Are New Robust Mandates Putting UN Peacekeepers More at Risk?

Original post with IPI Global Observatory may be found here.

In the days leading up to today’s International Day of UN Peacekeepers—a day which “honors the memory of peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the cause of peace”— the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had the unenviable task of reporting an incident in Darfur which had left one Rwandan peacekeeper dead and three others injured. The peacekeepers had been mediating a local dispute when Arab militia elements became hostile and opened fire. This incident, emblematic of the daily work and risks faced by UN peacekeepers, brings home the dangers of trying to build peace in parts of the world still wracked by hostility and conflict. It appeared to be the latest in a long line of attacks on UN peacekeepers in recent months.

In April 2013, eight Indian peacekeepers were killed when armed militia attacked a convoy they were escorting in Jonglei state, South Sudan. A few months later, seven Tanzanian peacekeepers were killed in Darfur when militia attacked their base. Three more Indian peacekeepers were killed in Akobo in Jonglei state in December, when militia attacked a UN base sheltering civilians. At around the same time, anti-balaka militia in the Central African Republic killed a UN peacekeeper from the Republic of the Congo.

These incidents have given rise to concerns that the adoption by the Security Council of new robust mandates for the protection of civilians in semi-hostile environments, combined with the innovation of integrated missions that have aligned peacekeepers more closely with contestable political objectives, has dramatically increased the risks confronting UN peacekeepers. Operating in pursuit of political objectives set by the Security Council in situations that are deeply unstable and characterized by the presence of multiple armed groups, many of which oppose the Council’s objectives, contemporary peacekeepers operating in South Sudan, Darfur, Mali, the DRC, CAR and elsewhere can no longer rely on their perceived neutrality and impartiality to guarantee their own safety. In addition to increasing the direct risks confronted by UN peacekeepers, there are fears that the politicization of peacekeeping might also place in danger those who seek the UN’s protection. It might also inhibit humanitarian access. This is a point made directly by several contributors to a soon-to-be published special issue of the journal Global Responsibility to Protect on the relationship between R2P and humanitarian action.

Along with these operational issues, there is also a significant force generation problem. Several of the troop/police contributor profiles developed for the Providing for Peacekeeping project have identified concerns about the potential for casualties as a significant political obstacle to contributing to UN missions. If peacekeeping is becoming more dangerous, it will become more difficult for the UN to recruit the forces it needs.

But are these concerns borne out by the statistics? Has the adoption of integrated missions and robust protection mandates increased the number of UN peacekeepers killed as a result of hostile action? The answer is a complex one, but as yet, there seems to be no clear connection.

 chart (1)Based on DPKO statistics; 2014 figure estimated based on data to April 31, 2014

The UN’s basic data on deaths caused by malicious acts tells us two things.

First, that this is not a new phenomenon. Though to differing degrees, peacekeepers have always faced these risks. With roughly equal numbers of peacekeepers deployed, the number of fatalities caused by hostile action is significantly lower today than it was from 1993-1995. Going back further, 1961 was almost as disastrous as 1993 in terms of peacekeeper fatalities, with some 105 peacekeepers killed by malicious actions in Congo (ONUC).  Moreover, the general level of fatalities today was experienced in some individual years in the period between 1995 and 2012, especially 2003 and 2005 when the overall number of peacekeepers deployed was only around two-thirds the number deployed today.

Second, to the extent that there has been a recent increase in UN peacekeeper fatalities by malicious action, it has been a thankfully small one by recent historical standards and, should 2014 continue as it has started, relatively short-lived.

These figures give us only part of the picture, however. For example, variations may simply result from the number of peacekeepers deployed rather than from any particular set of issues. Given month-by-month variations in the numbers of UN peacekeepers deployed (for example, in 1995 alone, the total number of UN peacekeepers varied from over 60,000 to a little over 30,000), it would take some complex mathematics to calculate malicious deaths per 1,000 peacekeepers with any degree of accuracy. As a proxy, we might consider instead the proportion of overall fatalities caused by malicious acts.

chart Based on DPKO statistics; 2014 figure estimated based on data to April 31, 2014.

