Key Challenges in Today's U.N. Peacekeeping Operations

Thursday, May 18, 2006
Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations

LEE FEINSTEIN: Welcome, all, to the Council on Foreign Relations. This is a very uncivilized hour, but this is an extremely civilized group. Thank you for coming.

I’m Lee Feinstein. I’m a senior fellow and deputy director of studies at the Council, among other things. And this morning I’m very pleased to have with me someone who I think can fairly be described as one of the world’s most important defense ministers. And under his authority, if not necessarily command, are 70,000 troops and police operating 15 peacekeeping operations and three other missions. The far-flung deployments of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are second only to those of the defense minister whose office resides on the other side of the Potomac.

It has to be said, in that context, that his budget is nowhere near the size of the American secretary of Defense’s defense budget. And in truth—

JEAN-MARIE GUÉHENNO: Some countries might object, actually.

FEINSTEIN: (Laughs.) And in truth, the annual operating budget for the 18 peacekeeping-related missions is roughly equivalent to one month of operations, U.S. operations, in Iraq—about $5 billion.

Welcome, Undersecretary-General, to the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s your first visit here, and we’re very, very pleased to have you.

Just to set the scene, let me talk a little bit about the role of peacekeeping within the U.N. and just to say that increasingly what the U.N. does is peacekeeping. More than half of the U.N. budget is the peacekeeping budget. If you go on to the U.N.’s web site, you’ll find that the employment opportunities are divided between the U.N. and U.N. peacekeeping.

By the way, I don’t recommend anybody actually apply through that web site unless you want to repeat the experience one might have in applying to be a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. (Laughter.)

And the missions that the United Nations is undertaking are also not only more numerous, but they’re also much more varied and much more complex. And they range from what we used to call traditional peacekeeping to what I think a normal person might call something approaching combat.

Increasingly, U.N. peacekeepers are asked to undertake much more complex operations. And the idea of only sending U.N. troops into areas where there is already a peace to keep is a nice theory but a quaint idea. And we can talk a little bit more about that as we go forward.

We’re here today to talk about the state of U.N. peacekeeping, and so I thought I might start by quoting from a study from a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who is known to all of you, Jim Dobbins, who I might describe as one of America’s foremost nation-builders.

Jim, in his book, which RAND published, uses the term “nation-building” and “peacekeeping” synonymously. You can disagree about whether that terminology is accurate or not. But if you will pardon that nuance, let me read you what Jim Dobbins’ conclusion is about the state of U.N. peacekeeping. And he bases this analysis on a review of eight peacekeeping operations undertaken from the late 1980s to the present.

He says, “The U.N. success rate among missions studied—seven out of eight societies left peaceful, six out of eight left democratic—substantiates the view that nation-building can be an effective means of terminating conflicts, ensuring against their recurrence, and promoting democracy.

“The sharp overall decline in deaths from armed conflict around the world in the past decade also points to the efficacy of nation-building. During the 1990s, deaths from armed conflict were averaging over 200,000 per year. Most were in Africa. In 2003, the last year for which figures exist, that number had come down to 27,000, a fivefold decrease in deaths in civil and international conflict. In fact, despite the daily dosage of horrific violence displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world has not become a more violent place within the past decade; rather, the reverse is true.”

And here is the softball to you, Undersecretary-General: “International peacekeeping and nation-building have contributed to this reduced death rate.”

Our format for today is this meeting is on the record. We will chat for a few minutes and then I will open the floor to all of you.

Let me first formally introduce our guest, whose name, you’ve noted, I have not yet dared to pronounce, but I will try, which is Jean-Marie Guéhenno. Good enough for government work?

GUÉHENNO: You pass. (Laughs.)

FEINSTEIN: I pass—who has been in the post of undersecretary-general for peacekeeping since October 2000. He is a French national and a senior French diplomat. He has been France’s director of policy planning. He’s also been a critical voice on defense issues within his own country. He’s not only a diplomat, but also an auditor, which is an awfully important skill to have in the U.N. context. And he also had a tenure in the United States in the early 1980s.

We are really delighted to have you here with us. Thank you for joining us.

Well, let me just kick it off by starting with this Dobbins assessment, which, frankly, from my judgment, is a little rosy. Can you give us a sense of what the status of peacekeeping is today and your sense of how the state of the art has been proved over time?

GUÉHENNO: Well, I think Dobbins looks at the glass half-full, and we like that. When I look at the situation today—you mentioned the figures. And actually, if you include the civilians, it’s more like 90,000, because the troops have gone up a little bit since then. So it’s a considerable operation. But of those 90,000, the bulk of it is in Africa today.

And in the three major conflict areas of Africa, in West Africa you’ve had some progress in Sierra Leone and Liberia; Cote d’Ivoire is on the brink; in the Great Lakes, progress in Burundi, although, again, I mean, so rapid that I have some questions; in Congo, where we are at the verge of a whole series of elections. And elections, as we know, are not the end of the road. They are a major milestone, but they can be also a major challenge—not just the operational one, but a political one. And then the East African poll with Sudan—not Darfur at this stage, but the whole north-south issue; and Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I’m not going to go into details on all those conflicts, but if one looked at them, you would see, I think, in each case—I think one could make the case that there has been, if one looks at the situation today, one looks at the situation three or four years ago, quite a positive difference; at the same time, nothing irreversible.

