‘UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial focuses on military planning and performance when strategic political guidance is still missing’.

This article draws on a article published by the  IPI Global Observatory,https://theglobalobservatory.org/2016/09/peacekeeping-reform-united-nations-south-sudan-congo/

Dr Charles Hunt is a Research Fellow at the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and  is a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Global Research and the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Australia  http://www.rmit.edu.au/contact/staff-contacts/academic-staff/h/hunt-dr-charlie



UN peace operations play a critical role in responding to today’s international peace and security challenges. They are deployed in greater numbers in response to more complex conflict situations than ever before to protect civilians from direct harm as well as to conduct a host of other tasks such as supporting the (re)building of state institutions, facilitating humanitarian aid, and overseeing political commitments.

Despite admirable aims, many of these missions are failing to meet their objectives. In South Sudan, the UN has failed to protect the thousands of civilians[1] seeking refuge inside and adjacent to UN bases. In Mali, the mission struggles to protect itself, let alone anyone else. Efforts to stabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo rely on bargains with unpalatable governments that can undermine the impartiality of the UN.[2] The reputation of the organization is being further eroded by instances of sexual exploitation by UN personnel such as recent allegations in the Central African Republic.[3] UN peacekeeping is straining to cope with enormous challenges and requires major reform.

Recognising these maladies, a ‘UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial’ meeting was held in London on 8 September – only the second-ever meeting of Defense Ministers and Chiefs of Defense focused specifically on peacekeeping.[4] The meeting brought together representatives of around 70 member states indicating widespread international support for making peacekeeping fit for purpose in the 21st Century.[5]

The gathering produced some laudable achievements. 31 countries made new pledges with a significant portion of these earmarked for much-needed rapid deployment.[6] Additional ‘mission enablers’ such as intelligence gathering capacities, engineering units, field hospitals and strategic air assets were also pledged.[7] Emphasis was placed on: increasing the number of women in peacekeeping, including in senior positions; establishing a UN Training of Trainers Centre; and producing more competent and courageous leadership that is also accountable for poor performance.

The meeting culminated with a Communiqué[8] that put forward a ‘blueprint’ for improving UN peace operations anchored on ‘3 Ps’ – better planning, additional pledges and improving performance. If implemented, the commitments therein should improve peace operations, however, the meeting and the communiqué skirted over important lingering issues.

First, commitments refer to technical attempts to treat symptoms rather than political responses to their causes. The ‘3 Ps’ fail to sufficiently take into account key findings of the recent High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report[9] highlighting the primacy of politics in enabling effective missions in the future – a 4th and perhaps most important ‘P’. There can be no exclusively military solution to the conflicts that peace operations address. Peacekeeping – and any use of force by peacekeepers – must be deployed in support of a political strategy, not as a substitute for one.[10] The Communiqué’s says little about how political planning should look but instead focused on military and technical planning for clear and sequenced mandates. While it does recall the “…renewed focus on the primacy of politics”, in the HIPPO report, it offered little indication of what that means, who is responsible for ensuring it, or where it fits into the reform agenda going forward. Consequently, the conference avoided grappling with the difficult questions of the politics of modern peace operations and implications for the fundamental principles of peacekeeping.

Second, this was a highly militarized affair with all the pomp and ceremony that brings. While many civilian experts attended – and no-doubt performed the leg-work behind the scenes – the fact remains that this was a gathering of ministers and chiefs of defence. This portrays a peace operations system where military actors heavily influence decision-making. This is sensible when it comes to troop contributions and military hardware but it makes little sense regarding other vital civilian components or, more importantly, when crafting the political strategies that underpin peace operations.

