Bridging the Commitment-Capacity Gap

Tasneem Jamal

H. Peter Langille

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2002 Volume 23 Issue 4

There is a growing gap between the avowed commitments of the international community and the United Nations’ actual capacity for the prevention of armed conflict and the protection of civilians. The UN is still denied sufficient means, mechanisms, and support to fulfill tasks assigned by its Member States. Particularly troubling is the lack of a UN rapid deployment capability for diverse emergencies.

Clearly, the current system is untenable. There is a need for substantive change at the political, strategic, operational, and tactical levels. Yet, recent efforts have focused primarily on implementing the technical and administrative reforms identified by the Panel on UN Peace Operations (the Brahimi Report) and the subsequent Comprehensive Review. For example, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is undergoing a sweeping overhaul and a much-needed expansion of personnel and offices to facilitate planning, management, and support. By April 2002, 73 member states had renewed their support for the UN Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS). To ensure the system can be used in a more active manner for rapid deployment, the Secretariat is attempting to clarify the conditional commitments and verify the quality and quantity of personnel and equipment that might be made available. A multinational standby high-readiness brigade for UN operations (SHIRBRIG) has been declared “available” and it has already been deployed to one mission. As well, there are reports that coalitions in other regions will consider similar partnerships. Such reforms are undoubtedly steps in the right direction.

There are inherent limitations in the current arrangements. They depend upon political will, prompt national approval and funding, as well as appropriately trained, well-equipped national units. Moreover, while the recent reforms are necessary, they are insufficient. In short, the prevailing approach and the present system provide little, if any, assurance of prompt or effective responses. As a result, there is an alarming gap between the avowed objectives of the “international community” and the UN’s actual capacity for preventing armed conflict, stopping genocide, and protecting civilians. But, this need not and should not be the case. There are promising alternatives!

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)

In 1992, the office responsible for peacekeeping was reorganized as the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in order to improve the capacity to plan, conduct, and manage operations by coordinating within one department all aspects of peacekeeping operations. The DPKO is now the operational arm of the Secretariat.

Since its inception the DPKO has been treated as a temporary creation – one that is continually forced to justify its practices and personnel. Even with the inspiring leadership of the new Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean Marie Guéhenno, these demands have not diminished. This department is expected to operate numerous missions worldwide, but it continues to lack an appropriate structure, adequate resources, and dedicated units for rapid deployment.

The following would serve to improve DPKO’s capacity in this respect:

  • Aside from the immediate benefits associated with a more cohesive department, there are likely to be wider political, strategic, and operational advantages derived from co-locating the DPKO’s various units and personnel into a dedicated central office.
  • Regional and national peacekeeping training centres should be encouraged to help the DPKO develop appropriate doctrine and comprehensive prior training programs for the rapid deployment of military, police, and civilian personnel.
  • Additional efforts within the UN Secretariat and within Member States are needed to restore the collegial cooperation and partnerships necessary for rapid deployment to complex political emergencies worldwide.
  • As the UN Secretariat has yet to designate a departmental focal point and office of primary responsibility for coordinating rapid deployment, a new office assigned to this task should be established within DPKO. A small unit of military, police, and civilian personnel could be placed under the Director of Strategic Planning and Management with a representative in the office of the Assistant Secretary-General for Military and Civilian Police Affairs.
  • Given that the combined staffing of the Risk and Disaster Management Unit and the Rapidly Deployable Mission Headquarters would only entail an additional 12 personnel, and that these arrangements are relatively cost-effective and complementary to the proposed “on-call” lists for developing mission headquarters, they deserve the support of all parties.

UN Standby Arrangement System (UNSAS)

The UN Standby Arrangement System was specifically intended to improve the UN’s capability for rapid deployment. This system is based on conditional commitments from Member States, indicating specific resources that might be provided within agreed response times.

UNSAS serves several objectives. First, it provides the UN with an understanding of the forces and other capabilities a Member State will have available at an agreed state of readiness. Second, it facilitates planning, training, and preparation for both participating Member States and the UN. Third, it provides the UN not only with foreknowledge of a range of national assets, but also with a list of potential options if a member or members refrain from participating in an operation. UN planners now have the option of developing contingency and “fall-back” strategies when they anticipate delays.

However, this system has yet to attract the majority of UN Member States: only 73 participants have provided detailed information, and only 38 have signed the requested generic Memorandum of Understanding.