And that’s really the challenge of peacekeeping is that you can confidently talk about a success, you need 10 years. I think when you look at Namibia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Cambodia, you can say with some measure of confidence—you can say the (predecessors of your predecessors ?) did fine.

The situations of today, 10 years from now we will be able to pass judgment. And that’s really the challenge of peacekeeping today is that there is a kind, I think, of material and political overstretch. The U.N. has been (in charge since ?) it started in 1999, this quick growth of peacekeeping—has been, in a way, in charge of dealing with all those issues that matter but I would say that are not the strategic priority of the United States, of the key powers.

And I think it’s important to deal with them, because if you don’t deal with them, you have human tragedies. You also have potential strategic threats, as one saw in Afghanistan.

But is there enough resources to deal with such a vast array of very tricky situations? Maybe not. Is there enough political engagement to deal with them? Also maybe not, because it’s fine to deploy your peace operation if you don’t have the political fuel to push—the political fuel means engagement at very senior levels, so that the processes do not get stuck; so that there is continuing political pressure, you run a risk.

And that’s why I think today in peace operations we can, I think, proudly say that the last five, six years have seen a measure of progress. We’ve worked hard for that. But I think it would be very dangerous to take for granted that you just deploy a peace operation and it’s going to be fine.

FEINSTEIN: Mr. Guéhenno, you talked about political and military overstretch, which I think is a very good way to put it. And, of course, one of the lessons—the Brahimi lessons, everybody’s lessons—when I was at the Pentagon in the peacekeeping office in the Mesozoic era, I commissioned a study by RAND, by one of Jim Dobbins’ predecessors, and it basically said, you know, thou shalt not do peacekeeping unless there is a peace to keep, which was then considered a revolutionary thing to say.

But the truth is that U.N. peacekeepers are always asked to go into very complicated situations, and increasingly so—none more complicated than Darfur. Is this—are the preparations underway for the NATO force that would ultimately go into Darfur adequate to the challenge in Darfur? And is this really an operation that the U.N. ought to be undertaking on its own?

GUÉHENNO: Well, I think if there is an operation in Darfur, then it would be a U.N. force, and a U.N. force which would comprise forces from—should comprise forces from all continents, to really show that the world is coming together. And that’s important operationally. That’s important politically.

Is there a peace to keep in Darfur? I think it’s in the making, frankly. The agreement, as we know, does not enjoy the support yet of all the players. I think it’s very important that every effort be made from all the key players in Darfur to really sign that agreement.

But more than that, any peace operation requires the strategic cooperation of the parties. If there is a signature at the bottom of the page but there is not the strategic cooperation, very quickly you run into trouble. So I do believe that it’s also very important at this stage to engage with the rebel movements, the government of Sudan to consolidate a real support for the peace process.

It was not easy for the north-south agreement. There were discussions in Khartoum whether it could be a good idea to have international involvement or not. There was good engagement between the international community and the authorities in Khartoum, and eventually there was a (full ?) understanding, both by John Garang and by the leadership in Khartoum, that it could be a good thing to have a U.N. involvement. I think we have to take the same road in Darfur if you want to be successful.

That being said, even if all that is there, in Darfur as in other peace operations that we have, the engagement of the key players doesn’t mean that there will be a full peace to keep. And that’s the gray area in which peacekeeping has moved, where because more and more we intervene in situations which are not state-to-state conflicts but intrastate conflicts with parties which have less political capital to lose, where the chain of command is much fuzzier than in an organized army, you do have spoilers.

So I think that any operation in Darfur will require very robust peacekeeping, because it would be an illusion to think that because an agreement has been signed, every commander, every militia on the ground will then peacefully surrender its weapons and sue for peace.

And so, just as in Congo, we do need to address the spoilers. I think it would be the same in Darfur. Does that mean that peacekeeping has moved to enforcing peace even if there is no peace to keep? I think that would be going one—that’s a red line that we should not cross. I don’t think the U.N. is equipped to enforce peace.

I think we have to deploy on the basis of some kind of strategic consent for peace but know that that strategic consent will be accompanied by a lot of players on the margins. The issue is how much on the margins are they who will challenge that peace. And that’s a judgment call.

FEINSTEIN: Would you be more comfortable if there were a NATO bridging force, a NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone, something between now and when a U.N. force enters, and then, beyond that, sort of a NATO guarantee of providing a certain degree of support, logistically and otherwise, for U.N. troops in the field?

GUÉHENNO: I think the position of the government of Khartoum on NATO is well known. And if you want a successful operation, you need, again—you’ll need to work with all the players—the rebels, the government of national unity in Khartoum.

NATO for years has provided support to the African Union. It has provided strategic lift. It has provided training. And then that has been welcomed by the African Union and very much accepted by the government of national unity. Any greater involvement of NATO, that would need to be discussed.

