Civilian Police in Peace Support Operations

Tasneem Jamal

Peter Whelan

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2005 Volume 26 Issue 4

Peter Whelan is a Political Risk Analyst for sub-Saharan Africa at Export Development Canada. During the preparation of this article he was a Program Associate with Project Ploughshares.

Increasingly, policymakers are recognizing the importance of civilian police officers (CivPol) in contemporary peace support operations (PSOs). During the past decade civilian police have constituted 10-20 per cent of all UN personnel deployed on missions (O’Hanlon & Singer 2004, p. 82), and between 1999 and 2004, 80 per cent of all newly established UN operations included CivPol components.

Police officers are included in contemporary peace support operations for a variety of reasons. First, peace support personnel are often tasked with establishing security in their areas of deployment. Where domestic policing structures are inadequate or absent or the home government lacks capacity, CivPol assume so-called executive policing functions and thus become responsible for establishing and maintaining law and order. Recent examples are UN operations in East Timor and Kosovo.

CivPol are better than traditional military forces at providing security in the post-conflict environments where PSOs most regularly deploy. Although in some instances peace support forces will engage well-equipped and organized hostile forces, and may therefore require substantial firepower, on other occasions they will not face robust opposition but rather irregular forces that lack significant armed capability, but still pose a threat to peace and security. Often this opposition manifests itself in rioting, intimidation of individuals, and attacks on property. In these instances CivPol are better trained and equipped to establish a secure environment.

CivPol are also included in PSOs because they are viewed as a preferable alternative to military forces. Many governments of failed or failing states, or of states weakened by armed conflict, feel vulnerable to external military intervention. Less threatening are police forces that have traditionally existed to establish and maintain domestic security and not to undertake expeditionary operations. With a limited military capacity, intervening police forces are apparently not intent on, or capable of, implementing regime change. In looking at the effectiveness of civilian police in several UN operations, Annika Hansen (2002, p. 18) notes that CivPol often made progress “due to their lack of power, since they did not represent a threat to the local police and/or the host governments of Namibia, Cambodia and Mozambique – who themselves were struggling to consolidate power in the wake of a civil war.”

The success of PSOs also depends on their being welcomed by local populations. Police forces are trained to relate to security issues on a community level and so are better suited than military forces to gaining local support.

More extensive use of police forces within PSOs could reduce the costs of establishing and maintaining these missions. Police units are smaller and possess less heavy equipment, making them easier to transport and lessening reliance upon the strategic heavy lift equipment required by many military deployments.

CivPol play an integral role in the security sector reform (SSR) work that is a key element of the overwhelming majority of PSOs and is crucial to building sustainable peace. SSR is the process of reestablishing and/or reordering a state’s security apparatus, i.e., military, police, and intelligence forces, as well as the bodies that oversee their work, in order to improve a state’s ability to govern effectively. CivPol and other law and order experts serve as trainers in newly established or revamped security structures.

While police officers of many ranks and levels of experience can be useful in providing security in a PSO, more experienced officers are required to oversee SSR. And, while a significant number of officers are required to stabilize volatile communities (providing the ‘batons on the ground’), a smaller number are required for SSR. For example, as of 3 September 2005, CivPol deployed to the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were primarily tasked with providing immediate security and constituted a significant element of the mission (1,509 of a total of 8,104). However, of a total force of 16,258 with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), there were only 365 police officers, who were almost exclusively involved in SSR.

Day and Freeman (2003) have coined the phrase ‘policekeeping’ to describe the essential activities carried out by CivPol in peace support operations. They believe that policekeeping forces are essential in post-conflict situations, not only to avoid the resumption of hostilities in the short term, but also to provide the stability required for longer-term political and economic development. “The critical first step of postwar peacebuilding that will determine whether an intervention gets it right in the longterm is the constabulary function, what could be called policekeeping.”

In spite of the indispensable roles played by civilian police, there are limitations to what such forces can accomplish. For example, although CivPol may possess sufficient firepower to deter some would-be aggressors and provide security for civilians within their area of operations, they lack the military training and the full range of equipment that might be required in the event of a substantial attack. Therefore, in cases where armed groups pose a significant risk to vulnerable civilians and the probability of future attacks remains high, police units would be effective components of an operation, but inadequate alone. Day and Freeman (2005, p. 142) acknowledge this limitation and call for policekeeping forces to be “backed up, where necessary, by military support … [which could be used in roles] for which military forces are specifically trained.”

