Strife Series on United Nations Peacekeeping, Part V – The Future of UN Peacekeeping Operations

By Felix Manig

UN Unmanned/Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is prepared for take-off (Credit Image: UN Dispatch)

The nature of conflict is changing and so must UN peace operations if they are to remain an indispensable and effective tool in promoting international peace and security. What then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon stated in 2014 echoes even louder today, given the ever more politically complex and high-risk environments UN peacekeepers operate in. While there is no one-size-fits-all peace operation, adopting a number of priorities can help all UN missions to move toward necessary reform. The future peacekeeping architecture should build on strategic and regional partnerships, strengthen conflict prevention capacities and harness emerging technologies to effectively sustain peace in the twenty-first century.


Strategic and Regional Partnerships

 A key challenge for UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKOs) is to compel states with more advanced military capabilities and technical expertise to contribute more meaningfully to missions in the future. Perhaps the most promising path for this lies in building on the strategic partnership with the European Union (EU), which vowed to cooperate more closely with the UN on peacekeeping and crisis management. The EU is uniquely qualified to aid the UN in capacity building for the maintenance of international peace and security, especially in complex operations for which regular troop contributing countries are ill-equipped. In fact, EU member states collectively represent the largest financial contributor to UNPKOs and UN peace operations also address key EU foreign and security policy priorities in counterterrorism, the rule of law and promoting the role of women in peace and security. The initial results of increased policy coherence, joint training exercises and EU engagement in support of UN peacekeeping over the last years appear promising. In Mali, EU military and civilian support helped MINUSMA to strengthen local internal security forces. In the Central African Republic, the EU’s EUFOR RCA operation set the foundation for the later UN-led MINUSCA mission.

In Africa, where the UN currently conducts the majority of its peacekeeping missions, building on partnerships means strengthening collaboration with the African Union (AU) and other regional and sub-regional organisations such as ECOWAS or IGAD. While the UN already cooperates with the AU in conflict prevention, mediation and peacekeeping, simultaneous or complementary deployments by the UN and AU will likely feature more prominently in the future. These hybrid mandates can add important political capital to operations and prove valuable during peace negotiations, such as in the Central African Republic, where local and regional knowledge may be indispensable.


Strengthen Conflict Prevention

In his vision statement, Secretary-General António Guterres stressed his commitment to a “culture of prevention” to bring about peace, political solutions and sustainable development to crisis hotspots. One major strategy to promote stability and prevent conflict is to include more women in UN peacekeeping, both as security sector officials within operations and in critical decision-making bodies for conflict resolution. Passing UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was a historic and important step. However, the UN must act more decisively to build up women’s participation and turn the resolution’s pledges into a reality. Given that it is the responsibility of UN member states to commit peacekeeping personnel, the organisation should feature its gender mainstreaming strategy more prominently and boost the reach and responsibility of its Gender Advisers to encourage troop contributing countries to increase the share of female staff. Strong evidence shows that women’s participation in peace and security processes improves the safety of peacekeepers, leads to more successful radicalisation prevention programmes, and improves the economic recovery in conflict-affected regions. Perhaps most importantly, peace agreements in which women participated meaningfully are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years than agreements which were concluded by male-only signatories.


Harnessing Emerging Technologies 

The reform agenda introduced by the Secretary-General equally calls for scaling up the technological capabilities of UNPKOs to make peacekeepers more flexible and mobile. In 2015, an independent Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation found that many UN field operations were lacking the technological tools considered necessary by militaries and law enforcement agencies to operate effectively. The report also drew a direct connection between these deficiencies and the reluctance of developed countries to meaningfully contribute troops to existing operations.

An improved understanding of operating environments as well as the presence or intent of adversaries are key components for risk reduction in conflict. Harnessing emerging technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is one way to move into this direction. Unarmed UAVs were first used by the UN MONUSCO operation in December 2013, helping peacekeepers to improve their situational awareness, monitor migration movements and track armed groups in the mountainous terrain of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, camera and sensor-equipped UAVs have become increasingly common in other UNPKOs, including in Mali and the Central African Republic, and their use should be expanded to other operations as needed.

The UN should also push for more intelligence gathering and monitoring tools within UNPKOs of the future. From satellite reconnaissance to ground surveillance radars and acoustic or seismic sensors, the cost of such once exclusive technologies has now fallen so dramatically that even the small peacekeeping budget allows investment in them. The collection and analysis of data about movements, crime and conflict can then produce intelligence which in turn can be used to shorten warning and response times for peacekeepers on the ground. Systematic and data-driven monitoring and mapping of crises can also promote patterns and models to make the prevention of human rights abuses or cease-fire violations more efficient and cost-effective.


Looking Forward

 A meaningful implementation of the above recommendations depends, as always, on the necessary funding and political will of UN member states. Threats by the US administration to cut its share of the already meagre $6.8 billion peacekeeping budget, which is less than half of one per cent of world military expenditures, sends a troubling sign to multilateral efforts at maintaining peace and security. For UNPKOs, gaining the necessary political will largely depends on the strategic interests of P5 members in conflict regions. In this sense, geopolitical competition and the current stalemate at the UN Security Council around humanitarian crises such as in Syria or Yemen represent major challenges to the UN peacekeeping architecture.

However, the UN is not in an existential crisis. Since taking office, the Secretary-General has made reform a priority for the UN and the organisation is responding to the justifiable criticisms. The UN realised the changing nature of conflict and is in the process of adapting its prevention and peacekeeping missions to this new threat landscape. Although the UN may sometimes seem like a relic of the 20th century, it has the ability and necessary vision under its current leadership to evolve and remain irreplaceable for promoting international peace and security.


Felix Manig is a postgraduate in International Relations at King’s College London. He focuses on global governance, conflict resolution strategies, and cybersecurity. Outside of academia, he is Series Editor at Strife and writes for the Peacekeeping Project at the United Nations Association of Germany. You can follow him on Twitter @felix_manig

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