What I think will be important in the period ahead is to strengthen the capacities of the African Union, because, even in the best of cases, as you know, the U.N. doesn’t have a standing army. Even if all the green lights were there, I mean, we’re not going to be able to deploy within the next month or two. I mean, it will require several months to mobilize the force, to have the consent of all the troop-committing countries. I mean, it’s a very complicated process. There’s no way you can deploy rapidly.

So it’s essential in that intermediate period that the African Union, which now has a lot of additional tasks, because the agreement is an extremely ambitious one which provides for a demilitarized zone, demilitarized corridors, and a redeployment, disengagement—it’s very complex.

If the AU is to perform all those tasks, it needs all the help it can get. And we are working with them to have a conference where more support will be given to the AU. That’s going to be essential.

FEINSTEIN: Switching to some of the classic, for lack of a better description, reform issues, I want to read you something that the congressional task force report on U.N. peacekeeping slipped into its recommendations on the U.N. section. And I should say that the person who was responsible for writing this chapter probably disagreed with this recommendation, which is why it’s tucked away all the way in the back.

Let me just read it to you. It says, “As noted in the chapter on U.N. integrity, accountability, transparency and effectiveness, the task force believes that the DPKO would be greatly enhanced—its effectiveness would be greatly enhanced if the department operated as a more independent program.”

So my question for you is, do you feel micromanaged?

GUÉHENNO: I don’t feel micromanaged. I feel that the rules and regulations of the United Nations were designed for a headquarters organization that would run conferences but that would not run field operations. So there is a disconnect between the kind of life that we live in the field, deploying in the middle of nowhere, having to organize bases, and organizing conferences in New York.

The spirit of the reform announced by the secretary-general is to make the whole U.N. more field-oriented. Ourselves in the DPKO, we are, I think, a few steps ahead of (them in ?) many parts of the U.N. because the bulk of our—(inaudible)—we (are ?)—our goal is the field, is all these 18 operations that you mentioned.

What we need is much more, I mean, flexibility and a different approach to the management of human resources, for instance so that people can go back and forth between headquarters and the field. They don’t stay in a place when they’re never seeing what they are working for. I mean, in the DPKO we have much more movement between field and headquarters than in other parts of the secretariat. But it’s—the rules, the status, is not very—I mean doesn’t really encouraged that.

In the—in budget, finance, I mean, we have processes that are not at all in sync with the operational needs of the field, to move quickly, to be adapted to all the uncertainties of an operation where a true (contributor ?) will delay departure, or there will be a need to accelerate. All that is completely not factored in the rules and regulations.

So I do believe that there is an important point there that they have to be in—for a peace operation, there has to be a degree of flexibility that has to be quite different from the way the U.N. operates. If the whole secretariat can go in that direction, that would be wonderful.

FEINSTEIN: There is—you mentioned, you uttered the words, standing army. There is an iron law in American politics, particularly if you’re a Democrat: Thou shalt not mention the words standing army. But you did—U.N. standing army in particular.

GUÉHENNO: I’m against it.

FEINSTEIN: Well, good. Let me just—

GUÉHENNO: I’ll tell you why.

FEINSTEIN: Good. Well, I have a colleague at the Council and a friend who is definitely not a Democrat, Max Boot, and he wrote a very eloquent op-ed saying, look, the U.N. is involved in all this stuff. It can’t deploy quickly; it doesn’t have the flexibility it ought to. It needs a standing army just as the charter envisioned.

Could you give us a nonpolitical assessment in terms of—you know, an instrumental assessment of whether a standing army will help you or not?

GUÉHENNO: I will tell you why I don’t think a standing army is a good idea: because, I mean, the U.N. has to be close to member states for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I mean the political fuel to move a process forward is essential. And the danger is when—I mean the U.N. has grown much bigger than—(name inaudible)—or any of the early leaders of the U.N. would have ever thought.

And that growth in a way, I mean, bears witness to some of its successes, but it’s dangerous because it—the U.N. becomes that entity over there that is distinct from the member states. And then the U.N. can become the alibi of the member states for not doing something.

I think that it is essential that the U.N. operations are owned by the member states; that they see that the success of the U.N. will be their success, but the failure will also be their failure, so that they make every effort that there be no failure; they commit as they should.

If you had a standing army, very quickly you’ll say, okay, well, now, the U.N., deploy your staff, deal with it. And there will be less engagement. That being said, the problem of rapid deployment is very much there.

I think there are better ways to address it than the standing army. There are ways that would avoid creating that distance. I think if we could have with a few—with a number of member states agreement for some kind of reserve, strategic reserve, with the commitment of a member state to keep—I mean on—at a certain degree of readiness to be negotiated—units in a certain format so you have a unit from whatever country, developed, developing, that has been inspected, you know what that unit looks like, and the country does spend some additional money to keep that unit at a certain level of readiness.

And there is—there will never be a full iron-clad commitment that in whatever the circumstances that unit would be deployed. But you can—you could negotiate in advance and arrange a situation for which there would be a sort of (pre- ?)authorization. I think that would be a better way to go.

