Wednesday 1 July 2015

Give peacekeepers a chance

Alain Le Roy at work

A 2011 interview with the head of the UN peacekeeping operations shows how little has been achieved in the intervening years.

The UN’s peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, is asking the EU to play a greater role on the world stage and thinks the early signs from the External Action Service are showing that the EU wishes to live up to its international responsibilities. After meeting officials, he spoke with New Europe.

Do you have the resources that you need to carry out your missions?

We have enough soldiers but we lack some capabilities, which is why we are keen to develop our cooperation with the EU, who have a lot of capabilities. We don’t have enough helicopters, we lack intelligence capacity, military hospitals and the technology that the EU has. I’ve just come from a meeting and they were very interested to work more with our operations, or in support of UN operations.

Has the European External Action Service changed anything?

I feel a change. The meeting today was a change. It was clear that the member states wanted to define a more collective answer to how they can support peacekeeping. That is exactly why they invited me to come and they have shown that they want to take the initiative and support peacekeeping worldwide. The EEAS is still at the beginning, but this is a very encouraging sign.

Is the EU playing the role it could?

The answer is no. It could play a much bigger role. Less than 7% of our soldiers are European. That is fewer than 7,000. We have 1,400 from Italy, 1,100 from Spain, 500 from France and Austria with 400. In Africa, where our operations are very important, less than 2% of soldiers are from Europe.

The numbers could be increase, along with capabilities. I would like to see more involvement in Africa, which is next door to the EU. Any trouble in Africa could have important ramifications for the EU so I would like to see more political involvement.

How do you persuade the EU to take a larger role?

It’s clear that the EU has a collective ambition to be a very important actor in the global sphere. Participation in the peace and security field, is one where the EU has contributed a lot. What they did in the Balkans was tremendous. When the EU is united it’s a huge force. Now they have the EEAS so it’s time to play a larger role.

You’ve been involved in some places, such as Cyprus, for a very long time

Since 1948 we have had 64 peacekeeping operations and 49 have closed, and we remain with 15 today and Cyprus is one of the oldest, along with Kashmir and the Golan heights. The Cyprus operation began in 1964.

It is clear that the mission is there to provide a space for a political sphere and there is tremendous pressure for a political settlement. It is important to make sure that there are no incidents and thanks to our efforts, there are none.

Has the role of your agency changed? Peacekeeping today seems to be less about separating two sides and more with conflicts that have no front line.

It has changed drastically. The old, traditional peacekeeping is still there in the conflicts I mentioned, but now the bulk of our work is completely different, it’s larger multi-dimensional missions with stabilisation mandates. The DRC and Sudan missions are much more complicated and expectations are much higher and much more challenging than simply standing between two armies. We also have millions of civilians to protect.

This means that the soldiers you want have to be of a much higher standard, are you getting the quality that you need?

We have very professional soldiers. For example in the DRC we have Indian and Pakistani soldiers, they are extremely professional. They have to be very agile as there is a vast territory to cover, with no infrastructure. We have to be much more agile, more mobile and be able to react to any attacks on the civilian population. We don’t always have the right troops or the right equipment, but we’re working on that.

China is beginning to get involved in peacekeeping, how do you see that progressing?

It’s very clear that China has made a strategic decision, at the highest level,  to be more involved in UN peacekeeping. They consider that as a way to show their contribution to peace and security in the world. I was invited to China last year and I was very well received. China now has more peacekeepers in the UN than any EU country.

They are steadily increasing their commitment. They are sending engineers, medical facilities and they are extremely professional and we welcome that.

The UN has just released reports on women’s roles in peace building, how would you like to see involvement increase?

Recently, we issued a report on women, peace and security. It shows that we have made significant progress, for example the number of women in the police has increased from 3% to 9% and we have an ambition to reach 20% by 2014. Out of 15 peacekeeping missions, three are led by women, Cyprus, Liberia and Timor.

It’s important also, to increase women’s participation in political institutions. Thanks to our presence, in Afghanistan 25% of MPs are women, the same in Burundi. In Rwanda, and it was not our decision, but a Rwandan one, they decided to have 56% of women in parliament.

There is much more to be done. When we work with civil society we try to ensure that women are represented, this is a key aim of ours.

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