Modern Conflicts Outpacing Ability of United Nations to Address Them, Warns Deputy Secretary-General, as Fourth Committee Takes Up Peacekeeping

Today’s conflicts were outpacing the ability of the United Nations to address them, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today, drawing attention to new international momentum for the changes needed to ensure that peace operations were designed, equipped and financed to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

In a half-day meeting, the Committee began its annual review of peacekeeping operations, held jointly — for the first time — with its annual review of special political missions.  The meeting featured an address by Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark), President of the General Assembly, as well as presentations by Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.  Delegations had an opportunity to engage the senior officials on the most pressing questions during an interactive session.

Mr. Eliasson, presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the future of peacekeeping operations, said it offered a roadmap for implementing the “broad and far-reaching” recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.  Creating change in the context of peace and security, development and human rights required the setting of priorities and the pooling of efforts in order to take advantage of each actor’s comparative advantages, he said, adding that the Panel’s emphasis on the primacy of political solutions was crucial.

He said greater emphasis should be placed on prevention; changes in the way peace operations were planned and conducted; and on closer relationships with regional organizations.  With that in mind, the Secretary-General had pledged to strengthen the role of the United Nations in preventing human rights violations that could lead to conflict.  More tailored approaches and improved analysis were also needed to better adapt peace operations to the situations in which they took place.  Moreover, predictable and sustainable financing of African Union peace operations authorized by the Security Council was crucial.  In the coming months, those and other issues would be discussed in depth, he said, adding that “much is at stake”.

Dovetailing those efforts, Mr. Lykkentoft said he would table a short Assembly draft resolution that would convey a commitment to assess proposals made by the High-level Independent Panel and the Secretary-General.  In addition, the Assembly would convene a high-level thematic debate on 10 and 11 May 2016 to identify common themes from the 10-year review of the peacebuilding architecture and the global study on implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.

Mr. Ladsous said the renewed attention to peacekeeping had come at a critical juncture, stressing:  “We must, together, keep the political momentum alive, and maintain sharp focus on our shared objective to strengthen and modernize peacekeeping.”  While overall casualties per deployed peacekeeper had fallen over the past 15 years, those resulting from hostile acts in the least permissive environments — Mali, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — had risen sharply, he noted.  In such environments, the safety of peacekeepers, and their ability to implement their mandates, would be compromised unless measures were put in place to protect them.

A central challenge was defining a viable political strategy when missions were being created and winding down, he continued.  The Security Council played a central role in that regard, ensuring that peacekeepers had firm political backing.  Where political processes were faltering, peace agreements unravelling, or indeed when peacekeeping operations stayed beyond the completion of a peace settlement, the Council must step up its political engagement, he emphasized.

Mr. Khare asserted:  “We need to work better together.”  Within the United Nations, that meant ensuring coherence of mission planning and deployment across the uniformed, substantive and support components.  With partners, it meant greater cooperation in support of peace operations.  He said his Department was enhancing the accountability of its managers, refocusing management forums on performance and key performance indicators while investing in analytical capacity.  The field personnel, finance and budget divisions had been reorganized, while the reorganization of logistics support had been launched in phases.

Across those work areas, technology must be leveraged to enhance mission effectiveness and peacekeeper safety, he said.  It was also important to show zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse.  “We must build a model for field support that is able to deliver the rapid, effective, efficient and responsible solutions that our stakeholders expect,” he stressed.

When the Committee opened its general debate on peacekeeping, Morocco’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, called on the Secretariat to refrain from working on policy streams that had not been agreed through intergovernmental processes, in particular, recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s report.

Thailand’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), cautioned that military engagements alone would not lead to lasting peace.  ASEAN supported the Panel’s proposed shift towards placing political solutions at the centre of the design and deployment of peacekeeping missions.

Also speaking today were representatives of Iran, Egypt, Norway, Venezuela, Pakistan and Rwanda.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 November.

Background

Meeting this morning to begin its consideration of the “comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects” and the “comprehensive review of special political missions”, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) had before it a report of the Secretary-General on “The future of United Nations peace operations:  implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations” (document A/70/357S/2015/682).  Members also had before them a document titled, “Identical letters dated 17 June 2015 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council” (document A/70/95S/2015/446).

Opening Remarks

MOGENS LYKKETOFT (Denmark), President of the General Assembly, said that today’s joint debate, the first of its kind, followed the Secretary-General’s review of peace operations.  The High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations and the Secretary-General’s implementation report had made a number of recommendations, he said, adding that, in that context, he would table a short Assembly draft resolution for approval in order to convey a commitment to assess those proposals.

