Posts tagged ‘peacekeeping’

September 5, 2012

The U.N.’s peacekeeping mandate is just fine, thanks for asking

The world has yet to reach the point where there is a dearth of articles on the United Nations whose assumptions are off-base. The latest in this series has the provocative title of “Has the U.N. lost its peacekeeping mandate?” Written by Brian P. Klein, a former Foreign Service Officer in Japan and Council on Foreign Relations Fellow, the essay takes an absurd number of shortcuts and liberties with the actual work of the U.N. to somehow reach a conclusion that I don’t entirely disagree with. In the interest of setting the record straight, we begin.

Now that Kofi Annan has stepped down from his position as U.N. Arab League Envoy to Syria and peacekeeping troops are being removed from the country one has to wonder – does the United Nations have any role to play in conflict resolution?

Right off the bat, we’re confronted with an unforced error by Klein. There were never, I repeat, never peacekeeping troops inside of Syria. ‘Troops’ gives the impression that there were forces of the traditional sort first employed in 1956 by the United Nations Emergency Force separating the Egyptian and Israeli armies, the kind who carry arms with the mandate to shoot in self-defense and act as a buffer between clearly defined sides. What he probably meant to refer to was the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, whose goal was to oversee a ceasefire. But these were unarmed Observers, whose mandate was to watch and report, which they did under increasingly difficult circumstances.

As to the second point, Klein’s argument suffers again from failing to define the terms he uses. Conflict resolution encompasses a multitude of areas, including the provisions of Chapter VI for mediation before violence, an area that the Security Council has actually been lacking in providing lately. Had he been arguing, as many have, that the United Nations was not designed to suppress intrastate violence, vis a vis interstate warfare, he would be given more leeway by me. As he was not, we carry on.

The reality is that the Annan Plan, which supported an interim government to shepherd Syria into a post-dictatorship future, was doomed from the start. Bashar al-Assad was to unilaterally step down in the middle of ongoing hostilities while his forces held the momentum against a popular uprising.

The Annan Plan was, in fact, always unlikely to succeed, but not entirely for the reasons Klein lists. Rather than being an inherit flaw in the plan, as Mark Goldberg noted at UN DispatchAnnan was never truly given the support needed to succeed. We can’t be certain what would have happened had Russia in particular buckled down and pushed Assad to accept the terms of the Annan Plan. However, without that support, Assad would have never accepted the terms. Further, I’m confused as to what Klein suggests would have been a more feasible scheme for Annan to have pitched or what a more ideal move by the international community would have been.

Al-Assad of course played the statesman, met with U.N. officials and allowed troops to enter Syria. No one was fooled for long. His military began an all-out assault soon after Annan’s plane took off. Helicopter gunships and fighter jets strafed cities as civilian casualties mounted. Nearly $17 million was authorized for the 150 military observers and 105 civilians. While a paltry sum considering the more than $7 billion peacekeeping budget, that money could have funded, for example, 2,400 water projects for creating wells to bring safe drinking water to over a million people in need.

His argument that 2,400 water projects could have been funded sounds convincing. But why would that money have been best spent producing wells? Why not inoculating against common diseases? Why not funding a spread of human rights literature?

What Klein touches on here is a less specifically about the United Nations, than about the management of limited resources.  All organizations, be they IGOs or governments, face these questions, and there will always be disagreements on how their resources are best used. There will also always be suggestions that these resources are being used improperly, no matter what the target.

Instead, United Nations’ efforts lengthened by weeks if not months a concerted move by regional powers to openly oppose Syria’s indiscriminate attacks on its citizenry.  The General Assembly then voted to censure its own Security Council for failing to do more.

Klein conveniently ignores the fact that Arab League itself went to the United Nations in support of its peace plan for the region. Following the first veto of Russia and China, the League only returned to the U.N. after the failure of its own observer mission, rather than the U.N. butting in on the initiatives of the regional organization. That the Security Council found itself unable to agree on a course of action actually did little to prevent either the meeting of the “Friends of Syria”, nor the funneling of arms by Gulf states into the hands of rebels.