We launched that idea, what, 18 months ago, more or less. And there is, I mean—I think it’s an idea that will be pursued and that will eventually succeed.

So it’s not a standing army. These units, they remain very much a part of the army of the true contributor that would make that commitment, but they would enhance our capacity to rapidly deploy.

FEINSTEIN: Very interesting. So we’ll call it a sitting army rather than a standing.

GUÉHENNO: Sitting, but ready to run.

FEINSTEIN: Good. Good.

Now, you talked about sort of the political ownership and the feeling that the nations of the U.N. view U.N. peacekeeping as their peacekeeping operations. U.S. participation in blue-helmeted operations is normally in—below the double digits, right, of your 70,000, 80,000 plus? Usually it’s a very small number.

GUÉHENNO: I mean, the U.S.—I mean the U.S., of course, is a major, I mean, financial contributor. It is the number one financial contributor to the U.N. operations, as we all know.

But in terms of contribution of personnel, uniformed personnel, the U.S. contribution is essentially police. In the—for the army it’s a few officers here and there who help a lot—I mean, military observers, staff officers, but no formed unit in the U.S.

FEINSTEIN: And also the European Union’s percentage of contributions as—by, you know, a percentage of troops contributed is also shrinking as a part of the whole.

So my question to you is, is this a problem for you in terms of effectiveness, the political ownership questions you were talking about, and otherwise?

GUÉHENNO: I think—yes. In the ‘90s you had a very big participation from developed countries—I mean, European, North American. After the tragedy of the ‘90s, that participation went down and all disappeared. So that now, the European participation, except for Ireland and Sweden and—(inaudible)—is essentially not in Africa and in places which are, let’s say, our most stable, and sometimes too stable in the sense that the political process is not moving—operations.

That is the problem in several aspects. It can be an operational problem because as the mandate gets more challenging, you need very specialized capacities to be able to deliver the mandate—force enablers, force multipliers—that kind of capacity in any army in the world is always in short supply. So if you have a limited pool of countries to get those capacities, you are in trouble. We’ve been looking sometimes for a year to find the transport units, because it’s fine to charter helicopters on a commercial basis, but those charters don’t work when the going gets rough. You do need military units. So there is an operational issue.

There is a political issue in the sense that if you get more difficult mandate but the countries that decide the mandate do not share in the risk, you have an obvious political problem. And we do lose people by hostile fire, whether it’s in Congo, in Haiti. So that creates a tension.

There is also a political problem in the sense that the peacekeepers on the ground, yes, they wear the blue helmet, but they also have their national flag on their shoulder. And that matters, because if you have the whole—I mean if you—if the various players in a conflict area see that a certain set of countries is not prepared to really commit there, that sends a political signal that, yes, the Security Council was committed enough to authorize the mission but not committed to the point of risking the lives of the boys of a particular set of countries. And so that weakens our political hand.

And I think there is one last aspect that maybe should be noted. For instance, there is a discussion now on what should be the participation in the Darfur operation. As if having adding participation from developed countries sends a particular political signal. Is it a particular agenda. I think if you had to systematically some participation of all continents in all operations, in most operations, it would be a non-issue. It would be seen as, where there is a U.N. operation, of course, you are going to have forces from the whole range of countries in the world.

So I do think that in the long run the imbalance in contribution to peacekeeping, the fact that the bulk of peacekeeping forces now comes from developing countries, does weaken peacekeeping, not just operationally but politically.

FEINSTEIN: My final question before I turn to our colleagues is about the responsibility to protect. So last September the 191 members of the United Nations gathered; they reached agreement on the outcome document which was meant to be about U.N. reform. But to the surprise of many of us it also included a very, very strong, I thought, endorsement of this idea of a responsibility to protect, which I would just simply summarize as what happens—mass atrocities that happen in one country are the responsibility of all of us, first and foremost the government charged with the initial responsibility to take care of its own, but then in the absence of that government fulfilling that responsibility, the responsibility falls on the rest of us.

Does this—does acceptance of this norm—and now I guess recently offered by the Security Council—does this have any tangible impact on the work you do? And I’m told by my colleague that I’m supposed to mention that the council—in particular, I am releasing a report on this subject soon.

But I wanted to ask you, does the acceptance of the responsibility to protect, and the emergency of this new norm, if I can put it that way, have a bearing on the work you do?

GUÉHENNO: Yes, because now in most resolutions authorizing a peace operation there will be a sentence to the effect that our forces will protect the civilians in imminent danger in the areas where they are deployed, which reflects the emergence of that norm and which also reflects common human feeling. If you see somebody being threatened right next to you, you have to—it’s a moral—it’s not just a legal—duty to help.

Operationally, it raises all sorts of dilemmas. I remember in 2003 when we could see the violence mounting in Ituri in northeastern Congo. And we at the time—I mean the mission in Congo is still a very small mission when you look at the size of the country, with 17,000 troops for a country the size of Western Europe. So it remains a small mission. But it was much smaller at the time. I don’t have the—(inaudible)—much smaller. And we did not have fighting troops. We had essentially guard units. I had one reserve guard units; I decided to deploy it in Bunia to try to help and also to call the world’s attention on it.

