Armed Conflict

B minus

June 2014

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.

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Subject

  • Average

    Conflict Prevention and Mediation

    International efforts to avert armed conflict remained uneven. For its part, DPA continued to support conflict prevention through fifteen political missions. Notably, in the African Great Lakes Region, it began implementing the February 2013 Peace and Cooperation Framework [PDF]—a regional agreement that aims to bring peace and stability to the area. To do so, DPA strengthened relationships between signatories, providing good offices and coordinating with the UN stabilization mission in the DRC, MONUSCO. The DPA’s Office for West Africa celebrated a major accomplishment in August, successfully concluding a five-year peaceful transfer of the disputed, resource-rich Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon. In Latin America, the Colombian peace process, which began in Norway in 2011 and moved to Cuba in 2012, made important strides in 2013. In November, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group agreed to a deal allowing demilitarized rebels to participate in the political process. Finally, the UNSC put in place stronger measures to integrate outreach to and support for women in all stages of conflict prevention and mediation.

    In the Sahel, international institutions, including the UN, World Bank, and AU, announced a renewed focus [PDF] on regional security in light of the outbreak of violence in Mali. The UN special envoy, Romano Prodi, presented a UN Integration Strategy for the Sahel to the Security Council in June, and the UN secretary-general and the president of the World Bank visited the region in November to support its implementation. During the trip, the World Bank and EU committed more than $8.2 billion to the Sahel. Though implementation of Prodi’s strategy was frequently delayed and remained incomplete, international prioritization of the Sahel was a welcome step to address insecurity in the region. Recently announced development projects also held promise, but continual external support will be essential, particularly given the precarious security environment.

    More negatively, failed mediation attempts in 2013 highlighted gaps in current international conflict prevention regimes. In CAR, mediation efforts led by the Economic Community of Central African States could not contain the brewing conflict. A March 2013 coup d’état destabilized the country, contributing to a growing humanitarian catastrophe with thousands killed and nearly one million people displaced from their homes. In South Sudan, internal tensions escalated throughout the year, overwhelming inadequate conflict prevention efforts by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan and culminating in open fighting between rival political camps in December. African leaders responded with mediation efforts, and the UN sent additional peacekeeping troops in an (ultimately failed) effort to prevent the hostilities from escalating into a civil war.

    Meanwhile, rising tensions in the East China Sea remained unresolved, with potentially explosive consequences for regional—and even global—peace. Japan increased its defense budget for the first time in eleven years and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese leader in seven years to visit the contentious Yasakuni Shrine, which honors, among others, convicted Japanese war criminals from WWII. Meanwhile, China aggressively sought to expand its sphere of influence, encroaching on international boundaries by declaring a new Air Defense Identification Zone. In both the East China and South China Seas, international and regional actors remained ill-positioned to mediate the conflict. China rejected a Philippine request for arbitration over territorial claims under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a party. In an effort to improve ASEAN’s conflict prevention efforts and preventive diplomacy, the organization cohosted a workshop with the UN, yet no concrete reforms emerged. Similarly, in the face of internal divisions and Chinese recalcitrance, ASEAN was unable to mediate the disputes in the South China Sea or to make progress on a multilateral code of conduct.

  • Good

    Strengthening Peace Operations

    Peacekeeping improved markedly in 2013. Notably, the Security Council authorized strong mandates to allow peacekeeping missions in the DRC and Mali to take on offensive roles. In March, it authorized a landmark intervention brigade within MONUSCO, enabling peacekeepers to “neutralize and disarm” the DRC-based 23 March Movement (M23). In April, the Security Council transferred authority from AFISMA to MINUSMA, authorizing the use of all necessary means against Malian rebels. Though MINUSMA faced operational challenges for much of the year and the situation in Mali remained volatile, conditions in both countries improved over the course of 2013 thanks in part to the robustness of these peace operation mandates. Elsewhere on the continent, international diplomatic efforts and U.S. sanctions convinced Rwanda to cut ties with the Congolese M23 rebel movement. Consequently, the rebels put down their weapons to pursue political reconciliation. In Mali, meanwhile, presidential and legislative elections took place without significant violence.

    Regional actors played an important role in these peace operations. Spurred by the French deployment of troops to Mali in January 2013, troop-contributing countries from ECOWAS member states accelerated the deployment of AFISMA to provide crucial assistance in combating rebel advances. And, in August, ECOWAS agreed to reimburse states for their contributions to AFISMA. In the DRC, a regional peace and security framework signed in February 2013 by eleven African states, the AU, and the Southern African Development Community, among others, laid the foundation for the creation [PDF] of an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in the DRC.

    Additionally, the Security Council adopted resolution 2086, endorsing a “multidimensional approach” to peacekeeping that incorporates peace-building activities at earlier stages in UN missions. As the first comprehensive resolution on peacekeeping in more than a decade, it aimed to strengthen the ability of missions to lay the foundations for a lasting, durable peace. Furthermore, UN peacekeeping also improved its monitoring capabilities in 2013 by introducing UAVs into missions. The DPKO sent its first two UAVs to the DRC in December, with plans to expand deployment in 2014. The use of UAVs promised to provide peacekeepers with critical surveillance and intelligence capabilities while improving their safety.

    Building on past momentum, the UN and regional actors also worked to strengthen mandates, streamline field operations, and incorporate new technologies in their peacekeeping efforts. In November, the UN launched Umoja, a new centralized resource management software. The program replaced a fragmented system, and aimed to reduce logistical delays and improve resource allocation for peacekeeping missions. This initiative furthered recent efforts to improve efficiency, which had succeeding in cutting the per capita cost of peacekeeping by 15 percent from 2008–2009 levels. For its part, the UN General Assembly approved a reform of reimbursement policies, allowing the secretary-general to award bonuses to units that operate without restrictive national caveats and that perform well in situations of exceptional risk. These bonuses aimed to incentivize troop-contributing countries to remove restrictions that can be detrimental to mission effectiveness.