Peace operations are not the right tool for responding to all violent conflict. Where there is no peace to keep, the Security Council may need to consider enforcement action and stabilization operations in order to protect civilians and prevent the escalation of violence. However, to do so under the auspices of UN peace operations is to jeopardize the fragile consensus that enables it. The unintended consequences of stretching or manipulating them may be severe – potentially jeopardizing the agreed upon principles, threatening the force generation base and possibly undermining the viability of the whole enterprise.[11] Some have argued that it may therefore be necessary to develop another modality – with associated doctrine and frameworks – to execute such missions.[12]

In the meantime, UN peacekeeping must muddle through. The London meeting’s tangible steps to close the capacity gaps plaguing current missions give cause for hope. “Doing better with more,” sounds like a better proposition than “doing more with less” – the mantra of peacekeeping in austerity-shaped early 2000s. However, what is urgently required is for member states to debate and negotiate what UN peacekeeping should be doing in the 21st Century. Without structural reforms, explicit political strategies and conceptual clarity, UN peacekeeping will continue to disappoint and risks losing its legitimacy and credibility. Once gone, no amount of reinforcements will bring that back and the world will be worse off for such a loss.



[1] https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/sites/usa/files/msf_malakal_report_2016.pdf


[3] https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/04/central-african-republic-rape-peacekeepers

[4] First in Kigali in March, 2015.

[5]  “Twenty‐first century UN peace operations: protection, force and the changing security environment.”

[6] https://cc.unlb.org/default.aspx

[7] https://www.ipinst.org/2016/07/smart-peacekeeping-tech-enabled) http://peaceoperationsreview.org/thematic-essays/can-attack-helicopters-save-u-n-peacekeeping/)

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/un-peacekeeping-defence-ministerial-london-communique

[9] http://futurepeaceops.org/project/uniting-our-strengths-for-peace-politics-partnerships-and-people-report-of-the-high-level-independent-panel-on-united-nations-peace-operations-2015/

[10] https://www.brookings.edu/book/the-fog-of-peace/

[11] “All necessary means to what ends? The unintended consequences of the ‘robust turn’ in UN peace operations”

[12] http://futurepeaceops.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Briefing-Book-Final.pdf

UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial London 2016

UN in South Sudan: The ghosts of Rwanda and Srebrenica

Originally posted at The Interpreter.


As the last of the reinforcements arrive for the newly mandated UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), questions remain over its ability to protect civilians and put South Sudan on a road to peace and stability.

South Sudan became independent in 2011, following a referendum held under the conditions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought to an end the 22-year Sudanese civil war. The birth of the new nation was a significant achievement for the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which deployed in 2005 to support the implementation of the CPA. However, UNMIS was not very effective at disarming and demobilising the myriad armed groups prior to independence, nor did it make much headway with the transformation of the post-war security sector.

Following independence, the UN’s role was re-conceived as a peacebuilding endeavour, with the newly-named UNMISS mandated to build the institutional capacity needed to govern the nascent state of South Sudan. Despite early optimism, UNMISS was unable to address the maladies of a bloated security sector, and despite an explicit mandate to ‘protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence’, was incapable of responding to brutal attacks on civilians once political violence flared in December 2013.

The violence, sparked by a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his Vice President Riek Machar, led to civil war, with widespread attacks on civilians instigated along ethnic lines.Since December, over 10,000 people have been killed and over 1.5 million displaced. Having opened their gates to fleeing civilians, UN peacekeepers now face the task of looking after over 100,000 civilians seeking refuge in impromptu protection sites inside ten UN bases across the country, a situation that Secretary-General Ban says is taking UNMISS into ‘uncharted territory.’

In addition to the direct effects of fighting, South Sudanese are threatened by impending famine, particularly in the conflict-affected states where farmers were unable to plant seeds before the arrival of the rainy season. While the fighting has claimed many victims, these numbers may pale into insignificance against the numbers now likely to starve to death.

In late June 2014, the UN Security Council passed a resolution reconfiguring and re-prioritising UNMISS. Troop strength went from 7000 to 12,500 and the UN police force was strengthened from 900 to 1323, with the addition of several helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. This fortified force is to abandon the previously mandated task of state building and embrace the new priorities of protecting civilians and securing the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Yet UNMISS finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The mission is deployed in the midst of a lethal civil war. As matters now stand, there is no way the Council can extricate the mission without compromising the safety of thousands of UN personnel and hundreds of thousands of civilians. Instead of liquidating a peacebuilding mission, the Security Council has resuscitated the notion of maintaining safe havens protected by peacekeepers.