Now this is a very difficult decision, because it turned out right because it focused the attention of the world. It managed to get a stopgap measure with the French-led EU force, and then the reinforcement of the mission, and the situation considerably improved in Ituri. It’s far—it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly improved significantly. And I think we did avoid a lot of killings there.

It could have gone terribly wrong. We might not have had the decision of the EU. That battalion then could have been—I was in Bunia at the worst time, the refugees congregating around this poor battalion, which was not really trained and didn’t have the full capability to change the situation.

It could have looked like the U.N., once again, not protecting the people who trust it. So responsibility to protect, yes, but there has to be a strong commitment from member states, then, to back up with the right resources. Because it’s obvious, then, the kind of force that we deploy can support a peace process; it cannot in any place where we are substitute for that peace process.

So at the end of the day, in a big country, I mean, responsibility to protect—either you have overwhelming force, which is not a U.N. capacity, or you have some measure of consent and physical support locally that you can help. So it’s—I think it’s moving very much in the right direction, but it raises a whole set of new issues.

FEINSTEIN: That’s extremely interesting, and thank you for indulging me.

The floor is now yours. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state you name and affiliation, and I will cut you off if your questions go on too long. The floor is now open.

All the way in the back.

QUESTIONER: Nancy Bearg-Dyke, Search for Common Ground.

I’d like to ask for an expansion on your answer about the strategic reserve. And I wondered if you were able to tell us how that’s coming along and what the U.S. position has been on this. Thank you.

GUÉHENNO: What we have in the U.N. is there was a working group with military advisors from a range of interested missions in the issue, looked at what the format of that strategic reserve—of those strategic reserve units would be. And it’s a sort of—it’s a battalion-plus. It’s a task force—1,200, 1,300—with capacities—with robust capacities that we would like.

The idea would be that financially, there would be some compensation to the country that would commit those forces, because they would have additional costs. So it would cost much less, of course, then they actually deployed, but it would not be zero.

The member states were interested, especially those who could—some of those could contribute. They were—the financial contributors were hesitant. On the U.S. side, I don’t think there was a lot of—I’m looking at the chief of my military planning service; Colonel Sinclair is in the audience. I don’t think there was major, I mean, you can say a word on the—

COLONEL IAN SINCLAIR (Chief, DPKO Military Planning Service): (off-mike) To follow up on what he was saying, we looked at three broad options.

Sorry—Colonel Ian Sinclair, I’m chief of the military planning service in DPKO.

We looked at a number of options and broadly tried to fill this requirement in three ways: firstly, by partnership with regional organization. And clearly, that is something that’s going to have to develop. The European Union has something that might be available. The African Union might in the future, but that’s going to be a long development goal. We have yet to see if we have some partnership with NATO that can deliver something.

Another way that we might be able to deliver an enhanced rapidly deployable capacity is by making bespoke arrangements with specific nations, because where they might contribute considerably to a mission, they might be prepared to contribute some form of strategic response to assist.

And then the third area we’re look at is inter-mission cooperation where there are missions that are close together. But clearly, that may be more limited in capacity and also limited in time.

GUÉHENNO: The U.S. position on it?

COL. SINCLAIR: I think the U.S. were very concerned if we were starting to talk standing army by an enhanced rapidly deployable capacity. But this approach that I’ve just talked about, they feel much more comfortable with. So I think people are generally on side.

FEINSTEIN: You need to do this while there’s a Republican president and a Republican Congress.

GUÉHENNO: Well, what’s interesting, if I may, is that in the reforms that we are pursuing in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, I mean, the kind of very polarized attitude that you have seen in the General Assembly on the broader reform package, so far, I mean, there is support, if I may say, on both sides of the aisle—I mean, on reforms of peacekeeping. This is the an area in the U.N. where you see the G-77, the nonaligned movement, and the developed countries more or less supporting a strong capacity of the U.N. peacekeeping. And we’re trying to keep that consensus solid.

FEINSTEIN: That’s very interesting.

The gentleman in the back.

QUESTIONER: Howard Wiarda from CSIS.

Peacekeeping on the ground in the country affected always looks messier and murkier than it does from Washington or Paris or New York. There’s rivalries between the militaries involved and the countries involved and the aid missions involved, and there’s corruption involved and posturing. And all kinds of things are going on.

And on top of that, peacekeeping has been, in my view, oversold a little bit, precisely by the studies of Jim Dobbins and others. You now have to bring democracy and development and liberate women and the agenda has just multiplied. And then in East Timor, there were some really interesting and I thought realistic expectations. People that I interviewed said, look, we can’t create democracy in this country in three or four years, although, you know, we can hold elections and do some good things. And we can’t really develop the country in three or four years. It takes three or four generations to do those kinds of things.

And he said, at best what we can do is separate the contending parties, disarm them a bit, hope over a five-year period of occupation that some of the animosities that began the conflict in the first place wither away a little bit.

Could you give us a certain sense of the politics of your office in dealing with the inflated expectations that come from peacekeeping versus what we can realistically hope to accomplish in very difficult and strife-torn countries? Thanks.