Emphasizing the crucial importance of the United Nations approach keeping pace with and responding to evolving challenges and new threats, he said the escalation of violence in Syria — and the magnitude of the regional humanitarian crisis — had demonstrated the consequences of lacking international unity and effective United Nations action.  The spread of violent extremism, proliferation of weapons and cyberspace action showed that threats to global peace were constantly changing, he said.

As such, attention must focus on preventive diplomacy, political settlements, and greater flexibility in addressing budgetary and management issues he continued.  It was also important to consider relations between peacekeeping and special political missions, and how best to advance a more holistic approach to those issues.  Today’s review should be examined in tandem with the 10-year review of the peacebuilding architecture and the global study on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women peace and security.  The Assembly would convene a high-level thematic debate on 10 and 11 May 2016 to identify common themes from those reviews and to enhance coherence, he said.

JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the future of peacekeeping operations, and said today’s joint dialogue reflected the holistic approach needed in today’s environment.  The report offered a roadmap for implementing the “broad and far-reaching” recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.  Its core message was that “today’s conflicts are outpacing our efforts to address them”.  Emphasizing the need to strengthen global efforts to respond effectively, he said there was consensus around the need for change, and there was now momentum to set that change in motion.

However, a larger question was how to make those changes, he said, pointing out that peace and security, development and human rights were all interrelated.  Indeed, as mentioned in Sustainable Development Goal 16, peaceful and inclusive societies protected people’s rights.  That meant setting priorities and “pooling our efforts” to take advantage of each actor’s comparative advantages.  The High-level Panel’s emphasis on the primacy of political solutions was crucial.  They served as a compass to guide the multiple steps to be taken.  The report also highlighted the link between the pursuit of negotiated political settlements and the protection of civilians.  The Panel called for use of the full range of United Nations instruments in search of political settlements.  Greater emphasis should also be placed on prevention; on changes in the way peace operations were planned and conducted; and on closer relationships with regional organizations.

Firstly, the Panel urged that prevention be brought to the fore in peacekeeping operations, in the spirit of Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter.  The Secretary-General agreed with the Panel that United Nations development actors had a role to play in conflict prevention, and he pledged to strengthen the Organization’s role in preventing violations of human rights that could lead to conflict.  Prevention must be nationally anchored and nationally driven.  The Secretary-General called on Member States and regional partners to renew international commitment to prevention, and asked the Security Council to better integrate prevention into its work.  “Crisis response alone will not stem the tide” of the conflicts seen today, he said.

The second priority was to implement changes in the planning and conduct of peace operations, he continued.  The report highlighted the objective of those proposed changes:  to make peacekeeping operations more effective.  More tailored approaches, improved analysis and planning were needed to better adapt peace operations to the situations in which they took place.  Such operations should also become more agile, he said, adding that they must also be more responsive to people’s needs.  Personnel also had legitimate needs, and their health and welfare were crucial to the success of peace operations.  Underscoring that such changes were not proposals to alter the foundations of peace operations, he said “the long-standing principles of peace operations are our bedrock”.  Nor could the United Nations lead military counter-terrorism operations.  Those principles must serve as guarantors of fragile political processes.  “We must be able to meet the needs of today’s conflicts” while respecting the norms upon which the United Nations was founded.

The third priority area was partnerships, he said, pointing out that today’s conflicts went beyond any one actor.  Recalling that Chapter VIII of the Charter called for partnerships between the United Nations and regional organizations, he noted in particular the Organization’s partnership with the African Union.  Predictable and sustainable financing of African Union peace operations, sanctioned by the Security Council, were crucial.  In the coming months, those and other issues would be discussed in depth, he said, adding that “much is at stake”.  The Organization’s future role was fundamentally what was being addressed.  The United Nations must meet the challenge with the seriousness and urgency it deserved, and the holistic approach it required.

Interactive Dialogue

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates posed questions on topics ranging from prevention, to the protection of civilians, to working with local communities in high-risk environments.

The representative of Iran said peacekeeping failures were due to divergent State interests, which prevented the United Nations from taking decisive action.  Citing an article in which a former official of the Organization had claimed that the world body’s peacekeeping was characterized by “outdated or duplicated missions, ineffectual oversight and lack of accountability”, he asked for comments.

The representative of Egypt said prevention was “the best investment that the Organization can make”, before requesting clarification on the components of such action.  No one supported premature intervention, which could be misused or exploited by conflict parties, he emphasized.  Successful prevention came about by tackling the root causes of conflict, such as “poverty plus violent ideas plus weapons”.

