The Chronicle Interview: ‘We are more advanced in peacekeeping than in peacebuilding efforts’

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Director of the Global Interfaith Peace, interviewed Mr. Jean-Marie Guéhenno on 19 January 2007 . Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated that "peacekeeping is bearing the brunt of escalating demands".

Today's peacekeeping is reaching unprecedented levels. There are, as we speak, roughly 100,000 personnel -- military, police, civilian -- in 18 missions around the world. There are two ways to look at this expansion: one can say that it is a good sign that a number of conflicts is coming to an end; however, it presents an enormous challenge not just for the Secretariat, but also for Member States, to provide the resources, the troops and the political engagement necessary to make those 18 missions successful.

What are the main priorities of DPKO in 2007?

Our priorities are to intensify the reform process towards greater integration and more and more effective support for our peace operations, because the comparative advantage of the United Nations is the combination of the military, the police and all the support worldwide. We also have the priorities of specific missions, where a lot is at stake. We had a huge achievement in 2006 with the first elections in decades in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and for the first time there is hope for this country that was devastated by war. We wish to consolidate that achievement in 2007, which is of immense importance not just for the people of the DRC, but also the whole of Africa -- this is one big challenge that we want to face successfully in 2007. Second is the continuing tragedy in Darfur, which we see in the broader context of what has already been achieved in the Sudan, where we have made real progress in ending the largest conflict in Africa: the north-south conflict. There is a big peacekeeping operation in south Sudan, and one needs to keep focused on that operation so that the progress made so far is not compromised. We are working with the African Union towards a new situation, where there could be a joint effort to end the conflict. Another priority is the situation in Kosovo, which was devastated by violence and yet has regained stability, thanks to the massive engagement of the United Nations, but clearly the situation needs to evolve. Negotiation on the future status of Kosovo is under way, led by the former President of Finland, and in the months ahead this process will be at the centre of diplomatic efforts. For us, the challenge is to move the United Nations, which has undertaken specific responsibilities, to another phase where it could disengage and leave the place with lasting peace and hopefully a solid basis for reconciliation.

The mandates for some missions are due to expire soon -- will they be extended?

Of course, each mandate is the subject of thorough review by the Security Council. We in peacekeeping are happy when we can close a mission, because when we see all the demands that are put on us, we think that in good peacekeeping we have to deploy as quickly as possible -- beefing up the mission in Lebanon this past summer is an example of a fantastically rapid deployment. We just closed a mission in Burundi and we also closed one in Sierra Leone over a year ago. This year, we have situations where there are just peacebuilding, and no more peacekeeping missions. Of course, there is the situation in Kosovo, where I hope there will be a fundamental evolution; but apart from that particular case, we have to be cautious. It is dangerous when you leave prematurely.

What steps have been taken to enhance rapid reaction capabilities?

We have taken several steps. First, we have built in Brindisi, Italy a base with strategic deployment stocks, which allows us instant access to key equipment that we need in peacekeeping operations. As a result, what would take several months to procure is now ready to go. Second, we have made critical progress with respect to some key capabilities-I am thinking here of the police. We are deploying a standing police capacity, a team of experienced police officers in a number of specific areas, who will be ready to go where there is an immediate need. The third facet is to strengthen arrangements with Member States. We have a standby arrangement system, but it does not work as we would like it to. We want a much more solid effort and a much firmer commitment from Member States. We know that they usually make decisions on the merits of a specific mission, but we would like to have commitments that are sufficiently precise, and at least some forces are put on call to go to a mission. And when we do not have that, what has been tested and works in specific circumstances is to have a temporary reinforcement, including multinational forces like what we had with the European forces for the DRC elections, which beefed up the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). We have combined several actions in MONUC-we had additional support of the European multinational forces, some strengthening from neighbouring Burundi and, of course, our own forces on the ground. On the whole, we have deployed a whole range of measures to be able to react more quickly.

The UN-European Union cooperation in the DRC has been hailed as a milestone, can it be replicated?

