Paul D. Williams, associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, discusses peace operations in Africa and provides policy recommendations for the United States as outlined in the recent Council Special Report, Enhancing U.S. Support for Peace Operations in Africa, as part of CFR's Academic Conference Call series.
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FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the first academic conference call of the semester. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us.
Today’s call is on the record, and the audio will be available on our website, CFR.org, if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates.
We’re delighted to have Paul Williams with us today to discuss peace operations in Africa. Dr. Williams is associated professor of international affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he also serves as associate director of the Security Policy Studies M.A. program. He is a nonresident senior adviser at International Peace Institute in New York, and a global fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Africa Program. He has taught at universities in Ethiopia, and Birmingham and Warwick in the United Kingdom. He manages the Providing for Peacekeeping Project, an independent research project which analyzes how to develop more effective United Nations peacekeeping operations. And most recently he’s the author of the May 2015 Council special report on “Enhancing U.S. Support for Peace Operations in Africa,” which we circulated in advance of this call. You can follow Dr. Williams on Twitter @PDWilliamsGWU.
Paul, thank you very much for being with us today. It would be great if you could kick off talking about the challenges of conducting effective peace operations in Africa and some of the policy recommendations that you outlined in your Council special report.
WILLIAMS: Sure will. Thank you very much, Irina, for that kind introduction.
So what I tried to do in the report is really discuss three things. First of all, what were the major patterns and challenges that are currently facing peace operations in Africa? And then, secondly, to look at how the United States is currently supporting those different types of peacekeeping operations, both those conducted by the United Nations but also missions led by different African institutions, such as the African Union. And then, thirdly, to look at what could the United States do better to improve its policies in terms of supporting more effective peace operations in Africa. So those are the three things that I try and do in the report.
What I can quickly do now is go over quickly why it’s an important time to discuss these issues. Then I’ll say a few things about what I think the main challenges to peacekeeping in the African continent are. And then I’ll say a little bit more about what roles the U.S. is currently playing and what reforms I think would help some—make some better policies in this area.
So, firstly, why exactly is now an important time for this type of report and to discuss these issues? Well, there’s a number of reasons.
First of all, we’ve got record numbers of peacekeepers that are deployed on the African continent. There is now—and it slightly varies depending how you count them—but there’s well over 110,000 uniformed personnel—that’s soldiers as well as military—as well as police officers involved. And those peacekeepers are deployed from different organizations, but most of them come from the United Nations, with about eight different missions on the continent at the moment. And the African Union and some sub-regional arrangements also have different peacekeepers on the continent. So we’re at record numbers that we’ve ever seen, so it’s important to find out what they’re doing and how they might be able to work better.
It’s also important now, because in the context of the United Nations we’re coming up to its 70th anniversary, and so there’s lots of debates about how we might need to rethink the sort of key tenets of peacekeeping doctrine and how we might be able to do more effective peacekeeping operations. And this year in particular we’ve seen at the U.N. a number of expert panels being conducted and released on different issues to do with peacekeeping. We’ve had a high-level panel on peace operations. We’ve had a panel on technology and peacekeeping. We’ve had an expert panel on peacebuilding. And we’ve also got an expert panel in the—in the works on women, peace and security agenda. So there’s lots of debate at the U.N. at the moment about how exactly we need to rethink U.N. peace operations for the 2015 era we’re in.
And then, finally, thinking particularly about the United States, President Obama is going to convene later this month a summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly where he will be working with a number of presidents and leaders from other countries, and the topic of this summit is specifically to think about how countries can boost their contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
So for all those different reasons, that’s why this is now a very important time to discuss peacekeeping and how we might do it more effectively on the continent.
So that’s the context. What are some of the key challenges that are facing peacekeepers in Africa? In the report, I suggest there are a number of them, really. And the starting point for the report is that, unfortunately, I think the status quo or business as usual in terms of conducting peacekeeping in Africa is really unsustainable. Peace operations are under pressure for a number of different reasons.
Firstly, I think it’s—there’s an unsustainable international division of labor. And what I mean by that is that the—there’s a split in terms of the countries that authorize the mandates for the U.N. peacekeeping operations—that’s really the members of the U.N. Security Council, and particularly the permanent five members. That’s a different group of countries than those who pay for the operations. So the lion’s share of the financing of peacekeeping is paid by a relatively small number of largely OECD countries. And then a third group of countries actually provides the people who actually man and—the personnel in peacekeeping operations. And so the fact that there’s these three different camps is not the best way to run and organize these large types of operations.
A second big challenge is that peacekeeping operations have unfortunately often not been tied to a clear strategy of conflict resolution and reconciliation. Ultimately, all peace operations are deployed into some type of conflict zone, and the aim of the—of the exercise is to develop or engineer some type of exit strategy where the peacekeepers can leave and go home. And for that to happen, we actually need to resolve the underlying conflict issues that have started these wars in the first place. And the problem we’ve seen in places from Darfur to eastern Congo to Somalia and northern Mali that, increasingly, our peace operations are not tied to an effective strategy of conflict resolution.
