Keynote-Speech by Minister of State on the presentation of the “Review of Political Missions 2010”

11.11.2010 - Speech

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It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the launch of the “Review of Political Missions 2010”, published by the Center on International Cooperation.

Today, political missions by the UN and other organizations are operating in some of the most conflict-laden regions to promote peace, security and good governance.

Yet despite their achievements, political missions remain generally unnoticed. Ask anyone on the streets of Berlin about international peace operations, and it is a safe bet you will hear about the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan. Most likely only a few will know about the UN Blue Helmets in Darfur or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This lack of awareness is precisely what the “Review of Political Missions 2010” aims to address. It is the first-ever review of political missions in the field and describes more than 50 operations, including the UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the EU and OSCE initiatives in the Balkans, and missions as far-reaching as Sierra Leone and Nepal.

The primary goal of the review is, as the authors have described it, to draw a map of this little known, yet widespread form of multilateral engagement in conflict-affected areas.

As Richard Gowan explains in his summary to the book, the term “political missions” is often used to cover a grey area between humanitarian action, human rights monitoring, development work, peacebuilding, and traditional diplomacy.

Most political missions take place in post-conflict societies, and many missions are successors of larger, more robust peacekeeping operations. Just a few have a solely preventive role. Some political missions focus on a single country, others encompass regions across borders. Defining political missions is the first step in bringing some clarity to this issue.

Why, one might ask, should we care about “political missions?” It is understandable that the general public in Western countries is more concerned about Afghanistan or Darfur than about the work of the UN Integrated Peace-building Office in the Central African Republic.

Operations in Afghanistan and Darfur seem to be more relevant to regional stability and have an impact on our own security. These operations are also much bigger and much more costly, both in human and financial terms.

One reason why we should care about political missions is precisely because they are not as large and not as costly. But – given the right circumstances – they work. Tonight, we will hear about several examples that support this argument.

Studies show that in countries emerging from conflict, the presence of peacekeepers reduces the chance of renewed violence by up to 75%. In addition, multilateral organizations have become more efficient when it comes to sending peacekeepers into the field.

Yet “traditional peacekeeping”, which refers to large numbers of Blue Helmets provided by different nations, is an expensive business. The UN’s peacekeeping budget for 2010/2011 is set at 7.2 billion US Dollars.

By comparison, political missions are a bargain. The 19 current UN civilian operations cost about 600 million US Dollars per year. Meanwhile, the currently 14 OSCE initiatives have a budget of just 110 million US Dollars.

This difference also leads to the question of what is sometimes referred to as “peacekeeping over-stretch”: Due to budget shortfalls and the recent financial crisis, major donors and large troop-contributing countries have been forced to reduce their commitments to peacekeeping operations.

At the same time, the need for the international community to respond in certain situations is likely to go up in number. For example, the existing international presence in Sudan might need to be reinforced after the referendum on Southern independence early next year.

Furthermore, in some host countries, there is increasing resistance against large and intrusive international missions, like those in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What we need is a more streamlined, “light-weight” model of crisis management operations.

And please let me clarify that I am not calling into question the usefulness of traditional peacekeeping missions. There are, without a doubt, situations where a substantial international presence – including a large, well-equipped military element – is necessary. But there are also situations where it is possible to do more with less.

Tonight, we are privileged to welcome panelists with first-hand experience on how to run effective operations in crisis regions: Ian Martin, Head of the 2007 UN mission in Nepal; and Michael von der Schulenburg, Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone.

In our discussion on the role and lessons of political missions, we welcome David Harland. Mr. Harland is Head of the International Review of Civilian Capacities of the UN’s Peacebuilding Support Office, and former Head of DPKO’s Peacekeeping Best Practices Unit.

And last but not least, Richard Gowan – Associate Director of the Center on International Cooperation and lead researcher for the book – will offer his insight on why we need to create a shared understanding of the term “political missions.”

Please allow me to finally make some remarks about our German efforts: To take a more integrated approach to crisis management, the German government founded the Center for International Peace Operations – or ZIF – eight years ago. ZIF’s primary mandate is to recruit, train and manage a stand-by pool of civilian experts for political missions, peacekeeping operations and election observation missions.

ZIF is also part of the German Training Platform for Peace Operations. The platform brings together the German Federal Armed Forces’ UN Training Center, their Staff College, as well as three Federal and State Police Colleges with the intent to improve cooperation between military, police and civilian actors. ZIF is one example for Germany’s preparedness to contribute to the operational side of political missions.

It is now my pleasure to turn the discussion over to our distinguished panel of experts and specifically to Almut Wieland-Karimi, Director of ZIF and moderator of the panel. Almut, the floor is yours.

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