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The unintended consequences of UN financial support for AU peace support operations

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Picture: IIyas Ahmed / AMISOM / Taken on 10 June 2016 – Ethiopian soldiers serving under the African Union in Somalia (AMISOM) on a foot patrol in Halgan village, Hiran region a day after a battle with Al-Shabaab Militants. The most serious negative consequence of seeking UN funding for AU peace operations is loss of African agency – the AU’s consensus paper stresses the importance of African ownership, the writer says.

By Cedric de Coning

Financing AU peace operations via the UN will have several unintended but foreseeable negative consequences that need to be taken into account.

The African Union (AU) has adopted a common position on the financing of AU peace support operations through the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping budget, and a UN Security Council resolution to this affect is currently being negotiated. The AU hopes this funding arrangement will solve the problem of finding adequate and predictable funding for its peace operations. However, financing AU peace operations via the UN will have several unintended but foreseeable negative consequences that need to be taken into account.

The most serious negative consequence of seeking UN funding for AU peace operations is loss of African agency. The AU’s consensus paper stresses the importance of African ownership. However, if an AU peace operation were to be financed via the UN’s assessed contribution peacekeeping budget, it will require a UN Security Council resolution that spells out the mandate, scope, timing and size of the operation.

The implication is that the ultimate decision-making power about the roles, size, deployment and withdrawal of such an operation shifts from the AU, and the African member states responsible for undertaking the operation, to the UN Security Council.

The culture in the UN Security Council is that one, occasionally two, of the members of the Security Council holds the pen on resolutions related to a specific country on the Security Council’s agenda. If significant funding is involved this is normally a permanent member, for example, the United Kingdom has for many years now held the pen on the UN’s resolutions on Somalia.

As the Amisom/Atmis experience has shown, the implication of this arrangement is that one Security Council member ends up having significant power to influence the scope, size and timing of an AU operation.

The African experience over the last twenty years has shown that when peace enforcement is required, decisions over the scope, size and timing of these missions have often required head of state and government level decision-making. This is because to deploy a country’s armed forces into a combat zone, where casualties are likely, and to accept the financial costs associated with sustaining such an operation, commitment is needed at the highest level.

As a result, many of the peace enforcement operations deployed to date in the African context were undertaken by regional organisations like Eccas, Ecowas and SADC, where decisions to deploy, and to renew mandates, are taken at the heads of state and government level.

These regions have sought endorsement from the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) but it has shown reluctance to hand-over ultimate decision-making power from heads of state and government to an ambassadorial-level AU body in which few of the states that deploy forces are represented. Similarly, a decision to hand over the authority to make these critical decisions to an ambassadorial level UN body, which takes decisions based on majority votes, and in which Africa only has three elected members, and no veto powers, should thus be considered with caution.

UN financing of AU peace operations will have significant unintended, but foreseeable negative consequences, most importantly on African agency and ownership, but also in terms of transaction costs and on mission performance and effectiveness

As the Amisom/Atmis, Unamid/Unitams, Afisma/Minusma, Misca/Minusca and other experiences over the past two decades have shown, the UNSC penholder and some of the other UN Security Council members are likely to have different interests than the AU member states and decision-making bodies that are undertaking and overseeing these African missions.

This is also reflected in the current negotiations over the financing of AU peace operations resolution, where permanent members of the UNSC are insisting that it should be the Security Council that initiates any consideration of UN funding. They fear that if they have to respond to a request from the AU’s Peace and Security Council it will force the UNSC to react to an operational concept that is framed in African interests.

Another dimension to be considered is that in the current reality of networked multilateralism the AU and UN have developed a strategic partnership where, in most political and security crisis in Africa, they work closely together, often with the AU or other African initiatives leading mediation, peacemaking and peace enforcement efforts.

Accepting UN financing for AU peace operations will alter this arrangement in that the UNSC will have the ultimate decision-making power over these operations, and the AU will become its implementing partner. The hope in the African consensus paper is that UN financing will enable it to do more, but as these examples show, there is a high risk that UN financing will actually dilute and undermine African agency and ownership.

There is also an assumption in the UN financing proposals that all African-led peace operations will be AU operations. The actual African experience over the past twenty years have shown a different reality. Many peace operations are initiated and undertaken at regional and sub-regional levels, for reasons of agency and ownership explained earlier. If UN funding is limited to AU-led operations only two of the seven current African operations will qualify.