As far as the ‘censure’ of the Security Council by the General Assembly, the actual event lacked the drama that Klein infused into the action. A resolution condemning Syria’s ongoing abuses included a preambulatory clause, a framing of the issue to translate into non-U.N., “deploring the failure of the Security Council to agree on measures to ensure the compliance of Syrian authorities with its decisions”. In other words, shame on the Council for not agreeing on sanctions. A big difference between that and a censure in the diplomatic world, and one calculated to move certain members of the Council. That said members of the Council didn’t vote for said resolution is unsurprising.

The absurdity of the U.N. divided against itself is compounded by the poor track record of stopping violence. Despite the main charter of the U.N. beginning with lofty ideals to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression…” the supra-national force has never been a realistic fighting military. It lacks the command, control, intelligence and weaponry to stop war once it has begun.

Klein’s argument has some historical merit. The United Nations envisioned by Roosevelt involved ‘Four Five Policemen’ acting in unison to combat the world’s ills, and put down revisionist regimes who sought to overthrow the world order. That vision became the Security Council’s Permanent Members, who, by the design of the Soviet Union, were given a veto over the actions of the Council should their own interests be at stake. From the very beginning, the Security Council was created to only act when all the Great Powers were in unison. Barring that unity, as here in Syria, it can’t unleash its military forces against a given target.

The early years of the United Nations also saw the rejection and/or ignoring of two crucial mechanisms to so enforce the peace as placed in the Charter. The Military Staff Committee of the Security Council was meant to be composed of the Chiefs of Staff for the Armed Forces of all the Permanent Members, providing tactical advice to the Council as it fulfilled its mandate of keeping the peace. It exists to this day, a vestigial organ of the Council, which has not briefed its members in over sixty years.

So too provisions for Member States to place divisions of its air force available to the United Nations for immediate use at a moments notice evaporated soon after the Charter’s signing. Initial Cold War mentalities, soon followed by a desire to limit the strength of the U.N. precluded such steps from being taken. I’ve argued previously that should the Council continue to insist on launching new and more complicated peacekeeping and peace enforcing missions that the MSC should be revitalized, the air forces should be provided to the U.N., or both.

Despite all that history in his favor, Klein still seems to have forgotten instances where the full authority of the UN were unlocked, giving way to “all necessary means” resolutions of the Council. With those three words, we’ve seen free rein for the armed forces of its members, the United States in particular, to carry out the Council’s mandates. We’ve seen it in the 1950s in Korea, in the 1990s in Iraq, and, somewhat creatively, in Libya in 2011. The former two were the sorts of interstate conflict that the United Nations was specifically designed to counter and bring to a halt.

With the world economy tilting dangerously towards stagnation, U.N. budgets will inevitably be forced to shrink. The world body would therefore be well advised to focus on its humanitarian strengths and less on the intractable, hard-scrabble world of armed conflict.

This paragraph is in essence advocating getting rid of the Security Council, one of the few bodies that is actually empowered to act and bind states to its decisions, and keeps several members of the Permanent Five in the U.N. to begin with. Moving on!

This isn’t the first time that poorly conceived efforts failed to turn aggression into peaceful resolution. In the 1990’s, U.N. forces were withdrawn in the face of overwhelming evidence of Rwandan genocidal atrocities. In Kosovo, it took then President Bill Clinton committing U.S. forces to protect a Muslim minority from being massacred by their neighbors.

Again with the lack of distinction between interstate and intrastate conflicts. Rwanda was a disaster, and yes, U.N. peacekeeping troops were withdrawn. However, this was due less to the ability of the United Nations than the will of the Member States. No states at the time were willing to increase the mandate of the protection force in Rwanda, despite calls on the ground to do so, and in the face of increased violence opted to simply terminate the mission. The specifics of this incident keep it from fitting neatly into Klein’s framework.

As for Clinton’s foray into Kosovo, yet another intrastate conflict, it’s still shaky whether NATO acted in accordance with international law when bombing Serbia. So to be honest, not sure if he’s advocating removing the provision that only the U.N. Security Council can authorize the use of force from its position as a basis of current international law.

