European Affairs

A striking image of the UN’s growing role emerges from the statistics. The office headed by Guéhenno manages a force of more than 90,000 personnel – 72,000 of them uniformed peacekeepers and over 18,000 civilians. UN peacekeeping has more troops deployed in overseas assignments than any other organization in the world except the Pentagon. In its 18 operations currently under way, UN peacekeeping affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The annual UN budget for these operations now tops $5.5 billion.

Its role seems destined to expand. In the last five years, the strength of UN personnel in peace operations has doubled. (Significantly, recent UN reforms include the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission to channel more high-level international energies into this process of rebuilding and stabilizing countries emerging from conflict.)

For decades, UN peacekeeping focused mainly on unresolved state-to-state conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli dispute, Greek-Turk confrontation on Cyprus or the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. When the UN took on an unprecedented multinational military effort to shore up the newly-independent Belgian Congo in 1960, the intervention proved controversial and costly; it was followed by a hiatus in such ambitious UN peacekeeping ventures. Starting in 1989-90, a new peacekeeping paradigm emerged in the post-cold war-era: it is characterized by fewer inter-state hostilities and more intra-state ethnic, tribal or other conflicts – civil wars that leave countries in the condition of a failed state even when the fighting stops.

In these situations, the UN’s role requires a much broader engagement than just monitoring a ceasefire. This new type of peacekeeping intervention involves joint military and civilian missions actively helping to prevent a new flare-up of hostilities and restoring the foundations of a failing state devastated by internecine warfare.

The new nature of peacekeeping surfaced spectacularly in the mid-1990s in the Balkans and in Africa, notably in Bosnia and Somalia, where some ventures ended as successes, often after suffering false starts, and there were tragic failures. Hard-earned lessons from these experiences have given the UN peacekeeping institutions an impressive body of professional expertise and some effective political-military templates in managing the transition from war to stability and reconstruction in post-conflict countries.

This professionalism, coupled with a unique legitimacy, makes the United Nations the leader in this “transformation” of peacekeeping as a form of conflict resolution. Sometimes, this newly ambitious approach is controversial, for example in debates about the viability of “nation-building.” But the UN’s recent track record in Africa demonstrates that there are now proven ways to succeed in this work, and “peace operations” have emerged as a highly cost-effective instrument in the toolbox for getting societies out of the killing fields and economic devastation of civil wars.

Peacekeeping of this type appears to be the best policy option for helping countries emerge from civil wars, the Rand Corporation (a strategic research think-tank) finds, because it can prevent countries from slipping back into turmoil and provide stability for recovery. As a result, “post-conflict military intervention” is the most effective way to promote economic growth and democracy, according to a recent study by Rand. The Rand study lauded the UN peacekeeping office for being quick to “learn lessons” from successes and mistakes. An important asset for the UN is the professional continuity in its peacekeeping staff, many of whom have experience from numerous operations. Guéhenno himself has been in charge for six years. (One of his predecessors in the job was current Secretary-General Kofi Annan.)

UN peacekeeping has more troops deployed in overseas assignments than any other organization in the world except the Pentagon

Peace operations under UN aegis are also cost-effective. To manage and support the UN forces contributed by member states, Guéhenno’s office has a staff of only 600, including 80 uniformed military officers. The Rand report noted that “the cost of UN nation-building tends to look quite modest when compared to the cost of larger and more demanding U.S.-led operations.” (Of course, the main U.S. nation-building exercise is Iraq, which did not meet UN criteria for an intervention of its own. In Iraq, the United States is spending $4.5 billion a month supporting its military operations – almost as much as the UN spends in a year to run all its 18 peacekeeping missions. Compared to this U.S. venture in Iraq, which includes counterinsurgency and peace enforcement as well as nation-building, the UN missions are much smaller. So far, 20,000 men has seemed to be the effective upper limit for UN peacekeeping missions.) But these 18 current missions where the UN is doing the job amount to 18 crises where the U.S. or the EU does not have to mount sustained interventions of their own.


