Normative Narratives

Conflict Watch: A Modern UN Peacekeeping For Modern Threats

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As the first and sometimes only line of defense for people in conflict zones, it is difficult to understand why UN Peacekeeping constitutes only 0.5% of global military expenditure (around $8 billion out of a $1.75 trillion). In a recent speech to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary General Ban told member countries that they must be ready to dedicate more resources to UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding initiatives, in order to better respond to 21st century threats:

“The continued use of UN peacekeeping by the Security Council testifies to its continued relevance and its unique universality and legitimacy. The demand for peacekeeping will remain,” Mr. Ban told the 15-member Council at the opening of a debate on trends in UN peacekeeping.

Peacekeepers are also increasingly operating in more complex environments with asymmetric and unconventional threats.

He added that the international community needs to build on what he sees as “the renewed commitment of the Security Council to respond to our changing world,” but to also recognize the limitations of UN peacekeeping and ask whether it is always the right tool.

More than 116,000 UN personnel from more than 120 countries serve in 16 peacekeeping operations. Since the beginning of peacekeeping in 1948, over one million “blue helmets” have participated in more than 70 operations on four continents.

One specific area SG Ban advocated for expanding UN Peacekeeping’s mandate is combating terrorism (“asymmetrical and unconventional threats”), a call echoed by Acting General Assembly President Michel Tommo Monthe, of Cameroon:

As the United Nations General Assembly today began a review of its overall counter-terrorism strategy, a senior official urged Member States to take advantage of the opportunity “to make the UN more relevant” in the international effort to fight what he called “a destructive and deplorable malady.”

This review…provides an opportunity to take stock of emerging issues and challenges that have grown in relevance over the recent years and to identify the areas where we need to do things differently, or adopt different lines of action,” said Acting Assembly President Michel Tommo Monthe, of Cameroon, opening the Fourth Review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The Strategy, adopted by consensus in 2006, is a comprehensive policy framework to combat terrorism, signifying, said Mr. Monthe, universal condemnation of terrorist violence and providing guidance to Member States.

The strategy consists of four pillars: measures to address conditions conducive to terrorism’s spread; measures to prevent and combat terrorism; measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN system; measures to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.

“It further observes that longer-term success in the global counter-terrorism strategy will depend on fuller implementation of Pillars 1 and 4,” said Mr. Monthe, referring to measures to address conditions conducive to terrorism and measures to ensure respect for human rights as a basis for the fights against the scourge.

Monthe also highlighted the work of the UN Counter-terrorism Centre (UNCCT), which “offers unique opportunities to seek synergies and leverage resources for the UN’s counter-terrorism work around the world and make a significant contribution to national and regional efforts.”

UN Peacekeeping must rise to the challenges of meeting an increasing demand for it’s services and more effectively leveraging UN expertise in identifying the conditions conducive to armed conflict and terrorism. While by no means an easy task, these mandates are closely related; weak governments fail to fulfill their human rights obligations, fueling armed conflict (protracted social conflict), these conflicts then lead to further human rights abuses and open power voids which are often filled by extremist groups.

To combat armed conflict and terrorism, the international community must have the capacity to identify and react to gross human rights abuses, preventatively when possible. General Assembly President Monthe talks of seeking synergies and leveraging resources, this should include an in depth review of preventative peacebuilding / early stage UN Peacekeeping operations. To this end, the UN may also have to revisit it’s policy of not having a ready-to-deploy standing peacekeeping force.

In the post-Osama world of splintered terrorist groups (ISIS, Al Nursa, AQAP, Boko Haram), a legitimate, effective, efficient, and responsive global security force  with preventative peacebuilding, peacekeeping, anti-terrorism and human rights mandates is needed. Combined with a shift towards local capacity building and regional responses in combating terrorism, a new global framework for dealing with “modern threats” (protracted social conflicts and terrorism) emerges.

Bringing Democracy UNSC:

Any plan by the international community to invest more resources into UN Peacekeeping and expand its mandate must address the issue of Security Council gridlock. The ability of any permanent UNSC member to veto UN Peacekeeping operations hinders the ability of this force to fulfill the aforementioned expanded mandates.

I recently advocated for a UN General Assembly mechanism to overrule a UNSC veto. After doing a bit of research, it seems there is precedent for the General Assembly overturning a UNSC veto:

Under the UN Charter, however, the General Assembly cannot discuss and make recommendations on peace and security matters which are at that time being addressed by the Security Council.

Despite the UN Charter’s provision limiting the General Assembly’s powers with regard to peace and security matters, there may be cases when the Assembly can take action.

In accordance with the General Assembly’s “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 [resolution 377 (V)] PDF Document, if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, then the General Assembly may act. This would happen in the case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The General Assembly can consider the matter with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.

This resolution was invoked only once in UN peacekeeping history, when in 1956 the General Assembly established the First UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) in the Middle East.

This is, however, admittedly a weak precedent; the resolution is over 60 years old and has only been invoked once in UN history. The UN General Assembly must reaffirm its commitment to and willingness to invoke resolution 377 (V) “Uniting For Peace”, perhaps as part of the UN’s “Responsibility To Protect”.

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