A third set of challenges is about the mandates and what we’re asking peacekeepers to do. And the short version here is that we’re asking peacekeepers to do more and more challenging things in the African continent. And one of the things that has happened in recent years is that mandates have blurred the lines between a variety of different types of what really should be separate types of activities. So under the heading of peace operations now we have some of the traditional tasks associated with peacekeeping, but we also have some mandates that effectively look like counterinsurgency operations. We have some mandates that call for state-building policies. We have some mandates that are about civilian protection and the responsibility to protect, and are effectively about preventing atrocities. And even in some cases we’ve gone into the realm of counterterrorism in different parts of the continent. And the problem here is that all these different types of activities, of course, require really different types of training, different types of capabilities. They have very different types of goals associated with them. And we’ve really muddied the waters as to what exactly are we asking peacekeepers to do and what are the limits, if you like, of contemporary peace operations, and what are the things that are really unrealistic to ask peacekeepers.
And then a final challenge is that the—in Africa in particular, some of you may know over the last 12 years or so African states and governments have been building what they call the African peace and security architecture, which is a series of institutions to try and help Africans lead in conflict management initiatives on the continent. The problem is, unfortunately, these are still not finished. And so we’ve been trying to do a lot of our peace operations and peacekeeping without a sort of completely finished toolbox of conflict management instruments, and that’s proved problematic.
So, finally, where do the U.S. fit into all this? Well, the U.S. is currently supporting peace operations in, I would say, four different ways.
Firstly, the U.S. plays an important role in wielding its political influence at the U.N. Security Council, and there it has an important say in how we write the mandates for different operations. And if can, of course, veto any peace operations that it doesn’t like or doesn’t want to support.
Secondly, the United States also provides a lot of financing and monetary support for peace operations in Africa. In fact, it’s the largest single financial contributor to peace operations. That’s partly through what it pays into the U.N.’s peacekeeping budget, but also what it pays in terms of bilateral security assistance and support programs to a variety of African countries that play a part in African-led missions, the largest one being in Somalia—the African Union Mission in Somalia.
And then, thirdly, the United States deploys some of its own personnel as peacekeepers on the continent. Now, these numbers are still relatively small. In the U.N. peacekeeping missions, the United States only deploys about 50 or so uniformed personnel. The majority of these are military experts and staff officers rather than military contingents. The most United States personnel have actually deployed into African-led missions—one in the Central Africa region, which has been fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army; and the other in Somalia, which has been fighting against the al-Shabab insurgents. And there the United States has deployed about 400 or so special advisers and Special Forces troops as part of those peace operations.
And then, finally, the U.S. provides a whole range of security assistance programs. The biggest in relation to Africa are called the Global Peace Operations Initiative and ACOTA—the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance—packages, and that provides various types of training and equipment to different African countries who deploy peacekeepers.
So what do I recommend that we might do differently? My report sets out a number of areas. And I’ll just mention a couple, and then we can discuss in more detail in the question session.
One set of reforms is about policy. I think it’s time for the United States to develop a new key policy document, really. Whether this is a presidential policy directive or some other label is up for debate. But the U.S.—the last time the U.S. had a proper, focused document that outlined its strategy on peacekeeping operations was way back in 1994. And now I think it’s time—an important time to really—for the United States government to think about what do peace operations mean and look like in 2015; and what are the key sort of strategic opportunities and strategic needs that the United States has in relation to peace operations; and, crucially, how can we work with key partner institutions, particularly the United Nations and the African Union, to deliver more effective operations in the field.
Secondly, I think it’s time for the United States to do a little bit more than enabling and just deploying individual staff officers and a few experts into operations. It’s time to think more seriously about whether we should deploy U.S. military contingents into U.N. peacekeeping missions in combat service and support roles, particularly in the sort of specialized areas to do with medical units, engineering units, logistics, and aviation support, which is what a lot of the U.N.’s missions are badly lacking on the continent.
Thirdly, I also suggest that we should think more carefully about how we can provide financial support directly to the African Union rather than just bilaterally to different African countries, because it’s the African Union that needs to set up the bureaucracy and the management structures which will enable the Africans to conduct their own effective peacekeeping operations on the continent. And currently the AU is struggling in that area, so I advise that we should be thinking about how to get more money directly to the continental organization.
And finally, to do with partnerships. The United States currently works with well over 30 African countries as partners in its different types of peacekeeping and security assistance reform packages. What I would suggest is it’s probably time to think about how we can reduce the number of partners and look for quality relationships rather than just quantity in terms of producing the most numbers of peacekeepers, because it’s quality that we’re going to increasingly need if peacekeepers are being asked to protect civilians, fight insurgents, maybe even do some counterterror tasks.
So that’s really an overview and summary of why I wrote the report and what’s in it, and I look forward to your questions to come.
FASKIANOS: Paul, that was really terrific.
Let’s open it up now to the students on the call.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time we will open the floor for your questions.
(Gives queueing instructions.)
We have our first question coming from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Q: Hi. This is Todd Barry (sp) from the University of Southern Mississippi. Thank you for this great opportunity.
