A 50-year-old French diplomat has taken over the UN department of peacekeeping amid debates over sweeping reforms for the unit. The new director and experts outside the organization agree that urgent changes are needed to make UN peacekeeping more effective after a decade in which most of the world's conflicts were internal.
United Nations, 10 October 2000 RFE/RL) -- UN member states have begun meetings to discuss an ambitious program of reforms aimed at making UN peacekeeping more effective and credible.
In General Assembly budget hearings and Security Council consultations held so far this autumn, members have generally supported the major reforms recommended by a panel of independent experts.
For the UN's new undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, this support is crucial. The panel's recommendations call for member states to commit more of their soldiers, police and jurists to UN missions and to pay a greater share for peacekeeping expenses. Such commitments would contribute to the biggest series of changes to UN peacekeeping in its history.
Guehenno told reporters at his first news conference last week a top priority is to set rules of engagement for UN missions that permit peacekeepers to defend themselves and their mandates more vigorously.
"I think if we want to re-establish and consolidate the authority of the organization as the expression of the will of the international community we do need robust rules of engagement. That does not mean that we are going to wage wars."
Poorly defined mandates and weak rules of engagement contributed to peacekeeping disasters in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the mid-1990s as well as more recent problems in Sierra Leone.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was undersecretary of peacekeeping during the genocides in Srebrenica and Rwanda, commissioned a report this spring by a team of independent experts to examine the flaws in UN peacekeeping and recommend solutions. The panel, led by veteran UN diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, in August released its report, which calls for changes in the way peacekeeping is conceived, administered and carried out.
The goal, it said, was a more professional peacekeeping corps, able to respond swiftly to crises and empowered by the Security Council to carry out clear mandates.
Before taking on his new job, Guehenno traveled to three of the largest UN missions -- in East Timor, Bosnia, and Kosovo. He says it's clear many of the reforms in this summer's Brahimi report would improve some of the practical challenges facing these missions.
Guehenno supports the Brahimi report's call for more integration of a trained judiciary into missions. The lack of impartial judges and civilian police in Kosovo, for example, has been blamed for the high levels of violence that continued months after the UN mission deployed there.
"The police issue and the justice issue are closely linked, (leading to) the suggestions in the Brahimi report on the rule of law aspects, that, if the police arrest someone and then there is no judiciary system to try that person, no prison to keep imprisoned, then whatever you do with the police doesn't mean much."
The issue of peacekeeping has been closely followed by the International Peace Academy, a non-governmental organization based in New York. The academy's president, David Malone, tells RFE/RL that the transformation of UN blue helmets into more than just soldiers has been shaky. But he says there now appears to be the realization that peacekeeping means more than just bringing soldiers to a crisis.
"Since the end of the Cold War with the UN dealing with many more internal conflicts, although they often have regional ramifications, the civilian element in peacekeeping has become much more important. Not just civil policing, which is critical, but also civil administration, economic rehabilitation, civil engineering."
Malone, the former Canadian deputy ambassador at the UN, says Guehenno is highly regarded in the field of international strategic affairs. Guehenno served as an ambassador to the Western European Union and as the chief of France's institute for national defense studies.
Guehenno's background in European defense circles also will help in coordinating activities between the United Nations and the European Union's planned 60,000 strong rapid reaction force.
There are currently about 40,000 military personnel and civilian police in 14 peacekeeping operations around the world, including those in Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia's border zone with the separatist province of Abkhazia, and the border region between Croatia and Yugoslavia on the Prevlaka peninsula. Demand is growing for more UN peacekeepers to be deployed in Africa and the Middle East.
Failure by some UN members to pay their dues has left peacekeeping operations with a debt of nearly $2 billion. For some peacekeeping experts, a more troubling issue is the will of the 15-member Security Council to support missions.
Malone, of the International Peace Academy, says one of the problems is the council members rarely share the burden of responsibility for carrying out peacekeeping missions. Malone, like other critics of UN peacekeeping, point to the events earlier this year in Sierra Leone, when hundreds of peacekeepers were taken hostage and rebel groups threatened to overrun the country.
He says that mission began with a weak mandate from the Security Council.
"What we need from the council is responsible behavior whereby when they take a decision -- for example to deploy in Sierra Leone -- that also implies that their countries are willing to participate in the operation and that we've seen very little of and that needs to change."
But Guehenno says he's pleased with the support the Brahimi report has received from Security Council members. He says the Council will be able to act more confidently if the department is peacekeeping affairs is more transparent and explains the situation in the field in more frank terms.