Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation
in UN Peacekeeping
The following is the Executive Summary of the Panel report. The full report can be found at www.performancepeacekeeping.org, where the report should be downloadable as a pdf (also available from the present site as a reduced-size pdf, 4.5 MB). The full reference is: United Nations, Performance Peacekeeping: Final Report of the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping, United Nations, 2015, available at www.performancepeacekeeping.org.
The members of the panel were: Major General (retired) Ib Johannes Bager (Denmark), Dr. Walter Dorn (Canada), Lieutenant General (retired) Abhijit Guha (India), Major General (retired) Michael Fryer (South Africa), and Ms. Jane Holl Lute (United States, Chair of the Panel).
The world is nearly halfway through the second decade of a technological revolution hastened by the global expansion of the Internet. Innovation and invention are accelerating in every sphere, and technologies once the exclusive province of scientists and technologists have come into everyday use for many of the world’s people. Yet, despite the omnipresence of advanced technology and applications in our daily lives, United Nations peacekeeping remains well behind the curve.
The use of modern technology to help peacekeeping missions establish and maintain situational awareness, carry out their mandates, and protect themselves is neither aspirational nor luxury. The availability and effective use of such technology represents the essential foundation—the very least that is required today—to help peacekeeping missions deploy to and manage complex crises that pose a threat to international peace and security. No mission can be expected to succeed in today’s complex environments without an ability to innovate and make effective use of technology, and no advantage should be withheld from those working for the cause of peace.
It is from this point of departure that, in June 2014, the Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and Field Support (DFS) asked the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping to recommend ways in which technology and innovation could enhance the enterprise’s operational effectiveness. The panel cast a broad net, and quickly found itself humbled by the infinite possibilities that an enhanced focus on technology and innovation in peacekeeping could bring. The expansive scope of the present report and its recommendations reflect this, yet we have only scratched the surface. Our intent is to catalyze innovation and modernization, not to provide an exhaustive catalogue of options from which the Departments can pick and choose. We feel that technological innovation is simply moving too fast for the latter to be a useful approach.
The panel is not writing on a blank slate. Over the past decade, United Nations Member States have enacted a number of initiatives to further improve the political, military, rule of law and support foundations of peacekeeping missions in the field. These measures notwithstanding, few observers can argue that UN field operations manifest anything approaching up-to-date practice in the use of modern technology. On the contrary, missions frequently lack a wide range of the very capabilities now considered by most militaries, law enforcement agencies and international organizations to be minimally necessary to operate effectively. In fact, when it comes to technological necessities—much less advantage—the gap between what the average peacekeeping mission does have and what it should have is so pronounced, that some of the countries with the world’s most capable military and police forces have been reluctant to participate in many of the more difficult and challenging peacekeeping operations.
In considering the ways to maximize technology and innovation in peacekeeping, we have taken a twofold approach: First, we offer observations and recommendations designed to achieve immediate impact. Second, we have taken a slightly longer view and make recommendations regarding how UN peacekeeping can evolve to become a learning enterprise that seeks out and applies new technologies and innovations on a continuous basis, thereby enabling it to be prepared for the future.
The priorities considered by the panel included: prioritizing how technology could be leveraged for mandate implementation, including the protection of civilians; interoperability, as a prerequisite for effective operations; federated mission networks, to enable information sharing; medical support; camp and installation security; and mobile communications and information platforms. Ultimately, the panel chose not to assign any particular order to our recommendations, but instead elected to present them organically, as they appeared in the text. We defer to the Departments to identify their own priorities for implementation.
Assumptions and Principles
Several assumptions underlie our examination of how technology can help strengthen peacekeeping missions. We assume that most, if not all, the requirements for peacekeeping can be met by widely available technology. We also assume that Member States will represent the first “port of call” when soliciting particularly specialized technologies for peacekeeping missions—in part, because they would likely have such equipment (as well as tested experience in its use), and in part, to help ensure transparency in the deployment and use of such technology under peacekeeping circumstances. We also assume that as peacekeeping seeks out new technologies and innovations, Member States will empower necessary changes and that DPKO and DFS would make the policy and process changes necessary to create a technology- and innovation-friendly framework to set a solid foundation for success.