Specifically, what can the United States do to help the boat people coming over from Northern Africa into Europe? And what can we do to reconcile the two governments in Libya and help to bring peace to that country?
WILLIAMS: Sure. So the simplest reasons or simplest way to sort of address that question is to look at why people are fleeing from persecution or conflict. And so the best thing that the United States can do in the long term to stem the flow of refugees, not just from North Africa but from across the continent and elsewhere, is to really use its diplomatic muscle to engage more effectively in peacemaking efforts and conflict resolution initiatives to actually end these wars; and to, moving forward in the future, to try and make sure we put a lot more effort into preventing these conflicts from breaking out in the first place. Once they have broken out, it’s very difficult to stem the flow of people who need to get away and escape from such fighting. So I would say we need to invest more of our diplomatic effort into finding peaceful solutions to conflicts before they become too unmanageable.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Q: Again, thank you very much, Dr. Williams. My question is—and I know you mentioned that—towards the end that we—U.S. need to come up with a key policy. But I was waiting to hear how you kind of think it should look like because right now I do know, like, country like Nigeria has been talking to U.S. so that they can change their policy in order to buy weapons, more advanced military equipment, in order to combat Boko Haram. So how do you think it should look like?
And the other part is, why—what are the things that the U.S. is not doing now that it should be doing? And why is it not doing those things?
WILLIAMS: OK, thank you very much. A couple of things to say there.
So firstly, on what is the U.S. not doing that it should be doing more of, I’ll give you a couple of examples of things that the United States has done that have usefully helped peacekeeping operations, and I think it could do more of them.
So one example comes from the Central African Republic and the most recent U.N. mission there, MINUSCA, the Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. And for that mission, the United States government sold the United Nations a number of expeditionary military bases, and what that enabled the U.N. peacekeepers to do is it enabled them to get out of the capital city in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, and out into some of the countryside and hinterland, and enabled peacekeepers for the first time to get out and set up sector headquarters in these more remote regions, which was increasingly where most of the violence was taking place. So the U.S. military had a long—obviously has long experience and expertise in designing these types of forward operating bases, but these are not available to the United Nations. So making them available to the U.N. was one way that the U.S. could directly support a peace operation expanding beyond a capital city. So I think innovative examples like that are areas where the U.S. could be helpful.
Another good example is from northern Mali, where the conflict is continuing at the moment. And here the United States military helped the U.N. mission, MINUSMA, in northern Mali by helping it with its efforts to counter IED—improvised explosive device—attacks, which are unfortunately the main source of killing and wounding U.N. peacekeepers. Because the U.S. military has a long experience of engaging with these types of issues, particularly from Iraq and Afghanistan, it has a lot of expertise which it can help other countries which don’t have as much experience—so a lot of the U.N. peacekeeping contributing countries in Mali, who had not fought in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and were very really unprepared to deal with the sort of IED challenges that they were facing and suicide attacks and the like. So the United States sent over an asymmetric warfare assessment team to assess the key IED and other challenges in Mali, and then shared the findings and the like with the U.N. peacekeeping operation there, and then were gearing up to provide different types of training to address those particular threats.
So that’s just a couple of examples of what the United States can do, which doesn’t involve necessarily deploying U.S. soldiers as peacekeepers, but can be useful for boosting particular operations on the continent.
Then, with regard to Boko Haram and the like, this raises a couple of issues. So, first of all, the first issue is that there’s normally a difference between warfighting and peacekeeping. And so when we conduct peacekeeping operations by the United Nations and the African Union and other regional arrangements, the normal idea or the theory behind peacekeeping is that we’re not the—it’s not doing the same thing as fighting a war; that is, identifying an enemy, and trying to destroy and defeat that enemy. In peacekeeping operations, we try and play a role of the sort of impartial referee, and we help manage and implement a peace agreement or peace settlement or a ceasefire of some description. The problem is that we’ve seen in a number of parts of the African continent—and I would say particularly Somalia with al-Shabab, northern Mali with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and also as you mentioned Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria and around the Lake Chad basin area—we’ve seen a number of these insurgent organizations that don’t respect the United Nations or other organizations like the African Union as being impartial. And as a result, they directly target the peacekeepers and others that are sent to try and stabilize a particular area. So there, when you’re confronted with those types of groups, you really have to make a choice: Is this the right type of environment to deploy a peacekeeping force when there is no peace to keep? Or is this really the right sort of circumstances where you might really want to conduct a war against a particular enemy group?
And so, in the case of Boko Haram, we’ve seen that after a number of years of fighting where it was just the Nigerian government really doing this without much help, we saw the African Union authorize a multinational task force to fight against Boko Haram. And that’s differently, obviously, from a U.N. blue helmet peacekeeping operation. And so where the United States can help there is, as I mentioned before, it can provide both training and equipment, and material support, to the different countries involved in the multinational task force.