AU member states also need to be aware of the significant transaction costs associated with UN financing. Mission budgets, including details such as approval of staffing tables, are subject to onerous ACABQ and UN General Assembly Fifth Committee negotiations, where UN member states are notorious for horse-trading on budget items over interests that often have little to do with the effectiveness and efficiency of the mission itself.

There will also be significant UNSC oversight and human rights due diligence compliance and reporting requirements that imply that a sizeable portion of AU headquarters and mission staff time will need to be dedicated to managing the demands of the UN bureaucracy.

A further important unintended but foreseeable negative consequence is the effects of UN bureaucratic rules and regulations on mission performance and effectiveness. One of the reasons why UN peacekeeping is not able to undertake peace enforcement operations is because the UN use a civilian logistical support model that cannot sustain high-tempo dynamic operations. The model works well for UN peacekeeping, where the intensity and tempo are largely predictable. As a result, the UN has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations over the years to support this type of operation.

However, peace enforcement operations may require active combat and in such circumstances UN support models, and rules and regulations designed for UN peacekeeping will slow-down and undermine the performance and effectiveness of African-led operations. The UN is turning to the AU for help when peace enforcement operations are needed because they are unable to undertake such operations itself. It is thus unrealistic to expect that the UN’s support arrangements can sustain AU operations at the pace and scale needed.

The African experience over the last twenty years has shown that when peace enforcement is required, decisions over the scope, size and timing of these missions have often required head of state and government level decision-making

There are thus significant negative unintended, but entirely foreseeable, consequences of accepting UN funding for AU peace operations. What are the alternatives? In order to ensure African ownership and agency, one option is for African member states to finance its own operations. A good example is the current SADC mission in Mozambique (Samim) that is funded through assessed contributions by SADC member states.

Although the burden is heavy and the mission would like more resources, the advantage of the mission and SADC having the agency to make its own decisions on the scope, size and drawdown of the mission should not be underestimated. Having limited funding also forces the mission to focus on political solutions, and to work closely with the government of Mozambique, local authorities and civil society in ways that will enable the local stakeholders to sustain these actions after the mission withdraws.

Samim is not an exception. Many other African missions, including the earlier generation of ECOMOG operations and current missions by the East African Community (EAC) in eastern-DRC or the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin are largely self-financed.

Another option is to finance missions through continent-wide arrangements that channel funds into the AU Peace Fund. This can be via assessed contributions and other forms of levies, and voluntary funding. Designing African missions that can be self-funded, or financed via the AU Peace Fund will require smaller and shorter missions that are less costly.

This implies short-duration, highly specialised and results-focused missions. This approach has many positive attributes, including that it avoids an operation from becoming entangled in a political economy where some stakeholders have an economic interest in the continuation of the operation. Many contemporary African missions combine these two sources of funding. They are largely self-financed, but they receive some support from the AU, including via the Peace Fund, and some support from partners like the European Union.

There may be extraordinary circumstances, as was experienced in Rwanda in 1994, that may require the rapid deployment of a peace enforcement operation of a size that cannot be funded via the AU Peace Fund. The AU consensus paper hopes that in such circumstances the UN can financially support an AU led operation.

One of the main lessons that can be identified from the African peace operation experience of the past 20 years is that each situation is unique and thus requires its own context-specific coalitions and partnerships. This lesson should caution African countries to enter into a framework agreement that will lock all future UN supported operations into a pre-determined burden-sharing arrangement.

Each situation is likely to require its own partnerships, and its own unique burden-sharing arrangements. An operation that requires joint assessments and planning with the UN, and subsequent diplomatic negotiations to agree on a resolution may not be able to deploy as rapidly as needed.

However, as we have seen over the last few years, there are now several African countries that have the capacity and financial capability to intervene rapidly, if an operation is deemed to be in their national interest. Many international partners will also be willing to offer support in such extraordinary circumstances.

UN financing of AU peace operations will have significant unintended, but foreseeable negative consequences, most importantly on African agency and ownership, but also in terms of transaction costs and on mission performance and effectiveness. This option should thus be considered with caution. Africa should only consider UN financing for AU peace operations as a last resort, and then only for limited durations.

Cedric de Coning is a senior advisor for ACCORD and a research professor at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)

This article was published on ACCORD