Certain principles should guide the deployment and use of modern technology for peacekeeping. These principles include the need to: pursue widely-available solutions and avoid reliance on proprietary, esoteric technologies; prioritize mobility – both in the sense of agile maneuverability of mission assets and in the sense of mobile platforms for information technology (IT) and information; deploy technology that is robust, fit for purpose (acquired and used to meet clearly identified operational and technical needs) and relatively easy to maintain in the field; push technology as far forward as possible in the operational chain, reinforcing the “supporting-supported” concept; maintain a high degree of transparency in the consideration, adoption, deployment and use of sophisticated technological and information platforms; and source locally, or regionally, wherever possible those capabilities not provided by Member States.
Member States can contribute to the operational effectiveness of missions by making available technology, expertise, or training for those units that deploy. We argue that these countries, which we term “Technology Contributing Countries” or “TechCCs”, should be identified and engaged in much the same way that troop and police contributing countries (TCCs and PCCs) are today.
Exploding the Myths
Since fielding its first mission in 1948, UN peacekeeping has proven its ability to anticipate over- the-horizon needs and to adopt and sustain new or advanced technologies in the field. However, the prevailing political narrative surrounding technology and innovation has undermined the ability of peacekeeping to keep pace with innovation and to take full advantage of technologies that are essential to success. This narrative has also eroded the political and financial willingness of Member States to ensure the peacekeepers in the field can operate at a level at least as sophisticated as any spoiler they may encounter. We have sought to dispel these myths, in order to elevate, inform, and temper a constructive dialogue.
Technology will not supplant the need for human presence, but it can enhance peacekeepers’ abilities to do their jobs more effectively. Most modern technologies are neither too expensive nor too sophisticated to be within the reach of peacekeepers, and their introduction will not increase the vulnerability of individual peacekeepers. Rather, technology will enhance the safety and security of UN personnel serving in difficult, remote, and dangerous environments. While there will always be “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to advanced technology, no country is immune to the constant need to catch up with the development of important and useful technologies.
“Technology” and “innovation” must not be seen as euphemisms for the introduction of non- transparent or intrusive technology into mission areas for narrow political purposes, as some would hold. Advanced technologies, including unmanned aerial systems, are an integral part of the update equation that can bring decided advantages to peacekeeping operations. Enabling a peacekeeping mission to use technology or other advanced means to gather information does not violate the basic principles of peacekeeping impartiality and state sovereignty. No partiality is shown to peacekeepers in providing missions with the same access to information that people around the globe can readily and openly access, and peacekeepers do not lose their impartiality simply because they are better aware of what is going on in their mission space. To execute their mandates, peacekeeping missions must be able to move fast to acquire, validate, and fuse information from a wide range of openly available sources to enhance situational awareness, augment security, aid operational planning, and support decision-making. UN peacekeeping simply cannot afford to cede the information advantage to those actors in a mission area determined to undermine prospects for peace and who use the advantages of modern technology to aid their violent cause.
Getting the Basics Right
Fuller deployment and use of modern technology and innovation can help preserve and sustain life in the field, reduce a mission’s environmental footprint, and gain greater efficiencies over time. Immediate efforts to strengthen the technological foundation of peacekeeping operations, and thereby increase operational effectiveness, should focus on three key areas: getting the basics right; supporting operational imperatives; and streamlining mission support.
No one needs reminding of the challenging nature of peacekeeping missions. Yet, while the challenges faced in every area of operations are, to some extent, unique, a high threshold of commonality exists across the lifeline sectors that underpin every mission: security, shelter, water, energy, medical support, mobility, and communications. The failure to meet these basic needs can hamstring a mission from the very start, and scenarios of missions coping with shortfalls in these areas are all too familiar. They are also largely preventable.