The practice of establishing UN-protected areas is not exactly uncharted territory, as suggested by Ban; it was in fact discredited in the 1990s because of the UN’s failure to protect against the Srebrenica massacre of 1993 and the Rwandan genocide of 1994. However, in addition to protection against armed attack, the UN is now also accepting responsibility for protecting South Sudanese against disease and famine. For example, UNMISS has expressed concern about the situation in Bentiu, where 100-200 displaced people continue to arrive daily, many of them malnourished. The UN-protected areas are likely to be in increasing demand as feeding centres regardless of the conflict situation.

Serious questions therefore remain about the ability of UNMISS to fulfill its ‘close protection’ and broader protection mandate.

As Secretary-General Ban has said: ‘the strengthening of UNMISS’s protection capabilities will not happen overnight. Even with additional capabilities, we will not be able to protect every civilian in need in South Sudan.’ In addition to risks associated with deteriorating health and sanitation, the task of protecting and feeding more than 100,000 civilians within UN bases presents serious challenges for the Formed Police Units which are for the first time being asked to protect vulnerable populations from external threats as well as hostile elements in the camps.

Given these challenges, UNMISS peacekeepers cannot be expected to hold the line indefinitely, so South Sudan’s political process needs impetus. Although a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on 23 January 2014, there has been little tangible progress towards a political settlement that would contain the power struggles and usher in a transitional government.

The interests and support of regional powers need to be carefully managed during any diplomatic offensive. The conflict is already regionalised through the presence of Ugandan troops, the central mediating role of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the standing-up of an IGAD monitoring and verification mechanism. While the support of regional powers remains essential to settling the conflict, there is also potential for the interests and meddling of those same regional powers to exacerbate the conflict.

The UN Security Council and some of it more powerful members, though at the moment seized with other pressing issues of global and regional security, need to bring much more pressure to bear instead of abdicating their responsibility to IGAD and the African Union in the hope that they will find ‘African solutions to African problems’. If the UN is to support the transition to peace, then the Security Council, the Secretariat, and UNMISS leadership need to help shape a transitional strategy that results in a stable settlement and ends the de facto impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the worst atrocities.

By Charles Hunt, Lecturer in International Security at the University of Queensland, and Mark Malan, Senior Lecturer in Peacekeeping at Massey University in New Zealand.

Australia and the UN: The Report Card is in

Security Council Meeting on Non-proliferation

This week the UN Association of Australia (UNAA) released its 2013 Report Card on Australia at the UN.  The Report Card was edited by Human Protection Hub Director, Alex Bellamy, and features assessments by Richard Woolcott AC, Tim Costello AO, Prof. Gillian Triggs, Commissioner Mick Gooda, Julian Burnside AO, QC, Prof. Robyn Eckersley, Julie McKay and Thom Woodroffe. So, how is Australia doing?

Australia’s performance was graded on a scale of A-F, based on a methodology set out in the report and assessments done independently by the editors and individual contributors. The scores were:

  • Security Council and General Assembly: Grade A
  • Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid: Grade B
  • Climate Change: Grade D+
  • Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: Grade B
  • Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding: Grade B
  • Human Rights: Grade B
  • Indigenous Peoples: Grade C+
  • Gender Equality: Grade B
  • Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Grade F

In the Card’s introduction, Alex — along with UNAA President, Russell Trood and Executive Director, Elizabeth Shaw, provided this overview:

“Our last Australia and the United Nations: Report Card was published in 2007 and marked a point in time when we were highly disappointed with Australia’s engagement with the UN. Australia was not actively contributing in the General Assembly, nor working hard to advance the Millennium Development Goals. We were not rising to meet the challenge of climate change and had just staged an intervention in the Northern Territory that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples later found to be incompatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

The 2013 Report Card focuses on Australia’s activities following the publication of the last Report Card in 2007 up until the federal election on 7 September 2013. We are pleased that the 2013 Report Card paints a far more positive picture of Australia’s contribution to the UN. The UNAA was a strong supporter of Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council and we are proud of the work  Australia is doing in the General Assembly and the Security Council to, among other things, limit the catastrophic impacts of small armed in conflict zones. Australia’s increased commitment to contributing to multilateral forums is also evidenced by our candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2018-2020 term – the first time Australia has sought membership. We were also encouraged to see the Australian Government commit to increasing our aid budget to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015, though were troubled by the continued delays to this