These days, violence still flares in the Democratic Republic of the Congo despite a U.N. presence dating back to July 2010 that now numbers over 23,000 personnel (including 19,000 in uniform) and a budget of $1.4 billion. To keep the peace in Darfur, Sudan (17,000 military) and newly created South Sudan (over 5,500) the U.N. is spending nearly $2.5 billion. And with all those forces in place, tens of thousands still flee fighting as the humanitarian situation continues to worsen. Doctors Without Borders highlighted in an August report the ongoing health crisis in Batil Camp, South Sudan with diarrhea causing 90 percent of deaths and malnourishment rates in those under two years-old hitting 44 percent. Of all the tragedies of war, these are imminently solvable problems, and yet too many continue to die because of misallocated priorities and resources.

Klein chose the wrong example to highlight his argument by far. MONUSCO is one of the most effective peacekeeping missions, and most strongly empowered to protect civilians. In July, MONUSCO utilized attack helicopters in conjunction with the Congolese Army to protect civilians against the M23 militia. The Congolese government even wants the Security Council to increase MONUSCO’s mandate. Unless Klein is saying that the U.N. should as a matter of blanket policy ignore states that actively ask for help in enforcing peace and protecting civilians inside its borders, contra the second pillar of the Responsibility to Protect, this seems pretty cut and dry.

Further, all of Klein’s arguments about providing for greater humanitarian aid in lieu of U.N. peacekeeping missions preclude two things. First, how much worse would the violence be on the ground without the presence of these missions. Second, how on Earth the NGOs and other humanitarian agencies he cites would be able to do their jobs lacking proper protection from active conflict. It’s not as though aid workers aren’t in enough danger as it is operating in war zones or places where violence is still the norm post-conflict. Is he suggesting that NGOs begin hiring of armed mercenaries to provide that service?

Security Council resolutions, sanctions and other tools of the diplomatic trade do very little to change the on-the-ground reality of war. Arms continue flowing across porous borders despite calls for embargoes. While world leaders make grand speeches defending their non-intervention or the inalienable rights of humanity in the green marbled U.N. headquarters, countries continue to act with or without U.N. sanction. Spending on “political affairs” and “overall policymaking, direction and coordination” accounts for nearly 40 percent of the United Nations’ current $5.1 billion operating budget. Peacekeeping operations total another $7 billion for 2012-2013.

Klein is right in that sanctions don’t completely alter the rules of economics; as the demand remains, the supply will find a way. What he doesn’t mention is that those arms embargoes he scorns exist give states the right to enforce them, through means such as stopping ships on the high seas. He also remains correct that states who don’t like Security Council decisions are not likely to follow them and will seek ways around them. There will always be those, individuals and states alike, who seek to circumvent those rules, but to act as though the world would be a better place without them is a fallacy.

Less sarcastically, he is correct about the absurdity of the U.N. budget spent in operating costs. Part of it comes from just how sprawling the United Nations system is; efforts to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing are costly. But were the U.N. as a whole to be judged by the same mechanisms that monitor NGOs spending, it would receive a failing grade.

Yet where the United Nations excels, in disaster relief, health initiatives, education, and support for refugees, programs remain woefully underfunded often requiring public appeals with Hollywood A-listers to bolster their sagging budgets. Few would argue against feeding a malnourished child on the verge of starvation with Angelina Jolie passing out the collections tin. Many would argue for weeks and at considerable expense, mincing words in watered-down, grand sounding political statements on the inherent value of peace.

Certainly, peacekeeping has done some good, but the disproportionate amount spent on these efforts, with such poor results overall and over such a long period of time, need re-examination. A U.N. force has maintained a presence in the Western Sahara since 1994 and has been “stabilizing” Haiti for the past 8 years, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Again, poor example. The International Crisis Group recently released a report noting the folly of withdrawing MINUSTAH from Haiti too quickly, stating “it would be foolhardy to rush that process given the serious gaps in consolidating security and justice. Despite the voices advocating for a more rapid exodus, it is unlikely that full departure can or should be accomplished before a third peaceful handover of democratic power takes place at the end of the Martelly presidency, five years from now, which also should correspond to the completion of the second five-year police development plan”.

