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Rapporteur: Dr. H. Peter Langille (firstname.lastname@example.org )
The objective of the proposed United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) is to develop a standing UN capacity that can respond rapidly and reliably to address four of the UN’s long-standing challenges. A UNEPS is designed to help prevent armed conflict and genocide/atrocity crimes; to protect civilians at risk; to ensure prompt start-up of demanding peace operations; and to address human needs in areas where others either cannot or will not.
In addition to the four primary roles identified, a UNEPS has emancipatory potential to help in the following areas: facilitating disarmament; freeing up enormous resources wasted on war; saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war; and as a step toward a more legitimate, effective, universal peace system.
A key lesson of previous experience is that favorable conditions for such a development tend to arise in the aftermath of tragic wars and genocides. Then, when the urgent need was evident, the prior preparation of a viable plan and a core constituency of support was not. This effort endeavors to ensure both are ready and sufficiently compelling to encourage development of a UNEPS before emergencies overwhelm.
A UNEPS will be a new UN formation. Thus, the UNEPS initiative is both a proposal and an advocacy campaign, coupled to an ongoing research project. Each aspect is a work in progress. To succeed, each aspect needs wider support.
Ten Core Principles of the proposed UNEPS:
- a permanent standing, integrated UN formation;
- highly trained and well-equipped;
- ready for immediate deployment upon authorization of the UN Security Council;
- multidimensional (civilians, police and military);
- multifunctional (capable of diverse assignments with specialized skills for security, humanitarian, health and environmental crises);
- composed of 13,500 dedicated personnel (recruited professionals who volunteer for service and are then screened, selected, trained and employed by the UN);
- developed to ensure regional and gender equitable representation;
- co-located at a designated UN base under an operational headquarters and two mobile mission headquarters;
- at sufficient strength to operate in high-threat environments; and,
- a service to complement existing UN and regional arrangements, with a first responder to cover the initial six months until Member States can deploy.(1)
A UNEPS would be a standing UN formation, ready to serve in diverse UN operations, immediately available upon authorization of the UN Security Council. With dedicated UN personnel, advanced doctrine, training and equipment, UN operations could get off to a good start quickly at the outset of a crisis.
As a multidimensional service, a UNEPS will include sufficient police to restore law and order, a military formation to deter aggression and maintain security, as well civilian teams to provide essential services for conflict resolution, human rights, health, disaster assistance and peacebuilding quick impact projects.
A multifunctional service ensures a cost-effective capacity to help with a wider array of task. With its modular formation, responses can be tailored for specific operational requirements.
A UNEPS is to be a first-in, first-out service, limited to deployments of six months. With a prompt, coherent start-up, it is to de-escalate and calm the crisis, averting the need for more or, if required, lay a solid foundation for follow-on efforts.
As a ‘UN 911’ first responder for complex emergencies, a UNEPS is not intended for war-fighting, but primarily to provide prompt, reliable help. Yet it may also serve as a vanguard, a strategic reserve, a robust protector and a security guarantor, both to deter violent crime and respond, when necessary, to prevent and protect.
Another distinct feature of a UNEPS is that it would be composed of devoted individuals recruited worldwide within a UN rather than national service. After screening and selection on the basis of merit, skill and commitment, its personnel would be co-located on a UNEPS base where they would be extensively trained, equipped and employed by the UN. Thus, a UNEPS is a new model.
Unlike previous proposals, a UNEPS is to complement existing UN arrangements, with a service that’s gender-equitable, which should help to develop higher standards system-wide. Aside from being a more rapid and reliable life-saver, this option is also a cost-saver.
The case for a UNEPS
From Rwanda and Srebrenica to Myanmar and Syria, the pattern of ‘too little, too late’ – incurring vast suffering, higher costs and wider consequences – has simply gone on for far too long. Instead of UN rapid deployment to prevent worse, routine delays allow worse.
People world-wide share a problem. According to research from the Institute for Economics and Peace, “the world is less peaceful today than at any time in the past decade”.(2) “After declining for much of the 1990s, the number of major civil wars has almost tripled in the past decade”.(3) Global armed conflicts are also killing more. (4) “The chances of nuclear war are higher than they’ve been in generations” – a warning the UN disarmament chief recently conveyed to the UN Security Council.(5) With the Global Peace Index 2018 reporting the annual economic cost of violence (war and armed conflict) at a staggering $14.7 Trillion (USD), people know this isn’t a safe or sustainable system.(6)
Countries world-wide lack the capacity to prevent armed conflict and to protect civilians at risk. What they do have is frequently either unavailable to the UN or inappropriate for UN peace operations. Coalition attempts to protect tend to be too destructive and even counter-productive.
