The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
Over the past two years, most UN peacekeeping operations have faced a deteriorating security and political environment. This means troop and police contributors, member states, and other actors must do more collectively to support UN personnel, according to Jean-Pierre Lacroix, undersecretary-general for peace operations.
Of the UN's 12 peacekeeping missions, at least eight have faced a deteriorating operational environment since the end of 2019, Lacroix told Janes . This is reflected by an increased pace of attacks against peacekeepers, growing restrictions on their freedom of movement, and other threats – compounded by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is not only linked to the increased tensions that we observe in today's world, but to the fact that the political processes that those peacekeeping missions are supporting are not moving forward,” Lacroix said.
The negative dynamic demands increased collective efforts from UN member states, troop- and police-contributing countries, and those that contribute financially, together with members of the Security Council and the General Assembly, Lacroix noted.
“They are more important than ever because our peacekeepers are really going through a difficult time,” the undersecretary-general said. “They absolutely make a difference all day, every day in terms of monitoring ceasefires, preventing the resumption of hostilities, protecting civilians, and supporting host governments. [However], it's absolutely clear that the environment in which they are operating is more and more challenging and dangerous.”
Despite this, Lacroix sees reasons to be positive. He was speaking at the conclusion of the Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, which took place in December 2021 mostly virtually and saw 62 countries make a range of pledges for peacekeeping operations, including new military and police capabilities, training opportunities, and capability building partnerships, along with strengthened UN medical capabilities.
Lacroix said he had hoped for and achieved three major goals at the event. First, a reaffirmation by member states of their support and commitment to UN peacekeeping. With 45 member states represented at ministerial level and many others sending senior representation, “we managed to have both high-level participation and this expression of political support”.
Second, the ministerial delivered support for the initiatives that the UN is conducting and planning for the future to further improve the effectiveness of peacekeeping. This goal is focused on the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative and its successor, A4P+, which aims to improve peacekeeping capabilities across the board. A4P+ contains seven priority areas, as well as two themes that cut across these areas: technology and women in peacekeeping. “We will be implementing concrete actions and deliverables” across these priorities, Lacroix said.
Third, there were several firm pledges in terms of military capabilities and contributions in areas like training, he said. These covered capacities like airlift, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and medical support.
For almost two years, the UN has continued its peacekeeping operations against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, necessitating a range of changes to the way it operates. Besides the basic hygiene measures emphasised across societies, there has been a demand for personnel to quarantine both prior to and during missions.
According to Lacroix, all of these measures remain in place and are kept under constant review.
“Given the recent evolution of the pandemic … vigilance continues to be really critical, even though these preventative measures – particularly those on rotation and quarantine – obviously impact the operational capacities of our missions,” he said. The UN will continue to stress the importance of vaccines, with contributing countries deploying only vaccinated personnel on the missions, he added.
There is also a growing focus on medical capabilities, with 18 member states pledging at the ministerial to strengthen the UN's medical capabilities. While the pandemic and illnesses more broadly are part of this, it also relates to the deteriorating security environments in many missions. For example, Lacroix pointed to an attack in Mali on 8 December 2021 that killed seven peacekeepers deployed on the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Such attacks are a growing threat to UN missions in Mali and beyond, Lacroix said. To ensure that peacekeepers are adequately protected, “enhancing our medical support is critical”, he added. This comprises several key elements. First, the immediate reaction phase, which needs better first aid supplies, training, and equipment. Second, the supply of helicopters and other essential equipment or casualty evacuation. Third, the provision of quality hospitals. Lacroix noted that there were
commitments in all these areas at the Seoul ministerial.
“We need to ensure that we quickly operationalise those pledges by working with the member states that provided them and making sure we can expedite the actual deployment of the capacities that we need,” he said.
UN peacekeeping is also looking to the future with a ‘Strategy for the Digital Transformation of UN Peacekeeping' that is focused on embracing new developments in information technology to provide “a more organised and structured approach to the increased use of digital technology in peacekeeping”, Lacroix explained.
He noted that the digital strategy will improve the safety and security of a peacekeeper; boost missions' ability to plan and collect peacekeeping intelligence and better process this information; and improve communications, including the ability to counter disinformation. It will also boost the UN's understanding of those who attack its missions using such digital technology.
The strategy's importance was recognised at Seoul and “now we need to go forward and implement the strategy”, Lacroix said. “That will be quite a challenge but I'm confident we received a good level of support.”