GUÉHENNO: Thank you.

That’s why, myself, I prefer to talk about, at best, state-building rather than nation-building, which is already one step below. I do think that there is a need to address some, in a way, the critical path of sustainability. And that critical path is more than just the security provided by the peacekeeping force.

The peacekeeping force may open a window that needs to be used, but it’s just a window that will close if some additional efforts are not made. I think the critical path includes the—what we call in jargon the DDR—the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration. And the tough part is the R, because that requires economic projects, revitalization of the economic structure of a country so that people can make a living without a gun. And I think, generally speaking, the international community, whether it be the U.N. or other players, is not very good at having that sense of deadline, quick delivery that is necessary.

And we see, whether it’s Afghanistan today after the new parliament or Haiti that once the new authorities have been elected, there’s a window that opens, but if in the next 24 months people do not see progress and not have jobs will be in trouble. So yes, DDR. Security-sector reform—that’s key. If you do not have a credible military, a credible police, you have no exit strategy, because as you soon as pull out, I mean, the violence restarts.

Linked to the security-sector reform, the rule of law. And I think now there’s a general consensus that if you just address the police but you ignore the judiciary and you ignore the corrections, you have a stool with one leg. It doesn’t work.

So I think—and last but not least, the fiscal management of the country so that they have the capacity to collect revenues and to control the way that those monies are spent, because if you don’t have that you can train the police, you can train the military, but if you don’t pay them at the end of the month, they will just be more professional at stealing or intimidate—so you do absolutely, fundamentally need that financial aspect, which DPKO is never going to do, but which is to be done by the World Bank, by UNDP, by the IMF. It has to be done.

I think if that is addressed, then you have the core of what needs to happen. And of course, the political process, the constitution, the elections—but that, the key—these things I mentioned, I think that’s the list that needs to be checked. And if you don’t check that list, you are in trouble. If on top of that you can do other things, fine. But one should not ignore those core issues.

FEINSTEIN: So what I think I heard was—if I can, a very polite rejection of a notion of a constrained or cribbed view of what the peacekeeping mission is in order to be successful.

GUÉHENNO: Yes, I think in peace-building and peacekeeping, they have to start simultaneously. But one should not get carried away in having a too ambitious view of peace-building in a war-torn society. I think were we have to make real progress in peace-building is that there is a long-term agenda that is fundamental and there’s a short-term agenda. But if the short-term agenda is not addressed, there’s not going to be in a long-term.

And I think where there is some progress that needs to be made is in really have that sense of deadlines of deliverables in a set period of time. And I don’t think that—whether it be the government agencies, the NGOs, the international organization, I don’t think we’re very well configured for that.

In the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, what we’re trying to achieve is to reconfigure ourselves so that we can be really an integrated department that can pull together all those efforts without pretending to really manage it because we don’t have the expertise for that and it would be stupid to try to develop it.


QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Sonia Schott with Radio—(inaudible)—Venezuela.

There are a lot of concerns coming from the more developed world on how is democracy doing in the less developed world. So I would like to know how democracy—or how democratic are international institutions as the U.N., and how—what kind of impact could have in the peacekeeping, building or peacekeeping process in other parts of the world. Thank you.

GUÉHENNO: That’s a big question: How democratic is the U.N.? No, the U.N. is an organization of states with some states with more responsibilities than others, the permanent members of the Security Council; some states paying bigger parts of the bill; but in the General Assembly, one state, one vote; and some very small island states, some billion people. So the U.N. is about creating a common set of rules. It’s about international law, which is, I think, distinct from democracy.

At the same time, in the charter you have a firm number of values that really, I mean, resonate with democratic ideals. And so there it’s a sort of halfway house where the countries that signed the charter and the countries that later joined the United Nations agreed on the goals. Whether they practice every day—all countries practice every day those goals, we know that is not the case. But agreeing on the goals is one step in the direction of implementation.

In our own practice in peace operations, we try as much as we can to be inspired in our actions by those goals, knowing that we are in societies that have very different levels of development and adherence to those goals.


QUESTIONER: Hi. It’s Sarah Mendelson from CSIS.

I have a question about the Zaid report. About a year ago there was a very important report that came out by Prince Zaid doing a very comprehensive and I’d say almost revolutionary look at sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers—in this case, in the Congo. There were many excellent recommendations in the report.

I hear from people inside the U.N. that they’re frustrated at the lack of implementation. I’d like to hear your view on how you see implementation and what your message is to states, understanding the U.N. as a collection of member states. But are there things that you at DPKO can be doing to advance what various member states do? For example, what kind of cooperation do you have with countries when peacekeepers are repatriated? Do you lend or give U.N. files that you have following the criminal activity of peacekeepers? Thanks.

GUÉHENNO: Thank you.

No, I think the Zaid report was a milestone in the sense that it helped move the consensus of member of states on that key issue of fighting sexual exploitation and abuse. Since the report was issued, we have moved on a number of fronts. We’ve moved on the front of prevention to generalized pre-deployment training so that all the troops are trained, are sensitized to the issue.

