Defining the Boundaries of UN Stabilization Missions

Defining the Boundaries of UN Stabilization Missions

In 2004, the United Nations (UN) Security Council authorized the first stabilization mission in Haiti. Since
then, it has authorized three more in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and the Central African
Republic. Yet the Security Council has never defined the term “stabilization,” explained how stabilization
missions differ from other UN peace operations, or elaborated on the outcomes it expects stabilization
missions to achieve.

This report argues that there is no consensus as to what stabilization means, and that there is a wide gulf
between understandings in New York (where it is often viewed as involving offensive military force) and in
the field (where it is often viewed as civilian-led and development-focused work). In the absence of a clear
definition of stabilization, it is unclear to many stakeholders whether these missions violate the core principles
of peacekeeping. The lack of a definition creates a risk of unrealistic expectations for what missions will
accomplish and makes it impossible to evaluate success. It can contribute to a mismatch between mission
objectives and capabilities, lead to ad hoc and ineffective implementation of mandated tasks on the ground,
and discourage countries from authorizing or contributing troops to these missions. Recognizing these
problems, the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations declared last year that “the usage of this
term by the United Nations requires clarification.”

Drawing on understandings of stabilization in concept and in practice, this report proposes a new definition
of stabilization in the context of UN peacekeeping: supporting the transfer of territorial control from spoilers
to legitimate authorities. This definition, unlike others proposed, is consistent with the mandates and
activities of existing stabilization missions and also respects the core principles of peacekeeping outlined in
the Capstone Doctrine. Stabilization by this definition is a strategic objective, not a discrete task. It seeks to
achieve a political outcome by leveraging the different capacities of missions’ civilian, police, and military
components. Thus stabilization, the protection of civilians, and any other priority strategic objectives will
need to be incorporated into an overarching political strategy. Stabilization should not be conflated with the
protection of civilians, and indeed is likely to create additional risks to civilians in the short term. As such,
stabilization missions must take extra precautions to mitigate unintended harm to civilians.
This report recommends that:

1. In the context of a peacekeeping operation, the term “stabilization” should mean: supporting the
transfer of territorial control from spoilers to legitimate authorities.
2. The UN Security Council should identify peacekeeping operations as stabilization missions by including
the term “stabilization” in the name of the mission only if stabilization as defined above is among
the mission’s highest-priority objectives.
3. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations should revise the Capstone Doctrine to incorporate this
definition of stabilization.
4. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support should produce a
policy on stabilization in the context of UN peacekeeping, including how the use of force, impartiality,
and consent should be approached by stabilization missions.
5. In policies and guidance on the protection of civilians, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and
the Department of Field Support should clarify how protection differs from stabilization activities and how
mandates to protect civilians should be implemented in contexts where stabilization activities are underway.

This report was originally published by the Stimson Center. To read the full report, click here.

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