And that’s where—you mentioned, you know, the debates that we’ve seen between the U.S. and Nigeria over whether and how much the United States should supply to Nigeria in terms of weaponry. The key point to remember here, though, is that the reason why Boko Haram exists and continues to be a problem in the region is not because of a lack of weapons. There’s no real military solution to Boko Haram, although you might need military as an option to contain and degrade the organization. For it to really go away, you’re going to have to address some of the key political reasons why this organization was created in the first place, and that is going to get into much bigger questions about the type of governance structures that we have in northeast Nigeria, the type and the levels of underdevelopment, and the like. So there’s only so much that peace operations or warfighting missions can do to solve really what are essentially political problems.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the University of Kentucky.
Q: My question is about Burundi. I was actually wondering, with the flows—the continuous flows of refugees, and this week there was the death of an opposition leader in Burundi, would you foresee there being an escalation in crisis? And if there was, would the U.S. be willing to intervene? And how would they do that without jeopardizing Nkurunziza’s support for our efforts in Somalia?
WILLIAMS: Sure. Yeah, so for those of you that are not aware, we’ve seen an escalation of a political crisis in Burundi in the early few months of this year, where the president has decided that he does not want to limit his term in office to two terms, and in doing so has sort of broken the rules of the Arusha Peace Agreement that was set out about a decade ago now. And since he’s—(coughs)—excuse me—and since he’s retained his grip on power through a set of very controversial, many would say illegitimate elections in Burundi, there’s been a series of debates and increasingly large numbers of resistance protests from people inside the country.
Now, to understand what the U.S. can do—and I would say upfront that I do not think military intervention of any sort here would be useful—to understand what the U.S. can do, we need to understand that Burundi has over 7,000 of its soldiers deployed in different peacekeeping operations in Africa—over 5,000 of them in Somalia and about 1,200 or so in the Central African Republic. So the major sort of point of leverage, if you like, that the United States has with the government in Burundi is in relation to the security assistance packages that we provide to the Burundian military.
Now, the United States has been providing these to Burundi really in a big way since sort of late—well, 2007, when Burundi first decided to deploy its soldiers to the AMISOM mission in Somalia. So I think the main lever of diplomatic pressure that the U.S. can wield is that it can say, as it already has done, given the political circumstances in Burundi that we don’t approve of, don’t expect us to continue the security assistance and training and deployment support for your—for your peacekeeping troops.
The dilemma this will raise for the U.S. government is, well, what will happen if Burundi can’t keep sending these 7,000 soldiers abroad in the peace operations, particularly in Somalia and the Central African Republic? And is it really a good time in the country—given, as you’ve mentioned correctly, you know, the growing levels of resistance to the president now—would it be useful to have these 7,000 soldiers or so return with not necessarily any guarantees about training, equipment, and financial support that we’ve had before? So I think that’s the real sort of dilemma facing the United States government at the moment. What sort of areas of leverage do the U.S. government have over the president in this situation?
In terms of other options for intervention, again, I would say—in my opinion, I would say military intervention is not particularly helpful here because it’s not entirely clear to see what mandate a force would have that could be useful, and also where exactly troops or police or others would come from. So I’d be inclined to think we need to look in the realms of political pressure, perhaps targeted economic sanctions and other forms of diplomatic sanctions. But I don’t think any military operations would be helpful at this point.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Penn State University.
Q: Yes. You say in your report that the status quo is untenable. I was just wondering, while it’s certainly lamentable, I don’t see any near-term chance that it’s going to change, especially since I think the recommendations in your report have little chance of being implemented in the current political climate.
WILLIAMS: Yes, so thank you. The reason why I think it’s unsustainable is that I don’t think we’re going to see an end to peace operations on the continent anytime soon. And I think we would look sort of at plausible scenarios, as we’ve already spoken about, where, depending what happens in Burundi, depending on what happens in northeast Nigeria with Boko Haram, depending what happens in Libya, in the near future we could probably identify a number of places where there might be a need for more peace operations rather than less on the continent.
And I think this goes back to the point I make about the African peace and security institutions and the lack of indigenous funding. We have a situation now where the United States and other donor parties, including the European Union—which is probably the second-largest donor that supports these types of efforts—as you rightly note, they’re all going through periods of financial constraint, retraction of their military forces and the like, and it’s not entirely clear that they’re going to be willing or able to continue funding to the levels that they have these types of security assistance and support for African peacekeeping countries. This is why I think, if we want to actually think about long term how can Africans run and manage and maintain their own peace operations, we need to think about two things.
One is actually, I think, directing more of our funding and support not just bilaterally to individual countries on the continent, but at the continental level to the African Union so that the African Union is able to create basically its own version of the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, so it can plan for, organize, manage, and then run and maintain its own peace operations on the continent without the need for external support—of which the United States is one of the major supporters.
And secondly, I think we need to think more carefully about precisely the types of countries that we rely on as our crucial peacekeeping partners. And the previous question about Burundi is a—is a good example there. You know, U.S. policies in Somalia, which is really all about supporting the African Union mission, rely on a—on a group of countries like Burundi which have a lot of domestic political tensions back home, and there’s no guarantee that they will remain stable in the near future. So it’s a bit of a problem that we have to rely on countries like that to achieve the foreign policy objectives we set for ourselves.