It’s a daunting task and it will be a never-ending task. Because when just last year we rotated 160,000 troops—so that gives you an idea. I mean, basically it’s about changing the military culture in more than 100 countries because it’s an issue that affects all military establishments around the world. And actually, I mean, we’re now organizing a conference to take stock of the actions that we have taken. And an organization like NATO and some others are interested in joining that effort because they think that we are moving in the right direction on that, and they want to see what lessons they can draw for their own actions from what we are doing.

Second key element, I think, is to convince the member state that there is a command responsibility there. And that’s why we have taken action repatriating some commanders, sometimes repatriating a whole unit when saw that there were several cases of sexual abuse in a unit; then you—it’s a responsibility of the commander, because a commander can ignore one case. Unfortunately it can happen in any unit, but if there are several, that means that there is a certain dereliction of duty on the part of the commander.

We have established in our missions personal conduct units. We have asked the General Assembly to strengthen, I mean, the investigative capacity so that we can act swiftly. I don’t think we have yet all the resource we need.

On the follow-up for repatriation, they are quite delicate, I mean, legal issues, because, I mean, the member states sometimes are not satisfied for their own national process with the kind of—with the evidence and the documentation we have for cases, which in some cases do not fit with the standards that they require.

And that’s where it’s tricky, because it’s one thing to take an administrative action when you have just suspicion but no proof; it’s another to go further from administrative to a criminal action. And of course, the standards are different. And so there we are working with the member states trying to include them in the process so they cannot then challenge the process. That was part of the recommendation in the Zaid report. We haven’t convinced all the member states in that.

And there’s a last front in which we have to work and there is a report—I mean, I approved it; it’s final; I don’t know if it’s released or not because—it’s going to be released any time if it isn’t—on how to deal with the victims so that there is some compensation, which will have financial implications that we think it’s warranted.

So this question of sexual exploitation and abuse—for me, it reflects two things. It reflects a problem that goes way beyond the U.N. It reflects also the quick growth of U.N. peacekeeping and the fact that our systems to control the situation are weak and fragile, especially in a situation of expansion.

I think like many issues in peacekeeping, we will succeed if we get the member states on board. If we’re just on a collision course, grandstanding and pushing it to the member states, we won’t succeed. And so it’s very important—and that’s where I’m very grateful to Zaid and his report for that—it’s very important to mobilize them and to change, really, the mind-set, to convince them that this is a priority issue for them, not just for the U.N.

FEINSTEIN: Just following up on Dr. Mendelson’s question, though: Is there any thought being given to barring countries from making contributions to peacekeeping operations if they fail to properly discipline and when necessary prosecute those who’ve been involved in sexual exploitation?

GUÉHENNO: The difficulty is that if you look at the situation of many countries, I mean, no country has a perfectly clean record on that. And sometimes, they—I mean, I don’t want to say they hide, because that would be—but they do have sometimes legal concerns that in all fairness, you can say it’s an excuse in some cases, but at the same time, they can argue a case. And I do think that that’s the difficult of a situation where the discipline rests with the national authorities. But we also have our own responsibility. And so we do, I think, have to improve the processes.

With improved processes, I think then we could hold the countries accountable. What we’re trying, for instances, to insert in the memorandum of understandings that we have with a troop-contributing countries is to make it clear contractually, for instance, that the sexual age majority is 18, so that they cannot—I mean, any even national legislation could not be opposed to us on that. So that we make the terms of the contract very clear so that then there would be no ambiguity—if anything has been proven that is a violation, we could take action.

So we are moving in that direction to have as clear as possible, I mean, relations with the troop-contributing countries so that they no exactly what standard they will be held accountable to so that if those standards are breached, we can take action and they cannot challenge that action.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

Yes, Mike.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I’m Mike Haltzel with DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary.

With regard to American and European participation in peacekeeping operations, I think one would also have to add the ongoing operations in Kosovo and in Bosnia, which are not, strictly speaking, blue helmet but clearly coordinated with the U.N. And from all I gather, the coordination is much smoother in Kosovo than it had been in Bosnia after the rather unfortunate experience of UNPROFOR.

My question relates to civilian administration. UNMIK has had a succession of chiefs; the most recent, Soren Jessen-Peterson has been there for two years. I think that’s a record. My question is, are you satisfied with the procedure for appointing special representatives of the secretary-general? I mean, it’s an open secret that at least in Kosovo the SRSG has to be European, his deputy has to be an American. Obviously, this has to do with democracy at the U.N. I mean, political considerations come into play.

Without getting into individual qualifications of incumbents, are you happy with the procedure?

FEINSTEIN: Let me—not to get you off the hook of that important question, but to incorporate additional questions from the membership, let me take one other question.

Yeah, Jeff.

QUESTIONER: Jeff Pryce, Steptoe & Johnson.

A related question: I wonder if you could reflect on the difference and experience over the course of UNPROFOR and IFOR, in particular with regard to command structure and mandate. I realize this wasn’t under your tenure, but you probably had an interest in it.

