Although United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping missions are mandated in response to major national- or international-level conflicts, missions are often confronted with a variety of locally-driven conflicts once they deploy. The 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations emphasized two core objectives of peacekeeping missions: supporting political processes that lead to sustainable peace, and protecting civilians from violence. Managing local conflict can be critical to achieving both objectives. Local conflicts can destabilize national political processes in a number of ways, for example by undermining the parties’ confidence in the process, creating local incentives to spoil the process, or creating so much insecurity that agreements cannot be implemented. In many current peacekeeping settings, local agendas are the primary drivers of violence against civilians.
Despite the fact that local conflict management is often necessary to achieve these two core peacekeeping objectives, it is rarely treated as a strategic priority. The U.N. Security Council mandates missions to manage local conflict inconsistently and without clear objectives. In the field, local conflict management is often conducted ad hoc rather than as part of a strategy. It is frequently treated as a marginal issue for Civil Affairs sections to manage, rather than a central priority. And missions often lack the capacities and mandates needed to address local conflict effectively.
This report explores each of these challenges and proposes ways for peacekeeping missions to manage local conflict in a more strategic and effective way. It recommends that:
1. Peacekeeping missions should prioritize addressing local conflicts that involve high rates of violence against civilians, a risk of atrocities, or a risk of destabilizing the national political process.
2. Peacekeeping missions should take a whole-of-mission approach to managing high-priority local conflicts, by coordinating action between different sections and between the field and headquarters. This will require Political Affairs and other sections, heads of field offices, and senior civilian, military, and police mission leaders to be more actively involved in managing local conflict.
3. The U.N. Secretariat should ensure that conflict analysis that informs the planning of missions, as well as induction training for senior mission leaders, includes analysis of high-priority local conflicts.
4. Joint Mission Analysis Center personnel in peacekeeping missions should conduct regular analysis exercises to prioritize local conflicts on the basis of the three factors identified above.
5. Peacekeeping missions should conduct mediations in active conflict areas, rather than simply supporting mediation efforts by others. The U.N. Secretariat and U.N. member states should allocate greater resources to local conflict management capacities, including deploying more civilian personnel and providing training on third-party neutral mediation.
6. Peacekeeping missions should allocate more staff to field offices to strengthen analysis and response to local conflict. This should include establishing or strengthening Joint Operations Centers and Joint Mission Analysis Centers in field offices near high-priority local conflict areas.
7. The U.N. Security Council should consistently mandate missions to manage local conflict and should clearly identify the protection of civilians and support to national political processes as the two primary objectives of local conflict management. In some cases, mandates should task missions or other UN entities to address drivers of widespread local conflict (e.g., disputes over land ownership or organized criminal activity).