Our assessment of Australia’s performance is not entirely without blemish, however. We have given the Australian Government an ‘F’ on the topic of refugees and asylum seekers due to the serious questions that remain about the compatibility of government policy with our domestic and international legal obligations. The Australian Government also scores poorly on the issue of climate change given our dependence on fossil fuels and the uncertainties over our commitment to reducing emissions compared to many other developed countries. On peacekeeping and peacebuilding and in the field of human rights we judged Australia to be in a position similar to that of six years go.

We hope that the Australia and the United Nations: Report Card provides those who read it with a clear sense of the way Australia is performing in key areas of multilateral engagement. The UN was formed with the most noble of goals; however the ability of the UN to achieve its mandate can only ever be as strong as the will of member states. It is our job to ensure the Australian Government has a strong will to be a vital contributor to UN forums, a top donor to UN agencies, and a country which promotes and protects international norms and standards at home and abroad.

As the new Australian Government works to shape its foreign policy agenda, it is vital that the voices of the Australian community are heard. We encourage all Australians to take time to share their views with the Government on issues such as climate change, international aid, indigenous rights and all of the many other matters that are on the UN agenda. Generally, Australia has a strong history of making a significant practical contribution to improving the way the UN acts to improve the human condition and we look forward to this tradition continuing under the new Government.

In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, “In an era when challenges spill over borders and have global
reach, our future depends on how well we work together …”

Peacekeepers and the Protection of Civilians: Realities in the Eastern DRC


Picture credit: Sylvain Liechti/MONUSCO, 7 March 2013

Recent fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has highlighted familiar questions about the role of and expectations on United Nations (UN) peacekeepers when it comes to protecting civilians from harm.

The photograph above depicts a ‘Mobile Operating Base’ of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) in Kitshanga, North Kivu, surrounded by the makeshift shelters of people displaced due to five days of heavy fighting – violence that claimed the lives of around 100 people and displaced thousands more. UN peacekeeping compounds, bases and their environs – no matter how rudimentary or ill-prepared – often become the site for impromptu camps and de facto ‘safe areas’ in times of crisis when vulnerable civilians gravitate towards them seeking the protection and sanctuary of the UN.

This may be a reasonable expectation. After all, since 2000 – under the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), reconfigured and renamed in July 2010 as MONUSCO – peacekeepers have had an explicit mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to ‘protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence’. However, whilst the photographs speak volumes, they also mask a more difficult reality for the UN’s blue helmets when it comes to protecting civilians. Despite concerted efforts, UN peacekeepers have struggled to protect people from targeted violence and predation in DRC – particularly in the Kivu provinces of the east.

Firstly, despite a mandate from the Security Council that explicitly prioritizes the protection of civilians, the Rules of Engagement (ROEs) guiding the use of force by peacekeepers restrict what is permissible. There are many tactics peacekeepers can employ to protect civilians, however, other militarily feasible options are often prohibited. The defence of bases and civilians in/around them is also governed by a set of legal considerations, including international humanitarian law. Whilst it is permitted for commanders to accept defenseless civilians onto UN bases at their discretion, and this often occurs, it requires a proactive and committed stance by commanders as well as creative interpretation of ROEs and the mission mandate to take effective action in these circumstances.

Secondly, caveats placed upon troop contributions back in national capitals also affect the ability of UN peacekeepers to provide direct physical protection to civilians. It is not uncommon for different national contingents to deviate in their behavior and response to protection challenges because of these restrictions.

Although neither ROEs nor national caveats are publicly available, the difficulties they present for Force Commanders and Special Representatives of the Secretary-General are well-known and constitute a major challenge to a predictable, consistent and coherent protection response.

