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National statements

UN Peacekeeping Operations Heads of Military Components Briefing

Thematic issues

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Golan Heights
  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Mali
  • Peacekeeping
  • Protection of Civilians
  • Sanctions
  • Syria
  • Terrorism
  • Women


Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

Thank you, Madam President, for convening this briefing. I thank General Maqsood and the Force Commanders for their briefings and like others convey our very sincere appreciation to the men and women with whom you serve. Our role in this room in New York is meaningless without what you do, and do in increasingly dangerous and unpredictable situations. The ten deaths in Mali over the last week alone again show this.

We've had a mix of presentations today – from the force commanders of one of the UN's newest (MINUSMA) peacekeeping operations, one of its oldest (UNDOF) and its largest (MONUSCO). Each of these missions is different in its size, scope and history, but clearly each is grappling with institutional and environmental challenges which reflect the changing nature of peacekeeping – from generating forces and building infrastructure in vast, remote and hostile environments – hostile not just from armed opponents, but the physical environment itself: Mali is an extraordinarily tough place physically; to implementing a robust security posture to protect peacekeepers and civilians; and of course to confronting non-state actors employing deadly and more violent unconventional tactics.

It's obvious that we need to draw out the lessons we learn from each of these missions and apply them with good effect to improve the responsiveness and discipline of UN peacekeeping as a whole. The Secretary-General's forthcoming strategic review of peace operations will provide a structured way to do this; it is a necessary and critical initiative. It should be a fundamental review of course. As Ambassador Gasana (Rwanda) said at the beginning of today's debate – we need to change our way of doing business since we're not working in the same market any more. Our Force Commanders know this better than all of us.

We all know that the protection of civilians is a defining task for UN peacekeeping and is the measure by which our stakeholders – the citizens of the world – assess our performance. It is now written into the majority of this Council's mandates. The deployment of the Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) represented a necessary seismic shift – embracing the need for clear, offensive action to defeat armed rebel groups which threaten civilians. As General dos Santos Cruz (MONUSCO) said, missions must be proactive in this and not reactive. Under his leadership and that of SRSG Martin Kobler, the results in the DRC speak for themselves. But collectively we must improve across all of our peacekeeping operations: to quote General dos Santos Cruz again, both in mindset and in operational practice.

One of the key lessons to emerge from the DRC experience seems to be the importance of new technologies – such as satellite imagery and unmanned unarmed aerial systems – and improved training for our troops to know when and how to protect vulnerable populations. Any enabler that allows those in the field to achieve their mandates in a safer, more effective and efficient manner must be embraced and incorporated more broadly.

We know that peacekeeping is under unprecedented pressure, with more simultaneous conflicts with a bigger impact on larger numbers of people than since World War II. We need more peacekeepers, not less, but we risk peacekeeping becoming unsustainable. So Member States need to get more serious about doing much more to sustain it. The United States and Rwandan initiative at the UN General Assembly to catalyse more contributions was very much needed. China's indication today that it will increase its contributions is very welcome.

On a very specific point on enablers, I'd welcome any further views General dos Santos Cruz has on how UAVs are assisting his mission's "shape, clear, hold and build" strategy and what other technologies and capabilities would be welcome in MONUSCO. I would also welcome his advice about how the framework brigades could be made more mobile and better integrated into the planning and support of the Force Intervention Brigade's offensive operations.

General Kazura (MINUSMA, Mali) has described the difficulties that missions face when operating in an evolving asymmetric threat environment – and indeed where a peacekeeping mission is increasingly operating in an environment where not only is there no peace to keep, but in which a mission has become a primary target of terrorist and extremist elements. This situation is one that requires a serious response from the Council. I'll be chairing the Council's Al Qaida Sanctions Committee this afternoon – we'll review the latest report from the Committee's Analytical and Monitoring Team on the current threat from terrorism. The threat is increasing – way beyond just ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Terrorists are much younger, more violent, far less inhibited, and do not listen to traditional communal and religious leaders. And, of course, they are seizing territory and cleverly exploiting local conflicts – making those conflicts worse, while increasing their own presence, influence and success. This is a new reality and it will be here for a long time. It has clear implications for peacekeeping operations. The Secretary-General's review will need to look at this – but we can't wait. As Force Commanders know, operational and defensive adjustments need to be made now. And the Council needs to make sure we are providing whatever assistance we can to allow this. I think the Council is very conscious of this need and its role on countering terrorism. But we need to be proactive about it. This will be a key feature of Australia's presidency of the Council in November – building on the two resolutions on terrorism that we adopted in August and September.

One specific comment – obviously intelligence and the capacity to analyse and assess new and emerging threats should be an essential element of peacekeeping, particularly when it can underpin the safety of peacekeepers and civilians. In Mali, the deployment of the All Sources Information Fusion Unit is breaking new ground in peacekeeping – can General Kazura describe the value of this unit? Also, the scourge of Improvised Explosive Devices is reaching new heights with tragic results: ten peacekeepers were killed by IEDs in Mali in September alone. What more needs to be done to counter this threat? At the national level, many countries – including my own – have developed expertise in handling IEDs in recent times. I'd welcome any comment on how this experience can be transferred to UN peacekeeping.

General Singha (UNDOF, Golan Heights) has illustrated the challenge faced by peacekeepers in adapting to a rapidly shifting operational environment. The changed security circumstances in and around the Area of Separation in recent weeks have been dramatic, culminating in the redeployment of the majority of mission personnel to the Alpha (Israel) side. But, as you said, their monitoring and liaison functions remain vital – indispensable – in ensuring respect for the 1974 disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria is maintained. We would welcome any further insights General Singha may have about how the UNDOF mandate can be fulfilled in these changed circumstances, given the current disposition of forces, and what you see as the future needs of the mission.

To conclude, we welcome again this opportunity to engage directly with our commanders who have the day-to-day, practical task of translating this Council's mandates into results. We actually need more interactions to ensure the Council's decisions are properly calibrated to what is happening on the ground and that missions have adequate tools and resources to do their jobs. It is the Council and Member States, of course, who must ensure you have those tools.

Finally, Australia looks forward to replicating this format during our own Council presidency next month when we plan to hold the first ever Council briefing with Heads of Police Components.

Thank you, Madam President.

(As delivered)

Last Updated: 18 June 2015
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