East Ukraine separatists are part of solution, must be included – Ex-UN peacekeeping head

Ukraine is ready to allow UN peacekeepers to help establish peace on the frontline with the Donbass militia. The negotiations are underway, as the two sides and interested parties haggle over exactly how the blue helmets will conduct their mission.

But how helpful is the measure? What should be expected from peacekeeper forces – and how much is too much to demand from the UN? We ask former head of UN peacekeeping operations, and director of the international crisis group, Jean-Marie Guehenno.

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Sophie Shevarnadze: Jean-Marie Guehenno, welcome to the show, it's great to have you on our program one more time.   Both Russia and Ukraine have recently called for peacekeeping deployments in Ukraine’s conflict zone. The Russians have proposed mostly front-line troop deployment, while Kiev wants it on the Russia-Ukraine border. Is there a compromise you see working here? Is it going to take another Normandy-style negotiation round to work out a plan to everybody’s liking?

Jean-Marie Guehenno: I think it's good that both Ukraine and Russia are now supporting the concept of a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine. I think it really opens space for diplomacy and for compromise. I think it will be important to have international oversight over the areas which are presently in conflict. This is a conflict that cannot be forgotten, there are people who die every day, and so I think peacekeeping mission will be a very good thing for Ukraine.

SS: What do you think it's going to take to come to compromise on which both parties agree on and are happy?

JG: I think it's a combination of things. It's important that the shooting on the frontline stops and so there are a number of confidence-building measures that could be taken in terms of lesser military presence. Now, from Kiev's standpoint, they will be keep to see that there's more control over the border between Russia and Ukraine, and so I think the compromise probably is that there won't be a full resolution of the issue of the Ukraine-Russia border immediately, but there would be a path that leads there, and in the meantime, in Donbass and Lugansk oblast, measures that limit presence of military and possibly measures on the other side of the frontline.

SS: The Minsk agreements, a roadmap to end the Ukrainian conflict, do not envision a broad-mandate peacekeeping force in Ukraine.  Russian FM Lavrov, said that Moscow’s proposal limits the blue helmet's role to protecting the OSCE mission only. Why does Ukraine insist on a broad mandate of peacekeeping forces, if that would violate the Minsk agreement?

JG: I think the protection of the OSCE monitors, it's essential so that they can do their job, and so that everybody agrees on the facts, but it's an open-ended process without end in sight if there are no broader measures. I think, there's some merit in the Ukrainian position to want something more than just the protection. That's  what negotiation and diplomacy in the UNSC is for, and is useful for. There will be long list of terms that the Ukrainian side will put forward, there will be a shorter list put forward by the Russian side, and I think, with clever diplomacy one can find agreement.

SS: So do you think Minsk treaty becomes something symbolic when it comes to negotiating peacekeeping forces?

JG: I think the Minsk format is important. In any peacekeeping operation you need to have a political process, otherwise there's a risk that the peacekeeping mission is without any end, and so the Minsk process provides for that. But I think we have to focus on what's happening on the ground, and that's why I think, peacekeeping mission would be very useful, because at the moment we see people dying, and there's always a risk of escalation that could get out of hand, and nobody wants that for European security.

SS: The Russians propose that any peacekeeping mission be negotiated with the separatist forces. Kiev is refusing to do that. How do you think a peacekeeping mission is supposed to work if Ukraine won’t talk with the breakaway republics directly?

JG: The position of the Ukrainian government is understandable, because the Ukrainian government has to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine over the entirety of its territory. At the same time, you need some practical negotiations with those who have guns, and, these are, yes, the people and the leadership of the movements in Lugansk and Donetsk. There are examples where that has worked. When you look at recent success story of the United Nations, that is Colombia, very far from Ukraine - I think, in the case of Ukraine, one has to make clear that there is sovereignty of Ukraine, and that this is not a step towards breaking up Ukraine, I think nobody wants that, I think it will be bad for the European security, but at the same time one has to have practical arrangements with those who can create potential problems in the area and who have to be part of the solution.

SS: Will a peacekeeping force on the frontline make the sides finally pull their heavy guns away - right now both sides agree on doing that, but nobody’s actually moving away?

JG: Yes, that's where peacekeeping mission and observers can help a lot, because they can verify, they can establish facts in an uncontroversial manner, and agreeing on the facts is always a beginning of solution. If you don't even agree on what's the situation is, you are unlikely to agree on how to repair it.

SS: A former U.S. ambassador to the UN, as well as ex-UK Prime Minister David Cameron believe the UN peacekeeping mission won’t help solve the conflict but will just freeze it. I mean, look at Northern Cyprus - recognized only by Turkey it has been existing for half a century like that. Do you think the same thing happen to Eastern Ukraine?

