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Operationalising R2P in Coercive Peace Operations

Presentation by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to Working Group on Peace Operations and the Protection of Civilians, ICRC and IIHL Conference on ‘International Humanitarian Law, Human Rights and Peace Operations, San Remo, 5 September 2008.

It is a central characteristic of the responsibility to protect norm, properly understood, that it should only involve the use of coercive military force as a last resort: when no other options are available, this is the right thing to do morally and practically, and it is lawful under the UN Charter. If such force from outside has to be used, as the only way to protect people from genocide and mass atrocity crimes, then it is far better for this to happen with the consent of the government in question. But if that consent is not forthcoming, perhaps because the government itself is part of the problem, then—in extreme cases—outside forces will have to take action without it.

Exercising this responsibility poses a number of very difficult problems for military planners because it is not the kind of role in which militaries have been traditionally engaged, where they have well-developed doctrine and for which they can draw on a large body of experience. What is involved here is neither traditional war fighting (where the object is to defeat an enemy, not just to stop particular kinds of violence and intimidation) nor, at the other extreme, traditional peacekeeping (peace operations which assume that there is a peace to keep and are concerned essentially with monitoring, supervision, and verification).

The new task is partly what is now described as “peacekeeping plus” or “complex peacekeeping,” where it is assumed from the outset that the mission, while primarily designed to hold together a ceasefire or peace settlement, is likely to run into trouble from spoilers of one kind or another; that military force is quite likely to have to be used at some stage, for civilian protection purposes as well as in self-defense; and where, accordingly, a Chapter VII rather than just Chapter VI mandate is required. New peacekeeping missions in recent years have been constructed almost routinely on this basis, but that does not mean that military planners and commanders are yet comfortable with running them.

And that is not the end of the R2P story: the other part of the task is that which may arise in a Rwanda-type case, where there is the sudden eruption of conscience-shocking crimes against humanity, beyond the capacity of any existing peacekeeping mission to deal with, demanding a rapid and forceful “fire brigade” response from a new or extended mission to quash the violence and protect those caught up in it. This is more than just “peacekeeping plus”—dealing with spoilers—but, again, it is not traditional war fighting either.

Together, these “peacekeeping plus” and “fire brigade” operations are appropriate described as “coercive protection missions ,” which is as useful terminology as any to use in addressing what is needed to create the capability—essentially the same in both cases—to operate them effectively.[i] But getting reasonably clear the overall concept of operations, as this language does, is only the beginning of the story. Operational effectiveness in practice depends on getting a number of other things right: force configuration (what kind of force structure, and quantities of personnel and equipment, do militaries have to have to be able to mount these kinds of operations, individually or collectively); deployability (how rapidly can the necessary forces get to whatever theater is involved); preparation (ensuring that doctrine and training are matched to these operations); mandates and rules of engagement (ensuring that they are appropriate for the particular mission proposed); and military-civilian cooperation (ensuring that structures and processes are in place to maximize the effectiveness of each). Systematic attention is being paid now to all these issues by a number of national forces, and increasingly by those multilateral actors capable of mounting military operations, but still not enough.

For present purposes I will leave aside the issues of force configuration, deployability and military-civil cooperation, not because they are not operationally important but simply because they do not relate as closely to the theme of this conference as the issues of doctrine, mandates and rules of engagement.

The distinctiveness of coercive protection operations from more familiar military tasks—and the need to tread a line that involves something short of a full-scale war-fighting mindset but more than an observing and monitoring one—makes it crucial that forces be properly prepared for them. That in turn means much attention to training but also, to ensure that the training is properly focused, the principles or doctrine on which it is based. “Doctrine,” in military parlance, is essentially the formal written guidance that translates broad concepts—for example, the umbrella concept of “coercive protection operations” being used here—into the kind of actual action required at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty commissioners spelled out their own view of the principles on which the doctrine required for UN-mandated human protection operations should be based:

  • the operation must be based on a precisely defined political objective expressed in a clear and unambiguous mandate, with matching resources and rules of engagement;
  • the intervention must be politically controlled, but be conducted by a military commander with authority to command to the fullest extent possible, who disposes of adequate resources to execute his mission, and with a single chain of command which reflects unity of command and purpose;
  • the aim of the human protection operation is to enforce compliance with human rights and the rule of law as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, but it is not the defeat of a state; this must properly be reflected in the application of force, with limitations on the application of force having to be accepted, together with some incrementalism and gradualism tailored to the objective to protect;
  • the conduct of the operation must guarantee maximum protection of all elements of the civilian population;
  • strict adherence to international humanitarian law must be ensured;
  • force protection for the intervening force must never have priority over the resolve to accomplish the mission; and
  • there must be maximum coordination between military and civilian authorities and organizations.[ii]