    However, violence continued in Sudan and South Sudan, despite the presence of over twenty-five thousand peacekeeping forces across three missions in the region. Limited resources, particularly for air transport, hampered the ability of missions to deliver supplies and troops in a timely fashion. And, despite the effectiveness of the assertive operations in Mali and the DRC, concerns were raised that robust mandates might damage the perceived legitimacy of UN peacekeeping and, in some instances, compromise the security of UN civilian personnel because they no longer appear to be impartial actors. Finally, in 2013, DPKO fatalities [PDF] due to malicious acts reached a twenty-year high. Thirty-six peacekeepers lost their lives to attacks in Mali, the DRC, Sudan, and South Sudan, among other missions.

  • Poor

    Preventing and Responding to Mass Atrocities

    As death tolls continued to climb in Syria, international efforts to prevent and respond to mass atrocities remained paralyzed by divergent great power interests. Two years after fighting in Syria first began, estimates of military and civilian deaths surpassed one hundred thousand. By the end of 2013, more than one-quarter of the country’s twenty-two million people had become refugees or been internally displaced [PDF].

    The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime escalated the conflict, and upholding international norms to prevent and respond to mass atrocities required a more decisive response from the Security Council. Despite President Obama’s declaration that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “redline,” the administration failed to follow through on its call for “limited and targeted military action.” Ultimately, Russia and the United States agreed to a Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons [PDF], under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Security Council subsequently endorsed the initiative. But though the resolution helped discourage further use of chemical weapons and preserve longstanding international norms, it was silent on mass atrocities carried out with conventional weapons. The fact that the arrangement treated Assad as a partner also reduced U.S. leverage over the Syrian regime to stop slaughtering civilians. Furthermore, technical difficulties arising from the country’s state of war delayed the destruction of Assad’s arsenal beyond the December 31 deadline. And finally, the focus on chemical weapons slowed political momentum for international intervention while doing little to quell the violence, condemn the Assad regime, or bring either side to the negotiating table. Even after the administration announced in June that it would provide lethal weapons within a matter of weeks for less extreme rebel groups, the actual delivery of this material was delayed and modest, which in turn strengthened the position of the better funded and supplied religious extremists.

    Despite these serious failures, some international efforts to contain the Syrian war and respond to its humanitarian consequences merited recognition. After evidence of chemical attacks surfaced, the Arab League came out strongly against the Syrian regime. By the end of 2013, the UN, the United States, and Russia had garnered enough support to schedule peace talks for January 2014, but many experts, including former UN Special Envoy Lakdar Brahimi, remained skeptical about their prospects, given the entrenched positions of combatants, divisions among the rebels themselves, and continued gridlock within the Security Council.

    International attention increasingly focused on grave humanitarian concerns, which by late 2013 included an estimated [PDF] 6.5 million IDPs in Syria and 2.3 million refugees in neighboring countries. After repeated warnings from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the inadequacy of the international response, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announced in November that he would convene a major pledging conference in Kuwait in January 2014.

    Elsewhere, the U.S. response to mounting atrocities in CAR helped contain the chaos in that country. In December 2013, the United States mounted an impressive effort to prevent mass atrocities, authorizing $60 million in military assistance to the UN mission, $7 million for funding reconciliation efforts, and providing C-17 aircrafts to transport Burundian troops into the country, in addition to dispatching Ambassador Power on an official visit to the country.

    During 2013, international actors made no significant progress to advance international justice and hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Indeed, the ICC saw its public image damaged by high-profile accusations of singling out Africa. These criticisms intensified as the trials of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto for crimes against humanity drew near. In October, the AU threatened to abandon the ICC and Kenya officially withdrew its membership. Kenya’s action highlighted longstanding criticisms that international power politics influence the ICC’s docket, hampering its ability to adjudicate with equity.

    At the same time, Western powers—including the United States, despite not being party to the Rome Statute—continued to support international justice and efforts to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable by cooperating with the ICC. In March, Rwanda, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States facilitated the transfer to The Hague of Bosco Ntaganda, who had been indicted by the ICC prosecutor on charges of war crimes in the DRC and Rwanda.

  • Incomplete

    Peace-building and State-building

    International efforts to forge competent and comprehensive peace- and state-building strategies remained incomplete in 2013. Protracted instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan underscored these challenges. Despite expending high levels of aid for years, international donors struggled to support a sustainable postwar recovery and help build legitimate and effective state institutions capable of providing security and prosperity to their citizens. In Afghanistan, the United States could not secure agreement on a post-2014 security plan from Afghan president Hamid Karzai (though prospects for an agreement in 2014 appeared promising). This threatened to diminish the minimal state-building gains over the previous decade. And two years after the United States withdrew its troops from Iraq, sectarian rifts reemerged [PDF] (particularly between Shia and Sunni communities), fueling unrest and insurgent activity. By December, annual casualties had reached a five-year high. Lastly, South Sudan, which officially gained independence in 2011, experienced alarming levels of instability in December, despite extensive UN peace-building efforts.

    Meanwhile, the Peacebuilding Commission’s docket remained limited to six [PDF] countries: Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and CAR. Despite peace-building efforts in CAR since 2010, that country relapsed into violence in 2013, though security situations in the other five countries remained relatively stable. But overall, the value of the UN’s peace-building remained uncertain. For example, one independent evaluation of UN-sponsored efforts in the DRC found that roughly half of the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s projects achieved their immediate objective, but were not able to address deeper causes of conflict. Highlighting one of the primary roadblocks to peace-building success, the report attributed this failure to a lack of political will and weak ownership of the stabilization process by the DRC government.

