UN Emergency Peace Service: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


I mentioned in a post last week that I’ve been pushing an exciting proposal to make the U.N.’s peacekeeping and disaster relief capacity far more responsive and effective than it is now. It’s time to tip my hand.
For the past four weeks or so I’ve been meeting extensively with Congressional staff about a proposed UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS).
Even without any changes, the UN is very effective at disaster relief and peacekeeping. The RAND Corporation reports that the UN is far more successful at nation-building and peacekeeping than any international institution or country in the world. And the U.S. Government Accountability Office has shown that UN peacekeeping is as cost-effective as it is successful.
But here’s the problem: building peacekeeping missions and relief efforts right now is like building a fire station for every new fire. For each new mission, the UN needs to raise funds, recruit personnel, and train them to work together despite differences in equipment, weapons systems, and languages. It’s a slow, arduous, and difficult process. Since the early stages of conflicts and disasters are often the most deadly, this is a serious problem.
Right now, the UN defines rapid deployment as thirty days for a simple peacekeeping mission and ninety days for a complex contingency, a situation that involves spoilers or antagonists. The UN has a lot of trouble meeting even this low bar. For civilians caught in the crosshairs of conflict or disaster, “rapid deployment” can seem like a cruel joke.
The UN Emergency Peace Service would consist of 12,000-18,000 civilian police, military, judicial, and relief professionals that could deploy within 48 hours of a Security Council authorization. Envisioned as a 9-1-1 style first responders unit, it could hold down the fort while the international community cobbles together the resources, personnel, and plans for a long-term, sustained mission.
Had UNEPS existed during crises in Rwanda, Haiti, Liberia, or Somalia, hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars might have been saved.
Regarding Darfur, today’s best-publicized humanitarian crisis, President Bashir has alternately accepted and rejected UN intervention, manipulating the UN’s slow ramp-up to derail momentum towards peace. Were UNEPS a viable option, this kind of posturing would not be possible.
Not only is UNEPS a common sense way to save lives and money, it would also be an important step for UN reform. Since the force would be permanent and voluntary, its participants could be trained together in the same language and with a clear chain of command, use the same weapons and communications equipment for greater interoperability, and have a greater level of commitment to the success of their missions.
And since its members would be employed by or seconded to the UN, any abuses like those alleged in Congo and Sierra Leone would be could be quickly investigated and punished as necessary under the UN’s strict code of conduct.
Most Democrats and a good number of Republicans should support UNEPS. Granted, black helicopter conservatives will be startled by the idea, but most of my meetings with Republican staff on Capitol Hill have been very positive. It turns out that the potential to save lives is remarkably compelling, not to mention the compelling national interest in greater accountability, interoperability, and financial savings in Security Council-authorized and UN-run peace operations.
Given the current state of America’s image in the world and the more permanent dynamics of the UN General Assembly, any such proposal would be doomed to fail if it were submitted by the United States. But moving the idea forward in the U.S. is still important, since other countries that have shown interest in UNEPS will look to the U.S. before stepping forward. Right now, there is a widespread perception that Congress won’t go for it.
That’s why Reps. Al Wynn (D-MD) and Jim Walsh (R-NY) have introduced a resolution expressing Congressional support for UNEPS. With more and more organizations and Members of Congress jumping onto this bandwagon, I’m hopeful that, when their resolution passes, they get the recognition they deserve.
Obviously, I can’t explore every detail of the proposal in a short blog post, and many of the details still need to be ironed out. But the fact remains that the time for a UN emergency capacity has come. Three months is far too long to wait for help in a disaster or conflict zone.
Hopefully I’ll have more to report on this soon.
— Scott Paul


20 comments on “UN Emergency Peace Service: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

  1. Tom S says:

    Peacekeeping forces are company and battalion-sized military units, not individuals or small teams of experts. Some countries are eager to take part: some have real expertise–and a reputation for neutrality–such as the Swedes and Irish; other countries see it as a means for training, feeding, and equipping their troops. Needless to say the quality of the latter is extremely poor and vulnerable to corruption, misbehavior, and poor performance.


