Triangular cooperation is an idea that has been around for many years. It is supported by many, feared by some, but so far it has never been really implemented. The concept has now been resurrected by the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report.
It is the key for all peacekeeping operations. Without cooperation between the UN Security Council, the UN Secretariat and those countries contributing troops, police, staff officers, and military observers, the system will not work effectively.
As the Security Council creates operations in less secure situations and pushes major contributors to take more risks, these contributors are demanding a greater say in how the Security Council shapes peacekeeping mandates. They are the ones implementing dangerous missions, and they pay the higher human price when their comrades are killed, while those who control the Security Council “only” receive the bill for these operations.
This debate has been ongoing for some time, but it took on new relevance with the deployment of the Force Intervention Brigade within the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and difficult missions in Mali and the Central African Republic that have stretched peacekeeping to its limits. The Security Council has dealt with this issue in an episodic manner over the past 20 years, de facto letting the gap with troop contributing countries (TCCs) widen. The question is whether this situation is sustainable when the UN’s resolutions are challenged by spoilers on the ground, and also - even more worrying - by those who are supposed to implement them.
Since the late 1990s, the issue of a strengthened triangular cooperation has regularly surfaced. Everybody agrees on its necessity but nobody is able to overcome the status quo or apparent inertia. The process generated by the HIPPO report offers one more opportunity to move forward with concrete proposals that would serve the interests of all parties.
In 2000, the Brahimi report advocated for “the establishment of ad hoc subsidiary organs of the Council”, as “Member States that do commit formed military units to an operation should be invited to consult with the members of the Security Council during mandate formulation; troop contributors should also be invited to attend Secretariat briefings of the Security Council pertaining to crises that affect the safety and security of mission personnel or to a change or reinterpretation of the mandate regarding the use of force”.
Following the report, Resolution 1327 (November 2000) “underlined the importance of an improved system of consultations among the troop-contributing countries, the Secretary-General and the Security Council, in order to foster a common understanding of the situation on the ground, of the mission’s mandate and of its implementation”. It suggested “the holding of private meetings” which could be arranged at the request of TCCs or police contributing countries (PCCs). In January 2001 the Council then established a Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations aiming not to “replace the private meetings with the troop-contributing countries”, but regularly including them in its debates. However, real engagement with TCCs is made more difficult because this Working Group only meets irregularly, and in a way that is not always directly connected to the work of the Security Council. These issues were singled out by a Challenges Forum Report in 2015.
On April 2001, the Security Council adopted the cornerstone Resolution 1353 that issued a “Statement of principles on cooperation with troop-contributing countries” by which it “underlined that consultations between the Security Council, the Secretariat and troop-contributing countries should enhance the ability of the Security Council to make appropriate, effective and timely decisions in fulfilling its responsibilities”. The format of such consultation meetings, which could potentially involve agencies and host countries alike, proved to be problematic for meaningful exchanges - and in fact, these meetings never took place. Instead, the UN Secretariat convened “TCC meetings” when it needed to look for contributors to new operations or in times of crisis.
In 2008, the Capstone Doctrine considered that “sustained consultations with TCCs/PCCs and other contributing countries at all stages of the planning and decision-making process are critical to the success of any UN peacekeeping operation”. It also recognized that “since UN peacekeeping operations would not be possible without the participation of contributing countries, it is critical that every effort be made to ensure that they are fully consulted on any decisions that may affect their personnel on the ground”.
One year later, the New Horizon document advocated for “a renewed global partnership among the Security Council, the contributing Member States and the Secretariat” with the objective of establishing “a clear peacekeeping strategy that is matched with resources for implementation”. It recommended developing “more meaningful consultation” between all these stakeholders “on proposed tasks affecting their personnel, before planning documents are issued”.
During that new reform process launched by the “New Horizon” agenda, the Turkish presidency of the Council in June 2009 organized a meeting to support the establishment of a “mutual, transparent and interactive dialogue”. In August 2009, the Security Council welcomed, in a presidential statement, “practical suggestions to deepen such consultations”, recognizing “that through their experience and expertise, troop and police contributing countries can greatly contribute to effective planning, decision-making and deployment of peacekeeping operations”.
From 2010 onwards, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) included a section on triangular cooperation in its annual reports. In 2011, it stressed in particular “the need to regularly assess, through consultations among the troop- and police-contributing countries, the Secretariat and the Council, the strength and composition of the peacekeeping operations and the implementation of their mandates, with a view to making the necessary adjustments, where appropriate, according to progress achieved or changing circumstances on the ground”.
Finally, the HIPPO report stated that “the Security Council should institutionalize a framework to engage troop- and police- contributing countries and the Secretariat early in the mandate formulation process”. There, “the purpose should be a dialogue with political and military representatives that ensures a meeting of minds between the Secretariat and potential contributors on required capabilities, resulting in commitments to deliver on the mandate and concept of operations”.
The Secretary-General’s report underlined that a “sustained dialogue between the Council, the Secretariat and contributors is essential for shared understanding of appropriate responses and their implications for the mandate and conduct of a peace operation”. The Secretary-General considered that such consultations “should begin before mission establishment”. Consultations were linked to the proposal for a two-step approach in creating peacekeeping, i.e. to draft the resolution but to adopt only when sufficient troops are committed. Such an approach would enforce consultation prior to finalizing a resolution.
Much has been said about the usefulness of triangular cooperation. Many meetings are arranged between these various actors, either at the initiative of the Secretariat or of the Security Council, depending on the particular operation. But this activity is not taking place in a regular, systematic and institutionalized manner.