It bears noting that, with the exception of 1993, peacekeepers are much more likely to die as a result of an accident or illness than by hostile action.

While the proportion of fatalities caused by malicious action since 2011 is higher than the trend between 2007-2010, it is nonetheless broadly consistent with general trends from 1991 through to 2000 and the year 2003. This would seem to support the view that whatever increase is being experienced is relatively modest thus far and not out of step with previous experience.

A final point to make is that peacekeeping fatalities by malicious actions have always been concentrated in particular missions, and there is no evidence that broad changes in the nature of peacekeeping have had more generalized effects. In the 1960s, the spike in death by malicious action was a product entirely of ONUC. In the 1990s, the most dangerous mission by a significant margin was UNOSOM, followed (some way behind) by UNPROFOR and UNTAC, and then UNAMIR. Today, two missions—UNAMID and UNMISS—account for the lion’s share of fatalities, though there are real concerns that the situations in Mali and the CAR and the mandates of the missions being deployed there will make MINUSMA and MISCA at least as equally challenging in this respect.

This leaves us with the need to explain why there is no simple connection between developments in UN peacekeeping and fatalities caused by malicious action. Among the reasons are no doubt significant improvements in operating practices, information gathering and communications, and peacekeeper capabilities. But another explanation may lie in the way mission leaders translate robust protection mandates into practice. A recent Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report found that UN peacekeepers typically refrained from using force to protect civilians despite having mandates to do so, preferring instead to limit the use of force to self-defense. Moreover, it found that they were often not present in the most dangerous situations. One result of this is that, despite their mandates, UN peacekeepers are typically not engaged in proactive action to protect civilians or diminish the capacity of armed groups to target them. Hence, they are not necessarily putting themselves in greater danger than they otherwise would. This is perhaps borne out by the fact that many of the casualties described earlier were sustained in the course of regular peacekeeping duties—mediating disputes, escorting convoys, protecting UN bases from attack—rather than in new types of action relating to enhanced protection mandates.

The lesson here seems clear. There has not yet been a dramatic increase overall in fatalities caused by malicious action as a result of the adoption of new mandates by UN peacekeepers largely because these mandates have not been interpreted as requiring the adoption of greater risks by peacekeepers. If one of the consequences of the OIOS report is that pressure builds for a rethinking of the strategic guidance offered to missions on this point, and if this translates into tactics that place more peacekeepers in harm’s way more frequently, then it is reasonable to expect that the rate of fatalities due to malicious action will increase.

To prevent that from happening, it might be worth considering how protection might be strengthened without heightening risks to peacekeepers (for instance, through the use of technology), inviting the Security Council to reflect more deeply on how it expects its protection mandates to be implemented, and reviewing precisely what capabilities would be needed to achieve these effects—and from where they could be secured.

Alex J. Bellamy is Professor of International Security at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, Australia; Honorary Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland, Australia; and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He is a non-resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute.

The Trouble with Air Strikes

Phil Orchard

People inspect a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the northern town of Atareb, in Aleppo province April 24, 2014. REUTERS/Abdalghne Karoof

In a recent piece, Anne-Marie Slaughter (the former Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department and Professor at Princeton University, now the President and CEO of the New America Foundation) argued heavily in favour of American-led air strikes in Syria. Her argument has two points. The first is that while the Obama administration cannot act in the Ukraine, they can decisively act in Syria to “change Putin’s calculations.” Her second point was that the widespread failure of the Syrian government to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2139 provides an opening for action, as it requires “all parties [to] immediately cease attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas…. such as the use of barrel bombs.”

There is no question that the increasing number of air strikes and makeshift barrel bombs by the Syrian regime (including one that may have killed 30 people yesterday) are a clear violation of the Resolution and of international law. However, Slaughter’s argument suffers from three main problems.