The UN’s Role in Nation-Building: from the Congo to Iraq

The United States and the United Nations have developed different styles of nation-building. UN missions tend to be smaller, cheaper, quicker. American missions tend to be larger, more expensive; they take longer. UN missions have been quite successful. In fact, among the cases we looked at, they were more successful than the United States. But the U.S. missions tended to be the harder missions…In general, the dividing line between the two is that the UN doesn’t do invasions.

– James Dobbins, Director of the Center for International Security and Defense Studies at the Rand Corporation. He is one of the authors of the Rand study on The UN’s Role in Nation-Building, the second in a series of three volumes on nationbuilding: the first dealt with U.S. nation-building and the third will cover EU nation-building efforts. The reports are available at
Graph 01

The UN’s 18 current missions amount to 18 crises where the U.S. or the EU does not have to mount sustained interventions

In UN peacekeeping today, one of the prime rules is integrating the military and civilian components: in every mission, the political team must lead, without micro-managing the military, which in turn decides how to apply force in ways that reinforce the political strategy – and never sabotage it. (In this regard, an object lesson for all concerned was the 1993 debacle in Somalia, where U.S. and UN missions operated under separate chains of command, resulting in failure for all concerned.)

In forging an effective peacekeeping doctrine and practice, Guéhenno, 56, draws on his career background in strategic affairs. As a French government official and policymaker, he directed the foreign ministry’s office of policy planning studies (the Centre d’Analyses et Prévisions) and was ambassador to the Western European Union, the first security arm of the European Union. Guéhenno is also a well-regarded defense intellectual whose writings include La Fin de la Démocracie (published in the U.S. as The End of the Nation-State). Published shortly after Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History, Guéhenno’s 1994 book offered a more pessimistic view of the challenges for stability after the cold war and the demise of the super-power duopoly. Recently, just back in his office in the Secretariat building in New York after a 10-day trip to Congo, Guéhenno talked to European Affairs about the status of UN peacekeeping. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation:

European Affairs: What are the key features of UN peacekeeping on your watch?

If I had to give a definition of peacekeeping it is to provide the window of security so as to move the peace process forward, knowing that security is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. The head of each UN mission is always a civilian (the Secretary- General’s special representative), and his role is to establish the foundations of a sustainable peace. Part of that is to provide a measure of security: people have been fighting each other so there is no trust between them, and our military presence can reassure them so they do not resume the fighting. But the military force is just part of it and we deploy both military and civilians in a way designed to integrate their efforts.

In each country, it is vital to have a unified civilian-led post-conflict strategy and for the military to be an element of support

The key to success in a post-conflict situation is “unifying the mission’’ in order not to have a disjunctive military and civilian effort. I think that is what everybody is learning the hard way in all these post-conflict situations: it is vital to have one unified civilian-led postconflict strategy in each country and for the military to be an element that supports that strategy. The military and police components are important instruments because if there is no security, nothing will work. But security is not the whole picture. The idea that by force alone you can bring peace is an illusion – unless you have overwhelming force and massive numbers of people to deploy, which is not in the cards for us. So you need some basic political accord in the country you want to help.

EA: Once a peace deal is in place, how do you approach your job of peacekeeping and peacebuilding?

When you look at post-conflict situations, there are a number of recurring problems. First, you need to restore the basis of the state, which is the capacity to maintain law and order.Without it, all the rest is not sustainable. If you can’t maintain law and order, you won’t have the capacity to collect taxes. If you don’t collect taxes, you won’t pay the teachers or build the roads. “Law and order” means having police, having credible justice, having a credible correctional system of prisons and the like. This triangle is the foundation for the rule of law. So it is a matter of utmost priority now in our peacekeeping missions to start rebuilding these functions alongside our military work.

