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USG Statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

23 Jan 2009
Alain Le Roy

A Decisive Year: Revitalizing the Peacekeeping Partnership

UN peacekeeping a decade ago – turning a corner

Ten years ago, United Nations peacekeeping turned an important corner: 1999 was a year of profound changes for UN peacekeeping and for international peace and security. The reports on Srebrenica and Rwanda and the collapse of the mission in Somalia led to some hard introspection and ultimately to new ways of thinking about peacekeeping, driven largely by the report of the High-Level Panel on United Nations Peace Operations – the Brahimi report.

In 2000, a new surge in peacekeeping saw deployment figures leap from less than 14,000 personnel to nearly 40,000 personnel. This has turned out to be a sustained surge that continues until today, exactly a decade later, with 112,000 deployed and many more to come with strengthening of MONUC, continued deployment of UNAMID and the authorization of an enlarged mission in Chad. Detailed planning and preparation for a potential new mission in Somalia is underway. Today, we are larger and spread more widely than ever before, with mandates that are more complex and robust than ever. These mandates which we receive from the Security Council reflect a better appreciation by the international community of the complexities of post-conflict challenges, but also the desire for more comprehensive peace settlements by conflicting parties themselves.

The last decade has also been a time of resurgent thinking on UN peacekeeping, peacekeeping reforms, and the gradual strengthening of a professional peacekeeping system. We have seen many improvements. We have clarified thinking on modern UN peace operations and strengthened the UN’s institutional capacity to support operations. Nevertheless, much remains to be done.

The growth in UN peacekeeping over the past decade also reflects its strengths. It can provide the international community with a credible response to assist the implementation of peace agreements; it can provide a platform for a wide range of assistance and support to help countries move from conflict to stability; it can bring the broad legitimacy of the United Nations and its neutrality to bear, to serve as an honest broker after divisive civil strife. Ultimately, it has proven to be a flexible and resilient tool for the maintenance of international peace and security. 

Past reform initiatives

Yet, as all of you are well aware, the last 10 years were not all good news. We have faced operational challenges in almost all of our theatres of deployment and the reform at Headquarters has not always resulted in as much improvement as is needed. The implementation of the Brahimi recommendations, the Peace Operations 2010 reform agenda, and most recently, the Secretary-General’s initiatives to create two strengthened departments, DPKO and DFS, have all been a manifestation of our desire to strive constantly to do the job of peacekeeping better.

You have been our partners in this ongoing process and we want to assure you of our continued commitment to this agenda for professionalization and improvement. We are open to new ways of tackling persistent challenges and to new ways of doing business in partnership with the Security Council, the General Assembly and our operational partners.

A pivotal year

Mr. President,

I believe 2009 is a pivotal year for peacekeeping. A number of our missions face risks that are so significant that there is a potential for mission failure, with terrible consequences for the United Nations.

In Eastern DRC the parties recently brought the country to the brink of catastrophe and MONUC was hard-pressed to manage the crisis. The mission was called upon to support the FARDC in combat even as it crumbled and at the same time protect hundreds of thousands of civilians spread across a vast area. In Darfur, UNAMID continues to face difficulties in deploying, while the parties on the ground are increasingly belligerent and the political negotiations move slowly. Even at full strength, UNAMID will continue face daunting challenges. Over 2.5 million refugees and IDPs look to UNAMID for protection. The mission still lacks the helicopters that would provide the essential mobility to carry out its mandate.

As I speak, DPKO and DFS colleagues are on an assessment mission looking at the situation in Somalia. The Security Council’s resolution on the intention to establish a future UN peacekeeping operation is clear. In the interim, our colleagues in DFS now face a dual challenge of continuing to prepare and plan for a mission that will undoubtedly face tremendous operational hurdles, while simultaneously strengthening and supporting AMISOM. There remains no peace to keep in Somalia.

Mr. President, United Nations peacekeeping is clearly overstretched. We face operational overstretch and, I would argue, political overstretch too. With 18 operations deployed in five continents, with 78,000 military, 11,500 police and 23,500 civilians deployed, the operational challenge of maintaining full support to all our missions and mounting new ones is far beyond what the Brahimi reforms envisaged. They were scaled to allow the UN to launch one peacekeeping operation per year. Last week, the Security Council voted through two new mandates for Chad and Somalia. Meanwhile we are still in a deployment phase in DRC and in Darfur.

At the same time, our missions carry forth mandates that represent much more than the deployment of uniformed personnel. Many are fundamentally political operations supporting complex transitions to peace within deeply divided countries. Even with well-crafted mandates, these missions need continuous and concerted international support as they manage constant tactical, political adjustments on the ground. Yet for many of our missions, there is no consensus in the international community regarding the optimal political direction.