The first is that while she suggests Resolution 2139 could be enforced through the use of force “to eliminate Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft,” there is no such language included within the Resolution. Instead, she is effectively advocating a return to the 1990s, where humanitarian interventions in both Northern Iraq and Kosovo were launched by the United States and its allies with loose interpretations of prior Security Council Resolutions. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine was deliberately designed to close off this approach by requiring either Security Council, General Assembly, or regional organization approval (in the ICISS version), or Security Council approval alone (in the World Summit Outcome Declaration). Syria has certainly been a hard case for the R2P, but the doctrine continues to be referenced frequently by the Council. For the United States to back away from it now by going around the Security Council, as Slaughter suggests, would be to fatally undermine the fragile international consensus that supports the R2P.

The second problem is what form of force does Slaughter envision? Do one or more strikes against Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft envision the creation of a no-fly-zone, or systematic attacks against Syrian air bases? When President Obama was considering strikes last August following Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, it was anticipated that the strikes, mainly using missiles fired from four destroyers, would last three days. A no-fly-zone would similarly expose pilots to Syria’s air defense, and, as Hayes Brown argued, the threat would increase the longer the no-fly-zone was maintained.

The third, related, problem is what about the protection of the civilian population? Elsewhere, Slaughter has powerfully advocated for defensive safe areas to protect Syrian civilians. But, while destroying Syria’s fixed-wing aircraft would remove one threat, the Syrian military would still pose a significant threat to both the divided opposition and to the civilian population. And it is unclear how these acts help to actually address, and ideally end, the Syrian conflict. The hope, here, is that the threat of limited strikes may cause the Assad regime and Russia to negotiate, as they did following the US threat last year. But the Ukraine situation has certainly changed Russia’s geopolitical calculations.

If not air strikes, what can we do? It is clear that the humanitarian situation is getting worse, as both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and five UN agencies heads have made clear over the past day. But Resolution 2139 does include a clear reporting mechanism, and there will be heavy pressure on the Security Council to take further actions when it meets next week. And while the focus may be on humanitarian assistance inside Syria, the humanitarian effort as a whole remains significantly underfunded, having received only 18 percent of the $2.3billion requested. Providing additional support to Syria’s neighbours, who have taken in over 2.7 million refugees, is vital and can ensure continued access to asylum for those fleeing the conflict. Unfortunately, there are no good options in the Syrian conflict, but if the West wants to shift to using force, it needs to be far more clearly focused both on ensuring civilian protection and on a political solution.

Dr. Phil Orchard is a Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Relations at the University of Queensland and Senior Researcher and Program Director, Doctrine, Concepts, and Inter-Agency Cooperation at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He tweets @p_orchard. 

The Future of UN Peacekeeping May Lie in the Past

Vanessa Newby



Putin’s recent attempted annexation of Crimea brings back sharp memories of the Cold War for those of us old enough to remember it.  The media reports that the US is now conducting ‘training exercises’ in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.  Is the Crimea crisis the actions of a powerful president gone ‘rogue’ or a signal of a slow slide back to a new Cold War?  This question becomes pertinent when considering the implications for UN peacekeeping missions.  The literature on peacekeeping in the past twenty years has focused heavily on the new missions that have involved ‘wider’ peacekeeping or peacebuilding remits – such as the holding of elections, building institutions, and liberalising the economy.  There is very little scholarship to be found that looks at older style peacekeeping – termed classic or traditional missions.  There is an assumption that these missions have little to offer in terms of informing the trajectory of future missions.  Most are dismissed as being limited in the introduction section of books detailing missions launched after the break up of the Soviet Union.