    If the overall story was disappointing, some smaller steps showed signs of promise. The World Bank agreed to increase targeted funding for fragile and conflict-affected states by 50 percent over the next three years. Building off of the 2011 New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States in Busan, in 2013, both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund strengthened their relationships with the g7+—a voluntary association of states that are or have been affected by conflict. In Liberia—a peace-building success story, for the most part—the government, the UN Mission in Liberia, and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office cooperated to launch five justice and security hubs, designed to provide better civilian access to police services and judicial systems. As a small indication of improvement, twenty fragile and conflict-affected states met one or more of the Millennium Development Goals, a significant increase from zero in 2011. The Security Council also established the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) in June. But while the UNSOM proceeded to strengthen state institutions in 2013, it was too early to judge the peace-building effort.

Leader

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France

UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations

Gold Star

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UN Department of Political Affairs

Most Improved

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Economic Community of West African States

African Union

laggard

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International Criminal Court

UN Peacebuilding Commission

UN Security Council

Truant

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Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Detention

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Syrian Government

Class Evaluation

In 2013, France led efforts to alleviate multiple armed conflicts in Africa by spearheading missions and mustering international support for interventions in Mali and CAR.

Facing a deteriorating security situation in Mali, France deployed critical forces to stabilize the country in January and later pushed the Security Council to establish the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which took over from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). To contain violence in CAR, in March, France deployed an additional 350 soldiers and then roughly tripled its troop presence in December as the conflict escalated. President Francois Hollande led international efforts by sending these troops, visiting the conflict-ridden country himself, and consistently urging European Union (EU) members to send more troops. In addition, in December, France sponsored a Security Council resolution [PDF] authorizing an African Union (AU)–led peacekeeping force to bolster the international presence in CAR with assistance from French troops. Perhaps more importantly, Hollande announced French plans to train twenty thousand African troops over the next five years to help develop the African Standby Force, an AU entity that combines multinational brigades from each of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities.

The UN DPKO joined France at the head of the class for its committed leadership in managing complex peacekeeping operations. In 2013, it worked closely with regional partners to launch MINUSMA and the new intervention brigade within the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Moreover, the DPKO successfully lobbied the UNSC to authorize the introduction of unarmed UAVs for surveillance purposes into its operations in the DRC. This action promised to fill a major gap that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon highlighted [PDF] in late 2012: allowing the United Nations to gather crucial information without endangering the lives of UN peacekeepers.

The successful conclusion of preventive diplomacy efforts in West Africa earned the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) a gold star. In August 2013, the Security Council welcomed the peaceful conclusion of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, a mechanism headed by the DPA’s Office for West Africa. Over the past five years, the commission assisted the two countries in completing the peaceful transfer of the disputed, resource-rich Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon.

The AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) both earned the designation of most improved for continuing to build on past progress and further integrating their work into global peacekeeping efforts. Both regional organizations provided troops to quell violence in Mali. The AU demonstrated its growing security role on the continent by leading a regional task force [PDF] that combated the Lord’s Resistance Army in CAR, the DRC, and parts of South Sudan. Furthermore, in April 2013, the AU approved the creation of an African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. This rapid reaction military force will be charged with responding to instability on the continent until 2015, when the African Standby Force (ASF) will become operational—provided that leaders can overcome political differences and resource constraints, which have delayed the ASF since 2004. Additionally, ECOWAS continued to assist the political transition in Guinea-Bissau and mobilized other international resources and troops for assistance in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

More negatively, the PBC, Security Council, and International Criminal Court (ICC) were laggards. The underfunded PBC failed to expand its limited roles and responsibilities in 2013. Moreover, the PBC’s ongoing missions in a handful of countries including Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone saw few significant peace-building successes. And despite the PBC’s assistance to CAR, armed conflict reignited there in late 2013. Lastly, the PBC’s weak relationship with the Security Council continued to hinder its effectiveness.

At the same time, the Security Council, designated by the UN Charter as the organ of the UN with the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” appeared divided and ineffective. Primarily, the council stood by as the horrific loss of life mounted in Syria, failing to pass any meaningful resolutions to end violence there. Russia and China deserved much of the blame for continuing to prevent the UNSC from condemning the Syrian government for its actions.

Meanwhile, longstanding criticisms against the ICC gained traction in 2013, weakening the court’s reputation. African states became increasingly vocal about the alleged “unfair” focus on the continent. With the ICC unable to assuage African concerns of bias while proceeding with indictments of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, the AU threatened to withdraw from the court. Meanwhile, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir continued to ignore court-ordered arrest warrants. Though the AU and Kenya deserved criticism for wrongly defending indicted war criminals, the ICC’s continual failure to address impunity in other regions of the world undermined its legitimacy and ability to credibly pursue international justice.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) continued detachment from conflict management proved disappointing, earning it the status of truant. Notwithstanding member states’ commitments to expand cooperation beyond economic affairs and cultivate a political-security community, which were enshrined in the 2009 ASEAN Political Security Community Blueprint [PDF], ASEAN countries continued to adhere to policies of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs. Despite simmering tensions in the South China Sea, ASEAN failed to reach consensus on a common approach toward Chinese claims. In addition, as the dispute between Philippine and Malaysian territorial claims to the Sabah region escalated into armed conflict, ASEAN took no collective action. Nor did the organization even release a formal statement regarding the conflict. Subsequent negotiations between Malaysia and the Philippines remained entirely bilateral—underscoring ASEAN’s reluctance to confront security challenges. Finally, internal violence in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar continued, with no ASEAN response.