Moreover, standby arrangements for nationally based units are based on conditional agreements and as such, all participating Governments retain a veto over any use of their personnel and equipment. Thus, there is no guarantee that troops or resources will be provided for a specific operation. To address these problems:

  • All Member States need to be encouraged to participate in the UNSAS. Participants should strive to provide a commitment to the higher levels of the UNSAS, with special recognition accorded to those that finalize the commitment by signing the appropriate Memorandum of Understanding.
  • It is imperative that Member States earmark well-trained forces, personnel, and appropriate resources for the UNSAS. Pre-identified military, police, and civilian elements, as well as equipment, must be prepared and retained on short-notice specifically for rapid deployment to UN Operations.
  • Given the unprecedented demand for civilian police, consideration and personnel should be accorded to the development of national civilian police (CIVPOL) companies and partnership agreements among supportive members to form multinational standby high-readiness CIVPOL battalions for UN operations (SHIRPOL) within the framework provided by the UNSAS.
  • The UNSAS needs to be promptly re-negotiated to facilitate rapid deployment to UN operations that include a Chapter VII1mandate. This might be accommodated by the addition of a fifth level within the arrangement that specifies the personnel and resources that Governments are willing to commit to more demanding Chapter VII operations.
  • The UNSAS must be addressed both as an urgent requirement for generating prompt responses to contemporary armed conflict and as an important transitional measure facilitating a renewed commitment to Article 43.2 It is time to explore the prospects of resurrecting Article 43 as the sixth and highest level of obligation within the UNSAS.

Multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG)

The Multinational Standby Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) for UN operations complements the UNSAS with a complete, integrated unit that has a projected response time of 15-30 days. There are now ten full participants in the SHIRBRIG: Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. Each has conditionally agreed to provide the equivalent of an infantry battalion and several officers for the headquarters and planning of the SHIRBRIG.

Although designed as a high-readiness brigade, specifically for UN rapid deployment, the SHIRBRIG has yet to demonstrate its potential. These recommendations are intended to enhance the SHIRBRIG:

  • Participating Member States must attempt to streamline national decision-making to ensure that the SHIRBRIG, and their potential contribution to the brigade, are not delayed.
  • Partnerships should be encouraged to facilitate political and military support, as well as training assistance for additional SHIRBRIG-type arrangements in other regions.
  • Given the evolving nature of UN peace support operations, SHIRBRIG participants will have to re-negotiate the terms under which they may accept more demanding, “robust” operations.
  • To help ensure the availability of national contingents, Governments participating in the SHIRBRIG must be encouraged to earmark units specifically for this commitment. Combat readiness must also be supplemented with comprehensive prior training for diverse UN Peace Operations.
  • While the initial planning of the brigade has focused on the development of a multinational force, it is time to consider the development of national CIVPOL companies and partnership agreements to form multinational standby high readiness, SHIRPOL battalions. Similarly, plans should now be expanded to include civilian peace building elements that address “human needs.”
  • SHIRBRIG members should be encouraged to pursue functional role specialization. For example, rather than have each carry a long, independent national logistics train, such a task can be either shared or selected by one or two participants. Similarly, one country might provide modern communications while another provided air or sealift.
  • To ensure legitimacy, impartiality, and consent, political efforts should be devoted to attracting broad regional representation and additional SHIRBRIG participants.
  • Within the next three years, it would be beneficial to co-locate military, police, and civilian elements at a dedicated SHIRBRIG base.

Moving beyond the pragmatic, incremental approach to accelerate the process

The period since the Millennium has been characterized by a surge of official efforts to improve UN peace operations, particularly peacekeeping. However, the focus has been primarily upon securing the “minimum threshold of change” through pragmatic, incremental reforms negotiated in UN committees that require broad consensus. There are alternatives to fast-track further developments:

  • Supportive parties must work to coordinate a comprehensive political approach to accelerate the process of adaptation and modernization. This should be directed not only to focus the Security Council and revitalize the Member States, but also to empower a transnational coalition and constituency of support among citizens, Non-Governmental Organizations, related agencies, and academic communities.
  • Reliable information will be required to generate a broader public and professional understanding of current UN Rapid Deployment initiatives and the various options available for enhancing these efforts. Government, institutional, or foundation assistance for developing a focused research program and a series of conferences addressing the issues of rapid deployment would be a tangible commitment to the process.
  • It is time to plan for a new forum on UN Rapid Deployment; one that can help launch and sustain a supportive transnational initiative.
  • Serious consideration must be accorded to new innovative methods for generating additional funding. It may be appropriate to revise the scale of assessments to reflect a percentage of national military expenditure or a tax on exports of military equipment.