But if indeed the balance of power is shifting back towards a traditional ‘balance of power’ scenario, then what are the prospects for peacekeeping missions in the future?  From 1948 until 1989, only 15 peacekeeping missions were launched by UN Security Council because the US and Russia (predominantly) were opposed to the idea of each other exerting their influence in any given part of the world; particularly in areas considered to be of strategic importance. The ONUC mission in the Congo (1960-64), which took a form more similar to that of the more modern missions, was shut down as a result of the perception by great powers that either side wielded too much influence in the internal workings of the state.  As a result, peacekeeping missions launched during the Cold War were necessarily kept simple and did not involve interference in the workings of the receptor state.  Their duties were generally limited to monitoring simply observing borders and conflict zones.

Whilst the literature on peacebuilding is full of critiques of modern peacebuilding missions, there has always been the assumption that their form will remain complex or become more so.  It is possible in light of Syria and now the Crimea, that we may be seeing a return to proxy wars within states that will fester and be long-drawn out owing to the tacit support of external interested powers.  In these scenarios, it is possible that civilian deaths will trigger calls from the international community to do something to stem the bloodshed.  If so, in my opinion it will be likely that the only missions that will be able to be launched in the current political environment will be ones that carry what is termed a ‘light footprint’.

What exact form this ‘light footprint’ will take is a question this blog cannot answer, but it could well resemble the older missions that currently exist in Lebanon and Cyprus.  Despite often being dismissed as a failure, the UNIFIL mission in South Lebanon has thus far maintained peace and security in its area of operation since Resolution 1701 in 2006 and it does engage in some peacebuilding activities whilst remaining distant from national politics.

The mission has achieved this by working quietly at the sub-national level with the use of Political Officers (PAOs), Civil Affairs Officers (CAOs) and Civil Military Cooperation Officers (CIMIC), whilst engaging at the international, national and local levels.  It is possible that this model may suit future missions whereby UNSC members are keen to ensure that the balance of power within a state is not unduly influenced by the presence of a peacekeeping mission.  

The UNIFIL mission has been running since 1978, but UNIFIL II as it is known has been operational since 2006 after the Israel/Hezbollah conflict of that year.  Unlike the earlier form of the mission it comprises elements of peacebuilding at the national level by working to increase the capacity of the national army – the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and to bolster the legitimacy of the municipal government in the area of operations.  At the international level, UNIFIL has brought together the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the LAF into a tripartite mechanism that enables both sides to air their grievances, and work on building mutual trust through the creation of micro-security arrangements.  The security this engendered has filtered down to the local level where the region is now witnessing the growth of local tourism and new business start-ups.  At the local level UNIFIL uses CAOs and CIMIC to work closely with the local population, funding Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) but also in strategies to help civilians develop local business and agriculture initiatives.  Whilst the larger political dispute that engulfs the region continues to be at a stalemate, UNIFIL has managed to maintain peace and security to the point where the south is now considered by many to be the safest part of the country.

The UNIFIL mission has demonstrated the important role subnational actors can play in assisting an area within a state which suffers the fallout of intractable political struggles at the international level.  The light footprint approach has managed to keep UNIFIL out of the national vicissitudes and ensure civilian protection. In sum, the peacekeeping literature has failed to take into account the possibility that international relations may come full circle, rather than continuing on a linear path.  This neglect in understanding the workings of older missions may prove to have been an oversight when new peacekeeping missions are launched (which inevitably they will be).

A Step Forward by the Security Council on Syria

Phil Orchard

On Saturday, the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution which demands access for humanitarian aid organizations in Syria. This is an important step forward, and follows a Presidential Statement in October which had made similar requests. But why is access for humanitarian organizations such an important issue in this crisis?

Part of the issue is the sheer number of civilians who have been affected by the Syrian civil war. 2.3 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. A further 3 million civilians within Syria are in need of assistance. This includes almost a quarter of a million civilians who are under siege by government and opposition forces. In this respect, the welcome agreement between the Syrian government and rebel forces which allowed for the evacuation of over a thousand civilians from the city of Homs is just a drop in the bucket. Combined, these figures represent half the population of the country. And this has led to a massive assistance operation on the part of the international community, with the UN requesting $2.3 million for assistance operations within the country, and a further $4.2 billion for operations in the region. To give an idea of the scope of these requests, the total worldwide contributions to humanitarian assistance in 2012 was only US$17.9 billion.