His overarching point that UN projects that directly impact people on the ground are sorely underfunded does stand, however. The fact that the humanitarian fund for Syria remains under half-pledged, let alone received, is saddening. However, to pull that funding directly from peacekeeping operations would exacerbate problems elsewhere. As noted earlier, the determination of how to divide limited resources is vexing, and should be vexing. If it weren’t, the process would be lacking any sort of analysis or reflection, which would result in a worsening of any organization’s effectiveness.

It is incumbent on major donors like the U.S., Japan and the U.K., which collectively fund nearly half of annual peacekeeping efforts, to weigh in heavily on reform. Direct the limited amount of resources to programs that make a difference and stop relying on antiquated dreams of stateless noble actors bequeathing peace from above. Build on peace from the ground up instead.

Finally, a policy point that we can fully agree on! The United Nations should do more to help prevent conflicts before they reach the state of continued violence. It should also be in the business of building peace post-conflict. If only there was some sort of Peacebuilding Commission within the U.N….

In all seriousness, I agree with several of Klein’s points regarding the allocation of limited resources and his desire for the United Nations to highlight areas where it has historically shone. However, his thesis that the United Nations does more ill than good when it comes to ‘conflict resolution’ is one that is both poorly argued and not backed up by empirical evidence.

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May 25, 2012

There’s a Fine, Fine Line

The Annan Plan just can’t seem to catch a break. In the several weeks since the launch of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), the lack of a corresponding cessation of violence has caused many to question the viability of the mission, and in turn the role that Mr. Annan is playing in seeking a peaceful outcome. The first report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on UNSMIS’ progress was due to the Council on Thursday; its release has been delayed, though the reason behind the delay has yet to be revealed. When it is released*, however, it is doubtful that much good news will be put forward, leading to the question “When do you call it quits?”

Highlighting the dire straits that Syria still finds itself in, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria released an update to its last report yesterday. The picture it paints is one where grave human rights violations are ongoing, with the state’s atrocities still the overwhelming majority of those committed, but the opposition is gaining as their resistance turns ever more violent. Bombings remain targeted solely at government and military targets, but whether that will continue is yet to be seen. Aaron Zelin describes the jihadi nature of many of these bombings, noting that are outside the control the Free Syrian Army.

It is in this context that UNSMIS is attempting to operate under its Security Council mandate, and Mr. Annan seeks to unite a divided opposition before talks can even begin with the government. The issues that UNSMIS are facing, and the uniqueness of its mission, are expertly laid out by Arthur Boutellis of IPI’s Global Observatory:

• The conflict opposes the Syrian state to a multifaceted “Syrian opposition,” with no clear ceasefire line to observe, and combats taking place in urban areas;

• The fact that UN observers are being used to make the ceasefire stick rather than to observe a ceasefire that had already taken hold;

• Some of the acts of violence–such as bomb explosions–are not easily attributable to one side or the other without specialized investigative capacities;

• The presence of a “third element” –other than government forces and opposition–possibly Al Qaeda-affiliated spoilers, complicates the dynamics of the conflict and represents a direct threat to the UN observers;

• The limited consent to the UN presence by the Syrian host government—also a party to the conflict—is a serious limitation to its access and hence to its effectiveness (it is still opposing UN helicopters, for example).

These issues are all true and especially daunting for a mission that is being undertaken without a Chapter VII mandate to back it. That adds one further complication to the task that UNSMIS has been given: public perception. Observer Missions fall outside of the norm of peacekeeping that has been seen most frequently since 1991, particularly high-profile missions such as MONUSCO and UNOCI, or failed missions such as those in the Balkans and Rwanda. Those missions all have or had some form of a method for ensuring compliance with the demands of the Security Council or the terms of the peace deal that has been put into place, or at least some built-in self-defense mechanism. Their role is easily recognized as being one of action, rather than the more passive role observing requires.

As such, the deployment of a United Nations mission whose sole purpose is to act as a non-biased viewer of events, rather than an actor, immediately disappoints those who would like to see a stronger role taken in pushing for peace. Even those actions mandated of UNSMIS, like mediating between opposition group members, are not easily viewed and understood by the general public, particularly audiences in the West and greater Middle East alike who remain confused as to why more isn’t being done to end the violence in Syria. Merely reporting on the atrocities falls far short of the envisioned goal of ending them all together than activists are willing to find acceptable, leaving UNSMIS at a disadvantage on all sides.