The panel has made a number of recommendations intended to enhance the security of individuals, camps, accommodations, and mission operations—including patrols and convoys. Our recommendations also reflect modern peacekeeping’s requirement for personnel that are mobile, agile and responsive to fast-breaking operational needs, and who can undertake forward expeditionary deployments into areas with little or no modern infrastructure for extended periods. Peacekeepers must be capable of deploying and redeploying rapidly within a mission area with minimum delay, day and night, and we point to certain areas where technology can be applied to enhance mobility, and more specifically, to mitigate risk and enhance awareness of the increased threat caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Missions must also be able to provide timely, routine and emergency medical assistance in situ, and be able to extract personnel and transport them to higher levels of care when the need demands it. In our recommendations, we suggest ways technology can enhance the UN’s ability to fulfil its duty and enhance the well-being of its personnel serving in the field.
As with so much of modern life, peacekeeping missions require energy for every conceivable aspect of their operations. However, many mission areas lack reliable access to local energy grids and continue to rely on diesel generators as a prime source of energy for operational needs. Similarly, in every mission, the production or procurement of large supplies of water for drinking and bathing poses serious challenges, and if not carefully sourced, peacekeepers risk finding themselves depleting the very reserves that their host communities count on. Our recommendations provide a pathway to a more sustainable approach which places less strain on the fragile environments and local communities in which peacekeepers serve, and which reduces the burden on mission support.
For any mission, effective communications to facilitate messaging up and down the chain with important operational, administrative, and real-time safety information is not a luxury, but rather, a life-saving necessity. While DFS does an exceptional job at connecting peacekeepers in remote and extreme environments, the kind of communications and Internet access needed to facilitate the same degree of command and control enjoyed by the majority of the world’s organized militaries and police forces is largely restricted to urban settings. Limited bandwidth and the lack of interoperable systems represented the most common barriers to effective communications raised to the panel in our inquiry, and our recommendations address these barriers.
The UN can do much more to introduce modern technology and innovative practice to enable peacekeepers to execute their mandates more effectively, and technology can greatly enhance the substantive work of peacekeepers. To illustrate this, we explore the key mandate areas of the protection of civilians, policing and the rule of law, and border/boundary demarcation and monitoring—all of which argue in favour of moving rapidly to acquire and deploy many of the technologies we discuss in our report.
Peacekeepers increasingly come to missions expecting at least a basic level of technology to enable them to do their work. Yet, especially in the areas of command and control, monitoring, reconnaissance and reporting, and information and communications technologies, peacekeeping operations simply do not currently possess anything approaching adequate numbers or types of technologies that militaries and police forces around the world accept not only as commonplace, but also as foundational to successful operations. This must change.
Real-time visibility into mission areas of responsibility allows for on-going operational assessments, and can enhance the safety and security of mission personnel. The panel recommends a broad range of technologies useful for these purposes, many of which are now available commercially, at comparatively low cost. Peacekeepers require a robust, redundant and interoperable system of radio, telephone and data communications that extends across the fullest range of any mission’s area of operations. We make a number of recommendations regarding the provision of, and support for, mobile tools that will enhance peacekeepers’ abilities to do their jobs and to align operational processes to the need for accelerated information flow. We also recommend specific technologies which we feel are essential for peacekeeping missions, and which will allow peacekeeping missions to continually adapt to the need to acquire, process, use, and share information from an ever wider range of information sources.
The exercise of authority, coordination of operations, and prioritization and direction of resources require regular and reliable access to high fidelity information, a critical enabler of operational effectiveness. Information captured by modern technologies can greatly enhance a mission’s situational awareness and understanding, and help inform responses to emerging threats against civilians as well as UN personnel, assets, and installations. When interpreted and analysed by trained specialists in near real time, such information constitutes a powerful force protection and intelligence tool that UN peacekeeping should field immediately, without exception or delay. The need for better analysis tools and prioritized information requirements is also reflected strongly in our recommendations.
Decision makers in every setting the world over rely on current, high quality data to help them establish and validate situational awareness and ground their decisions. To create a solid foundation for data-driven or information- and intelligence-led decision-making, much of the way data is collected and managed in peacekeeping must be changed. Proper information management systems, supported by technological tools, will allow for peacekeeping as a whole to overcome its current data sclerosis and achieve the data liquidity that would allow for information to be easily searched, queried against, measured, tracked over time, and visualized for better reporting, analysis and decision-making support. As peacekeeping operations grow in scale and complexity, there is a need to shore up accountability frameworks against which mandate progress is quantitatively measured. Peacekeeping is being called to account, and without the data it needs at its fingertips, it is hard-pressed to answer. Our recommendations on a more coherent approach to the use of business intelligence are intended to address this.