The Syrian government was placed in detention for continuing to slaughter civilians and introducing chemical weapons into the war. The Syrian government accused opposition forces of orchestrating a March 2013 chemical weapons attack killing twenty-five people and requested a UN investigation. However, the government impeded the investigation by limiting the scope of the inquiry. Then, on August 21, the first large-scale chemical weapons attack was reported. U.S. and French intelligence subsequently determined that the Syrian government was responsible, and, in December, the UN published a report [PDF] that confirmed the August 21 attack, as well as four other incidents and the use of missiles containing sarin gas. Beyond inflicting untold suffering, the Syrian government disregarded international norms banning the use of chemical weapons. The escalating war in Syria threatened to destabilize the region, as refugees flooded into neighboring countries.

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Introduction

In 2013, civil war continued to rage in Syria, armed conflicts flared up in several African states, and lingering instability in Iraq and Afghanistan fueled violence. In the face of these formidable challenges, international and regional institutions sought to prevent, combat, and respond to conflict.

United Nations (UN) and regional peacekeeping efforts improved markedly in 2013. In Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN Security Council (UNSC) authorized assertive peacekeeping mandates that allowed missions to successfully combat rebel advances. In addition, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) improved surveillance capabilities by introducing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into its mission in the DRC.

Still, international efforts continued to lack focus on preventive measures, such as conflict mediation, peace-building, and state-building. Moreover, in Syria, the severity of conflict reached new heights in 2013. Fatalities exceeded 100,000, the number of refugees grew to 2.3 million, and government forces carried out chemical weapons attacks on civilians. Though the UNSC reached an agreement to eliminate the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons, it made little progress toward ending the war or limiting civilian casualties. In South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, in the Central African Republic (CAR)—countries that have earned significant international aid and attention in recent years—increasing violence highlighted the gaps in mediation, peace-building, and state-building efforts. Globally, the number of displaced persons—many of them fleeing armed conflict—reached an all-time high of 38.7 million [PDF].

For its part, the United States continued to provide important financial assistance and improve its conflict prevention efforts; however, its overall performance declined. Notably, the Obama administration set a redline on Syria that it then failed to enforce. In addition, the administration did not appear to prioritize containing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Three major areas need improvement. First, the Security Council should work to strengthen the international peace-building architecture in conjunction with the 2015 review of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). Second, UN missions and agencies should prioritize the protection of civilians in areas of armed conflict. Finally, in light of the more assertive use of armed force by UN missions, the Security Council should protect the international body’s reputation as an impartial broker by explicitly clarifying the circumstances under which assertive mandates for peacekeepers may be authorized.

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Background

Preventing armed conflict, maintaining the peace, and preventing mass atrocities are among the most fundamental and difficult challenges facing humanity. More than two decades ago, then UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali released the landmark report An Agenda for Peace [PDF] (1992), which envisioned a revitalized UN role in international conflict prevention and mediation, peace-building, and peacekeeping. Following mass atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United Nations, regional organizations, and private actors began to mobilize their capacities to better prevent and respond to armed conflict, gleaning lessons from on-the-ground experiences in Somalia and the DRC. Partly resulting from these efforts, the number of internal and external armed conflicts has declined by 40 percent [PDF] since 1992.

Despite these positive trends, however, armed conflicts persist and fresh challenges continue to emerge. Although no major power has fought a war against another for six decades—the longest period of major power peace in centuries according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute—militarized hedging behavior continues to loom in the background. Moreover, the number of intrastate armed conflicts remains stubbornly high, and many such conflicts appear intractable.

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Class Evaluation

In 2013, France led efforts to alleviate multiple armed conflicts in Africa by spearheading missions and mustering international support for interventions in Mali and CAR. Facing a deteriorating security situation in Mali, France deployed critical forces to stabilize the country in January and later pushed the Security Council to establish the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which took over from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). To contain violence in CAR, in March, France deployed an additional 350 soldiers and then roughly tripled its troop presence in December as the conflict escalated. President Francois Hollande led international efforts by sending these troops, visiting the conflict-ridden country himself, and consistently urging European Union (EU) members to send more troops. In addition, in December, France sponsored a Security Council resolution [PDF] authorizing an African Union (AU)–led peacekeeping force to bolster the international presence in CAR with assistance from French troops. Perhaps more importantly, Hollande announced French plans to train twenty thousand African troops over the next five years to help develop the African Standby Force, an AU entity that combines multinational brigades from each of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities.

The UN DPKO joined France at the head of the class for its committed leadership in managing complex peacekeeping operations. In 2013, it worked closely with regional partners to launch MINUSMA and the new intervention brigade within the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). Moreover, the DPKO successfully lobbied the UNSC to authorize the introduction of unarmed UAVs for surveillance purposes into its operations in the DRC. This action promised to fill a major gap that UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon highlighted [PDF] in late 2012: allowing the United Nations to gather crucial information without endangering the lives of UN peacekeepers.

The successful conclusion of preventive diplomacy efforts in West Africa earned the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) a gold star. In August 2013, the Security Council welcomed the peaceful conclusion of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, a mechanism headed by the DPA’s Office for West Africa. Over the past five years, the commission assisted the two countries in completing the peaceful transfer of the disputed, resource-rich Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon.

The AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) both earned the designation of most improved for continuing to build on past progress and further integrating their work into global peacekeeping efforts. Both regional organizations provided troops to quell violence in Mali. The AU demonstrated its growing security role on the continent by leading a regional task force [PDF] that combated the Lord’s Resistance Army in CAR, the DRC, and parts of South Sudan. Furthermore, in April 2013, the AU approved the creation of an African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. This rapid reaction military force will be charged with responding to instability on the continent until 2015, when the African Standby Force (ASF) will become operational—provided that leaders can overcome political differences and resource constraints, which have delayed the ASF since 2004. Additionally, ECOWAS continued to assist the political transition in Guinea-Bissau and mobilized other international resources and troops for assistance in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

More negatively, the PBC, Security Council, and International Criminal Court (ICC) were laggards. The underfunded PBC failed to expand its limited roles and responsibilities in 2013. Moreover, the PBC’s ongoing missions in a handful of countries including Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone saw few significant peace-building successes. And despite the PBC’s assistance to CAR, armed conflict reignited there in late 2013. Lastly, the PBC’s weak relationship with the Security Council continued to hinder its effectiveness.

At the same time, the Security Council, designated by the UN Charter as the organ of the UN with the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” appeared divided and ineffective. Primarily, the council stood by as the horrific loss of life mounted in Syria, failing to pass any meaningful resolutions to end violence there. Russia and China deserved much of the blame for continuing to prevent the UNSC from condemning the Syrian government for its actions.

Meanwhile, longstanding criticisms against the ICC gained traction in 2013, weakening the court’s reputation. African states became increasingly vocal about the alleged “unfair” focus on the continent. With the ICC unable to assuage African concerns of bias while proceeding with indictments of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, the AU threatened to withdraw from the court. Meanwhile, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir continued to ignore court-ordered arrest warrants. Though the AU and Kenya deserved criticism for wrongly defending indicted war criminals, the ICC’s continual failure to address impunity in other regions of the world undermined its legitimacy and ability to credibly pursue international justice.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) continued detachment from conflict management proved disappointing, earning it the status of truant. Notwithstanding member states’ commitments to expand cooperation beyond economic affairs and cultivate a political-security community, which were enshrined in the 2009 ASEAN Political Security Community Blueprint [PDF], ASEAN countries continued to adhere to policies of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs. Despite simmering tensions in the South China Sea, ASEAN failed to reach consensus on a common approach toward Chinese claims. In addition, as the dispute between Philippine and Malaysian territorial claims to the Sabah region escalated into armed conflict, ASEAN took no collective action. Nor did the organization even release a formal statement regarding the conflict. Subsequent negotiations between Malaysia and the Philippines remained entirely bilateral—underscoring ASEAN’s reluctance to confront security challenges. Finally, internal violence in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar continued, with no ASEAN response.

The Syrian government was placed in detention for continuing to slaughter civilians and introducing chemical weapons into the war. The Syrian government accused opposition forces of orchestrating a March 2013 chemical weapons attack killing twenty-five people and requested a UN investigation. However, the government impeded the investigation by limiting the scope of the inquiry. Then, on August 21, the first large-scale chemical weapons attack was reported. U.S. and French intelligence subsequently determined that the Syrian government was responsible, and, in December, the UN published a report [PDF] that confirmed the August 21 attack, as well as four other incidents and the use of missiles containing sarin gas. Beyond inflicting untold suffering, the Syrian government disregarded international norms banning the use of chemical weapons. The escalating war in Syria threatened to destabilize the region, as refugees flooded into neighboring countries.

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U.S. Performance & Leadership

C plus

U.S. performance in responding to situations of armed conflict deteriorated somewhat from 2012.

Though the Obama administration supported international efforts with bolstered budgets and new initiatives, its policy toward the Syrian conflict lacked clarity or consistency and failed to improve the situation in that country. Having not acted more vigorously in 2011 and 2012 when the Assad regime began its violent campaign against protestors, the Obama administration found itself presented with imperfect options and appeared paralyzed even after pledging to take strong action. Meanwhile, despite limits on what international action could achieve in Afghanistan or Iraq, the Obama administration did not appear to have a coherent strategy to contain violence in either conflict—a significant policy gap given the lengthy interventions in those countries and the threat of either country becoming a haven for transnational terrorists.

Outside those theaters of war, U.S. conflict prevention and mediation efforts achieved modest success. The U.S. government has provided more than $125 million to support electoral and constitutional reform, conflict mitigation, and civil society strengthening in Kenya since 2008, helping stabilize that fragile country. Kenya’s March 2013 elections, which observers worried might spark fresh conflict given ethnic killings that followed the 2007 elections, occurred without significant levels of violence thanks, in part, to efforts by the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO). CSO coordinated early warning systems and successfully implemented [PDF] a strategic plan to prevent election-related violence. In September, CSO also launched conflict mitigation efforts in Nigeria’s resource-rich delta region, seeking to promote nonviolence through mass media in preparation for elections in 2015. At the same time, the scale of State Department conflict prevention initiatives remained disappointingly small.

In 2013 the Atrocities Prevention Board monitored the escalating conflict in CAR and drafted contingency plans as tensions heightened so that the U.S. government would be prepared to respond swiftly if necessary. Once mass violence threatened civilians, the administration, led by personal diplomacy from U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Power (who visited the country herself) quickly deployed a coordinated, government-wide response, sending $100 million in aid and marshaling peacekeeping troops from Rwanda and Burundi, in addition to launching more innovative responses like radio and text message communications to counter violent rhetoric. In addition, during the year, the Obama administration deepened its practical collaboration with the ICC, expanding the authority of its War Crimes Rewards Program to cover information concerning individuals indicted by the court.

The United States provided significant monetary and technical assistance to support peace operations and humanitarian relief. Appropriations for peacekeeping increased modestly in 2013. The United States also authorized up to $100 million in assistance for the AU-led mission in CAR, provided $80 million to support stability in Lebanon, and significantly increased its humanitarian assistance funding to Syria and surrounding countries from $120 million in the 2012 fiscal year (FY) to $1.2 billion [PDF] in FY 2013. Lastly, the United States transported French troops and supplies to Mali and established a drone base in Niger, providing crucial operational assistance to combat violence in the Sahel.