But the Syrian government has blocked significant assistance efforts within Syria. Most aid organizations are guided by four key principles derived from the Geneva Conventions: humanity, a general commitment to prevent and alleviate suffering; impartiality, that assistance should be based solely on need; neutrality, that organizations providing such assistance have a duty to not take part in hostilities; and independence, that these organizations should be free from political, religious, or other extraneous influences. In a critical 1991 Resolution, the UN General Assembly accepted the importance of these principles, but added a significant limitation: that assistance should: “be provided with the consent of the affected country… the affected State has the primary role in the initiation, organization, coordination, and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its territory…”

This means that the Syrian government can exercise a great deal of control over aid operations. Prior to the October Presidential Statement, they were only allowing so-called ‘cross-line’ assistance to rebel held areas – assistance that first needed to be transported to government-held Damascus, then sent outwards – rather than cross-border assistance. Following the statement, they did increase the number of cross-line convoys approved and allowed cross-border assistance from Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, but continued to block any assistance from Turkey.  In December, this led the aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to argue “if the Syrian government remains the main channel for the overwhelming majority of international humanitarian aid, millions of people will continue to be deprived of adequate assistance.” Internally displaced persons camps in Syria along the Turkish border, for example, are in dire conditions “with no running water, electricity or sewage systems, sanitary and nutritional conditions are extremely poor.”

The government’s position leaves aid organizations with a set of unpalatable choices. UN agencies are not allowed to operate without the Syrian government’s consent. Other organizations, like MSF, admit they are operating illegally to provide aid to rebel-held areas: “we feel they by crossing the border even illegally we are legitimate since the needs are huge and almost no one is present to assist the population.”

The resolution, which was pushed by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan, adopts relatively strong language, including by demanding “that all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for U.N. humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners including across conflict lines and across borders.” Unfortunately, even stronger language including the possibility of sanctions was removed during the negotiations process.

But the resolution does request that the Secretary-General report back to the Council on the implementation of the resolution within 30 days, and “expresses its intent to take further steps in the case of non-compliance,” which leaves the door open for sanctions or other actions in a subsequent resolution. As Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, noted in a statement following the passage of the resolution, “it has a clear demand for specific and concrete actions and it is a commitment to act in the event of non-compliance.” But already there are concerns that even if the government is found to not be complying with the resolution, the Russian government may veto any further steps. And, even if assistance can be improved, it will mean only that the internally displaced and civilians in Syria will have more access to help; it will do nothing to provide these people with a long term solution. For that, a political solution needs to be negotiated.

A modified version of this first appeared on The Conversation at:

Phil Orchard is a Lecturer in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, and a Research Associate with the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He is the author of A Right to Flee: Refugees, States, and the Construction of International Cooperation and the co-editor of Implementation in World Politics: How Norms Change Practice. His work has been published in Global Governance, International Affairs, and the Review of International Studies, among other journals. He tweets at: @p_orchard.

R2P Ideas in Brief: Syria


This is a short extract of a longer piece by Tim Dunne and Alex Bellamy for R2P Ideas in Brief, Asia Pacific Centre for Responsibility to Protect, Vol 3, No 5 (2013).

This briefing is designed to shed light on the complex interplay between the situation on the ground in Syria and the normative context that has informed – and continues to inform – the responses of key institutions and actors. There is much that can be learned from the handling of the crisis triggered by the chemical weapons (CW) attacks on Ghouta on 21 August.

Between 21 August and the potentially game-changing remarks by US Secretary of State Kerry on 10 September suggesting that President Assad could avoid military strikes if he ‘turned over’ all his chemical weapons capability, R2P was invoked to justify the use of force. At the same time, many R2P informed voices opposed this course of action. 