A critical element in peace operation is the process of “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration”

Then we come to another critical element that we call “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.” These are linked because during a conflict, people make a living essentially with their gun. The trick is to convince them to surrender their guns, and then you demobilize them with stipends and by feeding them. Not all of them can be reconverted into security forces, so ideally you train them a bit so that when ex-fighters leave the camps they have something to go to in civilian society and can make a living without a gun. At this stage, reconstruction, we mobilize the United Nations Development Program and other UN agencies, the World Bank and other donors, and other players such as NGOs – the whole system.

Of course, this approach does not guarantee that we only have victories in which we achieve peace. You can never have a 100 percent success rate in peacekeeping: it is philosophically impossible – there are too many factors not under your control. When you have a political process to support, you can prevent the resumption of war, but we cannot impose peace.We can just increase the odds in favor of it.

EA: Your vision of UN peacekeeping as an end of conflict and a beginning of reconstruction is a long step from the traditional concept. This new approach got off to an uneven start with interventions to provide humanitarian relief and even impose peace in countries in turmoil. Some missions were successful – for example Cambodia, where the UN virtually ran the country for a few years of transition. But some of these episodes were colossal, costly failures. In Bosnia, for example, UN peacekeepers initially were ineffectual in tamping down conflict or even protecting themselves. That kind of failure no longer seems to be in the cards. How did the UN change that?

There have been lessons learned from the 1990s from Bosnia and all the other tragedies of that period. Frankly, Bosnia was a key lesson. Given the circumstances, we can see now that it was a bad deployment in the sense that we can’t enforce a peace when the parties do not want us to.We have to understand that limitation. Peacekeeping is a vital instrument and it is important not to compromise this instrument by using it in situations where it cannot deliver.

Bosnia illustrated another point: when you do deploy, you need to be sufficiently strong so that if parties on the margin try to use violence to undermine the process, you can hit them hard.More than anytime in the history of UN peacekeeping, I have pushed the need for robust peacekeeping, the willingness to use force. Peace agreements declared between warring factions don’t have the same strength and solidity as agreements between states. They can be fragile. Some of the signatories may not keep their word; some may cheat; some may play tricks – as we have seen in [the Democratic Republic of] Congo.We have to have sufficient strength to stop would-be spoilers and prevent them from taking the whole process hostage. That defines robust peacekeeping. But it is important also to recognize that the UN is not configured to address a systemic breakdown of a peace agreement.

More than anytime in the history of UN peacekeeping, I have pushed the need for robust peacekeeping, the willingness to use force

It is crucial for peacekeeping operations to have a viable political basis and also for the UN’s role to be respected... Wherever you go in, you have to be there in strength. I have changed the rules of engagement so they are much tougher than we had in the 1990s. They are approved by me on a case by case basis to fit the political strategy adopted for each mission. Within that framework, our troops are much less hamstrung than they were. For example, in eastern Congo, we have taken casualties, but we have subdued troublemakers, with force when necessary. Does that mean we are always as robust as we would like to be? No, because we don’t always have enough or the right kinds of military resources. It is fine to have good rules of engagement, but you can’t raise the ante beyond the point where you are confident you have the strength to keep the situation under control. You must have a real deterrent capability.

EA: Right now, the situation in Darfur has unleashed appeals for international action to stop the killing, including public calls for the UN to act.Without going into the political details about the situation in Sudan, how does the Darfur case fit into your paradigm of peacekeeping and UN intervention?

Darfur – and the tragedy there – dramatically illustrates the reality that peacekeeping can only be undertaken when the necessary conditions are in place. There has to be a realization on both sides that a peacekeeping mission can bring them something. Without that political will, it is beyond our resources to stabilize the situation in such a vast area as Darfur.We cannot expect to enforce a peace against the will of the key players. The use of force cannot replace a peace agreement; we cannot deploy a peacekeeping operation if there is no agreement about the peace to keep.When we insert ourselves in the middle of a war, as was the case in Yugoslavia, we are shot at from all sides and it is impossible.