Mr. ELIASSON responded by saying he had not read the article cited by the representative of Iran, “but we certainly have work to do”.  That was why the Secretary-General had wished to convene the Panel, which covered several of the aspects raised in the article.  He recalled that when he had been involved in peacekeeping in the 1980s, no one had questioned the impartiality of the United Nations, but given today’s asymmetrical threats and difficult political map, operations faced a huge challenge in that regard.

If peacekeeping operations were to be effective and not endure interminably, there must be effective political strategies that reached the causes mentioned by the representative of Egypt, he said.  Also, host States must acknowledge the need for an exit strategy.  “We are very open to reform in such a way that we set the direction that is right for today’s world,” he said.  The debate had focused mainly on the “central” part of any given conflict, rather than the much broader “pre” and “post” issues.

He said prevention was outlined article 1, Chapter I of the United Nations Charter, stressing that the first vibrations of conflict could be heard, for example, after a drought that eventually led to social unrest and human rights violations.  “Why should we not, then, keep the dialogue going when human rights violations surface, rather than waiting for mass atrocities?”  That must be done in cooperation with States in the interests of security, he said, stressing that prevention must be carried out with full respect for sovereignty.

In a second round of questions, the representative of Norway said the three reviews offered an immense opportunity for change.

The representative of Venezuela said the Panel’s report called for peace operations to move beyond “the legacy of armoured white vehicles” and show a more human face to local communities.  It noted that 90 per cent of political missions and two thirds of peacekeeping operations were deployed in high-risk situations, he said, asking how local populations could be reached in such a context.

The representative of Pakistan asked about the safety and security of troops.  There was a narrative developing that the protection of civilians was not in line with peacekeeping principles.  “We don’t agree with that, they work very well together,” he said, asking whether such concepts as proactive defence would have an impact on the protection of civilians, or the safety and security of peacekeeping personnel.

Mr. ELIASSON, responding to the representative of Norway, said that to live up to the formula “no peace without development and vice versa”, the United Nations must examine how its various work areas connected, which was why the reviews had been undertaken.  For a long time, the Organization had worked in a “silo” culture, but “we need to make sure we work across the board”, he said.  A good international solution was in the national interest.

On connecting with local populations, he said that to be seen as a positive force, and connect with local people without risk to security was indeed a dilemma.  As for the issue of proactive defence, he said that in Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “we had extremely difficult and important discussions on how we can deal with a situation in which we needed proactive defence”.  In the end, a decision to have a “muscular component” join a “classic” peacekeeping component in Mali had elicited some criticism by Member States.  A similar discussion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had led to the intervention brigade.  In South Sudan, there was an unclear “grey zone” for action, which raised questions, he said, adding that troop contributors must be involved in the relevant discussions.  “We will depend on your guidance on this.”

In a final round of questions, the representative of Rwanda focused on predictable funding for African-led, Security Council-authorized peacekeeping operations, asking about the problems faced and how Member States could help in that regard.

Mr. ELIASSON replied that lessons had been drawn from the 1994 horror in Rwanda.  “Don’t miss the absolutely important factor of having international eyes and ears on the ground,” he emphasized, noting that the question was among the most difficult and important to address.  He said that after his visit to Somalia, he had told the Security Council that operations were being run by African troops, who were on the ground suffering great losses.  He said he had made the case for expanding the force and training Somali forces.  “Unfortunately that was not done to the degree we would have wished,” he said, encouraging Governments to see the importance of creating national capacity while discussing how troops on the ground were paid and compensated.

Remarks by Heads of Peacekeeping, Field Support Departments

HERVÉ LADSOUS, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that, combined, three initiatives — the Peace Operations Review, the Chiefs of Defence meeting and the Leader’s Summit on Peacekeeping — had re-energized global efforts to improve United Nations peacekeeping.  “We must now turn this robust international commitment into tangible action,” he said, adding:  “We must, together, keep the political momentum alive, and maintain sharp focus on our shared objective to strengthen and modernize peacekeeping.”  The renewed attention to peacekeeping came at a critical juncture, he said, noting that new peacekeeping contexts were more challenging than ever before.

While overall casualty figures per deployed peacekeeper had fallen over the past 15 years, he continued, those resulting from hostile acts in the least permissive peacekeeping environments — particularly the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) — had risen sharply.  The number of hostile acts targeting peacekeepers, including by small arms fire, improvised explosive devices and ambushes, had more than doubled each year over the past three years.  In such environments, the safety and security of peacekeepers, and their ability to implement their mandates, would be compromised unless measures were put in place to protect them, drawing on all the tools available today.

