Wednesday

7th Dec 2022

Opinion

The EU still needs UN peacekeepers

In the next few weeks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will name the next chief of the organization's peacekeeping department. The nominee will replace Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the cerebral and well-respected Frenchman who has held the job since 2000.

New York gossips believe that the most likely replacement will also be from France: Jean-Maurice Ripert, an ally of Bernard Kouchner and currently ambassador to the UN.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Whoever Ban picks, the choice is unlikely to cause a stir in Brussels, just as the recent reshuffle of European Commissioners hardly set the UN abuzz. Bureaucrats working for one international organization are usually blissfully unaware of what goes on in another.

But this is one UN job offer that EU-watchers should take notice of. Although the head of peacekeeping is technically on a par with the official in charge of conference services, he has the potential to influence not only UN missions but EU security cooperation.

Although most commentators on the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) focus on how it fits in with NATO, it has grown up hand-in-hand with UN operations.

During Jean-Marie Guéhenno's time in office, UN peacekeeping has expanded at a rate that he could not have foreseen. In mid-2000, the organization had just more than 12,000 personnel in the field – memories of Srebrenica and Rwanda remained strong. But international efforts to end a series of bloody African conflicts, combined with fast-moving crises from Haiti to East Timor, fuelled demand for a new wave of peacekeepers.

Today the UN has over 90,000 soldiers and policemen deployed worldwide – one and a half times as many as NATO. The number is expected to hit 110,000 by the year's end.

Western analysts take a dim view of UN forces: heavily reliant on Asian and African troops, they are low-tech and do not match visions of twenty-first century warriors.

Yet these are often the only forces available for trouble-spots like Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur. And so they keep on being deployed. The UN's peacekeeping budget has reached $7 billion a year, two-fifths of it paid by EU members.

But the EU's support for the UN is not solely financial. The European Council has mandated a series of ESDP operations to work alongside the UN, ranging from emergency military interventions (such as 2003's Operation Artemis in the eastern Congo) to smaller-scale police training missions. Outside Europe, there is currently not one ESDP operation that is not co-deployed alongside some form of UN presence.

It's hard to imagine ESDP having got anything like as far as it has without the UN as a partner. The UN and EU are the Obelix and Asterix of international security: one handling big, slow missions while the other concentrates on smaller, flexible, operations.

A quick survey of 2008's top European security stories so far brings home how closely the two organizations are intertwined. In Kosovo, EU and UN officials are attempting a smooth transfer of policing responsibilities. In Chad, UN police are deploying to support the largely French military force trying to secure refugee camps bordering Darfur. And in Afghanistan, the appointment of a new UN Special Representative – Norway's Kai Eide – has been presented as the last best chance to sort out NATO's faltering mission.

So while the only large blue-helmeted mission involving significant European contributions is in Lebanon, the fate of UN peacekeeping is directly relevant to the EU. Paris has put up a strong fight to ensure that Guéhenno should be replaced by another Frenchman – the US, noting peacekeeping's significance, also had its eye on the job.

But it's not a job that anyone would take on lightly. Impressive as the UN's expansion has been, it is now looking overstretched. It has struggled to find the helicopters and transport units it needs for Darfur, now its highest-profile mission. In private, UN officials fear that under-equipped peacekeepers risk stumbling into another Srebrenica.

And while EU-UN relations have proved important for both, there is still a great deal of improvisation: planners admit that cooperation on the joint mission in Chad has actually been less effective than in some earlier cases. While the EU military force there is meant to hand off to UN troops after a year, it's far from clear if the latter can be ready in time.

So ensuring that a European sits at the top of the UN peacekeeping pyramid is not enough. As the UN's leading donor, the EU needs to investigate how to ensure that UN missions get the high-end assets, like helicopters, that it needs in a place like Darfur.

France and Britain recently suggested creating a pool of helicopters for NATO and EU missions – it should be possible to do something similar for the UN, and at lower cost.

And as the UN's frequent operational partners, the EU and NATO should develop more structured joint planning procedures for future missions (these should be open to other peacekeeping players, like the African Union). They could also develop a joint action plan to provide the UN with urgent logistical and intelligence support in future crises.

And they might undertake a common assessment of likely trends in demand for peacekeepers over the next decade. These projections would give clues not only to the next phase in the UN's evolution, but also to what ESDP may look like in ten year's time.

The author is Associate Director for Policy at the NYU Center on International Cooperation, and UN Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.

Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity

The agribusiness narrative is a masquerade. A smokescreen to water down environmentally-friendly reforms and maintain industrial agriculture. A smokescreen to which a majority of European policy-makers, including member states, are dangerously buying into.

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals

This global tax rate for multinationals could yield up to €64bn annually. Yet, the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán has been blocking it for months. The impotency of the EU to strike a deal is irresponsible and incomprehensible.

Column

Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  4. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  5. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  6. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe

Latest News

  1. EU delays Hungary funds decision, as Budapest vetoes Ukraine aid
  2. Borrell gets pension from MEP fund set for taxpayer bailout
  3. Autocrats make us all less secure
  4. Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity
  5. German top court declares €800bn EU recovery fund 'legal'
  6. EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos
  7. Frontex expanding migrant route-busting mission in Balkans
  8. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  2. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  3. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us