Given the demands on today’s missions, peacekeeping can simply no longer afford to be the last to know. Information is a political resource, and its distribution can affect the interests of different actors and trigger resistance to—or acceptance of—peacekeeping missions. A more modern approach to strategic communications can enhance the mission’s ability to deliver across its mandate. In addition, social media, crowdsourcing, big data and traditional public media sources must also be incorporated into the mix, and peacekeeping should maximize its use of open source information and analysis tools.
With circumstances of unfolding violence rocketing to the top of public consciousness around the world overnight, the Security Council faces enormous pressure to respond to urgent circumstances with peacekeeping and special political missions, authorized for immediate planning, deployment and operations. Circumstances on the ground may preclude the deployment of personnel, or even the insertion of an assessment team to take the full measure of unfolding events. The thriving global market for voice, video, and data from commercial satellites, sensor networks, and other technical feeds is today accessible by anyone, for a fee. It is our view that the Security Council should not deny itself timely access to the same information so easily available to news outlets, celebrity advocates, or anyone else. Indeed, no responsible decision maker can remain wilfully unknowing in today’s world, with so much open source information so readily available to everyone. Open access technology and information exists to inform. We therefore propose the creation of a new kind of mission, the “Special Technical Mission” or “STM”, to enable the Security Council to call on, organize, and legitimate the use of commercially available technical audio, visual, monitoring and surveillance technologies, ground and airborne sensors and other technical means and sources of data to inform its decision-making, prioritize action, and aid in planning, either standing alone or alongside existing peacekeeping missions.
Field Support personnel work tirelessly to strengthen the operating position of the men and women on the ground, but additional process innovations, supported by available technology, are still needed to further streamline support operations as the UN continues to strengthen the remote delivery of shared services.
Technology should assist managers to monitor, plan, anticipate, and decide. Incorporating greater use of technology and smart applications will necessarily entail shifts in the way decisions are made, supply chains are managed, and services are delivered, and our recommendations reflect this reality. Technology can help remote back offices alleviate the burden on managers working in mission areas whose time may be focused on urgent operational and strategic exigencies, and to lessen the mission’s footprint.
In recent years, peacekeeping missions have been mandated to consider and manage the environmental impact of their operations, and DPKO and DFS have taken steps to lighten the environmental footprint through energy efficiency, greater water conservation, waste management and recycling, fuel efficiency, and increased use of environmentally-friendly construction materials. We make a number of recommendations on additional steps that could be taken to lessen the environmental footprint of peacekeeping. In addition, capability gaps in engineering make the rapid deployment of staff and materiel a challenge. Our recommendations reflect the need for multiple approaches to expand engineering capabilities, and have more to do with process and partnership than technology.
The Longer View, Challenges and Additional Thoughts
There is a clear need not only for the immediate implementation of certain technologies, but also for the institutionalization of innovation and continuous technological adaptation. The Departments must take deliberate and decisive action to meet these needs. In so doing, peacekeeping should not be constrained to thinking in the immediate term. In order to meet the needs of the future, it must be bold and forward thinking—even visionary—in its approach technology and innovation.
The ability to innovate and to exploit technology with speed and agility can be a game changer for missions, but the deployment and use of technology brings with it the need to anticipate and manage the effects and consequences of added range, reach, volume, and impact. Technology must be viewed as a strategic enabler in a complex environment, rather than simply a set of tools. It is too important to be treated as a service, rather than a strategic interest.
