Considerable restructuring of the peacekeeping, political affairs and peace-building departments of the United Nations is being proposed by Secretary-General António Guterres as he continues to embark on reforming the world body, which contends with increasingly complex crises and conflicts each year.
In a 16-page document obtained by PassBlue and to be submitted soon to the UN’s 193 member states for review, Guterres, who is less than a year into his five-year term, proposes to redo what he calls the “peace and security pillar” of the UN Secretariat, the heart and soul of the institution, taking a finance-neutral approach.
His plan was firmed up just as he traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Donald Trump on Oct. 20. Guterres’s spokesman said the discussions at the White House would center on UN reform, with no readout provided when this article was published. [...]
The current United States administration has been hell-bent on cutting UN peace operations to reduce America’s contributions to 25 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget, down from 28 percent.
Guterres’s reform plan involves the most important bodies in the UN: the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as well as a lesser body, the Peacebuilding Support Office. In Guterres’s vision, two new entities would combine the work of the three offices. One would be called the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the other, the Department of Peace Operations.
The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs would combine the “strategic, political and operational responsibilities” of the currentDepartment of Political Affairs,which is run by Jeffrey Feltman, an American; and thePeacebuilding Support Office, led by Oscar Fernandez-Taranco of Argentina. The new entity would concentrate on conflict prevention, mediation, conflict resolution and peace-building, in addition to directing regional offices, Guterres’s envoys and other advisers involved in political processes, among other work.
The new Department of Peace Operations is slated to combine the responsibility of the currentDepartment of Peacekeeping Operations, run by Jean-Pierre Lacroix, a Frenchman, and aspects of the Department of Political Affairs to concentrate on peacekeeping and political missions “outside the purview” of the new Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. It is unclear who will run each office. Both Lacroix and Feltman are working under one-year terms.
The Guterres proposal says that the under secretary-general for the new Political and Peacebuilding Affairs office would have the responsibilities carried out by the current “USG,” as they are called, leading the Department of Political Affairs, though he doesn’t mention a name.
In keeping with Guterres’s goal to enhance the involvement of regional offices in the UN, he suggests that a single structure comprised of assistant secretaries-general report to both new entities, creating a closer link to the daily management of all political and peace and security activities of the UN.
He also suggests that a “standing principals’ group,” composed of the two under secretaries-general running the new proposed departments, report to Guterres, providing a “whole-of-pillar” approach to headquarters in New York and to the field. [...]
The peacebuilding component, the plan says, would act as a “hinge” between the peace and security pillar and the UN development system and humanitarian players of the world body, revitalizing the somewhat-invisible office. Guterres also emphasizes that the new Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs would include “intensified collaboration” with such institutions as the World Bank, as well as civil society, women’s groups and corporations.
The Department of Peace Operations — which if it materializes could be nicknamed DPO — would focus singly on peacekeeping operations and field-based political missions, although the latter would be those “outside the purview” of the other new department, leaving interpretation for such phrasing wide open.
The department, the proposal says, would aim to be more nimble and strive for an integrated “centre of excellence” for UN peace operations, which have been functioning under a cloud of sex-abuse scandals that are slowly being handled more openly, thanks to consistent media coverage of the problems in the last few years. Carrying out peace agreements would remain a primary role of the office. [...]
Yet what Guterres does not acknowledge is that even his best intentions to improve the UN’s most valuable asset — peace and security work — is also its most politically sensitive endeavor. Positive goals can go astray at the least provocation by member states who pull strings behind and in front of the curtain for their own gain, and when things go wrong, they let the UN take the blame.