There is a whole range of activities that we can work more closely with the European Union (EU). We can replicate in some other places what was done in the DRC as the need arises. I also want to have as many EU troops as possible in peacekeeping, because it is essential to have all continents represented. It was good to see the European Blue Helmets coming back to the United Nations in the Lebanese operation this past summer; after ten years, there is a much greater European presence there. Also, much less known about its role in the DRC peacekeeping operation- that there is an EU programme for the reform of the security sector that is quite valuable. There is also the whole effort by the European Union through the European Commission, in terms of developmental aid. The European Union is the biggest donor in the world, and we see how important it is in all levels of peace operations to create jobs, revitalize the economy, etc-having a solid developmental programme and a solid European involvement in it is of great importance.

Can you elaborate on the DPKO role in peacebuilding?

I think the United Nations, on the whole, is more advanced in peacekeeping than in peacebuilding efforts. The creation of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Peacebuilding Support Office are major steps forward. I strongly believe that it is very important for the international community-not just the UN but also the major donors, the European Union and countries with big developmental budget-to become much more effective in providing post-conflict support for countries to build capacities through a web of life-support activities. We have a demonstration of that challenge in south Sudan, where there was a huge support operation by the international community that saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The challenge there now is to move to capacity-building operations, whereby unity would be made effective. The Government of south Sudan has the real capacity to help its people-and there you have much more work to be done.

UN peacekeeping is back in Timor-Leste not long after completing its mission there in 2005-is there a lesson here?

We actually had some alarm signals-and we were not sure all the fundamentals to make peace sustainable had been achieved in Timor-Leste. The first lesson, I think, is don't leave prematurely at the risk of jeopardizing investments already made. At the political level, the reconciliation process and the consolidation of the Timorese polity were not completed. There are within its society real divides that needed to be addressed. Second is the security sector. One cannot address the question of police and the military in a fragmented way; it has to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, and part of the trouble in Timor-Leste had to do with the fragmentation of efforts. Third, it points again to peacebuilding efforts. Despite its natural resources, Timor-Leste is a country with immense poverty, as there is a lot of unemployed youth. If this developmental issue is not addressed, then it is really a tinder that can inflame very quickly if the other issues I mentioned are not dealt with. When you make an investment in peacekeeping, let's make sure that we address all issues, that we do not leave prematurely and that there are benchmarks agreed on by every one, so that we have a rational and objective way of determining when the time to leave has arrived.

What implications have the surge of deployments and the increasing complexity of peacekeeping functions had on the DPKO organizational structure?

We are engaged in a major reform process called "Peace Operations 2010", because as the missions have become more complex, they require a "one-stop shop" at Head-quarters-that is a consistent request that we hear from the field. We are, therefore, moving towards integrated teams to make sure that integration is deepened so that as the operations grow we have more robust structures and procedures, which make up for the fact that we cannot manage those sorts of operations in an ad hoc manner.

How effective have the Conduct and Discipline Units been in combating sexual and other abuses?

We are pleased to have the support of Member States in efforts to systematize the creation of conduct and discipline units in many of our missions. I think they are effective in moving forward on several fronts, such as prevention and training, so that we are not in a reactive mode. To address the question of sexual exploitation and abuses, you have to think first of prevention before troop deployment, so that Member States are sensitized to it. Once troops are deployed, there has to be continuous effort. Of course, you have to be effective in taking action whenever something happens. The fact that we now have the eyes and ears, and the people who have dedicated their efforts to that cause, says a lot. We are determined to never let go of that issue-it is a considerable challenge. It is like policing a city with 100,000 people, with a population that is continuously changing, so it has to be a continuous effort. It is also about changing the culture and the approaches in most armies of the world, and for that it is very important to have the full support of Member States. That is why we have dialogue with them; however, we need to go even further. I was disappointed that the new memorandum of understanding that will set the rules with greater clarity on what the objectives are, the standards that are acceptable to Member States, could not be completed before the end of the last General Assembly. It should be our priority for 2007, so that everyone understands what the expectations are. The message is clear: anyone who receives and welcomes the rules will have to be held accountable.
* Photo: Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guéhenno (centre, in dark suit) of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) with officers currently serving in the Strategic Military Cell of DPKO after a medal presentation ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York on 24 January 2007.
UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz