"The future of UN peace operations" by Ine Eriksen Søreide

"Militærmaktseminaret", November 26th 2015

Defence Minister Ine Søreide Eriksen held these opening remarks for the 2015 Military Power Seminar (Militærmaktseminaret), November 26th 2015 in Oslo.

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Dear friends,

Welcome to Akershus Fortress on this chilly November morning. I am pleased to see such a great turnout for the 2015 Military Power Seminar, with many prominent speakers and guests. I would like to thank the Defense University College and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, NUPI, for hosting this annual event. By doing so, you are facilitating the important and ongoing public debate on security policy and military affairs. I would also like to thank NUPI for the prominent role you have played in supporting the UN’s High Level Panel on Peace Operations.

This year’s seminar is held against a dramatic backdrop. We are still deeply affected by the series of high-profile terror attacks that recently struck Sinai, Beirut, Paris and Bamako. Brussels, the very heart of political Europe, has been on an anti-terror lock-down for days. It’s a stark new reality for all of us.

In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has turned into a long, cold winter. The terror organization ISIL is threatening to destabilize an entire region. Libya has become a stateless battlefield. In Afghanistan, and parts of Africa, there is no immediate peace in sight.

Violence and armed conflict have caused the largest refugee crisis since World War II. According to the UNHCR, some 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes. The numbers themselves are staggering. There are three times as many conflicts in the world today than in 2008, and many of them are highly complex and multifaceted. New and old threats merge. Local and regional conflicts may be fueled by powers or developments far away.

The mission statement of UN peacekeeping operations is to “create conditions for lasting peace in countries torn by conflict”. However, many of today’s conflicts are not confined to the borders of a country. Many cannot be understood or addressed in the context of nation states.

In addition to that, the rules have changed. The light blue color of the UN helmet used to offer an extra layer of protection for the soldier wearing it. This is sadly not always the case anymore. UN personnel are directly targeted in the field, and often find themselves – with limited training and equipment - trying to keep peace when there is no peace to be kept. At the same time, we are asking more of UN peacekeeping. As the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power put it: “Today, we are asking peacekeepers to do more, in more places, and in more complex conflicts than at any time in history.”

The complex and demanding realities of today’s conflicts require both us and the UN to adapt. Only then will be able to create conditions for lasting peace in countries torn by conflict.  

Today, we have a welcome opportunity to do just that. As the UN celebrates its 70th anniversary, we are seeing a significant momentum driving us in the right direction. President Obama has personally spearheaded a major High-Level initiative, which so far this year has resulted in promises of 40,000 more UN troops and police on the ground. China alone has offered 8,000 troops. In addition, we have seen guarantees of more cargo planes, helicopters, logistical support and a variety of other urgently needed capacities.

We call them key troop multipliers or enabling capabilities. They also include engineers, medical personnel and field hospitals, to mention a few more. These are capacities that enable peacekeeping troops to get the job done in an increasingly challenging environment. And just as importantly, they enable countries to contribute. We need both troops and enablers.

Norway welcomes the US initiative and leadership in strengthening UN peace operations and the efforts to encourage reforms that will make UN peacekeeping more effective. We agree that the extensive mandates in today’s UN peace operations must be followed by sufficient resources - both in terms of personnel and military capacities.

Today, 9 out of 10 UN peacekeeping personnel are from the global South. I believe it is of paramount importance to increase Western and European participation.

There are three reasons why I believe this to be important:

First and foremost I believe increased Western participation will increase the legitimacy of UN operations. We share a common responsibility for international peace and security.

Secondly, we possess many of the advanced capacities and skills needed to succeed in a complex security landscape.

Thirdly, the conflicts where UN peacekeeping is engaged are increasingly related to our own security, directly or indirectly.

