Tate Krasner is a senior at Boston College majoring in International Studies with minors in Chinese and Russian.
By 2007, the African Union’s (AU) peacekeeping mission in Sudan was on the verge of collapse. Dwindling funds, mounting casualties, and restless member states threatened to destabilize operations, while the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) failed to adequately support the fledgling regional organization’s efforts. Unfortunately, the case of Sudan is not unique among a multitude of underfunded and under-supported peace operations around the globe. Behind each struggling mission, however, is a more important problem: the lives of countless civilians are at risk, and the stakes are high. And, despite the fact that the founding documents of the United Nations (UN), EU, AU, and NATO all explicitly affirm their respective commitments to the promotion and preservation of peace, cases such as Sudan challenge the way international organizations respond to humanitarian crises. This essay promotes the creation of an organizational interlocking security system as a solution.
In the post-Cold War era, a number of factors—proliferation of increasingly capable organizational actors, expansion of mandated tasks, and increasing complexity of conflict—have led to the development of an international peacekeeping “regime complex.” This complex is characterized by multiple international institutions with overlapping membership, active involvement in matters of peace and security, and normative and practical connections, both official and ad hoc. Despite this interconnectedness, operational coordination remains limited, with institutions displaying a strong preference to retain decision-making autonomy, both before and during missions. Moreover, instead of developing joint security mechanisms, organizations are pursuing comprehensive, independent security capacities as a result of recent failed cases, including Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Lastly, facing unwilling partners and insufficient contributions, the UN is seeking to reform international peace operations.
Improving the ability of regional and international organizations to respond to emerging crises will not come from the development of independent security capacities for several reasons. First, the duplication of resources causes inefficiencies and increases the potential for organizational competition. Second, because membership between these organizations often overlaps (e.g. France contributes to both the EU and the UN), states that are already reluctant and unable to support international organizations will further have to choose how and where to contribute their limited resources. Lastly, such a system will inevitably lead to a disjointed system of regional organizations with widely differing abilities to respond to localized crises. For instance, the AU will continue to suffer from a lack of financial, political, and human resources, and therefore retain inadequate response capabilities if donations ultimately stem from African states alone. In sum, the current system is inefficient and will remain so in the future without comprehensive reform.
Instead, the solution must come in the form of an interlocking security system, based on institutionalized coordination of comparative advantages and niche capabilities. Each organization—the UN, the EU, the AU, and NATO—has its own unique strengths to be drawn from. The UN, for instance, benefits from factors of impartiality, legitimacy, experience, and multilateralism, yet suffers from overstretch, a burdensome bureaucracy, and a lack of military capacity. NATO, on the other hand, has an advanced military structure and robust peacekeeping capacity but lacks civilian mechanisms and is often perceived as a biased actor. Formalizing links between these international organizations will capitalize on such assets while also addressing respective faults. For example, in a peacekeeping mission in Africa, the UN, the AU, and NATO could provide organization, legitimacy, and military capacity, respectively.
In order to be effective, moreover, these relationships cannot remain ad hoc. The institutionalization process must occur through formal bilateral or multilateral financial, operational, and communicational agreements between these organizations. Such steps would increase transparency, efficiency, and predictability of institutional decision-making, all of which would shorten the time between organizational deliberation and the actual deployment of peacekeepers to conflict and post-conflict zones. Further, once on the ground, missions would benefit from steady and ensured resources and communications. In human terms, research has shown that such fast action and provision of resources is crucial in reducing violence against civilians.
What would these links look like? Financially, interconnectedness could come in the form of trust funds, such as the one developed by the UN for the AU Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). These funds would not only solidify a predictable flow of resources to organizations with weaker financial capacities, but they would also allocate the funds for specific purposes, leading to greater transparency and decreased rates of misuse within these organizations. Operationally, integrated command and control structures would allow the development of more hybrid and joint missions in the future. By standardizing rules of engagement and operational procedures, organizations can avoid the challenges that the AU and UN faced while attempting to hybridize their efforts in Darfur. Communicatively, bilateral and multilateral interactions must be bolstered between international and regional organizations both in planning and operational stages. For instance, in addition to organizational liaisons, efforts must be made to ensure that lines remain open between Brussels, New York, Addis Ababa, and missions on the ground in order to promote joint decision-making.
Inevitably, difficulties will occur while attempting to implement such a system. For instance, a rivalry for political input will most likely always exist between the Global North, which provides much of the financial resources for operations, and the Global South, which contains the majority of troop-contributing countries. Further, each international organization contains its own cumbersome bureaucracy with unique decision-making processes and regulations, all of which suggest that multilateral agreements will be challenging to develop. In addition, organizations will never lose their desire for a certain amount of autonomy in order to prove their relevance within the international system, which ultimately accounts for their continued existence. Lastly, and not to be understated, contributing states must mobilize political will to implement such a framework. Yet, an interlocking security system would address these challenges not by diminishing the roles of any particular organization, but rather by recognizing and promoting their distinctive and exceptional assets.
With ongoing crises in Africa and the Middle East, as well as potential hotspots in other parts of the globe, the international community must address how it will respond to the increasing complexity and intricacy of contemporary conflict. An interlocking security system provides the most efficient and effective method of cooperatively engaging with these problems. And, in the end, an effective solution means promoting the shared goal of each and every organization—the protection of innocent civilians.