All this pressure adds up, as the United States and Russia, neither of which were fans of the Annan Plan from the beginning, have already begun staking out positions to blame anyone but them should the plan collapse. Russia is looking to cast the opposition as participating with terrorists, while the United States may just declare that its skepticism has been in the right all along. Even Richard Gowan, by no means a naysayer when it comes to the UN, is exploring ways that Annan could save face from a failure of his eponymous plan, up to and including a strategic pause in his efforts.

The problem that many have had with calls for UNSMIS to withdraw, or for the Annan Plan to be put on ice, is that there is currently no viable alternative that doesn’t involve an escalation in violence in some shape or form. However, the chance that this may be the case whether there’s a plan to counter it or not seems to be growing by the day. Already, the tensions of Syria, and the demand for weapons the conflict is producing, are spilling over into Lebanon, destabilizing the security of a state whose fate has long been tied to Syria’s. And while the presence of observers brings down the level of violence of cities they are visiting, there is no way for enough blue berets to be deployed to achieve this effect across the country, not when IEDs still explode near UNSMIS convoys.

There is no easy way to determine that a bid for peace has died, as it goes against the very idea of international diplomacy and mediation as a preventative mechanism. However, this may go down in history as having been a political intervention at a stage in which the ability of reconciliation between the parties had long since passed, making preventative goals impossible to achieve. Delays in an agreement between the Great Powers on how to handle Syria allowed non-violent protestors to determine that raising arms was the only way to affect change, thus shifting the goal posts before Annan had even been brought in.

The line between chance of success and failure is a fine one in this case. It may turn out to have already been crossed in this case, leaving UNSMIS going through the motions until its mandate ends in late July, or the Council overturns Annan’s mandate. The Security Council for now seems content to give Annan the leeway to pull the plug on his own plan, and should continue to do so as long as a glimmer of hope remains. Save a miraculous breakthrough, however, the chance that UNSMIS be judged to have not crossed that line at the end of 90 days is thinner than the line itself.

*EDIT: Since publication of this blog post, the report has been leaked in its entirety. It’s about as was expected.

February 15, 2012

Extended Version: On Budgets, UNESCO, and Overwhelming Pessimism

It has been a unbelievablely slow day at work today. How slow you ask? So slow I felt compelled to write about the FY 2013 Budget over at UN Dispatch. That slow. Granted, there were several extremely interesting points in the State Department’s budget request, which formed the backbone of the UN Dispatch piece, copied here:

Buried in the full State Department Congressional Justification [PDF], though, is a piece of information that’s actually a bit more interesting.  During a briefing on the FY13 Budget at the State Department on Monday, posted above, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides was asked about page 713, which involves the funding of UNESCO. While FY 2012 had the line zeroed out, the FY 2013 request showed an increase to $79M, the same as in FY 2011. Secretary Nides replied:

Well, let’s do UNESCO first. As you know, the Congress has prohibited us for funding UNESCO this year. And as you know, the President has also articulated quite clearly that he would like a waiver to allow us to participate in UNESCO. We have put the money in the budget, realizing that we’re not going to be able to spend the money unless we get the waiver, and we have made it clear to the Congress we’d like a waiver. So we will work with them and work with our friends and colleagues on Capitol Hill in hopes that we can work an agreement out for us to fund. UNESCO does an enormously – a lot of enormously good work, and we’d like to make sure that we have a contribution commensurate with their work.

Secretary Nides’ statement gives me at least some cause for cheer. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Congress will pass a revocation of the law or even consider such a waiver in an election year.  The State Department’s budget is also likely to face renewed threats of cuts in the House of Representatives, and UNESCO’s funding will be a prime target. That being said, that the Obama Administration even calculated for providing dues to UNESCO shows that they haven’t given up completely on the body’s funding being restored.

