The UN, EU and civilian peace ops

by | Mar 18, 2010

Yesterday, Ban Ki-moon announced the formation of a Senior Advisory Group for the Review of International Civilian Capacities (which will hopefully not be known as SAGRICC).  “Another UN panel,” I hear you cry, “whoopy-ruddy-doo!”  But this is a serious panel dealing with a serious problem: the shortage of decent police, justice experts and other civilian specalists to deploy to post-conflict countries.  Many UN missions have only 60-70% of their planned civilian staff, leaving them overstretched and unable to deal with day-to-day political issues, human rights and so on.

The new advisory group (involving former UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guéhenno and my boss, Bruce Jones) will oversee a review “to improve the international response in the aftermath of conflict by strengthening the availability, deployment and appropriateness of civilian capacities for peacebuilding.” My colleague Rahul Chandran is leading the team conducting this review.  I think they’re the right team for the job.

I also think that this would be a good moment for the EU to learn a lesson from the UN.  As Daniel and I pointed out in a tough paper for ECFR last year (with a foreword by Jean-Marie Guéhenno…) the EU’s own civilian peacekeeping efforts have big problems.  EU missions suffer from staff short-falls almost as bad as the UN’s.  In part, that’s because demand (for UN and EU ops alike) outstrips supply – which also creates technical headaches, as we pointed out in Internationale Politik:

Since the European Council sent a police mission to Bosnia in 2003, the European Union has deployed fifteen civilian operations worldwide—compared to just six military operations. These have ranged from small police reform missions in Congo to a 3,000-strong mission in Kosovo, launched in 2008, that handles not only policing issues but judicial reform, war crimes investigations, and customs.

The Union’s ability to deploy so many missions—even sending personnel as far away as Aceh, Indonesia—was one of the great successes of Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief from 1999 to 2009. Working with a relatively small group of officials, Solana used personal diplomacy and sheer persistence to get each mission on the ground.

The EU’s bureaucratic systems have often struggled to keep up. Financing has been a particular headache: when the first personnel arrived in Aceh, they had to use their personal credit cards to fund the mission start-up. European officials also admit that they have been lucky. Although EU civilian personnel have come under attack in the Balkans and Afghanistan, they have yet to suffer any fatalities. Had a European mission suffered significant casualties—as the United Nations suffered in Iraq in 2003 and in Haiti —EU governments might have recoiled from approving missions at such a high rate.

So I’d argue that the EU should match the UN’s review with a formal self-analysis of its civilian operations (in fairness, the Swedish EU presidency made some progress in this direction by asking member-states to review their national civilian capacities).

Actually, I’d go further. Ten years ago, the UN published the highly influential Brahimi Report – an in-depth study of all aspects of peacekeeping. Succeeding reform initiatives, including this new review, all build on this extremely strong basis. The EU doesn’t have any equivalent ur-text for its operations. The Union should put together a team of wise persons to start drafting one, the sooner the better.


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