UN peace operations definitely help, but they’re now relegated to post-conflict stabilization – putting a lid on a crisis once the fighting slows to allow the start of a peace process. For every operation, the UN faces an arduous process of renting the highly-valued resources of its member states, negotiating around their terms and accepting their conditions. Now it usually takes six-to-twelve months to deploy.
As a result, conflicts tend to escalate and spread, setting back the prospects for development and disarmament for decades. Then they require larger, longer UN operations at far higher costs.
Does it seem odd that countries could put a man on the moon fifty years back, but have yet to equip the UN to meet its primary objective – “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”? No, it’s not that governments don’t know how to start or what would work.(7) Yet they won’t develop such a service until they see a viable plan and feel the pressure of a broad-based, informed constituency.
The UNEPS proposal is one step toward meeting these serious, recurring challenges. Without a dedicated UN Service, national military establishments will remain reluctant to support UN peace operations, military transformation or any shift away from further preparation for more war.
The projected expense and cost-effectiveness
Developing a UNEPS will entail approximately $3 billion in start-up costs, with annual recurring costs of $1.5 billion, shared proportionally among 193 Member States. Clearly, there will be additional expenses in deploying a UNEPS, which would require strategic and tactical air-lift for early-in formations, as well as sea-lift for follow-on, heavier assets.(8)
With such additional costs, the advantages must be substantive. A UNEPS should help to prevent the escalation of volatile conflicts; deter groups from violence; and cut the size, length, and frequency of UN operations. Success in just one of those areas would provide a real return on the investment. And there are other positive benefits in this development, which merit further consideration and investment.
Origins of the proposal
There have been numerous precedents outlining the requirements of a UN standing force or UN rapid reaction capacity, usually developed in response to tragic wars and/or genocides.(9) One pivotal contribution arose from Saul Mendlovitz and Robert Johansen, who elaborated on UN Secretary-General Trygvie Lie’s idea of a UN Legion, with the idea of a permanent force composed of dedicated, individually-recruited personnel rather than drawing on national armed forces.(10)
The proposal for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) largely stemmed from a former Canadian government study on UN rapid deployment.(11)
That study was a response to both the UN Secretary-General’s 1992 An Agenda for Peace and the Rwandan genocide. It was initially announced as a year-long, in-depth examination of various innovative proposals, including the creation of a permanent rapid deployment force under UN command. Two members of the core working group were tasked to examine diverse options for a UN standing force.(12) A brief summary of the proposed standing UN Emergency Group was included in the Government report submitted to the UN General Assembly in 1995, with elaboration in a related publication of the Pearson Peacekeeping Training Centre.(13)
The study was carried out in close consultation with multinational partners, military advisors, and the advice of UN officials. It was followed by a multinational initiative of twenty-eight UN member states in the Friends of UN Rapid Deployment.
Soon after being announced, events transpired to shift the official focus away from a UN standing force toward the more pragmatic, readily-agreeable reforms for UN rapid deployment over the short-mid-, to long-term. A Standing UN Emergency Group was not the preferred option of Canadian or other national military establishments. As such, it was relegated to the long-term concern and denied the attention and support announced.
Yet the study, process, impediments and prospects were deeply scrutinized in a subsequent, independent research effort. The lessons-learned created a better sense of what might work and what definitely wouldn’t.(14)
The inspiration for the earlier standing option and ongoing efforts was wider, but often from Sir Brian Urquhart, the study’s co-chair. As a pioneer of UN peacekeeping and former UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Urquhart had already stirred a high-level debate with his proposal for a ‘UN volunteer military force’.(15)
In 2001, Urquhart emphasized the need for a book elaborating on the Canadian study’s option of a UN ‘Standing Emergency Group’. A multi-dimensional service, with a multi-functional capacity to help, aligned with projected UN requirements. A civil society constituency was another objective. In response, with support from Don Krause at the Centre for UN Reform Education, Peter Langille published a book in 2002 that refined the concept, case, model, and plans for a UN Emergency Service.(16)
The UNEPS Initiative: a cooperative effort?
The World Federalist Movement-Canada (WFM-C) has been the institutional anchor of this initiative since 2000. It retains a small working group that collaborates with Langille.(17) Their plans are routinely updated to ensure they correspond to the more recent developments in UN peace operations.