More fundamentally, as technology is lifted into the category of strategic enabler, peacekeeping at all levels must become an innovative enterprise. In the UN, however, many structural and operational barriers exist to building a culture of innovation. Chief among them is a clear lack of institutional responsibility for innovation. Innovation at the institutional level is itself a political and a strategic decision, anchored in the fundamental conviction that human creativity at all levels is a valuable quality to be nurtured. In the panel’s strong view, DPKO and DFS leadership should demonstrably value innovation by creating the space for it to occur, absorbing its failures and rewarding its success. If peacekeeping is to become the innovative enterprise that it needs to be, institutional weight will need to be brought to bear, and we recommend institutional changes and partnership opportunities that we believe will enable the cultural shifts necessary for innovation.
The panel recommends that a commitment to continuous learning and innovation be formalized in peacekeeping in the form of a dedicated capacity for technology and innovation within the Departments, supported by a small advisory group and field-based innovation incubators, together with a small cadre of “technology scouts”, designated centres of excellence within the UN, and an “idea factory”. The goal should be to develop a holistic, collaborative model that combines substance with function, and which reaches beyond DPKO and DFS to leverage innovators and substantive actors across mission components, including UN agency partners, and which can pull in other local actors, and reach out to industry and academic centres of excellence. DPKO and DFS should commit to a broad program of continuous learning and training, and the establishment of forums where new technologies or innovations might be presented and discussed.
Adopting and integrating the suggestions contained in our report will require (in some cases significant) investment up front—but existing funds can be repurposed for a good deal of what we recommend. In addition, we highlight the importance of considering the overall cost of technological solutions in terms of a system’s life cycle to capture the true sense of cost efficiencies. Inadequate funding for training and high turnover have contributed to the reluctance to introduce new technologies into field missions. Thus, the need for trained personnel is an undercurrent that runs throughout our report, and our recommendations reflect this reality. As well, if it is to make strides in greater use of technology and bridge implementation to the future, the UN must also ensure that personnel with specific skills can be attracted to and retained in peacekeeping missions and headquarters.
We are also well aware that the introduction and expansion of modern technology into a peacekeeping mission might lead some observers to develop unrealistic expectations regarding the ability of a mission to deliver results along unmanageable timelines. The UN must find the balance between actively supporting and sustaining high-tech missions while at the same time avoiding alienating traditional or new contributors that lack similar capabilities. The acquisition, processing, use and dissemination of information is as much a political question as an operational one. Here it is worth noting, in particular, that cyber security in the form of basic cyber hygiene, respect for privacy, and clear rules and procedures regarding the collection, processing and sharing of information are vital to the fundamental integrity of peacekeepers and peacekeeping operations.
We anticipate that a number of our recommendations will generate a lively political discussion: all to the good. It is our hope that our work will catalyse a more forthright, transparent, solutions-oriented discussion on technology as a critical enabler of peacekeeping, and move away from the myths that have cast this imperative in a negative light. In our report, we encourage DPKO and DFS to establish a standing consultation with TCCs, PCCs and TechCCs to identify early points of concern and work through deployment and use strategies that permit peacekeeping missions to enjoy the advantages provided by modern technology, and help to manage expectations.
Technology and innovation alone cannot do all that needs doing to strengthen UN peacekeeping, and all that needs doing cannot be done by DPKO and DFS alone. Laying the foundation for more technologically-enabled peacekeeping will require visionary leadership, political will, strengthened partnerships, and shifts in organizational culture. The Member States must be full partners, and active in their support for action here. Maximum transparency should remain a principle of the use of peacekeeping technology, in particular when used to enable information gathering and sharing. Peacekeeping must also not lose sight of the need for continuous review, lessons capture, adaptation, and transparent engagement with all stakeholders as new technologies are integrated into operations. It should also ensure that strong procedural safeguards and effective oversight mechanisms are in place for its use. More fundamentally, the UN must be willing to make the necessary policy changes and process innovations to adapt to this new landscape, or investments in technology will, quite frankly, be useless.
The panel well recognizes that technology is not a panacea. No panelist believes that simply throwing technology at a problem will help a peacekeeping mission fulfill its mandate. A field operation might have all the enabling technology in the world, yet still be ineffective or unwilling to use it. But the moment is now for peacekeeping to take greater advantage of the waves of technology and innovation washing over every dimension of life in societies the world over. It is in this spirit that our report has been prepared and our findings and recommendations presented.