Therefore we face three sets of fundamental questions. First, is peacekeeping being deployed beyond its capabilities? Is the current model of peacekeeping up to the challenges of these new mandates? Does it have the right resources? Are there sufficient troops of requisite capabilities? Can we find the air assets essential to meet these robust mandates with mobility and deterrence? In too many cases the answer is no. There is a constant strain now between mandates and resources, between expectations and our capacity to deliver; and the strain on Secretariat resources to plan, manage and support our current pace and scale of operations.

My colleague, Susanna Malcorra, will speak more about the operational challenges that lie immediately ahead.

Second, is the UN properly configured to manage the complexity of the peacebuilding challenges which are at the heart of resolving internal conflict and civil war? Many of our peacekeeping missions are early peacebuilding missions but do we have the expertise and resources necessary to rapidly deploy and plan the complex and long-term assistance required to support national actors in rebuilding their states? The linkage of the Peacebuilding Commission and Security Council in aligning political direction, aid strategies and donor support is an important issue. The linkage of the missions, the UN Country Team and International Financial Institutions and bi-lateral donors on the ground is equally important. We are working hard on these partnerships and we have done a lot to integrate the UN’s response on the ground. However, there is much left to be done if, together, we are to provide a comprehensive peacebuilding response. I am conscious that this is an issue that will be addressed in an upcoming report of the Secretary-General, so I will not dwell extensively on it here.

The third, and perhaps most fundamental for peacekeeping, is the question of where peacekeeping fits in the overall political response of the international community to complex crises. Are the political and regional dimensions which drive the crisis being adequately addressed, and is peacekeeping the right tool to do this? Is there even a peace to keep? Peacekeeping, however well resourced, will simply not be sufficient where the parties are not willing to achieve peace. Indeed, over the past few years we see increasing signs of non-cooperation from host governments and increased resistance from some parties to conflicts to our presence and actions.

Many of these questions were of course raised in the Brahimi process, and we would do well to return to take a look at how recommendations have, or have not been implemented. Some of the issues we face have arisen since the Brahimi reforms. Indeed, UN peacekeeping as a whole also faces questions of a more systemic nature:

  • A deepening world economic crisis that will further limit our resources and flexibility to respond to crisis and changed circumstances on the ground; 
  • Normative and legal developments in the fight to end impunity and ensure justice that have repercussions for peacekeeping operations; and
  • Increased demand for implementation of protection of civilian mandates; among others.


The very fact that we are engaged in this dialogue now and not after a catastrophe is an important indication of the seriousness of our collective intent to strengthen UN peacekeeping. If we act in concert, together we can ensure that peacekeeping does not falter as it did in the 1990s.

UN peacekeeping has proven remarkably resilient and has established a good track record. It is a uniquely universal burden-sharing arrangement and enjoys a high degree of legitimacy when used appropriately. It combines military response within an integrated civilian approach, a critical attribute that gives it a niche role in the spectrum of options for the maintenance of peace and security.

But it is not a tool for all situations. When used inappropriately, its failures can tarnish not just the image of the operation in question, but the credibility of the Organization as a whole to be the guarantor of peace and security that “saved succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.

Yet, Mr. President, there are also areas of potential opportunity which we should bear in mind as we consider the challenges:

  • There is increased engagement of regional organizations as instruments for the maintenance of regional peace and security. How best should they, and the UN, fit into an overall international capability?;
  • There is an increased recognition by international and regional financial institutions of the need for early engagement in fragile, post-conflict countries; and
  • Increased interest in Member States to support UN peacekeeping.

We must transform these opportunities into structural supports for UN peacekeeping.

UN peacekeeping is a global partnership

Mr. President,

UN peacekeeping is a unique partnership in which we all have a stake. It is an endeavor of the Security Council and the General Assembly, of contributing nations and host nations, of the Secretariat and the field missions, of individual peacekeepers and the populations they are deployed to who hope for security and a better future. We all need to work together to protect the investments we have made and the successes we have achieved. This calls for a renewed consensus on the state of peacekeeping, its challenges, and the way forward.

To move together to face our new set of challenges as one, I feel there are some fundamental questions we must ask ourselves:

  • Do we share a common vision of what UN peacekeeping can and cannot do?
  • Do we have a common vision of how UN peacekeeping differs from other options for peace and security? Can better conflict prevention avoid demands for peacekeeping?
  • Do we understand its limits and its comparative strengths?
  • Have we entered an era where we appreciate that UN peacekeeping is the institution of first resort for some situations, but is ill-suited for others?
  • What other tools can be called upon reliably when UN peacekeeping is not the best instrument?

In DPKO, we have struggled with some of these questions in the enunciation of an internal publication – our capstone doctrine – on principles and guidelines for UN peacekeeping that enumerates our views, from the implementation perspective, about what modern peacekeeping is doing and is able to do. It builds upon the Brahimi review process and captures internal lessons and good practices that we have learned. This effort to arrive at a common vision is not easy, even internally, and would surely be even more difficult across a partnership as diverse as the UN peacekeeping partnership, but it is this sort of intellectual Endeavour that will be at the heart of establishing a common vision for the future. We can then construct solutions to impediments through honest exchange of what is working and what is not.

