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Changing the Guard

United Nations Peacekeeping, as a function, and the UN, itself, as an institution, have acquired mythical status amongst Canadians – especially in the media. It is important, therefore, to mark a changing of the guard at the UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon starts work on 1 Jan 07, replacing Kofi Annan.

Kofi Annan’s tour as Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations – where he was advised and assisted by Gen (Ret’d) Maurice Baril of Canada – was a low point in UN history. It signaled the failure of UN peacekeeping, as envisioned by the likes of Ralph Bunche (US), Sir Brian Urquhart (UK) and Lester B. Pearson (Canada). For this he was rewarded with the office of Secretary General.

Annan put politics ahead of principle; he succumbed to the corrupt UN system, putting the ‘needs’ of the UN staff in Geneva and New York ahead of those of the UN troops in the field. That ‘system’ – with its inherent corruption and inefficiency – is, after all, what allowed him to rise ‘up through the ranks’ of that bureaucracy in a nearly 45 year long UN career.

Mr. Annan’s major ‘contribution’ to peacekeeping may be the growing recognition, throughout the bill paying West, that the UN is ineffective – hence the ‘contracting out’ to NATO and, when NATO isn’t interested, others like the African Union, ineffectual as they may be, witness Sudan.

Ruxted has some unsolicited advice for incoming UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and for Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno.

First: traditional UN peacekeeping can still work provided the UN carefully matches mission with capabilities. As the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) itself points out: “...several of the world's most capable militaries and strong economies are either heavily committed—mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan—or for other reasons, such as reduced defense spending, are choosing not to contribute troops to UN peacekeeping. Meanwhile, the UN's top 10 troop contributors to peacekeeping operations are developing countries and have limited resources.”

The key lesson is that missions which require the “world’s most capable militaries” are probably of such a complex nature that they are beyond the military capabilities of DPKO. They should be ‘mandated’ by the UNSC – as ISAF in Afghanistan is – and then ‘contracted out’ to NATO or another coalition of the “world’s most capable militaries.”

The less complex missions – those more akin to e.g. UNFICYP, UNEF II and UNDOF – can be managed by DPKO and are, generally, within the scope of “developing countries” so long as some administrative and logistic support is provided by the “world’s most capable militaries,” including Canada. Indeed, participating in these UN missions should help to improve the military capabilities and overall sense of international responsibility of many UN members.

Second: DPKO itself has identified the keys to successful peacekeeping including -

• The international community must diagnose the problem correctly before prescribing peacekeeping as the treatment;

• There must be a peace to keep;

• All key parties to the conflict must consent to stop fighting, and to accept the UN role in helping them resolve their dispute and to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission;

• Members of the Security Council must agree on a clear and achievable mandate;

• Deployment must proceed quickly.

• The international community has to be prepared to stay the course;

• When the UN Security Council authorizes a mission, it also summons the Member States to support the United Nations politically, financially and operationally in addressing that specific situation; and

• Real peace takes time; building national capacities takes time; rebuilding trust takes time.

When those conditions do not apply then the UN must wait, even though a heartbreaking human catastrophe might be unfolding on Canadians’ TV screens.

Canadian politicians should take note of the same items – especially the last three. Too many Canadian politicians are unwilling to ‘stay the course.’ Too many Canadian politicians are unwilling to support the mission, in any way. Too many Canadian politicians are unwilling to give the UN mandated mission in Afghanistan time to succeed.

Canada invested treasure, political capital and lives in UN Peacekeeping. Canadians want UN Peacekeeping to succeed. More of the Annan/Baril method will, in Ruxted’s view, guarantee failure. Failure will further tarnish the UN’s reputation for ineptitude and will cause members to focus on systemic inefficiency, ineffectiveness and corruption.

As Ruxted has advocated earlier, Canadian combat forces should be strengthened and then reserved, along with the military forces of the ‘fortunate few’ nations of the world, for the complex, difficult global peacemaking missions. Additionally, Canada can, and should support the less complex ‘traditional’ UN peacekeeping missions with planning, technical and logistical expertise and with money, equipment, training and, especially advisors. Perhaps, if Parliament will increase the defence budget further, Canada might maintain a skeleton ‘formation’ able to expand very quickly to provide – only for a short while, until other resources (contracted or for other militaries) can be deployed – an initial command, control, communications system and a medical and logistics ‘base’ for UN missions. Such a contribution, to the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), at its inception, might have made a huge difference to the capabilities of force itself and to the will of other force contributors.

Ruxted reiterates: traditional UN peacekeeping can work, under certain conditions. Canada can help make it work without making Canadian foreign and defence policies a hostage to the UN. Canada can play an active, leading role in world affairs, promoting and protecting its own vital interests and protecting the less favoured nations in the world by helping the UN in the (limited) tasks the UN can manage and, simultaneously, sharing the burden of global peacemaking with a few other like minded, capable nations.


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