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.