A call for action – on two tracks

To ensure UN peacekeeping remains a viable and indeed a stronger instrument for the future, I believe we need to follow two simultaneous tracks this year.

First, we must survive the current operational workload and the looming challenges in the months ahead. This demands concrete and practical action on several fronts, for example:

  • We must find short-term measures to close the gap between the troops and material we are able to raise, and the authorized levels needed to meet our mandates. At the same time, we must begin to find new potential contributors to the peacekeeping Endeavour.
  • To deploy at high pace into remote territories, we must find innovative ways to draw on support which only Member States can provide. The recent support in moving materiel for UNAMID is an example of this sort of assistance that, on a larger scale, may be needed to establish fully and quickly those under-deployed and expanding missions.
  • We need on-hand capacities to reinforce missions from the strategic level if a crisis erupts. Contingency plans for those likely crisis spots must begin to emerge immediately.
  • In missions where we have stabilized the peace process, but where lack of peacebuilding investment is threatening gains – such as Haiti, Liberia, Afghanistan – critical resources need to flow to shore up peacekeeping efforts; and
  • We need to find ways to intensify and sustain political efforts – a political surge if you will – to support peace processes or help realize peace where it has not yet been realized.


On this last point of political support, I will dwell for a minute. Too often, missions are launched only to find themselves later being tested on the ground as they pursue their mandates. When these missions are tested, as we recently were in the DRC or as we were with UNMEE and continually are in Darfur, it is not just the mission being tested. It is a testing of the will of the international community and of the Security Council. In these situations, the mission, while needing to play its part, must also act knowing that the political response will also come from the strategic level. In these situations, the unified voice of the Security Council, an unequivocal political message, and behind the scenes political pressure from key players in the Council and countries in the region are critical. Peacekeeping and political leverage must work together. Political support from the Security Council can assist in other ways, too, for example in mobilizing troops and other resources through demarches and bilateral engagements with prospective troop and police contributors. The Secretariat needs continuous support from the Security Council and Member States after the resolution is adopted.

At the same time, we are of course ready to work with the Security Council to ensure it has the information it needs to craft mandates with relevant benchmarks, and to engage with the Council in monitoring and evaluating them.

This leads me to the second track of work that we may need to tackle larger, systemic challenges. We need to bolster, and in some instances say mend, the global partnership that we need for a healthy and well-functioning United Nations peacekeeping system. UN peacekeeping is effective only if all actors have a shared vision of what this instrument can and cannot achieve.

Much needs to be done to achieve a better convergence of views. Peacekeeping, although owned by all, is not commonly understood by all. Today, we find ourselves looking from different angles with differing assumptions and expectations at a very complex puzzle. The Secretariat, the troop and police contributors, the Fourth Committee and Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, and of course this august body, the Security Council: each of us carries a fragment of the puzzle that is peacekeeping. These puzzle pieces must be brought closer together than they are today.

I hope that we can harness our intellectual energies and our capacity to come together to solve problems to address some of the persistent challenges we face. For this reason I am extremely grateful for this debate today. It marks the start of a process in the Security Council of reflection. The Security Council is a major part of this equation, but others need to act as well. Several weeks ago, Susana Malcorra and I initiated internally a process of introspection and stock-taking, to review how far we have come in the Brahimi process and to consider how to meet new challenges on the horizon, even as we grapple with today’s urgent issues. We need to look at our own house and find new and innovative ways to tackle the challenges of modern peacekeeping. We will share our findings with the Security Council and the General Assembly, with a view to building consensus on the way forward.

The General Assembly - the C34 and the Fifth Committee - is an absolutely pivotal actor in this partnership. In the coming session, the Secretariat looks forward to continuing its ongoing dialogue with the Special Committee and Fifth Committee on many peacekeeping issues that lie squarely within the Assembly’s remit. I hope that 2009 can be a decisive moment to re-energize our thinking on how to better UN peacekeeping. With troop contributors and police contributors and those who fund capacity building efforts, we need to build a fully functional dialogue on what is needed to mobilize more capacity.

The first step in strengthening our partnership is to work together, constructively, to forge a more common appreciation of what UN peacekeeping is and can be today, and for tomorrow.


Too often in the history of human endeavor, change in attitude and change in action comes only after a crisis. It is my deep hope that this time we will not need a new generation of reports full of regretful lessons, such as those that followed the tragedies in Rwanda and Srebrenica, before we address the challenges that face us.

2009 needs to be a year of ideas as much as a year of operational success. It needs to be a year of cooperation and problem-solving. The time to begin this revitalized peacekeeping partnership is now. For our part, the Secretariat is now fully mobilized to engage in reflection, both internally and with the Member States, in order to reach very concrete recommendations as soon as possible. I hope we can use today’s debate as an important first step to move forward this agenda. Success for us requires both clarity of vision on the instrument of UN peacekeeping and global consensus to support it. We need your leadership and unity to achieve this.