A wider initiative for a United Nations Emergency Peace Service followed on from a 2003 forum in Santa Barbara, co-hosted by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Simons Foundation, with three American NGOs assuming a lead role.(18)
This commenced with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), Global Action to Prevent War (GAPW) and the World Federalist Movement’s Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP). At their initial forum, David Krieger suggested that ‘peace’ be included in the title. There was also wider agreement that Langille’s 2002 book be their background book, with unanimous support for the idea of a United Nations Emergency Peace Service.
In 2005, Saul Mendlovitz of GAPW organized an encouraging global conference on UNEPS in Cuenca, Spain, with financial assistance from the Ford Foundation. Drawing on representatives of diverse sectors, there was consensus on the need to improve UN rapid deployment, as well as agreement that the UNEPS concept was appealing, the case was compelling, the model more appropriate and the political prospects appeared better than previous options.(19)
The need for gender-equitable composition in the proposed UNEPS was raised by Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy at a subsequent conference in Vancouver. Robert Johansen of the Kroc Institute also recommended that this service include a justice and corrections capacity as one of the diverse civilian elements. Robert Zuber was introduced as a new fund-raiser for UNEPS and GAPW.
In 2006, with financial support of the Ford Foundation, the three NGOs published a book edited by Robert Johansen, A United Nations Emergency Peace Service: To Prevent Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.(20) The wider focus and four primary objectives of the UNEPS proposal shifted to the narrower preference of the American NGOs. Yet encouraging efforts were underway.
In 2007, thirty members of Congress supported H-Res 213, “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that a United Nations Emergency Peace Service capable of intervening in the early stages of a humanitarian crisis could save millions of lives, billions of dollars, and is in the interests of the United States.”(21)
In 2008, another promising conference in Brisbane prompted high-level interest in Japan.(22) For a brief period, Japanese officials offered to host a UNEPS base and to provide related support.
In March of 2008, prior to his first election, Presidential candidate, Barack Obama responded directly to the UNEPS proposal by writing, “I do not support the creation and funding of the United Nations Emergency Peace Service”.(23) American support for the UNEPS proposal diminished.(24) A potentially promising international steering group was disbanded within a year. Two of the three American NGOs already had moved on, leaving GAPW to coordinate limited efforts, with insufficient resources. WFM-C cooperation continued both independently and in occasional partnership with GAPW.
In 2013, the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, where related research had been done in the nineties, hosted a seminar focused on UN rapid deployment and UNEPS. Their report generated doubts and divisions.(25)
Several case studies were published analyzing UNEPS applicability in specific conflicts.(26) Operational plans were developed for training, dovetailing with UN multinational operations, and sequencing deployments and support. The option attracted critical analysis, including regional perspectives.
GAPW affiliates subsequently published two books on UNEPS raising variations on the theme, its applicability to specific regions, even a different model with an American force structure.(27)
In 2014, a substantive International Peace Institute (IPI) review of UN rapid deployment acknowledged that the UN reforms of the past twenty years had been far from sufficient. It concluded that deployments would remain slow and largely incapable of prevention and protection without a UNEPS.(28)
Within the year, WFM-C submitted two detailed reports on the UNEPS option to two UN high-level reviews of peace operations.(29) Another book on UNEPS was published in 2015 to clarify further requirements and respond to several critiques.(30)
The UNEPS proposal is endorsed by various senior UN officials, former leaders of UN peace operations and an array of experts on peace, security and conflict world-wide.
An encouraging boost to the initiative arose from the 2017 UK Labour Party Manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few”.(31) It noted, “Labour will commit to effective UN peacekeeping, including support for a UN Emergency Peace Service.”(32) Bilateral discussions with other parties were reported to be encouraging.
Media coverage is positive but sporadic. For example, in 2016 the editorial board of the Toronto Star suggested that the Canadian government support UNEPS.(33) Yet support of the peace and disarmament community was thin until 2017, when a Group of 78 conference was held, ‘Getting to Nuclear Zero: Building Common Security for a Post-MAD World.’ Leading civil society organizations backed the initiative as part of a wider agenda entitled, “A Shift to Sustainable Peace and Common Security”.(34)
In May 2018 at an event in Toronto: “How to Save the World in a Hurry,”(35) a consensus was expressed for a broad platform of 25 proposals on a variety of issues: the “Platform for Survival.” The UNEPS proposal was one of the six proposals addressing the problems of “War & Weapons.”(36)
The UNEPS initiative continues to make progress, despite an unfavorable environment.