The fact of the diversity of views on what to do about Syria is not in itself a surprise.  But for the epistemic community associated with R2P, there is a need for clarity as to the ways in which the range of possible responses to the CW attack are consistent with, or in breach of, the responsibility to protect. Whether ‘we’ like it or not, ‘any principle that helps to legitimise a course of action will therefore be among the enabling conditions of its occurrence’.[i]

One of the key fault-lines in the post-21 August debate was the necessity of UN Security Council (UNSC) authorisation, particularly given that Russia had an openly stated preference for keeping the Assad regime in power. This of course is an old fault-line for the human protection regime going back to Kosovo – there was much talk in Washington about the ‘Kosovo precedent’. Yet the orthodox R2P position is that the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (WSOD) explicitly places the use of force for human protection within the framework of the UN Charter, and therefore limits authorisation solely to the UNSC.


The ‘authorisation’ question is not the only fault-line in recent R2P debates about Syria. There is also a dispute about what actions are permitted in response to a CW attack that both breaches an international convention outlawing its use and is shockingly indiscriminate in its effects. As Gareth Evans put it, ‘proven use of chemical weapons would be profoundly in breach of Syria’s “responsibility to protect”. As the post-21st August phase unfolded, the Obama Administration increasingly chose to frame their proposed military action in relation to the ban on CW, rather than the persistent crimes against humanity that had been perpetrated by conventional weapons for many years. In this respect, to the extent that R2P was informing the President’s framing of the issue, it was now about ‘war crimes’ rather than crimes against humanity.

Prior to discussing R2P in the post-21 August phase, the briefing will re-evaluate the extent to which the framework outlined in 2005 had significant material impact upon the meaning actors gave to the ‘facts on the ground’. We show that however much the main protagonists disagreed about what was to be done in relation to Syria, the fact of mass atrocities having been committed had not been challenged during the crisis – and neither was the claim that the Syrian regime had failed to live up to its responsibility to protect.

See rest of the report here.

[i] Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, Volume 1: Regarding Method, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p.156.

Australia in the Security Council – how to make it count

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr with Ambassador Charles Thembani Ntwaagae, Permanent Representative of Botswana to the UN (Photograph: Rick Bajornas).  Source:

On 18 October 2012, the Sixty-Seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly voted to appoint five Member States to a two-year non-permanent term on the United Nations Security Council.

Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea will replace outgoing South Africa, Colombia, Germany, India and Portugal. Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Pakistan, Togo and Morocco will remain until the end of 2013.

The UN Charter gives the Security Council primary responsibility for international peace and security.  The Charter gives the Council wide discretion to determine its own agenda and Articles 41 and 42 awards the Council a very broad range of measures to use in pursuit of its primary responsibility. The International Court of Justice has ruled that the Council’s decisions are not subject to judicial review.

Today, the Council has a packed agenda. Its members meet on an almost daily basis; diplomats of Council members converse informally several times a day. As we write major issues on the Council’s agenda include the continuing situation in Syria that will be familiar to most Australians, but a host of others.

Not least, the Council is responsible for mandating and overseeing sixteen UN peacekeeping operations, with around 120,000 uniformed personnel deployed around the world. All of these missions need to be closely monitored by Council members, with particular attention paid to hotspots such as eastern DRC, South Sudan and Darfur. Seven UN peacekeepers have been violently killed in these countries in the past month alone.

One of the situations not relating to UN peacekeeping (yet) on the Council’s agenda is that in Mali. The Toureg rebellion in northern Mali has provoked widespread displacement and there are concerns that the Islamist rebels might target vulnerable groups (recent reports are that unmarried mothers are being singled out by the rebels); the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has proposed intervention to support the government of Mali and invited the Council’s support. The Council must decide whether ECOWAS has a viable strategy, what it would take to protect civilians and build peace in Mali, what sort of exit strategy is needed, and the best way of navigating around Mali’s complex politics. A similar set of questions and challenges are evident in Somalia, too.