Currently, the demand for civilian police in PSOs exceeds the supply. The 2004 UN Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change notes, “Most peacekeeping [and other peace support operations] also require policing and other law and order functions, and the slow deployment of police contingents has marred successive operations.” The Report goes on to call for the UN to establish “a small corps of senior police officers and managers (50-100 personnel) who could undertake mission assessments and organize the start-up of police components of peace operations” (pp. 70-71). The importance of CivPol in PSOs was echoed in the UN Secretary-General’s September 2005 report, In Larger Freedom, which called for the establishment of a UN civilian police standby capacity.

Canada’s contribution of civilian police to international peace operations

Canada first engaged in international civilian policing in 1989, with the deployment of 100 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers to the UN Transitional Authority Group (UNTAG) in Namibia (Donais 2004, p. 948). Although at first Canadian police officers deployed to PSOs came exclusively from the ranks of the RCMP, in the last 15 years, almost 40 municipal, regional, and provincial forces, as well as other agencies, have played an increasingly prominent role in peacekeeping activity, and currently account for approximately half the Canadian police deployed abroad (Donais 2004, p. 949).

Since 1997, the deployment of Canadian police in PSOs has been governed by the Canadian police arrangement (CPA), a “funding and administrative mechanism involving four major government actors” (Donais 2004, p. 949): Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the RCMP, and the Department of the Solicitor General. The CPA’s current funding of $19-million over three years enables 42 Canadian police officers to be deployed internationally each year (Donais 2004, p. 949). This funding is supplemented from other government programs when more officers are deployed. Still, as Timothy Donais notes (pp. 948-949), “Canada’s mechanisms for identifying, preparing, and deploying police officers for post-conflict work continue to be largely ad hoc and provisional.… The CPA does not provide for a dedicated pool of officers on standby for international missions; rather, it facilitates the selection and deployment of officers on a case-by-case basis, primarily in response to requests from multilateral organizations such as the UN.”

As of 30 September 2005, Canada had a total of 112 civilian police deployed to three UN missions: 102 in Haiti, nine in Côte d’Ivoire; and one in Afghanistan. Canada ranked 17th out of 78 states that contributed CivPol to UN operations As of 31 May 2005, three officers were involved in missions undertaken by regional organizations: one RCMP officer with the African Union’s mission in Sudan and two with the Provincial Reconstruction Team that Canada established in August 2005 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Canada’s civilian police contributions to UN operations have been sporadic over the last few years, ranging from 105 in January 2001 to 18 in June 2004. (It should be noted that the small number of personnel contributed to PSOs does not necessarily indicate the significance of the contributions of these individuals. Training and experience must also be factored in.)

At present, it is difficult to recruit personnel for international policing. Often under-resourced police agencies are reluctant to release domestic officers for international service. As well, few officers have sufficient training in PSO operations. To address these issues, it has been suggested that Canada establish a 200-400 strong international police support unit. Such a unit would enable Canada to meet its international CivPol duties without compromising its domestic services.



Day, G. & Freeman, C. 2003, From Policekeeping to Peace: Intervention, Transitional Administration and the Responsibility to Do It Right, September.

Day, G. & Freeman, C. 2005, “Operationalizing the Responsibility to Protect—the Policekeeping Approach,” Global Governance 11, pp. 139-146.

Donais, T. 2004, “Peacekeeping’s poor cousin: Canada and the challenge of post-conflict policing,” International Journal, Autumn 2004, pp. 943-963.

Hansen, A. 2002, “From Congo to Kosovo: Civilian Police in Peace Operations,” Adelphi Paper 343.

O’Hanlon, M. & Singer, P. 2004, “The Humanitarian Transformation: Expanding Global Intervention Capacity,” Survival: The IISS Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1, Spring 2004, pp. 77-100.

United Nations 2004, A more secure world: Our shared responsibility, Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

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