Five MinutesGJIA Online

UN Peacekeeping Missions: An Interview with Edmond Mulet

Five MinutesGJIA Online

Edmond Mulet on a visit to Darfur in June 2012. Image: African Union - United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Edmond Mulet, UN Assistant-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, participated in a phone interview in October 2013, and follow-up correspondence in January 2014, to discuss the current state of the field.

GJIA: What are, in your view, the most important challenges for UN Peacekeeping in the near future?

EM: UN Peacekeeping has continuously evolved and adapted to face emerging challenges over the last 50 to 60 years. At the very beginning, UN peacekeeping was mainly tasked to tackle inter-state conflicts. This is no longer the case, as during the last 20 years we have increasingly been called upon to act in intra-state conflicts. As the international environment continues to evolve, we have also seen trans-state conflicts, generating new threats. The main challenge now is to find the most effective way to face this new phenomenon of trans-state criminal activities, terrorism, and asymmetric warfare. To do so, we will need—inter alia—new technologies such as satellite imagery, unmanned unarmed aerial vehicles (UUAV), and improved training for our troops. We must also continue working on consolidating the partnership between the UN Security Council (UNSC), the Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs), the Financial Contributing Countries, and the UN Secretariat.

GJIA: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a number of intra-state conflicts have emerged. As the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s case has shown, today’s peacekeeping faces new and highly complex environments. There is a great risk that UN peace operations become either partial, taking the side of one the parties to the conflict, or inactive, as some say happened in DRC where M23 elements took Goma some months ago with no response from UN peacekeepers. What is, in your view, the balance between impartiality and effective action?

EM: Every single mission works in a completely different environment, in terms of politics, history, and security. Every mission has to adapt to the challenges on the ground. In the DRC, the UNSC authorized the creation of the “force intervention brigade” with an offensive mandate to fight rebel groups—not only the M23 but all rebel groups—that threatened the civilian population. The most important mandate that the mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has is the protection of civilians. When a rebel group is attacking civilians, stealing, robbing, raping, and recruiting children, the UN mission cannot remain neutral. We have to be impartial—that’s one of our principles—but we cannot be neutral. The intervention brigade was created as a tool to enforce the mandate of protection of civilians and to fight those who are terrorizing the population. The UN, and MONUSCO in this case, act as referee in a sports game: they have to be impartial but cannot be neutral when these kinds of abuses are committed, especially when we have the support of the host and neighboring countries and the participation of TCCs willing to contribute to the intervention brigade. Moreover, the intervention brigade has to be understood within the wider framework of the political agreement reached by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Though eleven member states signed this agreement, they will not be able to make a difference unless this military effort is embedded within the implementation of a peace agreement. The intervention brigade is a tool within the peace process. The UN in that sense is impartial: it is siding with its main mandate (protection of civilians), within the political agreement signed by stakeholder states including the DRC, but it cannot be neutral when facing the destructive actions by certain rebel groups against the civilian population.

GJIA: What is your assessment of this UN mission in the DRC?

EM: The intervention brigade has been very successful in supporting the Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in confronting the M23 and other rebel groups. As a result, the affected population has been freed from the terror that was imposed on them. This is not the UN’s first robust peace enforcement operation. See, for example, the case of the mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2006 to 2007, which involved an operation against gangs to protect civilians. And the UN operation in the DRC is not a model that can be applied to other missions. We might need to undertake intervention operations in the future, but always taking into account the particular context in which the mandate will be implemented.

GJIA: Has the moment arrived for the African Union Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) to become a UN peacekeeping mission?

EM: We don’t know yet what the members of the Security Council will decide. Our recommendation is to support the African Union Mission as much as we can: financially, with equipment, and with training, in order to increase its capacities, because we need to have a stabilizing force in the Central African Republic (CAR) as soon as possible. However, CAR needs much more than immediate stabilization and provision of security, as the unfolding of events since 5 December 2013 have proven. The levels of inter-confessional violence have continued to rise, and the power vacuum in the country favors chaos. There is a great need for a comprehensive approach involving Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) efforts, Security Sector Reform (SSR) programs, national dialogue and reconciliation efforts, programs to promote the rule of law, respect for human rights, and access to humanitarian assistance. These efforts need to be deployed not only in the capital, Bangui, but also and mainly in the rural areas, where tensions are rising as we speak between the Muslim and Christian communities. Eventually, the international community must help the CAR manage its vast natural resources. CAR is a big country with only 4.6 million people and significant deposits of diamonds, uranium, gold, and other minerals. Illegal forces are currently looting the minerals, and CAR’s people are not benefitting from their country’s resources. If the international community does not reflect on possible mechanisms to improve the management of these assets, we will be running around in circles. France has deployed 1,600 troops to support MISCA efforts to stabilize the situation, and the EU is deploying 500 soldiers, mainly in Bangui, to secure the airport. However, the Security Council should also consider the possibility of establishing a UN peacekeeping mission in order to provide the necessary comprehensive response.

GJIA: Are countries that are not Security Council Member States prepared to contribute to a UN peacekeeping mission? 

EM: In the case of DRC, when the intervention brigade was created, some countries were not interested in participating. Others, however, said, “We believe in that concept, and we are able to provide troops.” That was the case of South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi. In CAR, we don’t know yet what will be needed. Right now, we are in ‘wait and see’ mode until the Security Council decides.

GJIA: This last comment brings us to a crucial point. The UN system struggles to generate personnel and equipment contributions for peace operations. UN peacekeeping operates the second largest global deployment—100,000 uniformed troops—yet must do so with no standing or reserve army. This means the UN must constantly mobilize and rotate voluntary contributions from nearly 100 member states. How do you deal with such a peculiar and unstable situation?

EM: The process is very difficult. We don’t have a standby force that is available when the Security Council creates a mission. We contact Member States and request different sorts of contributions, not only infantry troops but also communication equipment, transportation units, aviation assets, and demining and medical units, among many others. Member States decide whether and how they will contribute. Sometimes we have critical gaps that reduce our own capability. Establishing a mission takes a long time, because we have to generate the military troops and ensure that they are properly trained; in some cases, we have to train them to respect UN standards and ensure that the commanders and soldiers have not been involved in human right violations in the past. As you can see, the force generation process is very complex. Thus, we need to constantly strengthen the partnership between the Security Council, the TCCs, and the Secretariat, as this tri-partite cooperation lies at the core of UN peacekeeping.

GJIA: The situation in South Sudan has considerably deteriorated during the last month. How is this affecting the UN Mission, and what is DPKO doing to face the situation?

EM: The dramatic deterioration of the situation in South Sudan has led the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) to focus on its protection of civilians mandate. Currently, over 70,000 civilians have sought shelter in UN premises in that country. Immediately after the fighting started, the Security Council authorized to almost double the strength of the Mission to reinforce its capacity to protect civilians; however, the fundamental responsibility for the protection of civilians remains with both the Government of South Sudan and anti-Government forces. In parallel, the Special Representative of the Secretary General continues to call on the Government, as well as on anti-Government forces, to find a political solution to the conflict, as that is the only way to put an end to the violence.

Edmond Mulet is UN Assistant-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations.

Mr. Mulet was interviewed by phone by David Blazquez on 29 October 2013, and contributed an update by email on 20 January 2014.