New Issues Observatory

The New Issues Observatory is a multi-year project initiated in 2014 supported by the French Ministry of Defense’s Department for International Relations and Strategy (DGRIS) consisting of a series of research papers and roundtables examining “new” issues in peace operations.

The first year and set of papers focus on new technologies for peacekeeping. The second year focused on peace operations operating in violent and asymmetric environments. The third and current year of the project is focusing on UN field support for peace operations.

Field Support

Medical Support for UN Peace Operations in High-Risk Environments

(Lesley Connolly and Havard Johansen) The UN is increasingly deploying peacekeepers to conflict theaters where there is no political agreement and little or no peace to keep. Such high-risk environments make it harder for the UN to keep its personnel safe, fit, and healthy. While current UN missions have adopted a number of measures to mitigate these dangers, these do not address the systemic challenges facing medical support to UN peace operations.

This paper asks the question: What are the challenges to providing medical support to UN peace operations in high-risk environments? It analyzes five core challenges facing the UN: (1) medical structures, planning, and coordination in UN headquarters; (2) standards of care; (3) coordination in the field; (4) training and capacity building; and (5) resources and capabilities.

On the basis of these challenges, it offers recommendations for making medical support to peace operations in high-risk environments more efficient and effective:

  • The UN Medical Services Division and Medical Support Section should coordinate better and create links with the Office of Military Affairs.
  • Medical support planning should be included in every aspect of mission planning and be tailored to the context.
  • Missions should shift away from Level II hospitals, which are expensive and underutilized, instead exploring alternatives such as mobile medical units with surgical capabilities.
  • Missions should focus on in-mission training, including by improving mentoring of medical personnel.
  • MedEvac and CasEvac procedures should be simplified, decentralized, and made more flexible.
  • The UN should seek pledges of medical equipment and personnel from member states in a more targeted way.



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UN Support to Regional Peace Operations: Lessons from UNSOA
(Paul D. Williams)    Authorized in January 2009, the UN Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (UNSOA) was an unprecedented operation. Through UNSOA, the Department of Field Support used the UN’s assessed contributions to directly support a non-UN regional peace operation (AMISOM). Although this significantly enhanced AMISOM’s capabilities and increased its overall effectiveness, UNSOA faced numerous challenges that severely inhibited its ability to deliver on all its mandated tasks. This report analyzes five sets of challenges that UNSOA faced from 2009 through to 2015. These challenges revolved around the expanding scope of UNSOA’s tasks, the clash between the UN and the AU’s organizational cultures, the highly insecure operating environment, the size of the theater of operations, and some of AMISOM’s idiosyncrasies.


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Asymmetric Environments

Demystifying Intelligence in UN Peace Operations: Toward an Organizational Doctrine

(Olga Abilova and Alexandra Novosseloff)



With UN peace operations involved in increasingly volatile and dangerous situations, there appears to be growing acceptance among member states that UN missions need greater capacity to generate intelligence, both to protect themselves and to fulfill their mandates more effectively.

This policy paper strives to unpack the concept of intelligence in UN peace operations by explaining its needs and requirements, existing structures, and limitations and to clearly define the concept of intelligence within the limits of the UN’s fundamental principles and its multilateral and transparent nature. It aims to clarify and demystify the debate on intelligence in UN peace operations and to propose a specific UN approach.


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The Surge to Stabilize: Lessons for the UN from the AU's Experience in Somalia

(Walter Lotze and Paul D. Williams)


In recent years, a growing number of UN peacekeepers have been mandated to carry out “stabilization” tasks. Yet the UN still has no explicit definition of or framework for this concept, and most recent stabilization operations, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, occurred under quite different circumstances from UN peacekeeping operations.

The AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has long operated with the consent of a weak host government, in parallel with external and local forces, under a complex mandate, and with African personnel, may offer a more useful point of comparison. The latest report by IPI investigates what lessons UN peacekeepers can draw from the AU’s experience in Somalia. AMISOM suffered from a number of political and operational challenges in its attempt to implement an effective stabilization strategy. It suffered from, inter alia, overly securitized responses, fragmented command and control, inadequate logistical support and force enablers, and a failure to significantly degrade al-Shabaab’s fighting ability or provide security to the local population. pdf_icon

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Waging Peace: UN Peace Operations Confronting Terrorism and Violent Extremism

(Arthur Boutellis and Naureen Chowdhury Fink)


Of the eleven countries most affected by terrorism globally, seven currently host UN peace operations. In countries affected by terrorism and violent extremism, peace operations will increasingly be called upon to adapt their approaches without compromising UN doctrine. But to date, there has been little exploration of the broader political and practical challenges, opportunities, and risks facing UN peace operations in complex security environments. This has created a gap between the policy debate in New York and the realities confronting UN staff on the ground.

