Views from the Field: Addis Ababa

Views from the Field: Addis Ababa

Peace Operations: A View from Addis Ababa


No part of the world features more dominantly in the work of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC) than Africa. The UNSC dedicates more than 60 percent of its agenda on African issues. Africa is also host to more peacekeeping or peace support operations than any other continent. Out of the current sixteen ongoing UN peacekeeping operations in the world, nine are in Africa. Breaking down this figure in terms of the number of personnel and the size of the budget, all of the largest (except for one) and most expensive peacekeeping operations are taking place in Africa (Footnote (ed.) These missions include MONUSCO in DRC with a total of 25,179 personnel and a budget of $1,398,475,300, UNAMID in Sudan with a total of 20,238 personnel and a budget of $639,654,200, UNMISS in South Sudan with a total of 14,022 personnel and a budget of $580,830,400 and MINUSMA in Mali with a total of 10,264 personnel and a budget of 830,701,700). Looked at from this vantage point, it becomes clear that developments in Africa need to receive particular attention in the current review of UN peacekeeping.

Addressing the demand for combat capability in peacekeeping operations

Although it was not the only place where the shift in the nature of conflicts from inter-state to intra-state conflicts decidedly shaped the redefinition of the role of UN peacekeeping during the post-Cold War period, it was mainly in response to this shift in the African context that traditional UN peacekeeping (designed for inter-state conflicts) was reformulated and made to adapt to address intra-state conflicts. Today, we are once again witnessing changes in the nature  of  the  context  in  which  peacekeeping operations  are  undertaken.  Traditional rebel groups are increasingly becoming rare, and very localized and factionalized armed groups with greater resort to terrorism, predatory violence against civilians, as well as organized crime, are emerging in their place. As a result, there is an increasing demand for incorporating offensive and stabilization tasks as part of peacekeeping operations. Africa, although not unique in this, is where evolving security threats are once again pushing the boundaries of peacekeeping.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been engaged in operations that are mostly characterized by armed warfare and counter terrorism/counter insurgency operations. In  northern  Mali,  where  French  and  Chadian  forces  undertook  combat  operations  against armed militant groups, the AU and later on the UN deployed peacekeepers in a context where there still is a need for not only defensive but also offensive engagement taking the form of Head of Peace, Security Council Report, Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa counter terrorism/insurgency operations. In an unprecedented development in the history of UN peacekeeping, and following a regional initiative, the UN authorized in 2013 the establishment of the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) as part of MONUSCO; the FIB had has an explicit mandate of undertaking offensive operations within the broader peacekeeping operation underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UN’s preferred approach in these kinds of situations has been to leave activities that involve combat operations either to regional organizations, as demonstrated in the case of AMISOM in Somalia, or to individual countries, as was the case with the French intervention in Mali. The model that has emerged is what may be called a sequential model in which UN peacekeeping operations are usually deployed as a follow up to these other combat heavy operations. As the example of the FIB has illustrated, however, the most effective model could potentially be the hybrid model whereby UN peacekeeping operations incorporate units that are designed and mandated to undertake offensive and stabilization operations. Framing it differently, the UN needs to address the question of the extent to which and the circumstances under which peacekeeping operations should undertake offensive and counter terrorism/counter insurgency operations.

Making peacekeeping partnerships work in the places that matter the most

Another major development in peacekeeping is the increasing role and importance of regional organizations. In light of the strain that the greater demand and need for UN peacekeeping is putting on the UN, working and partnering with regional actors is one important vehicle for sharing the peacekeeping burden. In Africa, there has been a great deal of development in this regard. The international community has recognized that no single actor can deal with the evolving peace and security challenges in Africa by itself, and such partnership have become essential.

While  the  UN  and  the  AU  have  made  significant  progress  in  developing  an  increasingly functional working relationship over the past seven years with respect to peacekeeping, the perennial problem that this partnership has not been able to address is the question of burden sharing in terms of the financing of operations undertaken by the AU. This continues to affect the quality and level of contributions of the AU in supporting the UN’s responsibility to maintain international peace and security. And it remains as the major area of difference between the AU and the UN Security Council, and no workable model has been developed by the UN or the AU to address this major challenge.

While the AU should certainly mobilize funds for its operations, the UN and by extension the wider international community continue to bear responsibility for peace and security in Africa under the UN Charter. The UN should, therefore, offer financial support to peace operations on the continent even if they are not under UN command. This is particularly the case in instances where the UNSC has not assumed full responsibility but authorises an AU deployment in a situation it deems as a threat to international peace and security.

At a practical level, there is no doubt that peacekeeping is a collective endeavour and as such requires the sharing of the burden that comes with it. Arguably, this was the premise on which the UN established the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA), based on assessed contributions for providing institutionalized logistical support to AMISOM. This is a model that provides a satisfactory level of burden sharing by offering predictable and sustainable support to an AU operation and thereby making the endeavour a truly joint and collaborative undertaking. As such, this is an optimal model for the division of responsibility between the UN and the AU in situations where the UN would not by itself undertake a peacekeeping operation. As such, the use of UN assessed contributions for providing institutionalized logistical support to UN authorized AU missions should not be off the table. There should be a willingness to make  use  of  this  model  on  a  case  by  case  basis,  with  the  caveat  that  it  does  not  entail automatic UN support or provision of blank checks to the AU whenever the latter deploys peace support operations.

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