The global order is rapidly changing. UN and African-led peace operations must adapt to both new geo-political realities as well as new threats and challenges. A major new UN policy document suggests what its member states need to do to prevent conflict and sustain peace during this period of uncertainty, and some of the recommendations calls for support to African peace operations.
In July 2023, the United Nations Secretary-General released a major new policy document called the New Agenda for Peace. It is the 9th in a series of policy briefs that serve as inputs for the Summit of the Future that will take place in September 2024. The Summit of the Future is taking place at an important inflection point. The global order is in transition, characterised by growing fragmentation of the international system and a weakening of trust in institutions. The United Nations must adapt and find new ways to pursue its mandate in the midst of this new emerging (dis)order.
Over the past eight years there has already been a significant surge in conflicts, resulting in the most conflict-related deaths since the 1980s. One quarter of the world’s population is affected by conflict and 108 million people are forcibly displaced. The Russian war in Ukraine and the civil war in Ethiopia were responsible for most conflict related deaths in 2022. The New Agenda for Peace speaks to what UN member states have to do, domestically and collectively, to contain and reverse this trend.
Whilst the New Agenda for Peace covers the whole continuum of peace and security, including issues like disarmament, preventive diplomacy, gender and WPS, climate-related peace and security, and touches on new threats like Artificial Intelligence, this paper focuses on its recommendations regarding support to African peace operations.
The UNSG’s New Agenda for Peace recognize the need for peace enforcement in certain contexts. However, as @UNpeacekeeping is not the right tool for such operations, it recommends that the UN authorise the @AfricanUnion to undertake such operations on its behalf #NA4PTweet
A new focus on peace enforcement
The New Agenda for Peace points out that the nature of conflict is changing, and this has a number of implications for peace operations. In many of the countries that are hosts to large UN peacekeeping operations, like the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mali, the governments and people are frustrated with the UN’s model of peacekeeping. They seek international assistance in fighting and defeating violent extremists and insurgents, however they feel that the UN’s approach to peacekeeping, protection of civilians and stabilisation has not significantly improved their security situation.
The New Agenda for Peace responds to this frustration by recognising the need for peace enforcement in certain contexts. However, as various high-level UN panels have stressed in the past that UN peacekeeping is designed to help implement cease-fire and peace agreements and does not have the right tools to do counter-terrorism or other peace enforcement type operations, the New Agenda for Peace recommends that the UN Security Council should authorise other forces and organisations, like the African Union, to undertake peace enforcement operations.
UN funding for AU-led peace operations
The New Agenda for Peace also goes one step further and recommends that the UN should provide the African Union with resources, from the UN assessed-contributions peacekeeping budget, when the Security Council authorises the African Union to undertake such peace enforcement and counter-terrorism operations.
However, it also stresses the importance of political primacy and thus recognises that whilst the insecurity caused by violent extremists needs to be addressed, the problems that have led to the emergence of violent extremism need to be addressed for peace to become self-sustainable. The New Agenda for Peace thus warns against seeing peace enforcement as a quick fix and calls for a comprehensive approach to resolving the causes and drivers of insecurity. It also warns against hard-handed operations that can play into the hands of the extremists and recommends that UN financial support is accompanied by other forms of support, including human rights compliance, to help prevent such unintended consequences.
The UNSG’s New Agenda for Peace recommends that the UN should support African Union @AUC-PAPS peace enforcement operations with resources from the UN peacekeeping budget #NA4PTweet
New generation of UN support operations
Although the New Agenda for Peace does not go into the details of how such support may be provided, it is likely that the UN will build on its existing experiences with providing support to the African Union missions in Somalia through a dedicated UN support mission, as well as its experiences of providing support to the G5 Sahel force and other entities through its UN missions in Mali and the DRC.
Should the UN Security Council grant financial assistance to an AU-led peace operation, the most likely mechanisms the UN would use to provide such support is through the deployment of a UN support mission to the AU. In this way the UN can avoid having to transfer money to the AU, which will avoid significant transaction costs and investments in financial oversight. Instead, it can use its own existing mission support systems and instruments to provide logistical and other forms of support to AU-led missions.
One can also envision that in future such missions can include political, planning, human rights, public information, and other such civilian functions to assist these missions to report to the Security Council, provide oversight, and ensure political and strategic coherence between the UN and AU. Whilst it has not yet been foreseen in UN policy documents and it is not mentioned in the New Agenda for Peace, it could also be possible that such UN support missions may in future benefit from the capabilities of UN troop contributing countries who could deploy military hospitals, engineering and some aviation and other specialised capabilities that can serve as behind the front-lines force enablers for such peace enforcement operations.
UN support missions to non-UN forces authorised by the Security Council is not a model only for the Africa. The UN Secretary-General is currently suggesting such a UN support mission to support a non-UN force in Haiti.
Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali released the original Agenda for Peace in 1992, and it served as a guiding framework for UN preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding for decades. Over this period peacemakers, peacekeepers and peacebuilders learned that the conceptual clarity and clear chronological and sequenced logic of the Agenda of Peace did not reflect the complexity of managing and resolving conflict in the real world. The New Agenda for Peace is more realistic and pragmatic, especially in its assessment and recommendations in the area of peace operations. It recognises that the UN is operating in a new era of networked peace operations, where the UN is operating alongside a variety of other peace and security actors, which in Africa includes the African Union, regional economic commissions, and other regional and sub-regional mechanisms. The point is these institutions co-exist and needs to find new ways to cooperate so that they complement and mutually re-enforce each other, as part of a new emerging global peace and security architecture.
Cedric de Coning is a senior advisor to ACCORD and a research professor with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).