In terms of whether the recommendations will be implemented, I’m forever the optimist, and I wouldn’t want to write recommendations that would be easy to implement. I want our political leaders to demonstrate real political leadership. But I think, most important of all, that the United States, it needs to really do things that can signal to the rest of the world that the United States is serious about supporting the U.N. peacekeeping system. And the problem that we have, not just in Africa but across the world as a whole, is that there’s really no good alternative to the United Nations and its peacekeeping system. The U.N. has to deal, unfortunately, with the types of crises and conflicts around the world that really nobody else wants to own. So while we can point to always a number of big problems with how the U.N. works and the limitations of its peacekeeping operations, there really is no existing alternative. And if conflict trends on the continent are going to continue the way we’ve seen them, I think we’re going to need more rather than less peace operations in the—in the future. So we need to think about how to make them work as effectively as possible.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Stockton University.
Q: What do you suggest for how to combine the three camps that you mentioned involved in peacekeeping in the near future?
WILLIAMS: That’s a good question.
So, as I mentioned before, you’ve got a different set of countries that really authorize and write the mandates for U.N. peacekeeping operations, and that’s a slightly different group than those who pay the vast majority of the financial burden, and that’s a different group, again, than the people or the states that actually provide the peacekeepers. So I think there’s a couple of things we can do to bring that division of labor to more of an equilibrium. One is to get consensus about the mandates of peace operations. And secondly, it’s to have, I think, more Western countries involved in deploying their own troops in U.N. peacekeeping operations as well.
So firstly, on the point about mandates, there would be more buy-in from more countries if we could agree politically on, really, what are the key purposes of peace operations. And as I mentioned at the beginning, the trouble we have at the moment is that there’s a big debate around the world: What exactly should peace operations be doing? Is their job just implementing ceasefires and monitoring already conducted political settlements? Or are we asking them to do more proactively violent things like counter insurgent groups, protect civilians from spoilers and others? Are we asking them to do some forms of counterterrorism tasks? Are we asking them to do state-building in places where the state has effectively collapsed? And I think part of the reason why some countries are increasingly anxious about deploying into U.N. missions is because we’re not quite sure where peace operations are coming down in those sort of broad set of issues. And as I mentioned before, they’re a very different set of issues. Trying to protect civilians in an ongoing war zone is a very different set of policing and military tasks than observing a ceasefire in a demilitarized buffer zone and the like that we’ve traditionally done with peacekeeping.
And then secondly, I think we—I think it’s increasingly unfair, as well as unsustainable, that the vast majority of the U.N. peacekeeping troops and police come from just a small number of mainly African and Asian countries. And I think here the big question on the sort of strategic horizon is now that the war in Afghanistan has largely finished, or at least the Western powers have largely drawn most of their forces out of there, the big question for U.N. peacekeeping is whether the former ISAF contributing countries in Afghanistan will come back to the U.N. peacekeeping fold. And I think it’s more likely that the Europeans and some East Asian states will come back to U.N. peacekeeping if the United States demonstrates leadership here and says this is a system and this is a type of conflict management mechanism that we support. So that’s why I argue that the United States, but not just the U.S.—this would include Europe and other East Asian countries—should all put a big more effort into U.N. peacekeeping operations because it really is the only international alternative we have in a lot of these crisis zones.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from University of Texas at Austin.
Q: Hi, Professor. William, thank you so much for speaking with us.
You spoke quite persuasively about peacekeeping and strategic conflict prevention in the long term on the institutional level, and I wonder if you could draw into your assessment for us sort of the grassroots side of things. There has been a growing conversation about the effectiveness of grassroots, community-level endeavors—I’m think specifically of NGOs like Posten (ph)—in building towards these sort of long-term conflict preventions, and I wonder if you could draw that into the picture that you’ve painted for us.
WILLIAMS: Sure. So that’s an important issue, but it’s actually a very difficult issue for peacekeepers and peace operations to deal with.
So the first thing to say is, you know, what is the point of peace operations? What are they for, you know, in their essence? They’re not for, ultimately, diplomats in New York or Addis Ababa. They’re not for heads of state and government. Ultimately, they’re for helping the local people who are caught up in unfortunate conflict and violent circumstances. So we must always remember that the purpose of peace operations is to deliver something called peace to the local communities who are most affected by the conflicts that they are trapped in.
Now, this raises the question, then, as you mentioned, you know, how precisely should a whole group of foreigners—generally foreign soldiers or police, and a few civilians, that make up peacekeeping operations—how should they engage most effectively with the local communities that they find in these different conflict zones? And this is something that peacekeeping operations have tried to do for a long time, but they’ve not really managed it, I would say, particularly well. There’s a lot of room for improvement in how they do that.
One of the first big problems is just to do with the basic issue of language. It’s not often the case, actually—and unfortunately so—that a lot of the peacekeepers who are deploying into these different countries and parts of Africa, it’s not always the case that they can even speak any of the same language as the local communities that they’re trying to interact with. So linguistic skills, the use of translators and interpreters and other things, is often a very important part of engagement.
