UN Security Council: Open Debate On Peace Operations Facing Asymmetrical Threats

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

  • Peace, Rights and Security
Statement Delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 7 November 2016

Today’s briefers have highlighted the dangerous and complex environments in which many contemporary UN peace operations operate.

Most UN peacekeeping missions are now deployed in the aftermath of intrastate conflicts.

In many cases armed groups, including terrorist groups, remain active, and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are an ongoing challenge.

The spread of violent extremism is a significant part of the changed threat environment.

In some cases, UN peacekeepers have themselves become deliberate targets, significantly undermining the safety of UN personnel and their ability to effectively discharge their mandates.

These challenges are increasingly stretching the limits of peacekeeping.

As the High Level Independent Panel on the future of UN Peacekeeping Operations made very clear in its report last year, UN operations are inherently ill-suited to carrying out counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency tasks. 

New Zealand agrees. Asking UN peace operations to carry out such tasks is a recipe for disaster.

But for the foreseeable UN peacekeepers will continue to operate in environments in which armed groups, including terrorists, pose a serious ongoing threat.

Our focus must therefore be on doing all we can to ensure they can operate in such environments as safely and effectively as possible.

In this regard, I wish to highlight three aspects that warrant particular attention.

First, it is vital that we provide peace operations deployed in high-threat environments with clear and realistic mandates; and that these mandates are backed by appropriate concepts of operations, clear rules of engagement, and adequate contingency planning.

Peacekeepers must have clarity about what role they should – and should not – be playing in addressing asymmetrical threats present in their environment. As I have already stressed, peacekeepers should not be involved in proactive counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency activities.

But they will be required on occasion to take preemptive steps to address imminent threats, and to respond in situations when UN personnel come under attack.

We have witnessed several examples in recent years – perhaps most dramatically in the Golan Heights in 2014 - of what can happen when peacekeepers do not have clear guidance on how to respond in such situations.

To ensure their readiness, we also see merit in Missions establishing processes to regularly test and rehearse such scenarios.

Secondly, where asymmetric threats are present, we must ensure peacekeepers are adequately trained and equipped and that missions are provided with the necessary capabilities.

It is dangerous and irresponsible to deploy peacekeepers into high-threat environments without providing them with the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.

But all too often these capabilities are not provided.

This must change.

The ability of peacekeepers to protect civilians in high risk environments is undermined when the safety of peacekeepers themselves cannot be guaranteed.

We have seen tragic examples of the consequences of this in recent months in South Sudan.

Countries will simply not be willing to make their personnel available if they do not think they will be protected.

We must ensure that UN missions are provided with the necessary intelligence, logistics and force protection capabilities to ensure the safety and security of their personnel.

The use of intelligence and surveillance capabilities assumes particular importance in such environments as are vital enablers for peacekeepers in detecting and preventing threats to both UN personnel and the civilians under their protection. 

These capabilities save lives. We need to move beyond the politics currently restricting their active use.

Thirdly, this Council needs to provide more meaningful oversight for those peacekeepers it deploys to environments where asymmetric threats are present.

This need for more active Council monitoring and management of situations of high or emerging risk has led New Zealand to support the establishment of regular situational awareness briefings.

It is our hope that by ensuring Council members are briefed on emerging threats to peacekeepers and the civilians they are mandated to protect, these risks can be more effectively managed. We hope these briefings will remain a regular fixture of the Council’s work.

The work of this Council and the peace operations it mandates does not exist in a vacuum.

In this regard, it is important that the Security Council coordinates its work with other UN and international entities active in counter-terrorism efforts, to ensure complementarity of effort and avoid duplication.

Strengthened cooperation between relevant agencies to improve the ability of peace operations to function more effectively is essential.

We also strongly support the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. 

The Plan of Action emphasises the need for a holistic approach to address the root causes of violent extremism effectively. In this regard we support the Secretary-General’s intention to integrate prevention of violent extremism into relevant activities of United Nations peacekeeping operations.

We also endorse suggestions from Council members to establish a more centralised mechanism within the UN system to help match counter-terrorism capability gaps with assistance.

Mr President

As the nature of peacekeeping evolves, the Council needs to adapt to new realities.

Peacekeepers are increasingly caught between armed actors and the civilians they are required to protect.

It is important that the Council continues to adapt to new forms of conflict, to enable its peacekeepers to carry out their roles safely and effectively.


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