Potential future roles and tasks of a UN Rapid Deployment Capability

The potential future missions of a UN rapid deployment capability can be divided into the following categories:

  • Advisory
  • Preventive Action and Protection of Civilians
  • Peacekeeping
  • Policing
  • Peace Building
  • Humanitarian Assistance.

Rapid deployment presents an array of demanding requirements:

  • All deployable personnel, equipment, and supplies must stand at a high degree of readiness for deployment at very short notice.
  • All deployable elements will require a capacity to operate on their own for up to 90 days.
  • Prompt transportation to the mission area is essential.
  • A high degree of mobility will be needed to respond rapidly over a large area.
  • There will be a need to ensure replacements or rotations.
  • Flexibility is required at various levels given the relatively broad range of potential tasks and contingencies.
  • Doctrine and training must ensure a higher degree of flexibility at the operational and tactical levels.

A UN Rapid Deployment Police and Security Force

One of the more promising initiatives in recent years is outlined in United States’ H.R. 938, referred to as the United Nations Rapid Deployment Act of 2001. It calls on the US to work with the UN Secretary-General and other Member States to establish a UN Rapid Deployment Police and Security Force (PSF). As proposed, this PSF would consist of at least 6,000 volunteers recruited globally and directly employed by the UN. These volunteers would train together and be appropriately equipped for rapid deployment to international peace operations, including civilian policing.

A UN Emergency Service

A multidimensional UN Emergency Service, composed of military, police, and civilian volunteers, would correspond to the diverse operational requirements of contemporary, as well as future UN peace operations. A number of the general requirements for such a capability have already been identified. A UN base – a facility dedicated to preparing, mounting, and managing future operations – is frequently at the forefront of the requirements. Coinciding with the development of the UN base is the establishment of an expanded, static, operational-level headquarters. Together, the headquarters and base could serve as a focal point for recruitment, contingency planning, doctrinal development, and the training of military, police, and civilian elements.

The option of training and equipping dedicated UN volunteers within a sound organizational structure is likely to be far more rapid, reliable, and cost-effective. A UN Emergency Service would be a complementary, parallel development to existing arrangements and multinational contingents. It would allow the UN to mount a prompt and sophisticated response to assigned tasks; one that also allowed time for member states to organize, prepare, and train for rotation into missions that are likely to be more stable than the high-risk, volatile environments, which often arise from delayed responses.

  • There is an urgent need for a UN Emergency Service – a dedicated, multidimensional “UN 911” that can address human needs, including protection, security, health, and hope. This service should be composed of military, police, and civilian volunteers that are recruited globally, selected for high standards of professionalism and commitment, and then directly employed by the UN.

The development of a UN Emergency Service will likely take time, vision, and a coherent, goal-oriented plan. There are several cost-effective options that merit consideration by the United Nations, its Member States, and interested parties:

Stage One: Reinforce Existing Arrangements
Stage Two: Consolidate Capability in a Sound Operational Environment
Stage Three: Co-locate National Contingents
Stage Four: Initiate a Composite Emergency Service.

This four-stage process may help to initiate a composite rapid deployment capability of co-located multinational units (similar to the SHIRBRIG) and dedicated UN volunteers.

Finally, there is the need for further research:

  • It is time for an in-depth, independent, transnational study to identify the general and specific requirements for starting, maintaining, and operating a UN Emergency Service.

Developing a UN rapid deployment capability will be a challenging but essential endeavour, as the UN will remain the only legitimate organization that can serve as an international police and global emergency service.

1. Charter of the United Nations, Chapter VII: “Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.”

2. Article 43 of the UN Charter calls for Member States to make armed forces and other resources available to the Security Council.

Dr. Langille is currently a Human Security Fellow and Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria. This excerpt is taken from his book Bridging the Commitment – Capacity Gap: A Review of Existing Arrangements and Options for Enhancing UN Rapid Deployment.

To order Bridging the Commitment – Capacity Gap: A Review of Existing Arrangements and Options for Enhancing UN Rapid Deployment by H. Peter Langille, ISBN 1-881520-12-9, contact The Center for United Nations’ Reform Education, 1160 Hamburg Turnpike, Wayne, New Jersey 0740-5084; tel: 973-872-8900; fax: 973-872-8964; email: An order form and information about costs can be found at

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