Take Mali, for example. Geographically located as a gateway to the Euro-Atlantic area, Mali is a hub for international terrorism, gun smuggling and human trafficking. It is a transit country for migration. Locally, the UN plays a vital role in contributing to stability and sustainable peace. At the same time, the mission is an important part of the fight against violent extremism internationally. The horrific terrorist attacks at a hotel in the Malian capital last Friday was a strong reminder that our efforts to fight terrorism must continue.

As we seek to adapt and reform UN peacekeeping we should look ahead. Nevertheless, recent experience and lessons should guide us in those efforts. Mistakes and serious flaws must be corrected. Best practices upheld and reinforced.

Since the founding of UN Peacekeeping in 1948, hundreds of thousands of UN troops from 120 different countries have participated in a total of 69 operations. Over 3,300 UN peacekeepers have lost their lives while serving with the UN flag on their uniform. At this very moment, 125,000 personnel are deployed in 16 different operations on 4 continents.

However, I believe that the UN can do better. Looking at the challenging tasks at hand, we need the UN to do better. Peacekeeping is not an easy task. Nor has UN peacekeeping always lived up to its obligations and by default high ethical and legal standards. Allow me to mention a few examples:

In 507 attacks against civilians between 2010 and 2013, UN peacekeepers did not use force to protect them, according to the internal oversight office. Most likely thousands of civilians lost their lives as a result. This is horrible for those affected and a huge blow for the credibility of the UN. This cannot continue. We must not – we cannot – risk that UN soldiers again are forced to becoming passive witnesses to mass killings and abuse. We must make sure that UN Peacekeepers have the necessary rules of engagement and mandate to intervene promptly and decisively when needed. And at the heart of this lies the use of force in UN peacekeeping operations, which will be discussed here today; the necessity of using controlled and proportionate force when the situation demands it, and the importance of understanding when – and what – that is.

Secondly, the reports on sexual abuse by personnel from the UN, the AU and others against the civilian population they were sent to protect, undermine the UN’s credibility and everything the organization stands for. This is beyond unacceptable and needs to be addressed directly.

Thirdly, in Mali, 50 African UN soldiers have lost their lives in what has become the UN operation with the highest number of killed or wounded UN personnel since Somalia and Bosnia in the 1990s. Many of these tragic losses could have been avoided with better training and equipment. More lives could have been saved if medical capacities had been better. When we deploy peacekeepers into some of the most hazardous conflicts of our time, we need to protect them so they can protect others.

We need UN Peace Operations to work and we need them to work better. In many areas, UN peace operations are the only credible alternative. The UN may be the only organization that the local population and authorities trust. Multilateral peacekeeping brings a greater degree of legitimacy locally as well as globally.

While recognizing the crucial role peace operations can play, we must also realize that our expectations and demands are exceeding what peacekeeping can deliver today. We must acknowledge that quantity is not enough. We need to improve the quality of what the UN does – from the situational understanding on the ground to the training and standard of UN personnel as well as the state of the equipment. UN peacekeeping efforts cannot be based on which capacities we can offer, but what the conflict requires and the UN’s ability to deliver just that.

To do so, more resources must be accompanied by significant reforms. I believe the work of the High-Level Independent Panel lead by Ramos Horta – the so-called HIPPO report – will, together with the Secretary General’s operational report, give us the reforms we need in both a short and a long-term perspective. The member states and the UN must work together to make these reforms a reality. We must do so rapidly and decisively, and with an open mind. We must be willing to revisit our established positions, and look for compromises. Norway has been a firm supporter and contributor to these reform efforts.

I agree with the HIPPO report that political strategy and political processes must guide UN peace operations and be center stage for everything the UN does in the field. I also agree that it is not constructive to distinguish between political and peacekeeping operations. I support the new concept of peace operations involving both. This approach makes it easier to tailor operations based on actual needs on the ground. I find it hard to disagree that preventive efforts need to be significantly strengthened. In this regard, I am pleased to see a more strategic approach to force generation and capabilities planning and the transfer of command and control of aerial resources to force commanders.