That article was mostly reporting. As this is my own, personal blog, I feel a bit freer to throw around my opinion. My opinion being? Unless Congress flips in November, there’s no way this budget request comes through unscathed. Particularly the request for a waiver for UNESCO’s funding. And that is both a shame and a travesty. I wrote at length about last year’s budget fight, and how short-sighted Republicans have been when it comes to funding international affairs, those in the House in particular. None of which make any sense to me, several months later. Why wouldn’t we want to increase funding to peacekeeping, particularly as our own defense budget is slashed? When will Republican’s realize the value added in funding multilateral missions that require force? And I doubt that members of the House will appreciate the fact that the United Nations has passed a budget that actually calls for a reduction in spending for the first time in years. The time when Republicans were allowed to come out in favor of the UN, like former Senator Alan Simpson, seems to have passed, or at least has to be muzzled until retirement.

We’re likely in for a repeat of the events of the FY 12 fight for the next eight months until the election hits. Depending on the outcome of the election, the skirmishes over State’s budget, and the UNESCO waiver, will do one of the following. Should Obama win and the House remain under Speaker Boehner, they’ll likely continue apace, with the Senate acting as a vanguard against the House’s inevitable cuts. If the Democrats win enough seats to either flip the House or ease the Republican majority to a razor-thin margin, the calls for reducing Foggy Bottom’s budget will likely decrease, at least some. If the GOP manages to take control of the Senate, we would likely see an increase in pressure for cuts, as they join with the House in an assault on the re-elected Obama. Worst case scenario for State: the International budget gets trounced under a GOP White House and Congress.

As for UNESCO, I’m still pretty upset about that. There is zero chance that a waiver passes before November. I repeat: zero. Not in an election cycle in which candidates are falling over themselves to prove that they will be the most responsive to Israel’s security needs. While the Palestinian effort to gain acceptance into international bodies has certainly slowed, there’s always the chance of a resurgence, at which point more organizations could see a reduction in US funding. As that’s a chance I would hate to take, and I’m sure would leave the United States reeling as it realized just how much we depend on multilateral support, the responsible thing for Congress to do would be repeal the law. Then again, when was the last time Congress was responsible?

February 12, 2012

Peacekeepers in Syria, or “What the hell, Arab League”

Well, that was a short-lived break from talking about the United Nations and Syria. But seriously, this deserves comment, because no really, Arab League, what the hell? That seems to have been the resounding opinion following today’s meeting in Cairo of the Arab League to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. The declaration that came out of the meeting manages to somehow both be both horrible as a matter of policy and politically.

The resolution, which I’ve yet to see in English in full, or a vote count for, has several clauses that make sense given the continuing stalemate between the Assad government and the international community. The League calls upon its members to increase the economic sanctions they’ve placed on Damascus and end diplomatic cooperation with the Syrian state. Not the worst things I’ve heard, and are sure to increase pressure on Assad.

What’s more, though, the resolution calls for “opening communication channels with the Syrian opposition and providing all forms of political and material support to it.” I can’t be sure what they were thinking in passing this provision, but in reading this I most certainly have to say that “all forms of material support” includes arms. It really can’t not mean the transfer of weapons to the Syrian opposition, including the Free Syrian Army. So that’s sure to help solve the crisis.

Surprisingly, there has been no mention of the Saudi draft resolution that’s been passed around in the General Assembly, and which is likely to be voted on  later this month. But the United Nations wasn’t left out, oh no. The resolution called upon the Security Council to launch a joint United Nations-League of Arab States peacekeeping mission in Syria, based off of the hybrid UN-African Union force operating in Darfur. The reaction among every single observer of the situation has been akin to “…lolwut”.

When I first heard about it, I was hopeful that a wire translator had someone swapped “observer” for “peacekeeping”, as a revitalized UN-LAS observer mission was discussed the other day. Alas, peacekeeping was accurate. So, let’s deal with the political problems inherent in this first. Pushing for a peacekeeping force goes far, far beyond what’s called for in Saudi Arabia’s draft resolution, which in and of itself isn’t bad. But it also manages to go beyond what was vetoed not just in the resolution in October, but the one vetoed just over a week ago. Call me crazy, but why on Earth would you push a stronger proposal when there’s no real sign that either Assad nor the opposition are serious about the negotiation that would be necessary to facilitate this process?