But the deployment of force is not all the Security Council does: it deals with the whole range of international security issues, including terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; it protects the international rule of law; it fosters an end to impunity with its power to refer situations to the International Criminal Court; it can manage, limit and prevent the flow of arms; protect and promote the specific rights of children in armed conflict, fight against terrorism. It has also championed new ways of thinking about – and practicing – international politics in relation to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, climate change, displacement, the empowerment of women in relation to armed conflict and much more besides.

As a price tag for persuading the world to grant Australia a seat at this table, $25 million since 2007 to secure what one called a ‘big, juicy decisive win’ is money very well spent. Indeed, as the Foreign Minister, it is money that should have been spent anyway in pursuit of the promotion and building of core values and support for others less fortunate. Claims that the bid has skewed or inflated Australia’s foreign aid are well off base and not consistent with basic facts. Most notably, that the pledge to increase Australia’s foreign aid budget occurred well before the Council bid. Indeed, it was Liberal Foreign Minister Alexander Downer who promised to raise foreign aid to 0.5% of GDP to meet Australia’s obligations towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. The fact that Australia now sits around 0.33% would suggest that there has been no dramatic Council induced aid spend.

Diplomats and others were surprised that Australia secured 140 votes, winning election in the first round of voting by a margin of 11. Even the most optimistic among them believed that it would be much tighter.  Both Luxembourg (who was also elected) and Finland (who was not) presented very strong cases. Member states that voted Australia have done so with the expectation that it will be a responsible and innovative member of the Security Council that will work hard to deliver on some of the key policy areas that have characterized Australia’s engagement with the UN in recent years: strong support for the Responsibility to Protect, the promotion and development of the protection of civilians, the empowerment of women and protection of women’s rights, the strengthening of global arms control (especially in relation to small arms and WMD), the strengthening of UN peacekeeping, the building of international policing capacity, the strengthening of assistance to states and societies, and the strengthening of peacebuilding.

Having won the election, thought now turns to what Australia should do with it. Part of the job, of course, will be contributing to the day-to-day management responsibilities of the Council. But non-permanent members can leave an indelible mark: in the 1990s, Venezuela created a new meeting format that allowed the Council to consult with civil society groups and others; these so-called ‘Arria meetings’ provided the setting for one of the Council’s first discussions about the conflict in Darfur more than a decade later; Canada’s tenure in 1999-2000 bestowed the Council with an ongoing thematic engagement with the protection of civilians which has delivered many practical advances and various methods for significantly improving the effectiveness of sanctions and embargoes.  Australia will, of course, have the honour of serving as Council president.  Unusually, by virtue of alphabetical order it will get this privilege twice – in August 2013 and late 2014.

We want to end by highlighting five things in particular that Australia could prioritise and that would make a lasting impression. In no particular order, they are:

First, promote measures to strengthen the limitation and control of arms, especially through an arms trade treaty.  Advancing progress on the arms control treaty was one of the key goals emphasized by Australia as part of its bid. Clearly, Australian advocacy on this issue played a major role in securing votes in conflict affected regions of the world. Australia has a good track record on this issue and is a good position to argue for a meaningful treaty.  In addition, the Council seat gives Australia to advance thinking and practice on related issues, especially:

  • Strengthening implementation of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons;
  • Developing measures to strengthen compliance with Security Council imposed arms embargoes that binds states to the implementation of laws and regulations surrounding the sale and purchase of small weapons, including firearms, and the enforcement of sanctions on weapon providers, buyers and transport carriers to prevent the escalation of ongoing conflicts.