He said that, in response to recommendations made in the Peace Operations Review and the Secretary-General’s reports, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was developing a concept to establish a single capability and performance framework for uniformed personnel, in order to link the ongoing capabilities development agenda with a strategic approach to the performance management of uniformed personnel.  Ultimately, the goal was to better support troop and police contributors in order to ensure that they could perform to the best of their abilities.

The Department was also finalizing an operational readiness assurance policy, which would set out clear procedures for military units, from pre-deployment preparedness to the delivery of mandated tasks and learning of lessons.  Reiterating the Department’s commitment to stamping out sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peace operations, he said the operational readiness assurance policy covered sexual exploitation and abuse as a key operational readiness component.  Eliminating exploitation and abuse from peace operations was a responsibility shared with Member States, he pointed out, emphasizing that, throughout, “we must ensure that victims have better confidence that justice will be served”.

Turning to strategic force generation, he recalled that, during the Leader’s Summit of 28 September, some 40,000 police and military personnel — as well as critical enablers such as helicopters, engineering, logistics and transport units — had been pledged.  The recently established Strategic Force Generation and Capabilities Planning Cell, created to ensure more coherent and strategic engagement with troop and police contributors, would play a central role in the force generation endeavour.  Going forward, several events would be held to strengthen the Department’s engagement with police contributors, and follow-up to the Summit.  A United Nations Chiefs of Police Summit — “UN COPS” — would be held in 2016 with the aim of raising awareness of challenges and opportunities facing peacekeeping police, contributing to the base of police contributors and strengthening a common understanding of the steps required to participate in United Nations peace operations.

He went on to address the use of technology for situational awareness, as well as political support and tailored peacekeeping operations, noting that “strengthening capacities and tools alone is not enough to make peacekeeping effective”.  Peacekeeping was first and foremost a political instrument, he stressed, adding that peacekeeping missions had the greatest impact when they were deployed in support of a political roadmap that enjoyed broad international support, shaped their mandates, while informing their exit strategies.

A central challenge was defining a viable political strategy when missions were being created and when they were winding down, he continued.  In that regard, one aspect was clear: the Security Council played a central role in ensuring that peacekeeping operations had firm political backing, and in supporting them when they struggled.  Where political processes were faltering, peace agreements unravelling, or indeed when peacekeeping operations stayed beyond the completion of a peace settlement, the Council must step up its political engagement and come together with a strong and unified voice, he said.

The reports of the High-level Panel and the Advisory Group of Experts also raised the potential of compacts with host Governments, he said, describing the establishment of such mechanisms as a “promising tool” that could bolster both national ownership and consent for the presence of peacekeeping operations.  Finally, he highlighted that “our common understanding of the purpose of peacekeeping operations can only emerge from a deeper, more meaningful dialogue between the Security Council, troop and police contributors and the Secretariat.”  It would be critical to strengthen the dialogue between the Council and Member States contributing the personnel at the front lines of peacekeeping.

ATUL KHARE, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, said his Department supported 36 peacekeeping, special political and other missions in 30 countries, encompassing 169,000 personnel.  It employed 15,200 support staff and was accountable for the stewardship of $9 billion in annual resources, including the United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA), which supported the largest United Nations-mandated, African Union-led peace operation to date.

He said the Department handled some of the most complex administrative, logistical and operational problems faced by any organization, country or military.  Some 60 per cent of those served were in hard-to-reach areas and 42 per cent in highly insecure areas.  The most basic tasks, such as fuel delivery, often posed enormous logistical challenges and risks.  Under the Global Field Support Strategy, such support had become leaner, faster and more integrated, but more efforts were required.

To improve field support, the High-Level Panel had recommended more field-focused operations, he said.  To that end, the Department was working with the Department of Management to identify more agile, flexible measures suited to the imperatives of emergency situations or mission start-up.  It would also work with Member States to reform policies and procedures in order to make its units more mobile and responsive.  “We need to work better together,” he said.  Inside the United Nations, that meant ensuring coherence of mission planning and deployment across the uniformed, substantive and support components.  With partners, it meant greater cooperation in support of peace operations.

He also urged a focus on performance, noting that the Department was enhancing the accountability of its managers, refocusing management forums on performance and key performance indicators while investing in analytical capacity.  It was sending a strong message:  “We must be able to account for our performance to you, the Member States.”  In addition, authority, responsibility and resources must be aligned to enable results on the ground.  The Panel had recommended designing support structures that met field needs and amending policies and procedures accordingly.  Those efforts had begun, he said, adding that field personnel as well as finance and budget divisions had completed their reorganization, while the reorganization of logistics support had been launched in phases.