However, these improvements were overshadowed by lackluster U.S. performance in the major conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. Though the ultimate outcomes in both countries will be determined by local actors, the Obama administration missed several opportunities during 2013 to shape the course of these conflicts, both of which threaten U.S. interests. Iraq suffered its deadliest year since 2008. Yet, the Obama administration showed “minimal engagement” to pressure the Maliki administration to cease repression of Sunnis—perhaps the main factor contributing to the violence in Iraq. Moreover, efforts to reduce Iraqi government oppression and bolster the security services were carried out by lower-level politicians—“reducing their impact.” Meanwhile, strains in U.S.-Afghan relations stymied agreement on the continued presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014, even as U.S. intelligence estimates warned that the influence of the Taliban would increase as the United States winds down its military footprint.

President Obama failed to deliver on his threat to launch a limited strike against the Syrian government in response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons. This damaged the credibility of U.S. threats to use military force and likely gave the impression to Bashar al-Assad that he could continue to slaughter his civilians without provoking a serious U.S. response. The United States hesitated and ultimately stood down, even after U.S. intelligence revealed that Syrian government forces, with the knowledge of Syrian president Assad, had crossed Obama’s “redline” against the use of chemical weapons. Facing resistance from Congress, as well as rescinded support from important allies like the United Kingdom, President Obama backpedaled. Finally, in December the administration temporarily suspended nonlethal aid to opposition forces, after the moderate groups it had only reluctantly backed were overpowered by an Islamist coalition. Broadly, throughout the year, the administration appeared to change course numerous times, implying to many observers that the president was struggling to develop and implement a coherent Syria policy.

On the other hand, the continued U.S. commitment to defend its allies in Asia was one factor that contributed to dissuading aggressive military action in the region. For example, in November 2013, as tensions flared over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel affirmed that the U.S.-Japanese alliance applied to the islands. Then, during an official visit to Japan in December 2013, Vice President Joseph Biden reiterated U.S. concern over the bellicose Chinese claims to the islands. These strong U.S. diplomatic statements signaled to China that aggressive military action would lead to costly conflict with the United States—considerations that Beijing should take into account when weighing possible action.

At the same time, the Obama administration’s ability to play this role sustainably was cast in doubt by the U.S. fiscal environment and corresponding budget cuts that would reduce annual defense expenditures by almost $500 billion [PDF] below previously projected levels by 2121. As conflicts erupted across Africa and the Middle East in 2013, U.S. resources were increasingly stretched, reinforcing the administration’s posture of limiting U.S. commitments that might entail a big price tag. U.S. national security experts debated whether this retrenchment was a prudent response to overextension or an abdication of U.S. leadership that could undermine regional stability.

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Conflict Prevention and Mediation

Average

International efforts to avert armed conflict remained uneven. For its part, DPA continued to support conflict prevention through fifteen political missions. Notably, in the African Great Lakes Region, it began implementing the February 2013 Peace and Cooperation Framework [PDF]—a regional agreement that aims to bring peace and stability to the area. To do so, DPA strengthened relationships between signatories, providing good offices and coordinating with the UN stabilization mission in the DRC, MONUSCO. The DPA’s Office for West Africa celebrated a major accomplishment in August, successfully concluding a five-year peaceful transfer of the disputed, resource-rich Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon. In Latin America, the Colombian peace process, which began in Norway in 2011 and moved to Cuba in 2012, made important strides in 2013. In November, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group agreed to a deal allowing demilitarized rebels to participate in the political process. Finally, the UNSC put in place stronger measures to integrate outreach to and support for women in all stages of conflict prevention and mediation.

In the Sahel, international institutions, including the UN, World Bank, and AU, announced a renewed focus [PDF] on regional security in light of the outbreak of violence in Mali. The UN special envoy, Romano Prodi, presented a UN Integration Strategy for the Sahel to the Security Council in June, and the UN secretary-general and the president of the World Bank visited the region in November to support its implementation. During the trip, the World Bank and EU committed more than $8.2 billion to the Sahel. Though implementation of Prodi’s strategy was frequently delayed and remained incomplete, international prioritization of the Sahel was a welcome step to address insecurity in the region. Recently announced development projects also held promise, but continual external support will be essential, particularly given the precarious security environment.

More negatively, failed mediation attempts in 2013 highlighted gaps in current international conflict prevention regimes. In CAR, mediation efforts led by the Economic Community of Central African States could not contain the brewing conflict. A March 2013 coup d’état destabilized the country, contributing to a growing humanitarian catastrophe with thousands killed and nearly one million people displaced from their homes. In South Sudan, internal tensions escalated throughout the year, overwhelming inadequate conflict prevention efforts by the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan and culminating in open fighting between rival political camps in December. African leaders responded with mediation efforts, and the UN sent additional peacekeeping troops in an (ultimately failed) effort to prevent the hostilities from escalating into a civil war.

Meanwhile, rising tensions in the East China Sea remained unresolved, with potentially explosive consequences for regional—and even global—peace. Japan increased its defense budget for the first time in eleven years and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese leader in seven years to visit the contentious Yasakuni Shrine, which honors, among others, convicted Japanese war criminals from WWII. Meanwhile, China aggressively sought to expand its sphere of influence, encroaching on international boundaries by declaring a new Air Defense Identification Zone. In both the East China and South China Seas, international and regional actors remained ill-positioned to mediate the conflict. China rejected a Philippine request for arbitration over territorial claims under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a party. In an effort to improve ASEAN’s conflict prevention efforts and preventive diplomacy, the organization cohosted a workshop with the UN, yet no concrete reforms emerged. Similarly, in the face of internal divisions and Chinese recalcitrance, ASEAN was unable to mediate the disputes in the South China Sea or to make progress on a multilateral code of conduct.