For the most part national militaries have developed doctrine for different kinds of peace support operations, although of varying degrees of sophistication and detail. Of the key nations surveyed in this respect by Holt and Berkman, Canada and the United Kingdom appear to provide the clearest guidance to their armed forces on coercive protection, closely reflecting R2P language. By contrast, none of the relevant multilateral organizations—the UN, EU, AU, ECOWAS, or even NATO—have doctrine designed specifically for operations involving the protection of civilians under imminent threat. NATO has a good deal of fully developed doctrine on various kinds of missions and recognizes many individual military tasks required to protect civilians, but it has no specific civilian protection section as such.[iii] These are gaps that need to be filled, and so far as possible with common concepts and terminology among the different governments and organizations.

Training, similarly, leaves much to be desired, to the extent that practically nowhere is it very well geared—either in general or in the case of specific pre-deployment training—to missions where civilian protection is the central task, or at least a very explicit goal, of the mission, and coercive force is a permissible element in the response. Changes are gradually being made to reflect the nature of these contemporary missions and the stronger mandates that are going with them, but in both national and multilateral contexts, current modules are often strong in areas like managing evacuations, crowd control, securing facilities, and conducting patrols—but not, for example, on how to stop a belligerent from committing gross human rights abuses. It is better understood now than it was at the time of Srebrenica that UN peacekeeping principles of minimum use of force, impartiality, and consent do not justify inaction in the face of atrocities, but what actual action is required and permitted, and how to carry it out, needs more attention, with many more well-developed exercises and simulations.[iv]

Mandates and Rules of Engagement are the legally binding instructions for particular missions, describing at different levels of generality not only what are their basic tasks but when, where, and to what extent their members may use force. For example, in the case of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), the mandate spelled out in Security Council Resolution 1565 of 2004 included paragraphs making clear that the Security Council was acting “under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations”; that it was mandating (that is, instructing) MONUC, among a number of other tasks, “to ensure the protection of civilians, including humanitarian personnel, under imminent threat of physical violence”; and that it was authorizing the mission, in carrying out this among other tasks “to use all necessary means, within its capacity and in the areas where its armed units are deployed.”

The rules of engagement (ROEs) for this mission made clear, in turn, exactly what “all necessary means” meant, with ROE 1.7 reading, “Forces may use up to deadly force to protect civilians when competent local authorities are not in a position to do so.”[v] The “up to” language used here of course indicates that any such use of force should be proportional to the situation faced.

There is a crucial need that in every coercive protection mission—and indeed every military mission of any kind—mandates and rules of engagement be, first, completely appropriate to the task required, with Chapter VII powers being given where they are needed, and second, articulated with absolute clarity, with no ambiguity or room for any other misunderstanding as to what is intended.[vi] The operational effectiveness of a mission is as dependent on these instructions being right as on anything else. That these propositions are self-evident, however, is no reason to assume they have been observed in the past or will be in the future.

If we want to ensure that coercive peace operations carried out under the umbrella of the R2P norm are, in their conceptualization, detailed planning and on-the-ground execution, absolutely consistent with international humanitarian law, we still have a long way to go.

* This brief discussion is drawn from Chapter 9 of my The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All, to be published later this month by Brookings Institution Press. I have focused here on coercive military operations: not all ‘peace operations’ are of this character.

[i]. This is the terminology employed by Victoria K. Holt and Tobias C. Berkman, The Impossible Mandate: Military Preparedness, the Responsibility to Protect and Modern Peace Operations (Washington, D.C.: Henry L. Stimson Center, 2006).

[ii]. ICISS, The Responsibility to Protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Center, 2001), p. 67.

[iii]. Holt and Berkman, The Impossible Mandate? pp. 114 (in regard to Canada and the United Kingdom) and 126 (in regard to multilateral organizations).

[iv]. Ibid., pp. 133–154, 188–191.

[v]. Ibid., chap. 5; for ROE 1.7, see p. 95, for the MONUC mandate, see p. 205.

[vi]. See ICISS, The Responsibility to Protect, paragraphs 7.15–17 on mandates, and 7.26–29 on rules of engagement.