The recent adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2436 on UN peacekeeping is the latest development in an ongoing debate on how to improve peacekeeping performance. Africa’s status as both the largest provider of troops and the continent hosting most current peace operations, positions it at the heart of this discussion. Nina Wilén and the Egmont Institute have published an important policy brief that critically examines two of the options identified to improve peacekeeping: more troop contributions from states with advanced military capability and better training for peacekeepers.
On the 21 September 2018, the UN Security Council adopted a new resolution on how to improve peacekeeping. Resolution 2436 continues the past few years’ focus on how to improve peacekeepers’ behaviour, leadership and accountability. It is part of what Paul D Williams has called the UN’s ‘Peacekeeping Trilemma’ – the imperative to pursue three largely incompatible goals: 1) fulfill broad mandates in high-risk environments, 2) avoid peacekeeper casualties and 3) keep financial costs down.
This debate is relevant for Africa since eight of the UN’s 15 peace missions are currently in Africa, and African states contribute almost 50% of all UN uniformed peacekeepers. Africa is thus both the largest provider and client of current UN peace operations and is, therefore, at the heart of discussions of peacekeepers’ performance.
It is important to critically analyse the two options most commonly identified as ways in which peacekeepers’ performance could be ameliorated: more troop contributions from states with advanced military capability and better training for peacekeepers. Perhaps most importantly, there is a major risk of reinforcing an authoritarian government’s main tool of oppression by training a politicised army, and evoked concerns regarding training and deploying post-conflict militaries in peace operations too soon after a conflict has ended.
More specifically, military capacity-building in troop- contributing African states which are experiencing domestic conflict and/or are (semi)authoritarian evokes several dilemmas. One is that by building stronger and more functional armies, external partners are assisting authoritarian governments by providing them with the best tool of oppression: a functional army. Given that the UN attempts to improve civilian–military relations in peace operations to avoid human rights abuses and SEA scandals, as well as improving POC, it seems counterproductive to deploy troops which are accused of precisely these offences domestically.
External partners need thus to choose wisely when it comes to military capacity-building, even if the objective of the training is for a ‘good cause’, such as peacekeeping. Investing more resources in training and equipping peacekeeping states with clean human rights records both at home and abroad is one option to counter this dilemma. However, given the fact that the UN deploys roughly 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers annually, Western states cannot be too picky about whom they support – especially when they do not themselves contribute troops. Another alternative is, therefore, to strongly condition the collaboration with politicised armies and to actively take part in the vetting process of deployed personnel, ensuring that the chosen troops live up to the UN standards and that there is genuine political support from the host state for the process.
A second is that several African states which are either experiencing a domestic conflict or are in the immediate post-conflict phase have decided to deploy troops abroad while simultaneously hosting a peace operation at home. In some cases, there have even been explicit links between the externally supported Security Sector Reform (SSR) process and the pre-deployment training, which highlights new risks of foregoing political objectives in the quest to get new troops ready for deployment. In addition, it raises questions concerning the troops’ preparedness and actual military capacity.
There are surely cases where post-conflict armies can be ready to deploy troops to peace operations relatively soon after the formal end of a conflict, and some research has also shown how deploying troops abroad can ease tensions at home while increasing the army’s cohesion. Yet, deploying troops abroad while there is a peace operation at home is a risky undertaking for several reasons. Firstly, because it is unclear if soldiers who have recently been part of a domestic conflict are actually ready to help create peace abroad. This concerns both the individual soldier’s capacity and the army’s overall capacity. New research has shown that high-quality militaries are better at protecting civilians in peace operations, clearly proving the need for better trained and equipped peacekeepers in order to improve performance. Secondly, even if the troops deployed come from a formally post-conflict environment, the presence of a military peace operation indicates that considerable security concerns remain. Training and equipping military actors in such an environment may be risky, as a return to conflict can happen quickly.
It is clearly tricky to dissuade states who are willing to contribute troops from doing so when the demand is high and the supply is low. Still, if the result risks eroding existing peace processes in post-conflict states and if the added value of the new TCCs is dependent on several external factors which are difficult to control, it might be better to refrain from deploying troops too early. Although it is tempting for external partners (who want to deploy troops without providing any), and for post-conflict states (who need to reform and re-equip their armies) to include pre-deployment training in SSR processes, this needs to be done in a context-specific and careful manner where the political development has to come before, or at least simultaneously with, the military capacity.
Drawing these lessons together, it should be clear that the international community must take extra care to make sure that, while trying to do good, they do not actually do harm. There are a number of strategies that can be used to avoid falling into this trap, but three of the most important are to:
- Careful selection of partner countries on a case-by-case basis.
- Closer collaboration in the vetting process.
- Promoting political objectives during Security Sector Reform processes.
To read the full report, click here.
Nina Wilén is Research Director for the Africa Programme at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Université Libre de Bruxelles as well as a Global Fellow at PRIO (Peace Research Institute Oslo).