Second, promote practical steps to implement Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889  and 1960 on Women, Peace and Security and the empowerment of women in all aspects of peace and security. Australia has already played a leading role on these issues – not least through its fund to the Pacific region for women’s empowerment in politics, its National Action Plan on the implementation of Resolution 1820, and its work on the role of female policing and peacekeeping personnel in UN missions.  To take one example, Resolution 1889 called for greater participation of women at all levels of UN field missions and measures to ensure the participation of women in peace processes. Some specific things that Australia could do include:

  • Promoting the Women Protection Advisor (WPA) role in UN field missions. This role was trialed successfully in Chad and should be incorporated into all mandates that include protection duties or involve deployments into areas of risk of sexual and gender based violence. It has been difficult, however, to put this initiative on a sustainable footing. Australia could play a leading role on this through its contributions to discussion about mandates and funding.
  • Encouraging the participation of women in conflict resolution and peace processes.  Australia could lead work aimed at overcoming the practical obstacles to this objective.
  • Promoting practical steps to increase the number of female peacekeepers and uniformed police officers serving in UN missions
  • Encouraging the appointment of more women to senior roles in UN peacekeeping and other missions. Australia has led the way in some respects by, for example, appointing a woman to command its police contingent in Timor-Leste – a world first. As a member of the Security Council, Australia will have some influence over the composition of the pool of candidates for positions such as Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and force commanders.
  • Promote the security of all vulnerable groups from sexual violence before, during and after conflict – this means a concerted focus on prevention as well as protection, as called for in UNSC Resolution 1960

Third, promote the strengthening of contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. The UN is currently facing critical challenges in relation to sustaining its peacekeeping operations and improving their effectiveness. Australia could use its tenure on the Security Council to encourage the Council to think creatively about:

  • Persuading members of the Western European and Others Group to contribute more military, policing and civilian personnel to UN missions;
  • How the Security Council might help to nurture and support the potential major contributors to UN peacekeeping of the future, including many contributors in Southeast Asia;
  • Facilitating the establishment of a more reliable and effective force generation system for UN peacekeeping;
  • Identifying and closing critical capability gaps, including through promotion of the use of gaps lists and further development of these initiatives.These agendas may be pursued through the Council’s working group on peacekeeping as well as through its ongoing consideration of management and mandate issues.
  • Continuing to advance conceptual and doctrinal thinking about the protection of civilians by peacekeeping operations, and to advance the practice of prevention.

Fourth, strengthen the Council’s work in protecting humanitarian workers and humanitarian access. In relation to the Syrian crisis, Foreign Minister Bob Carr has been actively working to progress recognition and actualization of the legal rights to immunity and access bestowed upon humanitarian workers by International Humanitarian Law. The Security Council has repeatedly addressed this issue under the rubric of the protection of civilians but more is work needed to translate the Council’s demands for compliance into practice. The immunity of humanitarian workers from attack and granting of humanitarian access are core principles of law that are regularly violated in contemporary conflict.  The Foreign Minister’s calls for a right to access medical care in conditions of armed conflict are not vague ideals but hard law.  It is not easy to see how the Council might be used to advance this agenda, but it is one that should feature in Australia’s ongoing contribution to protection debates.

Fifth, encourage the Security Council to advance implementation of the Responsibility to Protect principle. Australia has been at the forefront of the global campaign in support of the Responsibility to Protect – RtoP – the idea that states should protect their own people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, that the international community should assist them to that end, and that the world should take timely and decisive action – through the Council – to protect populations from these crimes. It is now in a position to think innovatively about how it might use its position on the Council to advance and deepen that body’s engagement with RtoP. Possibilities include:

  • Seeking inclusion of RtoP language in resolutions, where appropriate;
  • Encouraging the Council to explore the use of non-coercive measures at an earlier stage of a crisis to stop the descent into violence;
  • Encouraging the Council to explore, perhaps informally, the conditions that make RtoP crimes more likely and pathways of escalation, to better equip the Council to pick situations likely to produce atrocities at an early stage;
  • Encourage ongoing consideration about the way in which mandates are framed to achieve RtoP objectives in light of recent controversies;
  • Explore possibilities (such as an informal working group) for encouraging the Council to deepen its own engagement with the implementation of RtoP, in tandem with the General Assembly

Alex Bellamy and Sara Davies, Human Protection Hub