Lessons Learned: No Experience Needed

05/14/2002

One of the innovations encouraged by Kofi Annan in the peacekeeping department was a section for "lessons learned." Headed for a long while by Leonard Kapungu, this spearheaded an open dialogue, financed through extra-budgetary contributions. Seminars were held in various regions, with specific proposals.

The first gathering of field spokesman was held under his diligent auspices. When Kapungu returned home to Zimbabwe, it was hoped that the effort would be further strengthened by someone with similar peacekeeping experience and equal credentials. The name Nina Lehoud was mentioned. She had served in missions from UNIFIL in Lebanon to Cambodia to Kosovo. At headquarters she was special assistant to the popular Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Bernard Miyet. Lehoud has a proven record, tested commitment to the UN and the confidence of her staff. None of this seems to count, however. Nasra Khan of Pakistan was selected. Ms. Khan has worked closely with former UNRWA chief Turkman. She has limited peacekeeping experience, yet a potentially better understanding of lessons that will have to be learned under Mr. Riza.

That followed a controversial appointment of a junior P-5 staffer to a post at Focal Point for Women. A main point made by qualified regular staff is that they are deprived of regular posts, which are given instead to those on fixed terms or temporary contracts: no superior qualification seem to be required, other than qualifying with superiors.

A third case is in the works, this time for the head of Document Control, where a Ms. Tolani, with only two years as P-5, is being primed to take over a higher D-1 post. The appointment is on hold to avoid scrutiny by the Appointments and Promotions Board. A new system, more compliant to needy transient bosses, will be in place in May, and she could thus receive the post "after following the required procedure." Peacekeeping Mercenaries? Using "reputable" mercenaries to complement UN peacekeeping tasks was proposed by an influential group to the British Foreign and Commonwealth office. They issued a study suggesting that some "private" military companies that used experienced soldiers could be more effective than the UN's regular peacekeeping troops.

This would allegedly allow the UN to intervene "urgently and effectively" in a crisis. Clearly, the intervention by mercenaries is not new. They were mainly used against the UN in the Congo crisis in the 1960s by those supporting Moise Thconde's secession. They have been blamed for the death of Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold in a plane crash. Others worked for apartheid South Africa.

Every recent conflict has mercenaries operating on as many sides as profitable, from Angola to Nigeria to Bosnia to the Congo to Liberia and Sierre Leone. Is it now the UN's turn? True, international civil service or impartial soldiering for peace has been consistently eroded while attention is obsessively directed elsewhere; maligned as "old hat" and unworthy of novel approaches. The gradual introduction of "loan officers" from capable countries under the guise of the financial crisis was the initial signal of a long range plan that was blocked by the Fifth Committee, with a few undeserving victims, but then allowed to escalate in recent years. Some experienced diplomats wondered as to the general purpose, since it coincided with personnel actions and personal ambitions.

When reviews of peacekeeping were highlighted, some again wondered whether there was a hidden agenda, above and beyond the outstanding spadework by those preparing the reports. No one seemed to pay a price for failure, except the UN reputation. Some of those known to be accountable were even promoted. Some reputed to have been administrative and financial liabilities (and subject of investigations), returned from discreet exile to assume fairly influential positions.

All that was taken as part of the shifting political power-plays and changing personal fortunes. Privatizing activities like publishing and television was billed as a way to get better service at lower cost, disregarding the nature of UN work and the spirit of international civil service.

Would UN peacekeeping be privatized? Could it be contracted out? Would it follow political affairs or administration and management, like IMIS, for example, which started with a $10 million allocation and still expands at only $100 million after 10 years of continuous confusion and unabashed profit?

Admittedly, the UN is in a very accommodating world, open to proposals and initiatives from any "reliable" or "reputable" source. But mercenaries as peacekeepers? That may require more than the usual teflon.