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Strengthening Peace Operations

Good

Peacekeeping improved markedly in 2013. Notably, the Security Council authorized strong mandates to allow peacekeeping missions in the DRC and Mali to take on offensive roles. In March, it authorized a landmark intervention brigade within MONUSCO, enabling peacekeepers to “neutralize and disarm” the DRC-based 23 March Movement (M23). In April, the Security Council transferred authority from AFISMA to MINUSMA, authorizing the use of all necessary means against Malian rebels. Though MINUSMA faced operational challenges for much of the year and the situation in Mali remained volatile, conditions in both countries improved over the course of 2013 thanks in part to the robustness of these peace operation mandates. Elsewhere on the continent, international diplomatic efforts and U.S. sanctions convinced Rwanda to cut ties with the Congolese M23 rebel movement. Consequently, the rebels put down their weapons to pursue political reconciliation. In Mali, meanwhile, presidential and legislative elections took place without significant violence.

Regional actors played an important role in these peace operations. Spurred by the French deployment of troops to Mali in January 2013, troop-contributing countries from ECOWAS member states accelerated the deployment of AFISMA to provide crucial assistance in combating rebel advances. And, in August, ECOWAS agreed to reimburse states for their contributions to AFISMA. In the DRC, a regional peace and security framework signed in February 2013 by eleven African states, the AU, and the Southern African Development Community, among others, laid the foundation for the creation [PDF] of an intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups in the DRC.

Additionally, the Security Council adopted resolution 2086, endorsing a “multidimensional approach” to peacekeeping that incorporates peace-building activities at earlier stages in UN missions. As the first comprehensive resolution on peacekeeping in more than a decade, it aimed to strengthen the ability of missions to lay the foundations for a lasting, durable peace. Furthermore, UN peacekeeping also improved its monitoring capabilities in 2013 by introducing UAVs into missions. The DPKO sent its first two UAVs to the DRC in December, with plans to expand deployment in 2014. The use of UAVs promised to provide peacekeepers with critical surveillance and intelligence capabilities while improving their safety.

Building on past momentum, the UN and regional actors also worked to strengthen mandates, streamline field operations, and incorporate new technologies in their peacekeeping efforts. In November, the UN launched Umoja, a new centralized resource management software. The program replaced a fragmented system, and aimed to reduce logistical delays and improve resource allocation for peacekeeping missions. This initiative furthered recent efforts to improve efficiency, which had succeeding in cutting the per capita cost of peacekeeping by 15 percent from 2008–2009 levels. For its part, the UN General Assembly approved a reform of reimbursement policies, allowing the secretary-general to award bonuses to units that operate without restrictive national caveats and that perform well in situations of exceptional risk. These bonuses aimed to incentivize troop-contributing countries to remove restrictions that can be detrimental to mission effectiveness.

However, violence continued in Sudan and South Sudan, despite the presence of over twenty-five thousand peacekeeping forces across three missions in the region. Limited resources, particularly for air transport, hampered the ability of missions to deliver supplies and troops in a timely fashion. And, despite the effectiveness of the assertive operations in Mali and the DRC, concerns were raised that robust mandates might damage the perceived legitimacy of UN peacekeeping and, in some instances, compromise the security of UN civilian personnel because they no longer appear to be impartial actors. Finally, in 2013, DPKO fatalities [PDF] due to malicious acts reached a twenty-year high. Thirty-six peacekeepers lost their lives to attacks in Mali, the DRC, Sudan, and South Sudan, among other missions.

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Preventing and Responding to Mass Atrocities

Poor

As death tolls continued to climb in Syria, international efforts to prevent and respond to mass atrocities remained paralyzed by divergent great power interests. Two years after fighting in Syria first began, estimates of military and civilian deaths surpassed one hundred thousand. By the end of 2013, more than one-quarter of the country’s twenty-two million people had become refugees or been internally displaced [PDF].

The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime escalated the conflict, and upholding international norms to prevent and respond to mass atrocities required a more decisive response from the Security Council. Despite President Obama’s declaration that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “redline,” the administration failed to follow through on its call for “limited and targeted military action.” Ultimately, Russia and the United States agreed to a Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons [PDF], under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Security Council subsequently endorsed the initiative. But though the resolution helped discourage further use of chemical weapons and preserve longstanding international norms, it was silent on mass atrocities carried out with conventional weapons. The fact that the arrangement treated Assad as a partner also reduced U.S. leverage over the Syrian regime to stop slaughtering civilians. Furthermore, technical difficulties arising from the country’s state of war delayed the destruction of Assad’s arsenal beyond the December 31 deadline. And finally, the focus on chemical weapons slowed political momentum for international intervention while doing little to quell the violence, condemn the Assad regime, or bring either side to the negotiating table. Even after the administration announced in June that it would provide lethal weapons within a matter of weeks for less extreme rebel groups, the actual delivery of this material was delayed and modest, which in turn strengthened the position of the better funded and supplied religious extremists.

Despite these serious failures, some international efforts to contain the Syrian war and respond to its humanitarian consequences merited recognition. After evidence of chemical attacks surfaced, the Arab League came out strongly against the Syrian regime. By the end of 2013, the UN, the United States, and Russia had garnered enough support to schedule peace talks for January 2014, but many experts, including former UN Special Envoy Lakdar Brahimi, remained skeptical about their prospects, given the entrenched positions of combatants, divisions among the rebels themselves, and continued gridlock within the Security Council.

International attention increasingly focused on grave humanitarian concerns, which by late 2013 included an estimated [PDF] 6.5 million IDPs in Syria and 2.3 million refugees in neighboring countries. After repeated warnings from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the inadequacy of the international response, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announced in November that he would convene a major pledging conference in Kuwait in January 2014.

