The Problem with Peacekeeping: Training vs. Timing

The Refugees International Twitter stream today was livetweeting the United Nations Security Council debate on women, peace and security, a follow-up on resolution SC/1325, passed in 2000. The resolution itself was landmark, in it was the first to place a strong emphasis on the role of women in international peace and security, and both the challenges faced by women in conflict and the areas where women can better contribute to keeping the peace. There were no major points of contention in the debate itself, which isn’t surprising at all, considering the pension for these “debates” to be more like pre-packaged speeches, but that’s a rant for another time. One tweet in particular caught my eye, a statement by the United States:

refugees international us un tweet

Via @RefugeesIntl

There is absolutely nothing objectionable with this statement when taken at face-value. Nobody who watches the United Nations can deny the fact that one of the biggest black-eyes against the organization has been the often violent sexual assault that has been carried out by peacekeepers on various missions, including in the states like the DR Congo and Haiti. The latter case, along with reports of peacekeepers spreading the cholera that swept throughout Port Au Prince, actually led to the Security Council reducing the maximum authorized troops committed to MINUSTAH.

Better training can and must be utilized by the various troop-contributing countries. As it stands, the United Nations provides no real training to military and police forces deployed to peacekeeping missions. There are several high-level documents issued by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, including this snippet from United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines (“Capstone doctrine”) PDF Document, published back in 2008.

The perceived legitimacy of a United Nations peacekeeping operation is
directly related to the quality and conduct of its military, police and civilian
personnel. The bearing and behavior of all personnel must be of the highest
order, commensurate with the important responsibilities entrusted to a
United Nations peacekeeping operation, and should meet the highest standards
of efficiency, competence and integrity. The mission’s senior leadership
must ensure that all personnel are fully aware of the standards of
conduct that are expected of them and that effective measures are in place to
prevent misconduct. Civilian, police and military personnel should receive
mandatory training on sexual exploitation and abuse; and this training
should be ongoing, as troops rotate in and out of peace operations. There
must be zero tolerance for any kind of sexual exploitation and abuse, and
other forms of serious misconduct. Cases of misconduct must be dealt with
firmly and fairly, to avoid undermining the legitimacy and moral authority
of the mission.

Paragraphs like that sound great but the fact remains that the training provided to many UN peacekeepers is shoddy at best. As a semi-detour, for those who wonder why it’s often countries that aren’t known for military might that donate forces to UN missions, the answer is two-fold. First, wariness over the Great Powers donating troops during the Cold War affected the make-up of the first real peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Emergency Force deployed to the Sinai Peninsula following the Suez Canal crisis. More important to us,  there’s the fact that countries that contribute troops and police officers are reimbursed by the United Nations, as of 2009 at the rate of $1100 base pay per contingent, a price that is in many cases above that of the pay they would receive in their home military. No raises to the reimbursement have taken place since 2002, worrying contributing countries as the Ban Ki-Moon seeks to reduce spending by the UN. I support this reimbursement, but it is easy to see how it can be spun into an argument where states send troops just for the additional income rather than their preparedness to face the challenges of the mission. As it stands, training standards for peacekeepers can and must be improved moving forward in the future.

So it’s clear that training remains vitally important to ensuring that the communities where UN  missions are dispatched recognize the authority and legitimacy of the soldiers among its people. Where do I disagree with the original Refugees International tweet, you ask? Answer: my issue comes from the current length of time it takes to get a UN-authorized mission fully staffed and operational. To wit: forever. Literally, forever, as at the moment, there are currently no peacekeeping operations that are operating at the maximum force level proscribed by the Council. Some, like the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI), come close, but even that is mission is short about 500 peacekeepers from its maximum.

The turnaround time to get peacekeepers in the field is deplorable at best, the difference between life and death at worst. As an example, in June 2011, in the lead-up to the independence of South Sudan, tensions flared in the shared Abyei region, prompting the UN Security Council to authorize a mission of 4,200 military personnel to ensure that the peace terms between Sudan and South Sudan were upheld. As of September 30, 2011, there were just over 1,800 forces deployed into the region, which is still occupied by the armies of both Sudan and South Sudan. That so many peacekeepers have managed to be deployed already is only due to the fact that they come from neighboring Ethiopia, a luxury many states with peacekeepers promised don’t have.

I can only think of one solution to break us out of this current dichotomy between speed and training, broken into two stages, with neither of them particularly politically palatable. The first stage would be to have the United Nations assume the duties of training and drilling UN peacekeepers donated to missions in a sort of international stability boot-camp. Thirty to sixty days of lessons in the situation on the ground as well as the structure and standards of the mission and appropriate behavior on deployment would make a world of difference in enhancing unity of the forces and providing a clear message that the United Nations will brook no break from discipline. The problem with this would improve the training situation by an order of magnitude, but the odds of troop-contributing countries allowing this sort of ‘indoctrination’ by the UN is slim to none. Also, this training would be a rather large added cost to the United Nations’ peacekeeping budget.

I’m going to be skewered on the interwebs for this next opinion, so I’m bracing myself. The next stage of this solution would be to finally enact the provisions of the UN Charter under Chapter VII, Articles 43 and 45:

Article 43

  1. All Members of the United Nations, in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call and in accordance with a special agreement or agreements, armed forces, assistance, and facilities, including rights of passage, necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security.
  2. Such agreement or agreements shall govern the numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided.
  3. The agreement or agreements shall be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. They shall be concluded between the Security Council and Members or between the Security Council and groups of Members and shall be subject to ratification by the signatory states in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.

Article 45 In order to enable the United Nations to take urgent military measures, Members shall hold immediately available national air-force contingents for combined international enforcement action. The strength and degree of readiness of these contingents and plans for their combined action shall be determined within the limits laid down in the special agreement or agreements referred to in Article 43, by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee. 

Logically, we can assume that having forces at the disposal of the United Nations for rapid-deployment would be a huge boon to the peacekeeping effort, as it would take the uncertainty out of the process of gather commitments and awaiting deployment. Wildfire conflicts can be focused on with laser intensity and hosed out quickly. Turnaround would shrink from months to weeks in the most dire of situations, with the longer build-up towards deployment most likely remaining intact for nation-building exercises like we see with MONUSCO, where tens of thousands of military personnel are on the ground.

Now if you thought the training portion of this plan was politically impossible, there’s no word in the English language for how tough a struggle it would be to breathe new life into these provisions. Legally speaking, these forces would be more than fine, as they’d be acting under the Chapter VII authority of the Security Council, the section that grants intervention powers to the UN. That in turn, though, would bring to the front-burner again the legal status of peacekeeping missions of the more traditional variety, where blue helmets stand in between those parties who have a negotiated peace and invite the UN to manage any flare-ups of violence. Commonly referred to as “Chapter VI and a half” missions, there is no real place for them in the UN structure, and finally granting the UN the forces promised in the Charter would make for an uncomfortable renewed conversation about a slew of other missions the UN takes on.

Further, the thought of actually turning over combat forces for the United Nations to utilize is pretty much DOA. With all the fear-mongering that goes on just on the right in the United States about the supranational authority of the UN, I doubt that there will be much in the way of P-5 support for this effort. Without that backing, there is little chance of these measures finally being brought to bear, and without the flexibility the combination of these two initiatives would grant the DPKO, we will continue to face the choice between deployment speed and suitable training for UN peacekeeping forces, a choice that leads to more suffering either through deaths caused by the parties in conflict or through lack of discipline in the ranks of the United Nations’ finest.

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