Roundtable Discussion: A Return to Principled UN Peace Operations?

On October 28th, Challenges Forum hosted a Roundtable together with the Folke Bernadotte Academy, which brought together key stakeholders to discuss A Return to Principled UN Peace Operations.

Recent years have seen a rising trend within UN peace operations of deploying missions alongside counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. Many argue, however, that a blurred division of labour between the UN and counterinsurgency operations risks undermining the legitimacy of the UN and the bedrock principles upon which UN peace operations are built – namely consent, impartiality and limited use of force.

Against this backdrop, the Roundtable invited a number of academics who have recently written on these issues to share their thoughts, with the objective of stimulating a discussion on doctrine for UN peace operations and setting the analytical stage for potential approaches and entry points into the principles, practices and norms that make up doctrine.

The discussion highlighted several key issues for further consideration, including the following points:

  1. Peacekeeping operations have become more militarized and coercive in recent years, moving away from their role as a mechanism for resolving disputes.  This shift risks compromising the UN’s role as international guarantor of peace and security, and has sparked a call to refocus missions on political strategies and solutions.
  2. Impartiality does not mean aloofness. The UN should never be neutral on issues of violence against civilians, sexual and gender-based violence and other human rights violations, but should rather be impartial on who is committing these crimes.
  3. There is a need for stronger partnerships between the UN and regional organizations to harness the comparative advantage of different actors in addressing peace operation challenges. A true partnership is rooted in a joint assessment of the situation to form a common understanding of the context, issues and, crucially, the solutions needed.
  4. In the past decade, peacekeeping operations and protection of civilian missions have become more state-centric. In response to this trend, there is an increased emphasis from UN staff and member states on people-centered approaches to peacekeeping, which focus on community capacity-building initiatives.
  5. There is currently a lack of clarity on the use of force against non-state actors. The UN needs to strengthen its analysis capacity and intelligence when it comes to engaging with non-state armed groups.
  6. There is a concern that, the more the UN tries to return to, and protect, principled peacekeeping from the UN side, the higher the risk of damaging legitimacy and the principled political basis of doctrinal development on the African regional level.
  7. Many opportunities can be gained from strengthening the UN’s connection to scholarship, which can provide guidance on how and when peacekeeping operations are most effective in pursuing their mandates.

The key discussants taking part in the Roundtable were:

Dr. Lise Howard, Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University; and President of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS)

Dr. Fiifi Edu-Afful, Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Head of the Peace Support Operations Programme, Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC)

Dr. Emily Paddon Rhoads, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College

Jordan Street, Policy and Advocacy Adviser, Saferworld

Dr. Linnéa Gelot, Senior Researcher, Folke Bernadotte Academy Research Unit

The conversation was moderated by Jonas Alberoth, Principal Senior Advisor at the Challenges Forum International Secretariat (CFIS).