I would also like to add here the importance of technology and innovation in UN operations. As described in our contribution to the UN Commission’s report on this issue, we believe the use of surveillance drones in the Congo and intelligence in Mali have proved solid results that are transferable to other operations.

However, the elephant in the HIPPO room, so to speak, is that resources matter and money matters. And both will require compromises. In that respect, I am pleased to be noting the promising signals from the US initiative of funding AU operations. Regional organizations are often better placed to do peace enforcement. Norway will continue to stand at the forefront in the effort to establish a predictable and sustainable funding mechanism for Special Political Missions.

Dear colleagues and friends, the United Nations holds a dear position in Norway and in the hearts and minds of many Norwegians. From the first operation in the Middle East in 1948, through operations in Lebanon and the Balkans to current operations in Mali – to mention some - more than 60,000 Norwegian men and women have proudly worn that blue beret. Others have held, or are currently holding, key positions adding to our long-term contributions.  Norway stands fully committed to doing our part in the international effort of adapting UN peace operations to a new era.

There will always be limited resources. That is as true for the member states as it is for the UN as a whole. And that is why we need to think smart, make use of each other’s natural advantages and look for force multipliers. For our part, for example, it makes sense to cooperate more with Nordic neighbors and capitalize on the solid experience gained from working closely together in other operations.

A country of 5 million people – a bit more than half of the population of New York – cannot be a large contributor. I like to joke that the only tanks we can afford to send to UN missions are the Think Tanks we have supported through the HIPPO process. But joke aside, we are dependent on finding those smart solutions in partnership with each other. Norway may be small, but we may pack considerable punch within certain niche capacities that together with another country’s contribution turn out to be exactly what may make a big difference on the ground in a certain operation. I believe this is true for all member states. In NATO we seek synergies trough a concept we’ve called “Smart Defense”. Let’s start talking about “Smart Peacekeeping”.

The most important thing we and other countries can do in order to support UN peace operations and the reform process, is to deploy troops and capacities that actually back those efforts. There needs to be a direct correlation between what we say on the podium of the UN HQ and what we do on the ground in UN operations. We need to do what we say.

Norway is committed to strengthening UN peace operations and supporting the reform process and Obama’s initiative through concrete, relevant contributions.

  1. Improving situational control on the ground. Over the last year, Norwegian analysts have taken part in establishing the first modern intelligence unit in UN peacekeeping. I believe intelligence capacities are key to preventing deadly attacks on both peacekeepers and civilians, as well as strengthening any mission’s ability to do the job more safely and effectively.
  2. Safe and efficient logistics is key. Next year, we will deploy a C-130 Hercules to Mali for 10 months. This will make the mission less dependent on the risk prone convoys traveling though the vast deserts of Northern Mali.
  3. In any mission, mobility in the theater is vital. Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, have become one of the greatest threats to both UN personnel and civilians in many conflicts around the world. That is why Norway is considering deploying an Engineer Unit with Counter IED-capabilities to the UN, preferably to Mali in 2017.

Now, of all contributions a country can offer, why are we offering these, you ask?

Now, I am glad you asked that, because it gives me the opportunity to again raise my key points:

These are enabling capacities, these are troop multipliers. By improving the safety of UN personnel, we are making it easier for other countries to deploy their troops.

And this is definitely Smart Peacekeeping; as a small, high-cost country we don’t have thousands of UN soldiers to deploy. We do however have technology and niche capacities, such as these, that together with other countries’ contributions can make a real difference on the ground.

Let’s make full use of the historic momentum that has now been created.

We need to make sure that the new resources promised can be applied efficiently through new reforms.

We need to create UN Peacekeeping version 2.0, and we need to do it together.

Too often have we seen how easily lifesaving initiatives may be stopped in its tracks by the very mechanisms created to enable them. We must not let that happen here. The UN depends on it. So do millions of people in war-torn communities across the world.

Thank you.