JG: There's always a risk of that. There are a few missions that have been deployed for years without solution - you mentioned Cyprus, one can mention Western Sahara. I think that is something to be avoided. But I prefer a cold conflict, than a hot war. So, I think for the people in Ukraine who are suffering from the conflict, having a de escalation of violence would be a net benefit. I think, at the moment, there are deep divisions in Europe in the understanding of what European Security should be and so having the fundamental resolution to the conflict is probably, in the immediate future, very hard to achieve, but in the meantime, making a difference in the lives of the poor people, who are affected by the conflict - I think that's worthwhile. I think it's also a contribution to the overall security of Europe, because this conflict is messy and complicated, and can be a match that lights a much bigger conflict. In Europe, there's really a need to address those conflicts, which again, are not so frozen, are dangerous, and peacekeeping mission can be part of the solution. It can only be a part of the solution, but it can be an important part to it.

SS:   The paramilitary battalions in Ukraine have already stated that they won’t stop fighting even if a peacekeeping force is deployed. In this situation, what will the blue helmets be able to do - engage in open warfare?

JG: No, blue helmets are not meant to engage in open warfare. I think, in Ukraine, if there's a meeting of the minds, of Russia and of the key Western powers, there's a possibility to influence local actors and to have a genuine stop in the violence. But in Ukraine, and in many other places, you want external powers to help deescalate the violence rather than increase it.

SS: But, if necessary, can the UN grant blue helmets a mandate to use force?

JG: Well, the UN is not... they can use force in self-defence, but frankly, in a geopolitical situation like the situation in Ukraine, you are not going to have peace enforcement. This is not politically realistic, it will not happen. So you need to have the political understanding between the key actors: Kiev, Moscow, Western powers. You need to have that understanding on path to de escalation to then have monitors and peacekeepers who can ensure safety. What peacekeepers can do is that when you look at the situation in Ukraine, in Eastern Ukraine, you have also a lot in the de-facto authorities which are in Eastern Ukraine, you have a lot of criminality, so having a force that can stop that criminality - that's net benefit, and that's what peacekeepers can do. What they cannot do is change the geopolitical facts.

SS:  You’ve been doing peacekeeping in the UN for most of the 2000s - in your experience, what kind of a peacekeeping model could work in Eastern Ukraine? If it were completely up to you.

JG:  It's more of a peacekeeping model along the lines of... you mentioned Cyprus and it's a good and a bad example. It's a bad example for the reasons you stated, that there's not yet a political solution to Cyprus, but it's a good example in a sense that today, in Cyprus, there's no violence. So, it should be a bit like that. What is unique in Ukraine is a combination of politics and crime, which we are beginning to see in a number of conflicts, and there are not many peacekeeping missions that are deployed in that context. So, I think, that's why you need slightly more robust than you would have in a traditional peacekeeping operation, but I don't think war-fighting capacity would be a realistic option.

SS:  UN peacekeepers have a mixed record - success is often mixed with failure, sometimes in the same area of operation, like in Yugoslavia, for instance. Are we ordinary people right to expect the blue helmets to actually stop wars - and be disappointed when they don’t?

JG: There are excessive expectations as to what peacekeepers can do. At the end of the day, it is those who have made war, who have waged war, who can make peace. The peacekeepers, they can help them, but they key factor in the success or failure of a peacekeeping mission is the parties to the conflict themselves. The peacekeepers, they can provide a reassurance that is needed when there's no trust, they can't really enforce peace, they don't have the military capacity to do that.

SS: So, we've touched upon a subject of giving the blue helmets, or the UNSC peacekeepers a mandate to use force, if necessary.    Should UN peacekeeping operations sometimes be given a mandate to use force more freely, more often, so that situations like Rwanda, for instance, where the UN contingent couldn’t stop genocide, won’t ever repeat themselves again?

JG: One of the great changes in contemporary conflict is that more and more conflicts are within states rather than between states, and so non-state actors play a growing role wars, and non-state actors can lose more respectability, so to speak, in the international scene than state actors. So for that, they need to be deterred by a stronger force. Peacekeeping, when it was only about maintaining peace between states, had an essentially symbolic value. When you have militias, when you have criminal groups, the symbol is not enough. You need robust force. Now, from that to protecting the whole population - you mentioned Rwanda - I don't think that peacekeepers have that capacity. What they can do, what the UN can do is focus more on prevention, so you don't come to the point where there's spiral of violence like the one that happened in Rwanda, where then peacekeepers don't have the capacity. In the case of Rwanda, actually, the UNSC, instead of strengthening the mission, actually downsized it, so it was a disaster from the beginning, a tragedy from the beginning.

SS:   There are so many wars around the globe, why are there only 15 UN peacekeeping missions?

JG: First, the peacekeeping is authorized by the UNSC, and the Security Council doesn't want to spend too much money on peacekeeping, it spends already roughly $8 billion, so it's not small amount of money. It's small, compared to military spending in the world, but in absolute terms it's not small... Second, peacekeepers, they are effective, again, if the parties to the conflict want them. If you just throw peacekeepers at a conflict without a demand, a request from the parties to a conflict - usually, you are disappointed, because, the peacekeepers, again, they can help, but they cannot substitute for the will of the parties to sue for peace.

SS: How do you choose the countries that supply peacekeepers to this or that mission? Are there specifics of each conflict that influence the choice - language, religion, climate - or does the UN just pick whoever’s willing to spend the money?

