An important renewal of global commitment to peacekeeping took place recently at the United Nations Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial conference in Vancouver. Member countries and international organizations came together to discuss improvements and present their commitments to reinforce peacekeeping efforts. But at a time when budget cuts are forcing peace operations to scale down troop size, budgets, and programs, the actual fulfillment of those pledges will be a challenge.
The UN currently leads 15 peacekeeping missions across the globe. These operations are too often chided when, in fact, they are understaffed and lack the resources to effectively fulfill their mandates. When the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations published its list of critical gaps in peace missions earlier this year, it was clear that these gaps were large but not impossible to fill.
Aiming to fill these gaps, 48 new commitments were made during the conference held in mid-November; offering personnel—battalions, rapidly-deployable units and technical experts, equipment, and the presentation of 'smart pledges’ designed to fill specific gaps. The UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), known for being the most complex and dangerous UN peace operation, was significantly bolstered by pledges for more targeted training, aircraft and transportation assistance, and the contribution of experts and soldiers to the mission.
While the United States, Canada, and European countries do not feature in the top contributors of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping efforts, many of these countries displayed their sense of responsibility to share their expertise, intelligence, funds, and equipment with those offering ‘boots on the ground’.
The conference witnessed an important milestone for peace operations with the announcement of the 'Vancouver Principles' on the prevention of the recruitment and use of child soldiers in peacekeeping. The principles were adopted by 55 of the present member states.
There was also an encouraging focus on gender, from increasing the presence of women peacekeepers in the field to better addressing the rampant problem of gender-based violence in conflict and committed by peacekeepers. Among new pledges, 28 featured specific mentions of gender. The United Kingdom, Bangladesh, and Canada also announced that they will jointly launch a gender champion network to tackle gender issues and increase the number of women recruits.
While the conference should be hailed as a success for peacekeeping, or at the very least a step in the right direction, delivering these pledges is the trickier step. Canada, which promised 600 soldiers and 150 police personnel well over a year ago, has yet to follow through, and their announcement at the conference came with the asterisk that deploying these women and men to peace operation could still be years away. The international community must not follow suit and should use the momentum to fulfill their promises in a timely manner to assist peacekeepers in their work to protect civilians.
It would be remiss not to mention the disheartening lack of support for the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), known as MONUSCO. Having been forced to decrease the number of soldiers following U.S.-driven budget cuts, MONUSCO is faced with an increasingly volatile situation with decreased resources. At the conference, only Ghana made a specific pledge to the country—promising to contribute an aero-medical team. This is not to say that other pledges of resources, training, expertise, and personnel will not be put to use in the DRC, but this serves as an example that the term “forgotten crisis” is all too fitting for the Congo.
The United Nations’ Security Council also met to renew the mandates of two peacekeeping missions: the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) between Sudan and South Sudan. Furthermore, the Council’s commitment to peacekeeping and to the Central African Republic was clear as they unanimously agreed to beef up the mission by 900 soldiers. This ramp up highlights the gravity of the situation at a time when budgets are being slashed and programs and missions (most notably in the DRC) are being downsized. This news was quickly followed up by Brazil’s offer to lead the mission’s military component and to send an additional 1,000 uniformed personnel.
There is still room for improvement, but the pledges and renewal of peacekeeping mandates were a clear signal that the world still believes in the principles and value of international co-operation through peace operations.
All UN peacekeeping operations are currently years into their challenging mandates. Given the loss of four peacekeepers in Mali last week, and one in the Central African Republic, the pledges and mission renewals must galvanize quick action and further commitments to bolster their efforts. They must signal to those perpetuating conflict that the international community will not ignore their wrongdoing and will support the protection of civilians and the restoration of peace in any way they can.
Alexandra Lamarche is a Refugees International Advocate who focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa and peacekeeping.