Even when there is a peace agreement, if the key players decide to go back to war, we are not going to have a force capable of enforcing peace. That is where peacekeeping, even robust peacekeeping, remains different from peace enforcement. In Kosovo, when there was armed intervention on humanitarian grounds, that was war, not peacekeeping. War requires a degree of military integration that is impossible for a coalition of countries that have not trained together, that are not organized to protect secrets together and so forth.We are not in that business, and we have to be very clear about that.

What “UN peacekeeping force” means is that our 72,000 uniformed personnel are lent by member states, which provide troops if they feel they are given a mission they can accomplish. So if I go to the 191 UN member states and ask for troops to enforce a peace against the will of the government and the rebels in Darfur, I will get zero troops – including zero troops from the countries that are publicly complaining that the UN is not doing anything to stop the killing in Darfur. In fairness, I understand the hesitations of these governments in the sense that they feel that force can only go so far. There are limits to the idea that by force you establish peace. Of course, at the end of the day it is up to the Security Council to decide. And there is always a great temptation to do something just to do something. But it is important to realize what can and cannot be done.

Of course, sometimes it can be a judgment call – to know when there is enough of a peace so the deployment of peacekeepers is going to make a real difference without taking an undue risk.When there is not enough of a peace and we just have to say “no, the elements are not there, this is not a peacekeeping situation.” And learning to say no, that is a great challenge, too.

EA: Will you describe an episode that was testing for you personally in wielding this responsibility?

The worst moment for me came in Congo in 2003 when there was suddenly a risk that the whole situation in the northeastern part of the country would unravel.Massacres were happening in Ituri and Bunia.We clearly did not have enough troops on the spot for this crisis, and our reserve force consisted of only one battalion that was not trained to address an emergency like this one. Nevertheless I decided to put that battalion into Bunia. That would focus international attention on the emergency so then I could work to get a multinational crisis force to engage. It was a gamble.We won.

There is a choice between the risk of letting some horrible massacre happen and the risk of intervening with insufficient force and failing

We got the EU to deploy the French-led Artemis force, then the overall UN mission was reinforced and so we turned the situation around. I believe that we saved many thousands of lives. The stakes justified the gamble. But it might not have worked. I remember several harrowing 24-hour periods convincing the French to move in and convincing President Kagame (of neighboring Rwanda) to let the force in. Getting over all the hurdles was tough. But the process illustrates the key dilemma at the heart of peacekeeping. You see a situation where you say the prudent thing would be to say, “no, we can’t address it” and then maybe everything will turn out fine: maybe the situation will not completely go to pieces and maybe there will not be a lot of people killed.

But maybe, too, something horrible is going to happen and then you have to spend the rest of your life thinking that if we had moved in, we could have prevented it. The problem is deciding to move in when you can’t be sure you are going to get all the necessary resources from the member states. So you are running the risk of having moved in and then having a disaster on your hands. You may worsen the situation and possibly mortally damage the cause of peacekeeping after all the progress in recent years. So there is a choice between the risk of letting some horrible massacre happen and the risk of intervening with insufficient force and failing. It is a judgment call and you have to live with the outcome.

EA: What is your assessment of the thinking in national capitals – particularly in Europe and the United States – about UN peacekeeping with its new elements of nationbuilding? Is your work getting more attention and better appreciation?

What is very useful is the growing recognition that peacekeeping is a core activity of the United Nations and, beyond that, also a core security function in this day and age. It is not just marginal, it is fundamental if you want to promote security and peace. If you just let situations unravel, the world will become unmanageable. Second, I think there is greater understanding of the complexities of peacekeeping, the complexities of the use of force and the complexities of linking military missions to political strategies and to a strategy of development.