Thirdly, even where ROEs and national caveats are not inhibitive, the means provided to peacekeepers to achieve civilian protection objectives are often insufficient. For instance, blue helmets in isolated operating bases suffer from a crippling lack of mobility. Air-lift capacity remains most critical, but even basic ground transport and communications equipment could help to mitigate some of these deficits and allow for innovative approaches amongst military and civilian components of missions. Recent debates at the UN surrounding deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles to assist in threat surveillance and preventive activities in DRC point to potential, albeit contentious, force multipliers in this regard. Although resources are scarce, it is also important to support complementary activities such as indirect forms of protection by police and other substantive civilian components, as well as preventive action through building the protective capacity of the host state and local communities.

In recent years there has been significant progress in developing a strategic framework and an operational concept for protection of civilians in UN peacekeeping, the elaboration on doctrine for when and how peacekeepers should use force to protect civilians, as well as the design and delivery of standardised training modules on these issues. These developments have the potential to improve the effectiveness of peacekeepers asked to protect civilians in mortal danger. However, it is critical that improved guidance is matched with commensurate resources and political support for effective action when the rubber hits the road.

After 12 years of UN peacekeeping in DRC civilians in the Kivus remain vulnerable and there have been noteworthy incidents of anti-MONUSCO protests. Nevertheless, the men, women and children of the eastern Congo continue to turn to the UN flag for protection when violence and chaos erupt. The Congolese government and its international partners face major challenges in stabilizing the country – not least those relating to the illegal trade in natural resources/minerals and broadly defined security and justice sector reform. In the meantime, meeting high expectations around the protection of civilians – including from targeted attacks and disturbing levels of sexual and gender-based violence – will continue to be vital to the credibility of UN peacekeepers, both in the eyes of international public opinion and the local populations so susceptible to the ebb and flow of deadly violence around them.

The DRC is a microcosm for UN peacekeeping in general. Providing protection to vulnerable populations when they most need it is critical to the credibility and therefore the sustainability of peace operations as a legitimate and effective tool for conflict management.


Weir, Erin A., and Charles T. Hunt. “DR Congo: Support Community-Based Tools for MONUSCO“, Field Report, Washington DC: Refugees International, 2011.

Wills, Siobhán. Protecting Civilians: The Obligations of Peacekeepers.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Charles T. Hunt is a Lecturer in International Security at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. He has previously conducted fieldwork in the DRC on MONUSCO’s civilian protection activities for Refugees International.

Broadening the Base of UN Troop- and Police- Contributing Countries – New Report


Today, United Nations (UN) peacekeeping stands at another crossroads. With consistently high demands for peacekeepers and an expanding range of mandated tasks, the UN faces the challenge of finding more, and better, peacekeepers. This comes at a time when financial austerity measures are being imposed across much of the world and in a political context where the UN must compete with other international organizations to recruit peacekeepers from what is a relatively limited global pool of relevant capabilities. To meet the challenge, the UN’s New Horizon initiative and the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) have called for an “expanding of the pool of available capabilities.” The Human Protection Hub is a part of the Providing for Peacekeeping Project, whichwas established by the International Peace Institute in New York to inform and assist this endeavor.

The project’s recently released first thematic report, written by Alex Bellamy (Human Protection Hub) and Paul D. Williams (George Washington University, Washington, DC) reflects on what broadening the base of UN troop- and police-contributing countries will entail in practice, and provides a framework for thinking about why UN member states do, or do not, provide peacekeepers to UN-led missions. The report identifies recent trends in troop contributions to UN and non-UN missions, summarizes states’ rationales for providing peacekeepers to UN operations, examines the factors that inhibit such contributions, identifies potential major contributors of uniformed personnel for the future, and notes some of the most significant challenges facing the UN. These challenges include the global financial crisis, political controversy over the future direction and nature of peacekeeping mandates, issues of discipline and ill health, and the unique problems associated with finding police personnel for UN missions.

The paper concludes by suggesting ways in which the UN might begin to improve its ability to expand the pool of peacekeeping capabilities. It recommends providing incentives to encourage larger and better contributions of uniformed personnel, enhancing public diplomacy related to peacekeeping, improving the way in which the UN Secretariat makes its requests to member states for peacekeepers and relevant specialist capabilities, and strengthening analysis of contributing countries as a precursor to developing a strategic plan on force generation.

The full report can be downloaded here

The Providing for Peacekeeping Project website is here

Alex Bellamy, Human Protection Hub.