  2. dan says:

    This is a brilliant idea, one that the EU — Germany, in particular — should be interested in spearheading, since as you say, the US is persona non grata with the UN at the moment. From the perspective of military personnel, a year’s secondment to UNEPS might be perceived as a prized posting. I shall look forward to following your progress with this.


  3. Jayne Cravnes says:

    The United Nations Volunteer program has a special operations unit that rapidly deploys volunteer experts in emergency situations. Shouldn’t UNEPS be coordinated as part of this existing roster of available experts ready for rapid deployment? Are there any conversations going on between UNEPS and UNV?


  4. Tom S says:

    If rapidity of deployment is the key (read Romeo Dallaire’s book on how the UN was unable to act speedily in Rwanda), and the UN is going to foot the bill for the UNEPS to in essence be a standing force; it might be a better idea to use a private security firm as this force. In theory, this would short circuit many of the national constraints that make peacekeeping forces difficult to raise and maintain, and do away with many of the politico-diplomatic issues that currently inhibit effective deployment of peacekeeping forces.
    As long as the UN pays the bills on time, the force can be trained the way the UN wants it, and is subject to parameters and evaluation of its effectiveness that would be impossible with national contingents.


  5. JC says:

    As you lobby folks for to support this lofty goal, it may be worthwhile to look into (and around) US DoD Directive 3000.05 (Nov 2005) for an articulation of current US military doctrine on security, stability, transition, and reconstruction (SSTR) operations. There is a small but growing community around similar collaborative initiatives for improving humanitarian assistance/disaster response operations, which includes not only militaries and governments, but corporations and NGOs. It may be both prudent and productive to include their voices in your lobbying. This is a problem best approached from a perspective of radical inclusiveness.


  6. Scott Paul says:

    Thoughtful comments all.
    Tucker’s Bow:
    UNEPS could never be deployed with General Assembly authorization. Not only would that go against the spirit of the UN Charter, a majority in the GA is way too low a hurdle to clear. In the Security Council, UNEPS deployment would undoubtedly get held up by politics and posturing between great powers and others, but the Security Council is currently supportive of 18 peacekeeping missions around the world. UNEPS could still do a lot of good.
    On the second point, UNEPS would be a first-in, first-out tool. In other words, it could remain in the field indefinitely. The possibility of a UNEPS withdrawal, in fact, would light a fire under the international community to move faster on the creation of sustained missions. It would not remove the urgency.
    First, the U.S. would probably not second its service members, but nothing in U.S. policy would stand in the way of Americans volunteering to join UNEPS. And even if no Americans sign up, I don’t imagine recruitment being a problem. Plus, recruitment aside, nothing would stop the U.S. from providing logistical and intelligence support to UNEPS missions, as it does to current conventional peacekeeping missions.
    Second, either most or all UNEPS missions would be traditional peacekeeping. Peace enforcement is risky business. If UNEPS were ever to deploy on peace enforcement missions, which it might not, it would have to be under extraordinary circumstances.


  7. TK says:

    This kind of rapid-reaction capability would, indeed, be useful. Having read your post and the link on the CGS site, I’m wondering (though I may have missed a development or two,) how two of the major issues hindering any kind of peace-envolvement would be addressed: First, US personnel serving under foreign command, which, traditionally, we’ve been loathe to allow. Second, issues of sovereignty that, under Chapter 7, have given pause for inaction when discussing the conceptual transition from Peacekeeping to “Peace Enforcement”- in other words, if you don’t have the permission of either (or is it both?) parties in conflict, discussions of the application of a UNEPS are moot because it doesn’t have the legal right to intervene/enter(rapidly)and may face hostilities etc.


  8. tucker's bow tie says:

    Scott, to come back to the first response, wouldn’t it be desirable to have such a force deploy following a simple majority vote in the General Assembly rather than tacking it onto the SC? In Lebanon, the SC only acted when Israel was desperate enough for a face-saving maneuver *and after* John Bolton gave the green light. By that time, all those cluster bombs we flew over were already in the ground and more than a thousand people were dead.
    Also, wouldn’t UNEPS push long-term peace-keeping commitment into a much more secondary position (and thus make it actually easier for the member states to procrastinate)?


