Int. Herald Tribune
UN has few chances left to get its peacekeeping right

Enrique ter Horst

Paris, Wednesday, August 16, 2000


GENEVA - Preserving peace and security is the core mandate of the United Nations. No other international organization of global scope can wage war to restore compliance with the relevant provisions of its charter.

Peacekeeping should be a serious business, as it is the tool of choice to discharge this core mandate. But at present it is not, because of how the UN Security Council and the Secretariat function, or don't function. The recent repeated failures of armed interventions sanctioned by the council are affecting the credibility of the organization at a time when it probably is more necessary than ever.

Complex peacekeeping operations, the ones that address root causes of conflict, have been successful when they followed peace agreements among the warring parties and when all members of the Security Council sincerely agreed with the need to set them up, gave them clear objectives and provided the necessary resources.

This was the case in Namibia, El Salvador, Mozambique, to a large extent in Cambodia and will probably be the case in East Timor, to mention only the most visible ones. It certainly was not the case in Rwanda, in the former Yugoslavia, nor in Angola and Somalia, and it probably will not be in Sierra Leone and Haiti.

Kosovo is a long-term effort based on what could be a fundamentally flawed assumption: that it will remain a part of Yugoslavia. The operation being contemplated for the Democratic Republic of the Congo is likely to end badly if launched as it is conceived now, with woefully insufficient resources and on the basis of a peace agreement nobody really believes in.

The Security Council continues to be the place where the power positions of its 15 member states find their least adorned expression. National interest tends to prevail over global responsibility and, as in any other political exercise, horse-trading and the settling of scores, large and small, are not extraneous to its work.

Even if to the outside world the appearance of agreement and of doing something is transmitted, disagreement is often hidden behind ambiguous wording that is practically impossible to implement. The last hurdle, once an operation is approved by the council, is that effective implementation is hampered by the extraordinary managerial weakness of the UN Secretariat.

A first task should be to render the decision-making process of the Security Council more transparent. Procedures that ensure more openness and accountability could lead to a change in culture, in which collective security returns to the center of the council's concerns.

The particular characteristics of the different types of armed interventions sanctioned by the council, from peace-enforcing to peacekeeping, nation-building and ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance, would need to be taken into account when these procedures are designed. But all require a clear statement of objectives and benchmarks by which their attainment can be measured, a detailed listing of the resources needed and a careful analysis of the risks involved.

When economic and social root causes of conflict are addressed by the council, the UN programs for development, refugees and human rights, as well as the World Bank, should be included in the preparatory work from the beginning. Such procedures should help reduce the risk of failure and also ensure that the responsibility for it is clearly apportioned.

Second, it is generally recognized that an indispensable step toward greater effectiveness should be the provision of adequate, reliable, quickly deployable and disbursable resources to the secretary-general. It is difficult to believe that each time a peacekeeping operation is agreed upon by the Security Council, the secretary-general has to plead, hat in hand, with member states to contribute troops and/or police forces and to pay their assessments to the peacekeeping budget.

Once commitments for troops and police officers have been secured, their quality is very often not the best, and many arrive without even the most basic equipment. No wonder that at the end of these grueling exercises the United Nations makes do with what it gets and is not prepared to put its foot down and risk being accused of further delaying the deployment of approved missions.

The price is often paid later, as in Sierra Leone, with a vengeance. Fortunately, at present several countries are training troop contingents to handle different types of council-sanctioned operations and be ready for deployment in 24 hours. In addition, as with humanitarian emergencies, a special revolving fund for peacekeeping should be established to cover immediate start-up expenditures, to be reimbursed by the peacekeeping budget contributions as they come in.

Competence and reliability are equally valid in relation to the management of operations by the UN Secretariat. Kofi Annan is, I am sure, acutely aware that the peacekeeping operations department he headed before being elected secretary-general is in need of a major overhaul.

Also, peacekeeping operations need to draw on the entire range of expertise available in the United Nations. It is extraordinary, however, that UN staff participate in peacekeeping operations only on a voluntary basis. Committed and competent staff members are essential in this critically important sector.

Finally, the United Nations would be able to react more quickly if the secretary-general were empowered to qualify certain situations as emergencies, triggering automatic assistance mechanisms for relatively short periods of time, say, three months, until particularly grave situations are stabilized.

Most of these suggestions are of a managerial nature and can be implemented without the formal approval of member states. In addition, the summit meeting of the General Assembly next month provides a valuable opportunity to discuss how to further improve UN peacekeeping operations.

It is true that the reform of structures and procedures is no panacea. The worst setup can be made to work by competent people, and the best will not if the staffing is wrong. But one more failure in peacekeeping could render the United Nations irrelevant for many years. There is no choice other than getting UN peacekeeping right once and for all. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.



Original article