As pointed out already in 2009 by Fatemeh Ziai in a very comprehensive study on the topic, TCCs generally feel that there is a “lack of meaningful consultations”; “there is a feeling that dealing with TCCs and scheduling meetings just creates more work for the Council and especially for the Secretariat. As a result, TCCs feel that consultations have been pro forma and formulaic, with no opportunity for an interactive discussion”.
How could an “institutionalized framework” as envisioned by the HIPPO report be realized? Past proposals have demonstrated that such consultations, viewed by some Council members with great reluctance, should be held behind-the-scenes (at least for a period of time) and restricted. But they should also be regular, adapting to the timing of each and every peacekeeping mission. Some have suggested “groups of friends” being able to fill the gap, but these seem to be too ad hoc to have the required weight.
Strengthened triangular cooperation could be formed around the following contours:
Such regular and informal meetings should create a sense of common interest between all stakeholders of peacekeeping, enabling them to reach a common vision on how best to implement specific operations. Of course, these meetings would be of greatest benefit if everyone came to the table with a constructive mood and the objective of improving the efficiency of peacekeeping operations.
Member States need to ensure that their representatives in New York are fully and effectively prepared for consultations with the Security Council and the Secretariat. As pointed out by Fatemeh Ziai, “a proper chain of information from the contingents on the ground to the capital and then on to New York needs to be developed or improved”. The Secretariat would need to follow up in a coordinated manner with all requests or issues raised in these meetings. A strategic dialogue between the major countries of the Council and the major troop contributors would also need to be undertaken in order to give political weight to these consultations held in New York.
What are the biggest incentives for the Council, the Secretariat and the TCCs to move forward on building triangular cooperation?
It is key to the Security Council as a whole. The Security Council clearly has no interest in creating or renewing mandates that would be challenged on the ground, as was the case in 2013 with the creation of the Force Intervention Brigade in Democratic Republic of the Congo. In that situation, several TCCs openly declared that they did not want to take part in this new reality created for MONUSCO. Major TCCs that are also members of the Council will rarely oppose the consensus. But they can counter the Council in a more subtle manner on the ground, refusing orders given by the mission leadership after the adoption or renewal of a resolution.
As Richard Gowan and others explained: “not only the Security Council but also troop contributors have an effective veto over the conduct of UN operations in dangerous situations. The troop contributors’ ‘veto’ is not, of course, a formal legal instrument. It is, instead, their power to block or undermine the Council’s will by controlling the supply and behavior of peacekeepers for individual missions”. Indeed, this is an unhealthy path for the Council and for peacekeeping operations in general.
The Council cannot work on these issues in isolation from the implementers of its resolutions. It has historically had a tendency to be too focused on its New York-based negotiating process, rather than on the conditions on the ground. This cannot work any longer in a world of quickly evolving threats, where peacekeepers are becoming targets and the financial resources of the international community are growing scarce. Such situations damage the credibility and authority of the Council vis-à-vis host nations and spoilers, and are likely to create more difficulties down the road. These situations also lead TCCs to move the political battle of influence to other fora such as the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) and the Fifth Committee (which determines the budget of every operation). This is also unsustainable for the Council in terms of its authority within the UN system.
It is key to TCCs. Through increased engagement with the Council, TCCs would feel greater responsibility for the outcome of peacekeeping missions on the ground. Their presence on the ground would also afford information that would be useful for the Council when assessing the renewal of a mandate. As the Secretary-General stated in its report on the HIPPO, such meetings “would give the Council an opportunity to obtain insights on challenges and opportunities entailed in mandating certain tasks and in generating required capabilities under specific timeframes”.
It is key to the Secretariat. More engagement between the Security Council and TCCs would allow for more effective results on the ground. Orders given by mission leadership would be better followed through. Caveats will remain, being inherent to any military operation, but they would be less hidden, thus easing the task of the Force Commander in the field. Stronger triangular cooperation will also lead to a stronger UN chain of command: a Security Council more attuned to the challenges on the ground is more likely to hear the Secretariat’s concerns. These meetings could then also be used by the Secretariat to validate planned compacts with host nations.
As I have advocated, the strengthening of triangular cooperation should be one of the main outcomes of this reform process initiated by the HIPPO. The gap between the Security Council, the Secretariat and the TCCs has become too wide. Repercussions are visible on the ground. There is a political battle being fought between those who decide and pay, and those who implement. This struggle for power and control over peacekeeping operations is damaging the system more than the protagonists may think. It is hurting the authority and credibility of the principal organ dealing with peace and security, and it is hindering the tools it creates to mitigate some of the most complex crises in the world. Delaying forward movement on this issue can only worsen the situation. Peacekeeping is a partnership. All partners, if serious about peacekeeping, have to make efforts toward better coherence and efficiency.
Such initiative on triangular cooperation could be undertaken by members of the P5. For example, why not by France and the United Kingdom following the spirit of their 2009 initiative on Strengthening Peacekeeping? Alternatively, it could be achieved by interested non-permanent members that wish to improve the working methods of the Council. Institutionalizing triangular cooperation could follow the adoption of a presidential statement or, even more effectively, a resolution that would commit all parties in a more concrete way. Triangular cooperation is a reform that is free of charge - indeed, it even increases the cost-efficiency of peacekeeping operations. Ultimately, all these efforts go both ways: those who contribute in troops need more say in the way peacekeeping operations are conceived and decided upon. Those who decide and pay need to do more to contribute.