Which brings us to the politics of the actual Security Council. Word is, according to the Arab League’s Secretary-General, the Russians are on board with the idea:

Elaraby told the Cairo meeting that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote him a letter Saturday that conveyed what he called a partial change in Moscow’s stand on the Syrian crisis. He quoted Lavrov as saying Russia would agree to a joint U.N.-Arab League peacekeeping force.

To be blunt, after the last resolution’s up and down chances of passing, I’ll believe that Russia is in support when I see Churkin’s hand raise in favor. I understand that Lavrov’s mission to Damascus last Tuesday did not have the intended effect. But have the upswing in killings caused a change of heart in Moscow to the extent that they’ll allow a resolution that goes beyond the provisions of the Morocco draft before dilution to meet Russian demands? I’m highly skeptical.

All of which goes without mentioning the fact that Beijing also vetoed the Moroccan draft, rather than abstaining. There’s no real reason to assume that China will sit back on this one and let Russia take the lead, especially considering its earlier veto was ideological opposed to relating to ties to Syria. And we’ve heard no such word from China that they’re also backing the Arab League’s new initiative.

Which brings us to why the Arab League requesting a peacekeeping force is poor policy. Fun fact: when launching peacekeeping missions, it helps when there’s a peace to keep. There clearly is not such a peace currently, not with anti-aircraft weapons being fired into random houses in Homs. And there will be even less of one once the “material support” to the FSA comes through. Who honestly believes that sending lightly armed forces into an increasing civil war situation is a good idea?

Further, traditional peacekeeping operations have had the mandate of keeping two warring sides apart once a peace agreement or ceasefire has been agreed to. This takes place under the auspices of Chapter “VI and a Half” of the UN Charter, as it falls somewhere between the Chapter VI provisions for peaceful solutions to conflicts and Chapter VII enforcement mechanisms. As such, one of the important provisos in these missions is that the host country either invites the United Nations within its borders, or acquiesces as part of a ceasefire deal. There is little chance of that occurring in Syria, which has already rejected the entire notion of such a mission.

Which means that in order to get past Syrian sovereignty on the matter, a resolution will have to be passed under Chapter VII. And with the lack of a ceasefire, the mandate for any blue helmets that manage to get deployed will have to be particularly robust if its to have any hope of protecting civilians, which would entail firing on both the FSA and the Syrian Armed Forces. This all makes me wonder just what it was that Russia has agreed to.

What’s more, as Vanessa Parra asked earlier, which states would contribute forces to such a “peacekeeping” operation? Troop contributing countries (TCC) are already stretched thin, when you consider that not a single peacekeeping operation is fully staffed up to the maximum afforded under its mandate. And the majority of those missions are actual peacekeeping missions, rather than peace-enforcing. The only country I’ve seen so far that has been interested in intervention in Syria has been Qatar; even Turkey is hedging its bets, making it unclear whether they would donate ground forces to such a mission.

I get that the Arab League is attempting to rehabilitate its reputation from being a club for kings and dictators, into a force for good. More cynically, they’re trying to deprive Iran of one of its few remaining allies in the region. That’s fine; never let it be said that doing the right thing and doing something in your own interest are mutually exclusive. But I can’t get behind their push for a peacekeeping force.

A UN-LAS peacekeeping force manages to both be a poor idea in terms of actually being able to be implemented, as well as politically. When Russia or China force a weakening of the resolution or a veto, or Council members balk at the idea of sending forces into active combat, or any of the many other problems with this proposal, the Arab League’s credibility will suffer. The correct order of operations here: pass the draft resolution supporting the political transition in the General Assembly; get a political deal, somehow;  then start talking about peacekeeping. To do otherwise is a mistake that the people of Syria can ill afford.

January 17, 2012

Russia considering time-honored “Cut and Run” tactic from UN’s South Sudan mission

News came across the wire today that Russia is considering withdrawing their 120 peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS), charged with stabilizing the security of the new country. While the number may not seem like a lot, the Russians would also take home their four utility helicopters, which are used for transport from the UNMISS base to points across the country. Russia formerly operated eight helicopters in the state, having already pulled half back in December after incidents of South Sudanese security forces attacking the choppers. From Reuters:

Russia’s U.N. mission said in a statement to Reuters that Moscow was “alarmed” by attacks on utility helicopters operated by the Russian military for UNMISS.