This policy paper aims to bridge this gap by examining the recent drive to integrate counterterrorism (CT) and preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) into relevant activities of UN peace operations, as well as the associated challenges and opportunities. It seeks to expand the scope of discussions beyond whether peace operations can “do CT” to how they can better support national governments and local communities in preventing terrorism and violent extremism. pdf_icon


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Smart Peacekeeping: Toward Tech-Enabled UN Operations

(A. Walter Dorn)

As the world’s technological revolution proceeds, the United Nations can benefit immensely from a plethora of technologies to assist its peace operations. Fortunately, significant progress is being made. The UN has adopted a strategy for technology and peacekeeping and is showing the will and the means to implement it. New concepts, such as “technology-contributing countries” and “participatory peacekeeping” through new information technology, can improve peace operations. New technologies can also help UN field workers “live, move, and work” more effectively and safely, creating the possibility of the “digital peacekeeper.”

This report provides an overview of technological capabilities and how they are being used, explores progress to date and key challenges, and offers a set of practical recommendations.     pdf_icon

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Technology and Peacekeeping

Geospatial Technology as a Conflict Prevention and Management Tool in UN Peacekeeping
(Elodie Convergne and Michael Snyder)


The goal of this policy paper is to explore the role of satellite and GIS technologies as a tool for conflict prevention and management specifically in the context of UN peacekeeping missions. Today geospatial analysts at headquarters and in the field actively provide information and analysis to mission management and decision-makers. This paper begins by describing some of the key functions of this technology in contemporary peace operations. It has been shown to help peacekeepers better understand the drivers of conflict on the ground, monitor boundaries and ceasefire lines, improve situational awareness and validate information, document evidence of mass atrocities and other human rights abuses, and inform military planning and the location of troop deployments.


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Tracking the Blue: Phone and Vehicle Location Systems for UN Peacekeeping
(A. Walter Dorn & Christoph Semken)


Situational awareness is a key to success in UN peacekeeping operations. A basic but as yet unachieved goal for UN missions is to know the exact position of their peacekeepers at any given time. Blue force tracking can help to plan missions, send reinforcements, retrieve wounded peacekeepers, avoid and respond to ambushes, kidnappings and friendly fire, and, ultimately, save lives. This article explains the benefits, drawbacks and challenges of various phone and vehicle tracking systems, surveys available technologies and looks at the political considerations. Fortunately, commercially solutions for real-time vehicle and smartphone tracking have become available at reasonable cost and with increasing accuracy and sophistication, while still being user-friendly. The United Nations can benefit from the advantages of modern blue-force tracking, without having to develop costly, customized solutions. Such an initiative should not encounter any political obstacles.


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Counter-IED Technology in UN Peacekeeping: Expanding Capability and Mitigating Risks
(Lisa Sharland)


This paper examines lessons emerging from the application of counter-IED (improvised explosive device) technology in multinational operations in order to identify opportunities to expand capabilities and mitigate risks in addressing the threat of IEDs in the context of UN peacekeeping operations. First, it examines the evolving nature of the IED threat. Second, it surveys some of the lessons emerging from the use of technology in multinational engagements such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Third, it explains some of the approaches already in place in UN peacekeeping operations. Fourth, it identifies potential challenges and constraints to employing more technology solutions to counter IEDs in UN peacekeeping missions. Finally, it submits some recommendations on technologies and broader reforms that could be implemented to address the growing IED threat in UN peacekeeping missions.


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Seminar Reports


UN Peace Operations in Violent and Asymmetric Threat Environments

(Olga Abilova and Arthur Boutellis)


The UN system, member states, and national and local partners face complex challenges in deploying UN peace operations in countries where there is not only little or no peace to keep but also, increasingly, a threat of terrorism and violent extremism. The UN is increasingly asked to “stay and deliver,” forcing it to review its capacity to operate safely and effectively in such environments. This has implications not only for budgets and staff safety but also for the UN’s core business of promoting lasting peace through political solutions.

This meeting note aims to explore the political and practical challenges, opportunities, and implications for UN peace operations of operating in complex security environments, particularly when operating in parallel with a non-UN counterterrorism force.


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Assessing UN Peace Operations One Year after the HIPPO Report (FR)

(Arthur Boutellis and Delphine Mechoulan)


The 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) has been seen as an opportunity to make UN peace operations more fit for purpose in the face of new realities on the ground. However, the number and scope of the recommendations contained in the report, and the fact that the UN Secretariat and member states share responsibility for their implementation, makes the status of implementation particularly difficult to track.

This French-language meeting note aims to assess the implementation of the HIPPO report’s recommendations and to map the path forward, both for the remainder of 2016 and for the next secretary-general. The meeting note stems from a seminar IPI organized in Paris, France, on June 17, 2016, with the support of the French Ministry of Defense’s Directorate General for International Relations and Strategy (DGRIS).


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