Secondly, by definition, when you’re deploying into a zone of ongoing conflict or a conflict that’s only recently ended, it’s not always immediately clear which local voices you should listen to and pay the most attention to. So one of the first things peacekeepers have to do is what we call basically a form of conflict analysis or assessment, and figure out who exactly among the local groups, NGOs, and others should they listen to most, and who should they trust in terms of their assessment. And again, most peacekeepers would arrive in these conflict zones without a great deal of prior knowledge or understanding of the history and politics and different dynamics going on here. So again, it’s quite a difficult set of issues to figure out early on about how and who you engage at the grassroots level.
But then, thirdly, we know that we have to get better at this for one simple reason, and that’s because peace doesn’t sustain, really, without buy-in from the local communities. And I think a big reason why a lot of U.N. peacekeeping and other operations have failed in the past is that they’ve adopted quite a narrow approach to making peace, which has really only involved sort of heads of state, elites, armed factions, and the like. And unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of peace processes which have ignored too many of the local community groups in the conflict zone in question. And as a result you get a peace deal that may be signed in some hotel somewhere—sometimes even out of the country we’re talking about—but you don’t necessarily get a sustainable and implementable peace because you don’t have local buy-in.
So what peacekeeping operations increasingly have to do is figure out how to engage best with local communities. One thing they’ve done, I think, much better than they used to, at least, is what they call strategic communications and public information. But basically, making sure they have a dialogue with local communities to inform them about what the mandate actually entails, and to try and give the locals at least some sort of realistic set of expectations about what peacekeepers are here to do, because sometimes a lot of local anger at peacekeepers is because of a misunderstanding of the mandate and what they’re there to do.
So for all those different reasons, yeah, we need to get better at thinking about how to engage with local groups. But it’s not always easy to identify which of the local groups we should be listening to most.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Georgia State University.
Q: Yes, so earlier you talked about the issue of generally U.S.—more efficiently using U.S. political leverage as a means of efficient peacekeeping. Now, do you believe that the recent South African failure to arrest Omar al-Bashir a few months ago sort of underscores the lack of American political leverage in Africa? And do you think that one way to remedy that lack of leverage would be to—or will be for the U.S. to ratify the Rome Statute and recognize the ICC?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, that’s a—that’s a big set of issues. So I’d answer that by saying a couple of things.
So firstly, yes, one part of the reason why we see so much conflict and violence in Africa compared to other parts of the world over the last couple of decades is that there has been a sort of strong tendency to impunity. People can generally get away with the types of massacres and atrocity crimes that we’ve seen. So any type of conflict management strategy or any attempts at conflict resolution I think has got to address that issue of impunity head-on. And as you know, one of the things that the International Criminal Court does that has not been done in international law previously is to say that, you know, there’s no such thing as immunity for heads of state and government, and that it’s theoretically possible to indict and charge and even potentially prosecute heads of state and government if they’re found guilty of these types of atrocity crimes, whether that’s genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, or the like. So, yes, it’s got to be part of our broader strategies of conflict resolution to think about how to combat immunity and impunity that these perpetrators of crimes get away with.
Now, peacekeeping operations can only deal with part of that puzzle, obviously. They’re not the same as a—they’re not the same as a judicial mechanism like the ICC.
Now, in that sense, I think, yeah, what we saw in the South African case with the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, entering the country and then leaving, with South Africa being a signatory to the Rome Statute, I think has badly undermined that push. But it’s also symptomatic of a—of a broader debate in Africa, where we’ve seen over the last few years the African Union—led by a number of key countries in the continent—has made a number of statements and declarations really criticizing the International Criminal Court for what they see as being a sort of sole focus on African perpetrators and issues. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with that view, but that’s part of the reason for why, I think, South Africa did what it did—although, as we will find out when the—when the South African government has to answer why it let Bashir go, we’ll find out more.
For the United States in all this, I mean, I think it’s—we’re in a difficult position, as you rightly note. No, we’re not a signatory to the—to the Rome Statute. And not being a member of the International Criminal Court certainly undermines the ability of the U.S. to persuade, I think, other countries to do this sort of thing. So, personally speaking, I think if you want to try and combat the idea that perpetrators can get away with these types of crimes, then I think, again, the International Criminal Court is really the most viable judicial institution we have out there. So that’s the place we would need to throw our weight—throw our weight behind.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queueing instructions.)
Our next question comes from St. Edward’s University.
Q: Hi, Paul. In regards to your last point before going to questions, you mentioned in regard to U.S. policy in Africa we collaborate with over—with about 30 partner parties, and you said that was too many. Which parties would you suggest cutting out, and which parties would you suggest improving our relations with?
WILLIAMS: Sure. Rather than name names, I think let me give you the rationale for why I think we’re working with too many partners at the moment and what it would make sense to do, I think.
