Problems and progress with command and control in UN peacekeeping missions

The Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations hosted a panel on July 3, 2014, entitled “UN Command and Control Arrangements: Progress, Challenges, Opportunities.” The purpose was to discuss the successes of command and control (C2) arrangements of UN peacekeeping operations, while also highlighting issues and proposing solutions to remedy any flaws. The event was moderated by Mr. Adam Smith, Senior Fellow and Head of the IPI Center for Peace Operations.

One of the first speakers was Mr. Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), who referenced a 2012 DPKO evaluation of its C2 arrangements. This evaluation showed that the C2 of UN peacekeeping operations are generally sound, although there are still areas for improvement. Mr. Ladsous emphasized the importance of strong leadership, and the ways this affects C2. He noted that the selection and training of commanders was important to peacekeeping operations, an opinion that was repeated and expanded upon by other panelists. While Mr. Ladsous had much praise for the current state of C2 arrangements, he was less quick to acknowledge its faults.

H.E. Mr. Masood Khan, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN, spoke next. He recognized in his statement that terrorist activity could complicate peacekeeping operations. He also suggested troop-contributing countries needed to be involved in strategy creation, including C2 concepts and provisions, more fully when entering a mission. Furthermore, he asserted that exercises of tactical power during operations are just as important as military power.

The next panelist who spoke was H.E. Mr. Eugene-Richard Gasana, the Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the UN. He noted that the three factors which most significantly impact C2 arrangements are planning, leadership, and capabilities and communication. An important part of planning would be the end or reform of national caveats, which are each troop committing country’s stipulations of lending military forces to peacekeeping operations. Gasana argued that troops need to know they are under international, not national, command. Otherwise, he argued that national caveats breed mistrust and disrespect for the chain of command.

The last speaker was Lt. Gen. (ret) Joseph Owonibi, a former Force Commander of UNMIL in Liberia. Lt. Gen. Owonibi brought the voice of experience to the panel. He mentioned that when he was commanding an operation, he was never formally reviewed by anyone. He suggested that the UN improve accountability with assessment of missions and of C2 operations in the field. In a departure from other speakers, Lt. Gen. Owonibi respected the need for national caveats, but stated that it was possible to adhere to them while avoiding their more restrictive aspects.

The overarching theme of the panel was accountability. Each of the panelists made suggestions to improve C2 arrangements by making them more accountable. Hopefully, this professional brainstorming session will precipitate further reform of an already satisfactory system.

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