“Recently the situation in providing security to the Russian helicopter crews has been deteriorating,” the mission said.

But a mission spokesman made clear that a final decision on whether or not to pull out of UNMISS had not been made. “Administrative matters pertaining to a new letter of assist (contract with the U.N.) are being discussed by the parties,” the spokesman said.

To cover for the shortage of helicopters in South Sudan, [the UN] said UNMISS would be temporarily using helicopters from the U.N. mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo and a separate Ethiopian stabilization force, called UNISFA, currently in the disputed Abyei region bordering north and South Sudan.

The lack of helicopters has been blamed for the slow United Nations response to the violence that took place earlier this month in area surrounding Pibor. Inner City Press reports that while it is true that Russian helicopters refused to take-off at the request of the mission, that the copters themselves weren’t technically at the call of UNMISS. Rather, they were provided to the now defunct UNMIS, with the agreement between the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Russian government having expired on December 1st. This is clearly the fault of the United Nations Secretariat, but it shouldn’t be an impetus for Russian withdrawal, with the Russians arguing that their peacekeepers are being kept safe.

I sincerely hope that the Russians don’t withdraw from the Mission. Because if they do? They’ll be showing adherence to a time-honored tradition when it comes to United Nations peacekeeping missions: weakness. ‘This mission isn’t precisely what I intended, ergo I must bail’. For a state that prides itself on bucking Western-norms, Russia seems to be lining right up with the rest of the developed world when it comes to providing forces to these missions. Risks are acceptable, so long as its only forces from Uganda or Bangladesh accepting them, never mind that the developed states are the only ones with the technology that can further improve the likelihood of success for the mandates we approved.

I may be called hypocritical, in light of the United States’ continued refusal to commit forces under the banner of the United Nations, instead preferring to call the shots while under the veneer of UN approval. Well, I would say the exact same thing if the was the US who was withdrawing, all other factors being the same. Comparisons to the US withdrawal in Somalia would be unfair, however; in that instance, the unclear mission and overreach by the United States in terms of mandate led to the situation in Mogadishu that prompted withdrawal. The case for Russia to pull the same move isn’t equivalent, as there have been precisely zero casualties. Even the Belgians withdrawal from Rwanda, a state where a genocide was actively occurring, took place after actual deaths of soldiers; the situation here is a product of bureaucratic wrangling and lack of will.

Don’t for a second think that I’m discounting the difficulty inherent in the job of peacekeepers themselves, soldiers from other lands, often times with confused instructions and loyalties. I can’t imagine being deployed to UN operations, knowing that you are potentially volunteering your life in a part of the world where you have no interest in being. But that’s part of the point. The blue helmets know what they are signing up for. Or at least their government does. And it is the government that chooses to withdraw their contributions. It seems to me that it’s almost worse for a member-state to contribute forces, then feign shock when there are actual guns being fired in these locales and a security apparatus in need of reform. It’s right there in the mandate that UNMISS forces are expected to “deter violence including through proactive deployment and patrols in areas at high risk of conflict, within its capabilities and in its areas of deployment, protecting civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, in particular when the Government of the Republic of South Sudan is not providing such security”.  

The United Nations’ forces in the field can’t be taken seriously as a force for stabilization, not when it’s known to everyone with a semi-automatic that a few rounds fired or an incorrectly filed piece of paperwork can cause the withdrawal of key members. And it is the lack of serious, well-trained troops being available at the UN’s call that leads to issues of inefficiency in the ranks and having to sacrifice hastening missions into their intended states or thorough training. It’s a miracle at times when states are actually willing to contribute these forces and a heartbreak when they’re called home prematurely. South Sudan needs all the help it can get if it’s to survive as a newly independent state. Moscow claims that it has not made a final decision on whether to end its participation in UNMISS. I can only hope that I’ll be surprised by their choice.

October 28, 2011

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.