Elsewhere, the U.S. response to mounting atrocities in CAR helped contain the chaos in that country. In December 2013, the United States mounted an impressive effort to prevent mass atrocities, authorizing $60 million in military assistance to the UN mission, $7 million for funding reconciliation efforts, and providing C-17 aircrafts to transport Burundian troops into the country, in addition to dispatching Ambassador Power on an official visit to the country.

During 2013, international actors made no significant progress to advance international justice and hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Indeed, the ICC saw its public image damaged by high-profile accusations of singling out Africa. These criticisms intensified as the trials of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto for crimes against humanity drew near. In October, the AU threatened to abandon the ICC and Kenya officially withdrew its membership. Kenya’s action highlighted longstanding criticisms that international power politics influence the ICC’s docket, hampering its ability to adjudicate with equity.

At the same time, Western powers—including the United States, despite not being party to the Rome Statute—continued to support international justice and efforts to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable by cooperating with the ICC. In March, Rwanda, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States facilitated the transfer to The Hague of Bosco Ntaganda, who had been indicted by the ICC prosecutor on charges of war crimes in the DRC and Rwanda.

At the same time, Western powers—including the United States, despite not being party to the Rome Statute—continued to support international justice and efforts to hold perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable by cooperating with the ICC. In March, Rwanda, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States facilitated the transfer to The Hague of Bosco Ntaganda, who had been indicted by the ICC prosecutor on charges of war crimes in the DRC and Rwanda.

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Peace-building and State-building

Incomplete

International efforts to forge competent and comprehensive peace- and state-building strategies remained incomplete in 2013. Protracted instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and South Sudan underscored these challenges. Despite expending high levels of aid for years, international donors struggled to support a sustainable postwar recovery and help build legitimate and effective state institutions capable of providing security and prosperity to their citizens. In Afghanistan, the United States could not secure agreement on a post-2014 security plan from Afghan president Hamid Karzai (though prospects for an agreement in 2014 appeared promising). This threatened to diminish the minimal state-building gains over the previous decade. And two years after the United States withdrew its troops from Iraq, sectarian rifts reemerged [PDF] (particularly between Shia and Sunni communities), fueling unrest and insurgent activity. By December, annual casualties had reached a five-year high. Lastly, South Sudan, which officially gained independence in 2011, experienced alarming levels of instability in December, despite extensive UN peace-building efforts.

Meanwhile, the Peacebuilding Commission’s docket remained limited to six [PDF] countries: Burundi, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and CAR. Despite peace-building efforts in CAR since 2010, that country relapsed into violence in 2013, though security situations in the other five countries remained relatively stable. But overall, the value of the UN’s peace-building remained uncertain. For example, one independent evaluation of UN-sponsored efforts in the DRC found that roughly half of the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s projects achieved their immediate objective, but were not able to address deeper causes of conflict. Highlighting one of the primary roadblocks to peace-building success, the report attributed this failure to a lack of political will and weak ownership of the stabilization process by the DRC government.

If the overall story was disappointing, some smaller steps showed signs of promise. The World Bank agreed to increase targeted funding for fragile and conflict-affected states by 50 percent over the next three years. Building off of the 2011 New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States in Busan, in 2013, both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund strengthened their relationships with the g7+—a voluntary association of states that are or have been affected by conflict. In Liberia—a peace-building success story, for the most part—the government, the UN Mission in Liberia, and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office cooperated to launch five justice and security hubs, designed to provide better civilian access to police services and judicial systems. As a small indication of improvement, twenty fragile and conflict-affected states met one or more of the Millennium Development Goals, a significant increase from zero in 2011. The Security Council also established the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) in June. But while the UNSOM proceeded to strengthen state institutions in 2013, it was too early to judge the peace-building effort.

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Areas for Improvement

The international conflict regime requires improvements in three major areas:

  • To improve the long-term effectiveness of multilateral peace-building projects, the UN Security Council should strengthen the current peace-building architecture. In conjunction with the review of the PBC in 2015, the council should direct the commission to better foster national ownership of peace-building efforts; better coordinate the activities of regional and international financial institutions, civil society, and UN organs; and increase its attention to monitoring, evaluation, and lessons learned. The Security Council should highlight the relationship between security and economic growth in the post-2015 development agenda.

  • UN missions and agencies should improve civilian protection capabilities. To that end, the Security Council should include strong human rights monitoring mechanisms in mission mandates, and troop and police contributing countries should ensure that personnel have proper pre-deployment training on protecting civilians. It is critical that UNSC members and mission heads also interact with international and local nongovernmental actors that can provide insight on the experience of civilians in particular conflict situations. Furthermore, UN actors including the secretariat, DPKO, and OCHA should develop a standardized system to track and report civilian casualties in order to strengthen accountability for breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law.

  • The UN’s deployment of combat-ready troops has proven to be effective at quelling violence in escalating crises that it chooses to address. At the same time, the UN’s transition away from strict peacekeeping missions can have unpredictable consequences, threatening to jeopardize the UN’s reputation as an impartial, honest broker—as well as the safety of its personnel across missions. To mitigate this risk, the UN Security Council should explicitly limit the use of coercive force to situations in which parties are actively undermining peace processes or international norms through the use of violence.

Credits

Produced by the Council on Foreign Relations and Threespot

  • Executive Producer: Stewart Patrick
  • Web Producer: Andrei Henry
  • Producer / Writer: Farah Faisal Thaler
  • Assistant Producer: Isabella Bennett
  • Research Associates: Ryan Kaminski, Alexandra Kerr, Andrew Reddie, Emma Welch
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