Here I need—I talk about in the report, basically, the difference between conditionality and selectivity as a—as an approach to partnership. And what I mean by that is, in conditionality terms, this is when the United States gives security, training, equipment, and the like to a country on the promise that that country will then reform its institutions accordingly. With a selectivity approach, on the other hand, the United States looks for existing examples of good practice and best practices, if you like, and builds then its partnerships and training and assistance programs on top of that already-existing good practice. The reason why I think that’s an important distinction is because what’s been happening in a number of our relationships with African states is that the United States has now, for over a decade in some cases, been supplying an awful lot of training and equipment, but the problem is that the countries concerned have not over that period built up sustainable peacekeeping institutions at home, so they’re not able to maintain a sort of standard of self-sufficiency despite promising that at the beginning of either their relationship with GPOI or the ACOTA programs.
So what we should be looking for, I think, instead of just saying we’re going to train and equip countries, and keep training and equipping countries—and when they break the equipment we have to give them more, and when the training—skills in the training degrade we just have to keep doing this again—instead, what we need to do is try and build sustainable national peacekeeping institutions. And I think the key for a local institution becoming sustainable is, do the African countries in question put their own money and resources into developing these institutions? And here one of the key elements—I think is often missing from the equation—is professional military education structures. Do the African countries that we’re partnering with really want to build national peacekeeping institutions that they can run themselves without U.S. and other forms of funding? So I would say a key sort of litmus test for what countries make good partners, well, it’s those countries that also want to build their own self-sustainable institutions. And we judge that on whether they are actively putting their own money and resources into building these types of professional military education systems. That means we don’t have to keep training and equipping, but we can get these countries to a stage where they can do these things on their own.
So I would—I would encourage the government to sort of look across that broad sweep of the ACOTA partners at the moment and say, well, where is a country actually putting its own money and effort into building these sustainable institutions. And in some countries, you see very good examples of this. I would single out sort of Ghana probably at the top here as a country that really has put its own efforts into building sustainable institutions. And the Ghanaians, as a result, produce very good professional and effective peacekeepers, and can do so pretty much on their own. In other countries, then, this is not the case. And that’s where I’d say we need to think about our partnerships.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the University of Puget Sound.
Q: Hi. Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us today. I was wondering if you could speak to the implications of some of the recent scandals, maybe, for lack of a better word—the cholera outbreaks in Haiti, the sexual assault report that was released back in June, and then the—at least what we’re seeing, the potential of some internal divisions in the U.N. about addressing that issue. What are the implications of those for future peacekeeping operations?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, that’s, unfortunately, a good—a good set of questions.
So let me start by saying, yeah, that these individual scandals—now, whether that scandal is involving sexual exploitation and abuse of local people; whether it involves corruption, of peacekeepers engaging in the illicit trafficking of gold and other minerals; or whether, as you cite, in the case of Haiti, it’s where peacekeepers effectively act as a transmission belt, bringing a disease into the country; all of these issues, the first thing to say about them is that they have a strategic impact on the mission. We can no longer sort of consider these things, you know, small, isolated incidents that can be dealt with, really, without major strategic repercussions. The affect the whole legitimacy of the peace operation in question because they, crucially, affect its relationship with the local population. And as I said earlier, no peace operations can really succeed unless they establish good and strong relationships with the local populations. So first thing is we have to treat these as major strategic problems facing peace operations.
Now, I think the good news is that over the last decade or so more and more of the senior leadership in the U.N. Secretariat has started to really realize this and to do more and more to address these problems. The problem, I think, really, though, lies with the U.N.’s member states. So when it comes to peacekeeping operations, it’s the U.N.’s member states that have the responsibility to conduct what we call pre-deployment training. So that is all the training and requirements that a soldier or police officer or civilian is supposed to have before deploying to a U.N. mission, this is the responsibility of the member states, not the U.N. Secretariat. So it’s up to the U.N. member states, when they’re training their people to go on peacekeeping operations, to make sure that they take the various classes on how to protect civilians. It’s their job to make sure they take the classes about sexual exploitation and abuse, and spell out very clearly that this is unacceptable behavior and it won’t be tolerated.
And crucially, we need to see examples of member-state countries actively prosecuting and punishing their own people who are guilty of these offenses. And I think part of the problem that the U.N. Secretariat has faced is that ultimately it’s not able to control what member states do with their own soldiers or police officers; it’s really up to those countries. If, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic lately, it’s French soldiers are some of the people that have been accused of raping small children in the CAR, it’s France that needs to take the lead here and say, right, if we find evidence that these things have happened, we will punish and prosecute the offenders accordingly. So I think the message that needs to be sent needs to come as much from the member states themselves as from the U.N. Secretary-General and from the Secretariat.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the University of Kentucky.
Q: Thank you, Dr. Williams, for your time. I have a question about the mandates of the peacekeeping operations. So I was wondering how you think it would be best to address the increasing scope of these mandates and the specialized functions that these operations now must perform.
WILLIAMS: If I knew the answer to that, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. But look, I think a couple of things to say about mandates.
So what we’ve tended to do for a long time in peace operations is write mandates as effectively very long lists—actually, increasingly long lists of tasks. So if you look at missions like the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, it has over 40 different tasks it’s supposed to do. Central African Republic, Mali, eastern Congo—long, long lists of things that we’re asking the peacekeepers to do. So how can we make these things more effective? I think there’s a couple of things we can do.