People world-wide still bear the costs and consequences of a deeply entrenched war system, the unwarranted influence of a global military-industrial complex and, a dysfunctional, impoverished peace system. The UNEPS proposal has not been endorsed by UN Member States or the UN Security Council. Given heightened international tension, no government is in a position to express support, and the UN cannot adopt a contentious proposal without wide agreement from the Member States. After twenty years of austerity and financial cuts to the UN budget, the official preference is limited to pragmatic, incremental reforms of existing arrangements. The manta of ‘do more, with less’ is deeply institutionalized.
Similarly, foundations that support peace and security work have become reluctant to support a challenging proposal without high-profile political leaders or a network of other inclined foundations.
Although millions are mobilizing behind specific campaigns of resistance, civil society and NGO networks have yet to develop inter-sectoral cooperation (and joint campaigns) to address serious global challenges.
The lack of a transnational advocacy network (TAN) remains a problem. With neither government nor foundation support, the research and educational outreach efforts of WFM-C have been limited since 2004 to an all-volunteer effort.
The support of the UK Labour Party prompted challenges from where least expected. The Oxford Research Group (ORG) was at the forefront.(37) Richard Gowan berated the idea and its political proponents.(38) A GAPW affiliate wrote about the ‘demise’ of the UNEPS initiative, citing the absence of a TAN.(39) ORG’s senior fellow, Paul Rogers, proposed a compromise: a UN Standing Force, composed of national militaries, with UK forces in a lead role.(40)
The UNEPS proposal will encounter even more opposition if it acquires traction. Inevitably, national defence establishments and the global military-industrial complex will attempt to keep the old game alive. They control a network of embedded gatekeepers, academics, media and foundations with public-private partnerships. The unwarranted influence of appropriating and disrupting has already strained the UNEPS initiative.
Yet in the words of Stephen Kinloch, “driven back, the idea will, as in the past, ineluctably re-emerge, Phoenix-like, at the most favourable opportunity.”(41)
With pivotal elections ahead, progressive policy options, including UNEPS are on the agenda. A political shift may accompany a paradigm shift. Obviously, the prevailing approaches to security, peace, people and the planet are ineffective. An unfavorable environment may shift rapidly. Such a transformation may arise either after a tragic shock or when civil society reaches a tipping point of concern over the multiplying global challenges. Already, there is renewed interest in a more just world, in making the United Nations more effective, in military transformation and economic conversion. Now, the onus is to be prepared.
First, if there is to be a UNEPS, civil society must press political leaders to think big, bold and outward, encouraging multilateral cooperation, innovation and unprecedented shifts.
Second, it’s crucial to elevate the all-volunteer UNEPS initiative to a professional campaign. With modest financial support, a UNEPS may be adopted by other progressive parties.
Third, educational outreach must include political outreach, particularly among progressive parties world-wide. And indeed, some leaders are now encouraging a renewal of progressive internationalism.(42) To influence at a high level, this initiative needs a competent briefing team for national capitals, Member States Missions to the UN and the UN Secretariat. Aside from sharing understanding of the idea and addressing concerns, another objective should be to encourage another ‘Friends’ group of supportive Member States.
Fourth, links should be created between UNEPS support and the NGO communities that address climate change, social justice, and sustainable development. Clearly, there is a need to build bridges and partnerships. The umbrella of sustainable common security encourages such support and solidarity, as well as the substantive shifts urgently needed to address global challenges.(43)
Fifth, as noted in a 2012 publication of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (foundation), “to attract a broad-based constituency of support, the UNEPS initiative needs to expand into a more formal network of civil society organizations, academic institutions and inclined member states. It is time to encourage global centers for UNEPS research and educational outreach.”(44)
Sixth, the UNEPS initiative needs a plethora of publications world-wide. As noted, “the UNEPS proposal requires further elaboration in a blueprint. An in-depth study is needed to provide details into the various requirements at the political, strategic, operational and tactical levels. A review by a panel of independent experts would also be helpful to clarify the potential costs, benefits, options and optimal approach.”(45)
A UNEPS is no panacea, but just one step toward a global peace system. With modest support, this option could make a world of difference. As William R. Frye noted, “that which is radical one year can become conservative and accepted the next.”(46)
Footnotes for this article can be seen at the Footnotes 1 page on this website (link will open in a new page).