world. The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) and process changes discussed above illustrate a more positive and proactive collaboration among UN officials, US government and other states involved. One goal for the PKO missions is to be able to finish when the strategic need goes away (as opposed to consent being revoked); I am looking forward to the day when that occurs much more often in field missions as well as when that same principle is applied to the capacity and capability of UNPKOs.

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