It is interesting that the State Department has created the office called Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction and that President Bush has said that the need to deal with failing and post-conflict states is one of the great security challenges of our day. In other words, there is not one or the other of these three things, it is all three: peacekeeping, stabilization and development. And this step amounts to acknowledgement that this work cannot be improvised. And at the UN we have more experience than anyone and even if we don’t have all the answers, we have some of them.

I would like to see more progress, more engagement with the UN. Generally, there still is not enough understanding of the transformation that has occurred in peacekeeping in the last ten years, including the tougher rules of engagement in UN operations. There is not enough recognition that peacekeeping is so difficult that we need more contributions, not just military and police forces but also civilians with specialized skills. For example, we need more people to help train judges. Do we get enough, including from Europe? Frankly, we could do with more.
Graph 02
EA: U.S. forces are doing peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan under UN auspices but under NATO command, which then reports back to the UN Secretary-General. So the U.S. does not contribute troops directly to UN peacekeeping operations. And the EU is also improving its ability to mount “expeditionary” peacekeeping units. Is this the most likely course for future development in cooperation with UN peacekeeping by the United States and EU countries?

It is very good for the European Union – and NATO – to build themselves more deployable capabilities of this kind that are designed to be committed beyond Europe. But we would like to see more European troops operating under the UN flag in some of our missions. A UN operation is stronger when it has forces coming from all continents rather than when there are a number of countries that stay away. After the policy mistakes in 1990s that led to the tragedies we know, there has been a trend toward withdrawal of European troops and for that matter U.S. forces from UN peacekeeping. These countries used to be the biggest force contributors and they are not any longer.

Now the bulk of peacekeeping is done by developing countries, notably India,

Graph 03

Pakistan and Bangladesh. They have huge knowledge on peacekeeping and they do a very good job – a great job. But there are two problems. Because we want to field robust forces, we need specialized military capabilities, some of them quite sophisticated. These assets are in short supply in any country and if you have a whole set of countries that are not involved in peacekeeping it is hard to get those capacities in sufficient numbers. Then there is a political point. It sends a signal and gives us a stronger political hand when the people on the ground see that “the UN’’ means that the whole world is coming into the country. It should be a matter of course, but it is not as common as it used to be.

Look at the Darfur situation and discussion you have seen about the composition of the UN presence, including any future force. For the reasons I have mentioned, it would be good to have troops coming from countries of the developed world as part of the peacekeeping force. But nowadays that has come to be seen as something new, so it raises questions it shouldn’t raise. Put it the other way around: because there has not been enough of this universality of representation in peacekeeping missions around the world, it has now come to be seen as something unusual for that possibility to arise. It raises suspicions of the sort that should not be. Everyone should expect that in a peacekeeping operation you will have Asians, Africans, Europeans, and Americans all together. That is the norm. But it has not been and so there is a whole discussion about what composition a force should have in Darfur.

EA: How do you view the possibilities of seeing the UN share its peacekeeping responsibilities with regional organizations, notably in Africa?

We think it is important to build the capacities of regional organizations like the African Union, as has been clearly demonstrated in Sudan and Liberia and elsewhere. But helping to build African peacekeeping capacities should not become an excuse for countries from Europe and North America not to get involved in peacekeeping in Africa. Africa needs more international engagement rather than less. And it will take

Graph 04

time for the African Union to strengthen its capabilities to the point where it can address all the critical situations in Africa. Solidarity means building capacity but also more deployment of non-African countries to help the peacekeeping challenges of Africa. It is not one or the other: both are needed.

So one applauds the steps by EU nations and the United States to improve their own capabilities for handling crises, but it would be a mistake for the Europeans to think they can do their business in isolation from the rest of the world and, equally, it is important for Americans to engage with the rest of the world. Peacekeeping offers some special opportunities here. UN peacekeeping is not only about making a difference in a country; it is also about a mission bringing together people from very different backgrounds on a common project.

