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UNA-UK welcomes the UK’s continued commitment to UN peacekeeping

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UNA-UK welcomes the UK’s continued commitment to UN peacekeeping

The UK has announced its intention to continue supporting UN peacekeeping through troop contributions beyond 2020, a longstanding objective of UNA-UK campaigning.

In one of her last announcements as Secretary-of-State for Defence, Penny Morduant MP announced that while the deployment of UK engineers to the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan would end in 2020, the UK would then start a new three-year deployment of a 250 person strong long range reconnaissance force as part of the UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali: MINUSMA. While the announcement made no mention of the future of the UK’s ongoing commitment of roughly 250-300 troops to the UN Peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, UNFICYP, (or the UK's other deployments of small numbers of experts and senior officers to UN missions, particularly in Somalia) this is expected to continue, meaning that UK contributions will remain at the 6-700 person level for the foreseeable future.

UNA-UK campaigns for the UK to maintain and ideally increase its troop contributions to UN Peacekeeping. As one of the five “permanent” members of the UN Security Council and the “penholder” responsible for drafting resolutions on peacekeeping, the UK has a special responsibility to participate in the missions it mandates. A perceived failure of permanent members, and western and donor states, to play their part in missions has led to a damaging divide between these countries and the largely developing states who provide the majority of the troops. This criticism is often articulated as “you lead, we bleed”. It was pleasing to see the implicit recognition of this dynamic in the former Secretary-of-State’s statement to Parliament that:

“This will signal a significant shift in the UK’s approach to peacekeeping as we bridge the gap between those who pay and those who deliver”

Nevertheless, the scale of this deployment mustn’t be overstated. The UK is still likely to remain outside the top 30 contributors, behind other permanent members such as China (c.2,500) and other European states such as Italy (c.1,000). The deployment is roughly the same size, and generally slightly smaller, than the deployments made by France (another permanent member) and Ireland. In light of the size, nature and capacity of British armed and police forces, there is scope for yet greater contributions in future.

While the numbers may be small, UNA-UK was pleased by the manner in which the UK has made this deployment. Three years is a longer period of time than is typical for recent deployments to Mali from NATO members and will give the UN welcome certainty in their medium-term planning. It also represents a boost of confidence for UN efforts to bring peace to Mali, following a shift from some NATO members towards instead supporting the French-led offensive military operation in Mali: Barkhane. Further, former Secretary-of-State Morduant stated that the UK would be placing no restrictive caveats on the UK’s deployments. This is another longstanding request of UNA-UK which will considerably increase the utility of the deployment to the United Nations. Making the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the UK and MINUSMA public would further increase the transparency around the deployment and the impact of this measure.

The mission itself is controversial. At the last two Peacekeepers day conferences (coorganised by UNA-UK and RUSI), and at the recent conference on the legacy of Kofi Annan (coorganised by UNA-UK and Chatham House) speakers raised the concern that the role of MINUSMA in “deterring asymmetric threats” and the manner in which its stabilisation work interacts with that of the French-led force actively battling militant Islamist groups, may creep beyond traditional peacekeeping and into counter-insurgency. This could do damage to the concept of peacekeeping; as the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report articulately argued, the UN is ill equipped to conduct counterinsurgency operations and should not do so.

Nevertheless, having played a key role in the decision to deploy peacekeepers to Mali and tasking them with this controversial mandate, it is right that the UK shoulder a share of the risks created by their decisions. The Government should be commended for placing troops within the UN’s “most dangerous” mission. The decision does however increase the importance of transparency around the UK’s deployment and the need to clarify how they will operate as part of MINUSMA, how they will relate to Operation Barkhane and UK forces within it, and what the effect of the deployment of a long range reconnaissance unit – a capability often associated with counterinsurgency operations – will be on the overall approach of MINUSMA.

UNA-UK, alongside engaged academic and civil society partners, remains willing to support the Government, armed forces, and United Nations in increasing the impact and efficacy of this deployment by raising awareness and facilitating analysis and policy discussion of the situation in Mali and related issues.

Photo: Egyptian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) take part in an official ceremony to launch a new MINUSMA Force Centre in Mopti, in order to better protect civilians."Credit: UN Photo