Paper - Harvard Kennedy School

Strengthening Management of UN Peacekeeping Operations: A Review of UN Peacekeeping Operations Audits

    Authors:
  • V.S. Ibanez
  • Yahya Chaudhry
  • Jonathan R. Hakim
| December 2021

Abstract

The United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), established in in the aftermath of World War II, play a crucial role in conflict resolution throughout the world. This paper reviews and analyzes 288 audits of UN peacekeeping missions over a five-year period. It discusses key operational and managerial weaknesses identified across multiple deployments in conflict zones around the world. The paper recommends specific administrative and operational changes that could materially improve the cost-effectiveness and overall impact of future peacekeeping missions.

Executive Summary

The United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), established in in the aftermath of World War II, play a crucial role in conflict resolution throughout the world. As of November 2021, the UN maintained 12 active peacekeeping missions staffed by over 80,000 military, police, and civilian personnel from over 100 countries. UNPKO’s annual budget in 2020-21 was US$6.58 billion. This paper looks at the operational effectiveness of those peacekeeping missions and how they could be improved. Its focus is not on high level peacekeeping strategy. Rather it identifies basic operational reforms that could be readily implemented and that would result in better peacekeeping outcomes at lower cost.

UNPKO missions face a unique set of operational, political and administrative challenges. Their mandates are often complex and wide-ranging. They operate in volatile and often hazardous environments. The consequences of operational failures are very significant. Many of the challenges they face are not new but are rooted in the ways that missions have been authorized, funded and resourced over the past 50 years. 

Several UN reports have recognized significant deficiencies in peacekeeping operations, resulting in high-level restructuring efforts designed to enable better financial planning and management.  Recent changes include the adoption of annual budgets, reorganization of departments, and decentralization of authority, reforms which may make it easier for the recommendations in this report to be adopted. However, they do not change our recommendations. Fundamental reforms to the structure of UNPKO have long been elusive, due in part to resistance from UN member states and to their reluctance to surrender control over individual peacekeeping mandates. Recurring operational problems have only reinforced this reluctance. 

This report is principally concerned with operational and managerial challenges of running a Peacekeeping Mission and the administrative issues that materially affect the Mission’s success. Although some of the recurring problems in UNPKO are not uncommon in large organizations (such as government bureaucracies and large corporate entities), the consequences of these shortcomings in peacekeeping missions can be severe. 

Our evaluation is based on a detailed analysis of all non-classified audit reports produced by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) during the five-year period 2013/14- 2019/19. A total of 288 reports were analyzed, covering 22 peacekeeping missions of varying sizes and life cycle stages.  The reports include more than 1,400 recommendations for operational improvements. In particular, the audit data show how the absence of centralized and flexible funding for UN missions stymies their initial deployment, reduces operational effectiveness and increases costs. The result is a cycle of weak operational performance that continues to be repeated.

OIOS grades the overall outcome of each audit as Satisfactory, Partially Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. Of these 288 audit reports, only 8 (less than 3%) were graded “Satisfactory”. Missions repeatedly have trouble with Service Delivery, Resource Management, Supply Chain Management, Peacebuilding[1], Fiscal Management, and Planning. We look at the challenges in each of these areas, the key audit recommendations and the impediments to reform.

Our primary focus in this paper is to identify immediate administrative and operational changes that could materially improve the cost-effectiveness and overall impact and performance of UNPKOs. With funding for peacekeeping missions increasingly unreliable, it is more important than ever that they demonstrate positive results and make optimal use of limited resources.

PKOs must operate within the boundaries of two often competing forces. PKO leaders report to superiors at UN headquarters in New York and their operations are regulated by rules, directives, policies and procedures emanating from central UN headquarter (HQ). At the same time, operational decisions are discussed and implemented locally by senior PKO staff who have been delegated wide ranging powers. The resulting bureaucratic pressures lead to slow and inconsistent decision making and means that missions often fail to learn from best practices and repeat others’ past mistakes.

Our analysis highlights five frequently reoccurring themes which, if addressed, would help to break this cycle of “re-inventing the flat tire” and enable UNPKO to better support and implement its mandates:   

  1. More efficient initial mobilization of PKOs.
  2. Greater fungibility in PKO resources (human, financial, physical assets).
  3. Reprioritizing investment in PKO resources (particularly human resources).
  4. Greater accountability at all operational, managerial and administrative levels.
  5. Decisions based on timely operational data.
 

 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Bilmes, Linda J., V.S. Ibanez, Yahya Chaudhry, and Jonathan R. Hakim. "Strengthening Management of UN Peacekeeping Operations: A Review of UN Peacekeeping Operations Audits." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP21-037, December 2021.

The Authors