Nowadays you don’t have that many occasions where you have an Indian working next to a Pakistani working next to a Brit working next to a Nigerian, engaging people side-by-side across lines of wealth and ethnicity. It would be a retrograde step for countries to slip into a kind of parochialism where each nation works only with itself and its neighbors and does not accept working together in a joint effort with others who are very different. I think it is good to see the Europeans coming together and fielding integrated units and they are helping us right now by deploying an EU force to Congo as a reserve intervention force during the elections in July. But I would like them to go further so that sometimes their units are commanded by an Indian general in UN missions just as India’s forces agree to operate under officers from EU countries in our missions. It sends a powerful signal when the peoples of the world agree to work together and not just work side by side.

EA: Looking ahead, do you see new problems for the UN peacekeeping role? Is there growing competition from other organizations such as NATO or the EU security institutions? Or is there a risk of seeing the United States, for example, divert its attention away from UN peacekeeping?

I think the demand for peacekeeping vastly outstrips the supply. These kinds of situations – post-conflict societies where there is no more war but not yet peace – are going to stay with us for the next ten years and longer. So we welcome the development of more capabilities in this field, wherever they come from. The UN has at least two special assets. First, we have a broader pool of countries that can provide troops because we draw on the whole world. Second, in terms of legitimacy, there are situations where the UN will be the response of choice because we are worldwide, especially where one part of the world has suspicions that another part might be seeking undue influence.

Regarding the United States, it contributes people essentially in the sector of police officers. And it pays 27 percent of our budget. (EU states combined pay 40 percent.) Beyond that, I think people in Washington do ask: If the UN wasn’t there, who would be? People there realize that the UN, with all its imperfections – which we recognize, too – is a necessary part of the answer.

EA: How would you assess the success rate of UN peacekeeping? How should we evaluate your results?

The honest answer is that you need to measure over at least ten years to make a sound assessment. It takes that long to get the right perspective.We can confidently say we achieved real success in Cambodia, Namibia, Mozambique, El Salvador. Enough time has elapsed so that we know with certainty about those places.More recently, we seem to be on the way to success in Sierra Leone and Liberia. But it is still too early to say definitively. Peacekeeping offers no quick wins. It is a long-term effort – typically with an intensive phase with big military deployments lasting four or five years, then a phase when you downsize the mission, and eventually a phase of peacekeeping and development that lasts much longer, ten or 15 years.

EA: What is the most important operation right now for your UN office?

The stakes are highest in Congo. In a real sense, Congo is Africa. If Congo emerges from conflict, it changes the whole perspective on the continent. Congo is very rich in natural resources: people always talk about copper, diamonds, gold, timber, but it also has energy potential in its rivers and dams to supply electricity for half of Africa. Success in Congo can produce a significant new power. Of course, for Congo to punch its weight will take a generation – 25 years, not of peacekeeping, but of improving.We are not there yet, but it is quite striking when you go there to feel the immense hope of the people. They feel it is 1960 again, the time of independence and the first UN intervention when they missed a chance to get it right.

This time you can sense people want to get it right. There is still a lot of suffering: many people are killed every day. But there is a realistic possibility of turning it around now. It is a huge challenge. Congo has 60 million people; the country is the size of Western Europe.We have only 17,000 troops there and what a huge difference they have made in such a vast area.We have managed partly because Congo is a series of islands in a place where the forest is the ocean and the cities are the islands. By being strong in a few key islands, we have been able to make an impact.

Sudan is hugely significant, too. If it breaks up, the reverberations will be felt throughout Africa.We want to build on the peace agreement between the government and the main forces in the south. Now in the war in the western areas in Darfur, there are the Abuja negotiations. There seems to be a lot of hard political work still to be done by the international community to make peace appealing to all parties, make them see they have a stake in it and push to make them accept it.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno is Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations. He previously served in the Court des comptes (the French Audit Office) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 7, Issue number 1-2 in the Spring/Summer of 2006.