Delivering on the Promise of Prevention:
Proposals for Reform of the UN’s Peace and Security Architecture
In October of last year, the Secretary-General unveiled his detailed proposal to improve the way the United Nations Secretariat works to prevent conflict and sustain peace. The measures, part of a wider effort to reform the Organization, envisage enhancing the effectiveness of special political missions and peacekeeping operations, and making the “peace and security pillar” of the Organization more coherent. On 15 May, the proposal was formally put before the General Assembly’s budgetary committee, where UN Member States are debating its merits before deciding its fate.
The proposed reform takes on problems identified in recent assessments of how the UN “does” peace and security work, including a rapidly changing “conflict landscape” that at times outpaces the Organization’s ability to respond. One of these reviews, the 2015 report of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, clearly lays out some of the challenges:
“In many ways, UN peace operations have become more professional and capable over the past decade but significant chronic challenges remain. Resources for prevention and mediation work have been scarce and the United Nations is often too slow to engage with emerging crises. Too often, mandates and missions are produced on the basis of templates instead of tailored to support situation-specific political strategies, and technical and military approaches come at the expense of strengthened political efforts. In the face of a surge in demand over the past decade, the Organization has not been able to deploy sufficient peacekeeping forces quickly and often relies on under-resourced military and police capacities. Rapidly deployable specialist capabilities are difficult to mobilize and UN forces have little or no interoperability. Secretariat departments and UN agencies, funds and programmes struggle to integrate their efforts in the face of competing pressures, at times, contradictory messages and different funding sources. UN bureaucratic systems configured for a headquarters environment limit the speed, mobility and agility of response in the field. These chronic challenges are significant but they can, and should, be addressed.”
The Secretary-General’s proposal would restructure the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO), and would entail “changes in the Organization’s working culture.” The idea is to reduce the fragmentation of efforts and ensuring a more “joined up, whole-of-pillar approach to the delivery of mandates and stronger cross-pillar cooperation.”
The proposal has five main elements, notably the creation of a Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and a Department of Peace Operations, replacing DPA, DPKO and PBSO; and the establishment of a single political-operational structure with regional responsibilities, reporting to the heads of the two new Departments. If adopted, the new measures would take effect on 1 January 2019.
Introducing the proposal in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General’s Executive Office, emphasized that the proposed reforms were “realistic, manageable and achievable”. From the outset, she said, the Secretary-General had stressed that his reforms were not a cost-cutting exercise. Their aim was simply to make peace and security more effective. She added that great care had been taken to strengthen existing capacities from within existing resources without changing mandates and budgetary sources. “We, however, cannot perform our current mandates with less,” she added.
The representative of Timor-Leste, Danilo José Naicoli Ximenes Gonçalves, speaking based on his own young country’s experience, welcomed the increased coherence promised by the proposal. He recalled Timor-Leste had hosted both special political missions and peacekeeping missions from 1999 to 2012, during which it experienced first-hand the fragmentation that could occur during transitions. Lack of communication between the Department of Political Affairs and DPKO during the transitional stages from one mission to another resulted in lost opportunities to build on knowledge gained as well as good working relations and trust built over many years. Peacekeeping missions began anew, ignoring all the good work previously done. A smooth transition would have been achieved if the missions had been managed by the same department, as now proposed by Secretary-General, he said. Regarding the delegation of authority to the field, he said the lack of such authority in Timor-Leste’s experience had hindered its missions’ ability to respond swiftly to needs on the ground.
The Committee is expected to act on the proposal in the coming weeks before sending it to the full General Assembly.
Title Picture: Secretary-General meets with DPA, DPKO and PBSO staff in September 2017 to discuss his vision of reform of the peace and security work of the United Nations.