Rome '08 Workshop

A Look at the Crisis Regions: Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Africa 

Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière

French Ambassador to Italy 

Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière


Everyone here is able to gauge the importance gained by the U.N. through peacekeeping operations carried out since the end of the Cold War. Today there are over 100,000 peacekeepers deployed in 18 different missions, at an overall cost of $7.5 billion. But although this massive engagement by the United Nations has had structural and operational consequences for the organization, in my remarks I am going to focus on the importance of cooperation between the U.N. and regional and subregional organizations, which are ever present on the ground alongside the United Nations, to meet the expectations of the international community. 


Over the past 15 years or so, the U.N. has increasingly cooperated with several regional organizations on more than one continent. These include: 

  • The African Union and subregional organizations ECOWAS and IGAD, to carry out operations solely in Africa: in Sudan, in the Great Lakes region in Burundi, in Western Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire), and, shortly, in Somalia 
  • The Organization of American States, in connection with the events in Haiti 
  • The European Union, to lead operations in Europe (Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia) but also in Africa (twice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Chad/CAR) 
  • NATO, in Europe (the Balkans), in Afghanistan, in Iraq (training), and also in Sudan (to provide the logistics needed to support the deployment of UNAMID troops) 

This cooperation has been undertaken in many different ways. A quick look at the operations carried out over the past few years shows that these ways have included: 

  • What I call “staggered” operations, in which the U.N. takes over from a regional organization (Burundi, Liberia) 
  • Joint or hybrid operations, such as UNAMID, which is currently being led in Darfur by the African Union and the U.N. in an original joint way 
  • Operations led by several organizations or states—though there may be a single global mandate, these operations are highly complex because different missions are deployed in the same area but report to different decision-making centers; in this connection, the EU has intervened twice to provide temporary support to a U.N. operation in which it was unable to tackle specific events on its own (ARTEMIS and EUFOR DR Congo) and is presently leading a security-building operation in Chad (EUFOR, Chad/CAR) in support of a U.N. mission (MINURCAT) 
  • Logistics and training support, which the EU provides primarily to the AU 

The importance and usefulness of this kind of cooperation, especially between the AU and the EU, was acknowledged in a statement by the president of the Security Council that was issued on November, 6, 2007, welcoming, above all, the precious role played by regional organizations, not only in crisis prevention, but also in seeking a political settlement for the crises once they have broken out. In March 2007, the Security Council had already underscored the fact that the African organizations were “well-placed to understand the root causes of the many conflicts in the area and to be valuable in their prevention and settlement, thanks to their profound knowledge of the region.” The fact that these organizations regularly appear before the U.N. Security Council for a joint assessment of the regional situations is a clear sign of their willingness to work together. 

The United Nations also realizes that these regional organizations have an important role to play in carrying out operations to prevent the spread of destabilizing factors, specifically in combating light weapons trafficking and terrorism. Furthermore, they are essential partners in peace enforcement operations through their participation in post-conflict rebuilding programs. 

Although at times the above modes of cooperation are plainly a negotiated political solution (for example, in Darfur), more often than not they are an inescapable need when strong pressures are brought to bear on the international community to take action and one organization alone is not enough to get the job done or to handle it effectively. The United Nations is still a political-military organization that is ill equipped to lead certain complex and demanding military operations throughout the entire world; it is up against the increasing problem of force generation. An organization such as the African Union, with its clear political mandate, has no military capabilities of its own, despite some progress. NATO has substantial military assets but clearly does not have universal legitimacy and is uncomfortable with the political-military management of a crisis. As for the European Union, it is often reluctant to be engaged. 


Because we do not have a universal cooperation model we must adapt our instruments on a case-by-case basis. Hence, it is important to identify any issues that might arise to overcome them in the future and to avoid certain stumbling blocks: 

  • The increasing recourse to regional organizations must not call into question the universal nature of the United Nations and its ensuing legitimacy. The Darfur crisis has shown how ineffective an overly regional solution can be. There are lines that cannot be crossed, of which the African Union is well aware, for it is not in the interest of Africans to encourage these tendencies. In addition, the primacy of the United Nations, which gives it legitimacy or, at the very least, increased legitimacy, must likewise be safeguarded vis-à-vis contributing regional organizations such as NATO.  
  • Cultural differences must be well understood. Thus, DPKO operates in a very decentralized manner. To the contrary, NATO and the EU are pyramidal organizations, with a very strong top-down political-military control structure. Reconciling these kinds of organizations on the ground is not an easy task. KFOR has had to take emergency action to deal with the consequences of a decision essentially made locally by the UNMIK commanders, in accordance with the guidelines coming from New York. The main problem was not so much the decision itself; rather, it was with the communication between the two organizations. Each of the parties concerned must make an effort to adapt. 

In this respect, recent operations have shed light on the need to pursue and enhance the military upgrading of DPKO. The extremely complex U.N. operations need to be able to report to a staff structure in New York, however light. This is what has led to the idea of setting up a New York–based military cell to interface with DPKO, to meet the expectations of the European armies engaged in the UNIFIL II operation. Decisions are now being made in New York to upgrade the military expertise of the United Nations, thereby facilitating cooperation with organizations such as the EU and NATO. 

  • Generally speaking, the political coherence of an operation must be guaranteed when political, military, police, and rebuilding efforts are divided among several partners. In this respect, once it is engaged on the ground, the U.N. should clearly be in complete charge of leading the mission within the framework of a global political-military strategy. This has not always been the case, and we have had to acknowledge that in the operations carried out in Afghanistan. 
  • The EU’s potential as a U.N. partner may still be enhanced. In fact, the European Union has solid civilian-military capabilities, making it unique and enabling it to intervene in every phase of a crisis, from prevention to settlement and peace enforcement. It is also able to deploy a rapid and viable reaction force, which we saw in the DR Congo and Chad. But the EU must want to do this. 


My fundamental conclusion is that to enable cooperation, we must understand one another and know what our capabilities and limits are. Hence, we must foster an ongoing discussion and coordination effort aimed at improving cooperation between the U.N. and regional organizations. Objectives and mandates must also be clearly defined. Although a great deal has been achieved, much remains to be accomplished. 

On the basis of its experience serving peace, France advocates pragmatism in choosing the organizations that are best suited to supporting the United Nations. It wishes to adapt the rules of operation within the United Nations as well as between the United Nations and the regional organizations. Finally, it wants the EU to take on an active role in facing up to these challenges, thereby meeting the expectations of the entire world. 

It is in this spirit that we will hold a forum in November 2008 on U.N.-EU cooperation. This forum will contribute to our discussion on strengthening the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). 

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