One is to very clearly signal what are the priority tasks in a mandate. So if you’re the special representative in charge of a mission or the force commander or police commissioner, it’s not particularly helpful just to have a long list of things without some indication as to where do the political priorities lie, first of all. So we need to say, you know, is protecting civilians the number-one goal of a mission, or is it helping support elections. Now, that—we need to do that because without that it’s very hard for the people on the ground to allocate their resources accordingly.
Secondly, I think we could do things in relation to clarifying the sequencing priority. So, you know, there may be certain tasks that are more important to do while, let’s say, conflict is ongoing, and there may be other tasks that become then more of a priority after a peace has been established.
Then, finally, the other—third thing we need to do, I would say, is we need to work very hard to make sure that there’s a consensus among all the different troop-contributing countries that they understand the mandate in the same way, because part of the problems a lot of U.N. peacekeeping missions have suffered from is that different countries look to interpret their mandates in different ways, sometimes as an excuse to do less and get out of certain tasks if they think those tasks are either too difficult or dangerous.
And then—I said finally, but I’m going to add another point here—I think it’s the responsibility of the U.N. Security Council really not to give peacekeepers contradictory mandates, because contradictory mandates are literally impossible to deal with. Unfortunately, in a couple of places—I would say the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan probably stand out—we’ve told peacekeepers on the one hand they have to work with the consent of the host state government, and on the other hand we’ve asked them to protect civilians from threats of physical violence. And yet, in just those two countries as examples, it’s been sometimes the governments’ own security forces that have been the major perpetrators of violence against civilians in the—in the theater of operation in question. And this has given peacekeepers and their senior mission leaders really an impossible task about how to weigh up these contradictory pieces of advice.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I think we have time for one last question.
OPERATOR: Yes. Our last question will come from Stockton University.
Q: How has the Obama administration considered public support for peacekeeping operations? And how do you recommend the U.S. or others deal with waning support for increased involvement in peacekeeping operations?
WILLIAMS: That’s a good question. So we’re going to find out the answer to that on the 28th of September, when President Obama convenes the summit on U.N. peacekeeping contributions. But what I think they could do in the meantime is a couple of things.
Firstly, we need to tell, I think—and we can tell—a more positive story about U.N. peace operations and what they’ve achieved. I know my report is quite negative in that sense, in that it’s highlighting some of the challenges and weaknesses, but if you look at the long history of—the U.N. has conducted now about 70 peacekeeping operations around the world. There’s probably well over half of those missions that have made a very important, tangible impact on increasing the sort of levels of peace and stability in the conflict zones concerned. And so while we tend to focus a lot on the missions that failed and had the biggest problems—in Rwanda, Somalia, and elsewhere—there’s also a lot of missions that we hear a lot less about that actually did very well. The missions in Mozambique, in Namibia, in Sierra Leone, in Liberia, in Cote d’Ivoire have all helped, I think, in very important ways to stabilize countries on the—on the African continent. So the first thing to do to bolster U.S. support is to say, look, peacekeeping is very difficult, but it’s not only the sort of—the last alternative we have, but it’s actually quite an effective mechanism that deserves support.
The problem is—and this is, I think, the second thing—we need to reassure people that peacekeeping operations are not the same thing as warfighting. And that’s why we have to really clarify as soon as possible what are the limits and the key purposes of peace operations, because countries that deploy their troops into peacekeeping missions quite rightly do not see these things as the same as warfighting. You prepare for peacekeeping operations and you have different types of equipment, and it’s very different, really, than warfighting in most cases. So we have to clarify, what are we asking peacekeepers to do, and how does this basically differ from warfighting?
Then, thirdly, I think, as I said earlier in my report, I think peacekeeping operations at the U.N. are going to work best if they are seen as a genuinely global, collective effort. The problem that we have at the moment is that there’s, as I mentioned before, you know, increasing unhappiness that there’s a group of countries that write the mandates for these operations but don’t necessarily deploy their own people onto the front lines of these operations. And that’s creating, I think, an unhelpful tension and set of arguments in this. The best chance, as I said, for U.N. peacekeeping to work effectively is if all the countries in the U.N., all its member states, can basically provide support to this endeavor and provide the things that they think are useful. That’s when we’re going to see more effective peace operations.
FASKIANOS: Dr. Williams, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today, and to all of you for your questions and comments. I think it was a really terrific hour, so we appreciate it.
I hope that you will all follow Dr. Williams on Twitter @PDWilliamsGWU. Also, the Council special report that Dr. Williams authored was commissioned by the CFR Center for Preventive Action, CPA, which looks to prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world. And they also tweet @CFR_CPA, so you should also check that out.
Our next call will be on Thursday, September 24th, from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern time. Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard Schwartz Senior Fellow, will discuss international trade policy. And you can also follow our Twitter account @CFR_Academic for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events.
So thank you all. And thank you, Dr. Williams.
WILLIAMS: Thanks very much. My pleasure.
OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today’s teleconference. You may now disconnect.