JG: You said, there are only 15 UN peacekeeping missions, but still, that's quite a number of peacekeepers and at the moment the UN often has difficulties finding peacekeepers. So it cannot always choose. There are countries which are more willing to provide peacekeepers than others, traditionally it's been contingents from, let's say, from South Asia, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, the countries in Africa like Nigeria, like Rwanda now, Ethiopia, Egypt that have provided significant numbers of peacekeepers. When you look at the particular conflict, the particular peacekeeping mission, it's important to make sure that the troops involved will not put any doubt on the impartiality of the mission. It's essential for peacekeeping mission success to have the trust of all sides. If it seen as leaning towards one side, then it loses that trust, and then it loses its effectiveness.

SS:  Earlier this year the UN agreed to cut 600 million dollars from the organization’s nearly 8 billion dollar peacekeeping budget - that’s under pressure from the U.S. The Trump administration has been sceptical of the UN's activity in general - can the organisation’s peacekeeping survive without firm American backing?

JG: I think American backing is very important. Some cuts were possible, and so far, the cuts that have been pushed by the Trump administration - I don't think that they create fundamental danger for peacekeeping. In some ways, it's good that the UN is always looking to do its best with the minimal amount of resources, but it needs resources. I hope that the Trump administration will be in that respect like the Bush administration which, in the end, recognized that there are many conflicts where the U.S. doesn't want to get involved, and it's good have the UN, because you don't want chaos and ungoverned spaces to spread around the world, and the UN there fills a gap that major powers, like the U.S., like Russia, like even all of the members of the UNSC, are happy to see the United Nations to fill, and I hope that the Trump administration will adopt that view.

SS: The conflicts on everyone’s minds today - Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen - they are not internal, or not completely internal, there are external forces involved, regional and global powers. Is it harder for the UN conflict resolution arm to deal with this kind of trouble?

JG: It is much harder, because as you said, all the conflicts you have mentioned, they are multi-layered, and so to have a solution you need agreement between the local actors, the national actors, but you also need agreement between the regional actors, and you need agreement between the global powers. Look at Syria, for instance. There has been some progress in discussions between U.S., Russia, Western powers in general - that's a very good thing. But then you also see that there are still deep divisions, let's say, between Iran on one side and Turkey, Saudi Arabia on the other side. So there's a regional divide there that is quite difficult to fix. Then you have the country itself, with a great deal of fragmentation of the groups: Kurds, radical Islamists, moderate Islamists, government forces - and so to align those three circles, the local, the regional, and the global - it's incredibly difficult.

SS: No offence, right, but we've seen in Syria, for instance, non-UN peacemaking efforts be quite successful - like the Astana talks, the demilitarisation agreements. Is this the future of conflict resolution, is it going to be driven more by states than by the UN?

JG: I think the UN cannot live without the support of its member-states. So, I think, Astana, having those who have guns, agree to de-escalation - it's important and useful. But at the end of the day, there's no long-term resolution of the conflict in Syria without a political agreement. There, the UN platform remains essential. So, I think one has to bring Astana and the UN together.

SS:  Which current conflict in the world do you think the UN has to take care of above all others?

JG: I think, you mentioned Yemen - there's a massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and I think it's a conflict that can be solved, because there's regional confrontation there, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, but it's largely at the outset, a Yemeni conflict, so I think it can be solved with more political efforts. I think Libya is also a conflict that could be solved, because its geopolitical dimension is not overwhelming.

SS: In an ideal world, what kind of pressure could the UN exercise to resolve this conflict?

JG: The UN first has to empower the local actors. You see, for instance, when I look at Libya, I went in Libya in May and June, the UN asked me to do an assessment of the situation there. I was struck by the fact the Libyans are pulled apart also by external actors. So, it's very important for the UN to empower the Libyans, to listen a lot to the Libyans, so that the external dimension doesn't dominate the discussion, and then, the UN, once it builds the trust and the relationship with the Libyans, then can influence the international actors, because it has better understanding of the conflict, it has a chance of convincing them to work together, rather than work at cross-purpose.

SS: It does seem like the UN peacekeeping is more about settling conflicts than preventing them? Why isn’t the UN focusing more on prevention?

JG: The Secretary-General has made clear that he wants to focus on prevention. I think there are number of situations in the world where you see problems simmering, and the question, often is not so much that you are surprised, you know, you can draw up a list of places that could blow up - but there's no political will to address them. Crisis management crowds out, so to speak, prevention and I think it's very important for the Secretary-General of the UN, and that's what he wants to do, he's launching reforms in that effect. It's very important for the UN to focus on prevention, but it needs the support of its key member-states to be successful there, because we see situation where there are local grievances, there are problems that are not resolved, and the rest of the world looks the other way, until it turns into an open conflict, and that's dangerous and wrong.

SS: Thank you very much for this interesting insight. Mr. Guehenno. We were discussing a potential deployment of blue helmets in Eastern Ukraine, with former head of UN peacekeeping operations, and director of the international crisis group, Jean-Marie Guehenno. That's it for the latest edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.