GUÉHENNO: Yes, first you had—you noted that when, yes, there are operations that support—I would add to Kosovo, I would add Afghanistan; I would add the fact there is a French deployment in Cote d’Ivoire. The point there is that these deployments help us a lot. And I think it’s very good that we have NATO in Afghanistan, especially considering the circumstances of Afghanistan.

I think it would not be good if you had a sort of two-tier peacekeeping where the strategically most important missions are done by a particular set of countries, while in the sort of second tier they abstain from it. That was my point. But certainly, there’s a big contribution there.

On the selection of SRSG’s, I think that it’s—the fact that political considerations factor in, it’s good when, for instance, in Haiti we just appointed a distinguished diplomat and politician from Guatemala to replace Juan Gabriel Valdes from Chile. Latin America has come together as it has never before in support of Haiti. There’s a real mobilization in Latin America for Haiti. Having a Latin American is in a way a recognition of that. So then you have to appoint the right person, of course. But I think in the choice of nationalities, I mean, looking and finding the right balance, I mean, having a very distinguished American diplomat in Congo, I think has helped Congo, because Bill Swing has done a very good job there. But also, because his nationality has helped American engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I think there is nothing wrong there.

What is not always perfect is the process to find the right person, because frankly, the job of a head of mission is one—I think, one of the most difficult jobs in the world, because from one day to the next you become a politician in a country that is not your country. So being a politician is always a difficult job. But being a politician in a country that you don’t—that you may know a bit but it’s not the place where you were born is immensely difficult. It’s much harder than being an ambassador to that country. It’s much harder than just being a manager. It’s a hugely difficult job.

And more and more—and it’s also a difficult job because a SR—a special representative in a peace operation, there’s the whole question of national ownership—has to be able to nudge, to push, but at the same time respect the people, give them ownership. And so that balance between pushing hard and stepping back when necessary, I think that’s the most difficult part of the job. Some have been extraordinarily successful at it, like Dar Brahimi. Some do not always find the right balance.

So we think more and more in terms of teams, because the person who would have all the qualities, I think, may not be born yet—(laughter)—so it’s very difficult. And I think we should have—we’re trying to get a more organized process to find SRSGs, because they’re not—not everybody wants to be an SRSG. Because you go in a place where you can get shot, where it’s by definition been destroyed by conflict; it’s not a great place to live in; you’re away from your family, and the risk of failure is always there, even if you are the most talented person, because I think there will never be 100 percent success rate in peacekeeping. So it requires a certain degree of abnegation and selflessness that not everybody has. And those who just want to rush into the position means that they shouldn’t be hired, because they haven’t understood the difficulties of the job. (Laughs.)

So on the UNPROFOR, IFOR—for me, I mean, more than the command structures, it’s the circumstances that evolve—from a situation where there was really no peace to keep, where it was an humanitarian intervention without a solid peace process. And I think that’s the central flaw of the whole UNPROFOR period to a new situation where there was a combination—there had been—(chuckles)—there was a peace to keep, and at the very moment when there was a peace to keep, the military capacity of the force was drastically increased. So in a way, it should have been the opposite, or at least there should have been the strength of IFOR at the time of UNPROFOR.

I think in our command structures—and that’s an issue that we have to discuss with the developed countries to bring them back on board in peacekeeping—we have to refine our command and control arrangements so they have confidence that if they commit troops to the U.N., those troops will be the chain of command; it will be a reliable chain of command, and they will be the right balance between civilian leadership and military authority.

It’s a discussion that we—I mean, I have had with a number of commanders, including commanders with a NATO background. Some believe that actually the U.N. arrangement where the chief on the ground is a civilian is actually a good arrangement for a peace operation, because, I mean, there are so many military actions that have a major political impact that if you reconcile the civilian chain of command and the military chain of command only at the strategic level—let’s say in the North Atlantic Council for NATO—that is not the right way to go for peace operations, and it’s better to reconcile it in theater.

At the same time, you do not want what you had in the UNPROFOR days, and that may be what you are alluding to. You don’t want micromanagement by the civilian leadership of military affairs. But I think that micromanagement there reflected more confusion on what was the political aim of the operation than anything else. I think we need to have the discipline to have a real campaign plan but in the broader sense of a political campaign plan in which the military is one of the instruments but only one of the instruments. And if you give—if you ask the right questions from the military, then you can give them the right guidance and then you do not interfere with the tactical conduct of operations.

That’s what we’re trying to work on, for instance, in a place like Congo where they are challenging military operations. We need to have a political strategy and we need to give the right leeway and flexibility to the military. It’s a work in progress because it’s actually one of the most difficult issues, this military-civilian interaction in a peacekeeping context.

FEINSTEIN: Well, we have many more questions. Perhaps those who have questions might want to crowd Mr. Guéhenno after the session.

But I want to say in closing that the United States pays attention to peacekeeping in bursts. But American support is obviously extremely important to what you do. And peacekeeping is very important to what the United States does and doesn’t do.

So I want to thank you for coming to the council to talk to all of us and encourage you to find the time to continue this dialogue, as well as to continue to build the good relationship that you and your office have had with the United States, because it’s obviously critical to the success we all want.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

GUÉHENNO: Thank you.








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