Stronger partnerships were also needed, he continued.  The Department was working to encourage triangular partnerships to build capacities in troop- and police-contributing countries.  In that regard, a joint initiative between the Department and Japan had been launched to train and equip engineering units of African troop contributors.  Immediate support priorities must be pursued to deliver improvements in processes on the ground, including in supply-chain management, promoting conduct and discipline, reducing the environmental footprint and implementing corporate reforms.

Cross-cutting priorities would inform efforts across those work areas, he said.  However, it was necessary first to leverage technology in order to enhance mission effectiveness and peacekeeper safety.  Another priority was to show zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse through an “unwavering” focus on ensuring that United Nations personnel and non-United Nations security forces supported by the Organization met the highest standards of integrity and conduct.  Over two years, the Department had introduced policies outlining clear and non-negotiable thresholds for personal conduct, which would require engagement by Governments.  He concluded by saying that field missions must reduce their environmental footprint, as well as security risks to personnel, military, police and civilians.  “We must build a model for field support that is able to deliver the rapid, effective, efficient and responsible solutions that our stakeholders expect.”

Statements

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated that the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations was the only United Nations forum mandated to carry out a comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping in all its aspects.  The Non-Aligned Movement expected the Special Committee’s upcoming session to be more engaged in view of the range of recommendations contained in the reports of the High-level Independent Panel, the Secretary-General and other reviews undertaken.  He emphasized that peacekeeping should neither be used as an alternative to addressing the root causes of conflict.  The establishment of any peacekeeping operation, or mandate extension, should observe strictly the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter:  consent of the parties, impartiality and the non-use of force except in self-defence.  The Movement emphasized that respect for the principles of sovereign equality, political independence, the territorial integrity of all States and non-intervention in matters that were essentially within their domestic jurisdiction, should also be upheld.

He went on to spotlight the importance of reaching consensus among Member States on the development of policies, and ensuring that only ideas and approaches that had been adopted by Member States collectively were implemented.  The Movement called upon the Secretariat to refrain from working on streams of policy that had not been agreed through intergovernmental processes, in particular any recommendations from the Secretary-General’s report.  He also stressed the need for a strong and clear Security Council commitment to draft clear and achievable mandates, in consultation with potential troop- and police-contributing countries, without rushing to adopt mandates that lacked political bases or sufficient resources, or that were not practically achievable.  The Movement also called for the full participation of troop- and police-contributing countries in policy formulation and decision-making in order to achieve the partnership and effectiveness required of United Nations peacekeeping missions.  The Movement underlined the need for effective triangular cooperation among contributors, the Secretariat and the Security Council.

Highlighting the importance of the protection of civilians where mandated, and the need for peacekeeping to support national efforts in that regard, he stressed that the primary responsibility for protection lay with States.  The Movement called for intensified support for African Union operations by ensuring predictable and sustainable funding to peacekeeping operations led by that regional organization and authorized by the Security Council.  Strongly condemning all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by United Nations personnel, he reiterated the Movement’s support for the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy.  The Movement, as the one group that included most, if not all, top troop- and police-contributing countries, would keep increasing its contribution in military and police personnel, as well as civilian experts, to United Nations peacekeeping missions, he said.  That was clear evidence of its commitment to efforts aimed at maintaining international peace and security.

ORGROB AMARACHGUL (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed the former’s long-standing position that peacekeeping missions must uphold the purposes and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter, as well as the basic principles of United Nations peacekeeping:  consent of the parties, impartiality, non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.  Despite the changing context of peacekeeping, those principles remained indispensable for the success of all peacekeeping operations.  Cautioning that military engagements alone would not lead to lasting peace, he said ASEAN supported the High-level Panel’s proposed shift towards placing political solutions at the centre of the design of and deployment of peacekeeping missions.  Strongly condemning all acts of violence against United Nations personnel, he reaffirmed the need for the best possible protection for them, calling for more collective and comprehensive efforts to address that challenge as an urgent priority.

ASEAN shared the international community’s outrage and shame over allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by United Nations peacekeepers, he continued.  Such incidents tarnished the Organization’s reputation and undermined the ability of a mission to effectively implement its mandate.  The Association supported the Secretary-General’s commitment to strict enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy in that regard, while reiterating that the primary responsibility of holding perpetrators accountable rested with the troop-and police-contributing countries.  Almost 5,000 peacekeepers from ASEAN member States were now serving in United Nations missions around the world, he noted, adding that the Association’s member States had recently pledged a number of new commitments, such as additional troops and police officers, as well as critical enablers such as demining and engineering companies, helicopters and others.  He also described progress made in enhancing the regional peacekeeping capacity, and expressed support for the goal set by the United Nations of increasing the number of female peacekeepers and promoting more women to senior leadership positions.