posted on Fri 20 Nov 2015 8:56 AM
Briefing and Draft Presidential Statement on the Future of UN Peace Operations

Today (20 November), the Council is expected to receive a briefing by the Secretary General on his peace operations review initiative. He is expected to brief the Council on his report “The future of United Nations peace operations: implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations” (S/2015/682), which responds to the recommendations put forward by the report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations [HIPPO] (S/2015/446). A presidential statement was still being negotiated at press time. To date, Council members have met once on the draft, which was circulated on 15 November, followed by bilateral discussions. Two silence periods have been broken by members wishing to make amendments, and it is unclear when agreement on the draft will be reached.

A concept paper circulated by the UK in preparation for the briefing proposes that the meeting review key recommendations to the Council from the two reports. In particular, given time constraints associated with the briefing, it suggests that the discussion focus on those recommendations “related to sequenced and tailored mandates and ways to bring the Council’s collective political leverage to bear on behalf of political solutions” (S/2015/846).

The draft presidential statement under discussion would constitute the first Council response to the peace operations review announced by the Secretary-General in June 2014. During the review process, the Council engaged in discussions with some members of the Panel, including in an informal interactive dialogue on 20 November 2014, and during the Secretary-General’s annual retreat with Council members in April 2015.

At present, the one outstanding issue appears to be how to reference peacekeeping principles. China requested reaffirming the basic peacekeeping principles of consent of the parties, impartiality, and the non-use of force, except in self-defence and defence of the mandate. However, at least one Council member would prefer adding language to this formulation consistent with the HIPPO report’s argument that “these principles must be interpreted progressively and with flexibility in the face of new challenges, and they should never be an excuse for failure to protect civilians or to defend the mission proactively”. Some members appear to be uncomfortable with this reference, and at press time, it remains unclear how this issue will be resolved.

In the draft, the Council welcomes the appointment of the Panel and the significant consultations it undertook, as well as the Secretary-General’s efforts to advance the cause of reform. There was disagreement about whether the Council should “welcome” the recommendations in both reports and as a result of these differences of perspective, the draft merely “takes note” of the recommendations.

Language on sequenced mandates and the Council’s collective political leverage in the draft statement was agreed without major divergences of view. The Secretary-General has highlighted these issues as requiring additional action by the Council, perhaps one reason why they have been proposed by the UK as a potential focus of tomorrow’s meeting.

On the sequencing of mandates, the draft states that the Council “will consider sequenced and phased mandates, where appropriate, when evaluating existing UN peace operations” or establishing new ones. Both the reports of the HIPPO and the Secretary-General discussed how sequencing and prioritisation can bridge the gap between the desired objectives and resources available to achieve those mandates. The HIPPO advocated the establishment of “an initial mandate with an overall political goal, a limited number of initial priority tasks and an explicit planning mandate that requests the Secretary-General to return within six months with a proposal for sequenced activities based on a limited number of achievable benchmarks for mission performance”. The Secretary-General supported the High-Level Panel’s suggestion to design sequenced mandates on the basis of clear political objectives. He qualified that where a significant presence is immediately required—e.g., in situations characterised by urgent protection needs—the Council may initially restrict the mandate to political, security and protection tasks, with the understanding that any further tasks are contingent on progress on the most immediate threats to civilians.

On the issue of the collective leverage of the Council, the draft underlines the significant impact Council statements and actions can exert in situations of armed conflict or in support of peace processes. This is relevant to the High-Level Panel’s emphasis on the centrality of political solutions and of political will, which was endorsed by the Secretary-General in his report. UN peace operations, he argues, are political instruments to support parties to a conflict to search for, establish and maintain a political settlement. Furthermore, he expresses the view that the Council can bring its collective political leverage to bear on behalf of political solutions, including in its interactions with the host state.

It seems that one controversial issue in the negotiation of the draft related to the funding of AU peace operations and whether to refer to the 24 December 2008 Prodi Report, which was written by a joint AU-UN panel and recommended the use of UN assessed contributions to support UN-authorised AU operations on a case-by-case basis. The proposal to refer to the report, put forward by Chad, was met with resistance by permanent members wary of the financial implications of such funding arrangements for the UN. As a compromise, the draft notes the recommendations of the HIPPO report, including with respect to the strategic partnership with the AU. (The HIPPO report recommends the use of UN-assessed contributions on a case-by-case basis to support AU peace support operations authorized by the Council, including the costs associated with deployed uniformed personnel.)

Both the HIPPO and the Secretary-General’s report advocate greater emphasis on conflict prevention and flexibility to respond to changing environments. In this sense, the draft recalls the Council’s determination to upgrade its strategic oversight of United Nations peacekeeping operations, including, at the request of New Zealand, its situational awareness through information provided by the Secretary-General on a regular basis. This includes information about: situations of escalating risk to civilians, serious shortfalls in the capability of missions to fulfill their mandates and any incident in which a mission or uniformed personnel or unit fails to act to implement their mandate, including to protect civilians. Following the efforts of some Council members to narrow the scope of the information received from the Secretary-General, language was added to limit it to situations in countries where UN peacekeeping missions are deployed.

The draft encourages the Secretary-General to take forward those steps under his authority to contribute to improving UN peace operations and to provide the Council with updates on progress. However, it does not indicate how the Council itself will consider further the recommendations regarding its own responsibilities for peace operations.