  9. Scott Paul says:

    Thanks for the comments, folks.
    To be clear, again, UNEPS would not be a silver bullet. As some of you suggest, in Rwanda, stronger Rules of Engagement would have been the main difference-maker. However, a temporary boost of additional personnel for civilian protection would have helped during the most intense period of the violence.


  10. Kathleen says:

    Scott, thank you so much for your work on UNEPS.
    I remember how much hope the whole world placed in the UN when it was created at the end of WW2, that world peace was achievable, if only we all co-operated with each other.
    The UN is a very effective body despite what NeoNutzis allege. I think we should do all in our power to rebuild trust in the world organization.
    A permanent peacekeeping agency like UNEPS is a wonderful idea and will do much to preserve world peace. If we can turn the tide of public opinion back to a co-operative attitude toward the world instead of the immature saber rattling Repugnicans espouse, we would save lives and money and our souls.
    On presidential candidates, Ron Paul is very opposed to the UN. That eliminates him in my book.


  11. jhm says:

    Good as far as it goes, but at least as important as rapid deployment is exit strategy. How many exigencies could be handled before some more permanent force would be required to relieve them?
    I disagree with your assessment of the problem in Rwanda. The problem there was that their was no political will to use the UN forces already in-country and asking for premission to intervene, in the face of US action to deny and obfuscate information coming not only from the UN but from State Department communiqués.


  12. Carol Gee says:

    Scott, this is exciting. And it is unusual for us to get excited about anything at the UN. Let’s try to keep it a secret from (OCP), our current president, however. (I call him that because it makes him seem more temporary). And, of course, don’t tell the VEEP. Anything good at the UN they’ll want to ruin, except when it suits their current purposes. That’s it! Figure out how to sell this to them as further empire-building and they’ll be on board in a “New York minute!”


  13. Dan Kervick says:

    Good idea Scott.
    I’d like to see the members of this outfit recruited, trained and employed by the UN directly, with their primary loyalty to the UN, rather than tasked or assigned from the armed forces or law enforcement agencies of member states. Once committed, member states shouldn’t be able to tank the mission by withdrawing their own forces.
    Ultimately, for this to work best, we need Security Council reform. But first things first.


  14. ... says:

    not sure others have seen this, and while it is not related i think it needs to be seen. it is an article by John S. Koppel Bush justice is a national disgrace


  15. Jessica says:

    I would also like to see the United States’ commitment to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, which call for cutting world hunger in half by 2015 and eliminating it altogether by 2025 be fulfilled. Indeed, it is estimated that the expenditure of a mere $19 billion would eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide. In a time when the current defense budget is $522 billion, the goal of eradicating world hunger is clearly well within reach and it is my hope that whoever becomes president in 2008 addresses this pressing issue.


  16. Tom S says:

    What good would a UNEPS force have done in Rwanda without ROE that are considerably more robust than that of a typical peacekeeping mission?
    In the aftermath of Bosnia and Rwanda, UN experts have suggested that the peacekeeping mission be changed to a peacemaking mission if appropriate.


  17. ... says:

    bush and cheney have worked really hard to trash the un.. why try to destroy all their hard work?


  18. Scott Paul says:

    UNEPS would be deployed only with Security Council authorization. As you suggest, UNEPS will not alter the balance of power or fundamentally change the international security apparatus. Some will find that attractive and others will find it frustrating. UNEPS is not intended to be a silver bullet.
    However, it is not and will never be the “security arm” of anyone. Peacekeepers do not and are not prepared to fight wars, be they defensive or offensive, pre-emptive, preventive, or aggressive. UNEPS would be deployed to implement peace agreements, protect civilians, shore up weak states, provide disaster relief, etc. Civilians in harm’s way and fragile states derive the most direct benefits.
    Thanks for your thoughts.


  19. Nigel says:

    This is a really good idea, my only concern would be the size, it’d be interesting to have some analysis of the effectiveness for force sizes ranging from say 4k-16k.
    If the justification for the larger numbers is to manage the time involved in a deployment whilst retaining sufficient ability to respond to another emergency, along with the need to retain institutional knowledge as staff are rotated by donor nations that would make sense.


  20. JohnH says:

    Scott–Who do you propose control this? General Assembly or the Security Council? If the latter, UNEPS would just become the security arm of the traditional powers against the rest of the world, i.e. a more effective status quo.


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