In 1960, Egypt began its involvement in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations with two paratrooper companies deployed to the UN Operation in the Republic of Congo. Today, it’s one of the top troop- and police-contributing countries with more than 3,000 men and women peacekeepers deployed in 7 operations in Africa. Egypt is also a critical player in shaping peacekeeping doctrinal and policy debates.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Egypt’s contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, today we are joined in this second episode by Ambassador Ihab Awad, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for UN Affairs.
In that capacity, Ambassador Awad heads the National Coordination Committee on Peacekeeping, which brings together various ministries and government agencies responsible for Egyptian deployments and for guiding the evolution of policy. He brings a wealth of experience, including serving as Deputy Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations and a senior officer of the UN Peacebuilding Commission.
Ambassador Awad, welcome. It’s a great pleasure and honor having you with us today.
I. Awad: Thank you very much Rolane. It is my pleasure and honor to be part of this important activity marking the 60th anniversary of Egypt’s contribution to peacekeeping. It’s always a pleasure to be part of CCCPA’s activities. I thank you very much for your very generous and kind introduction. I am looking forward to this interview and to all the activities that are led by CCCPA in connection with peacekeeping, peacebuilding and conflict resolution. It is my real pleasure.
R. Eissa: Thank you Ambassador. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that global problems require global solutions and that multilateralism is needed now more than ever before. Peacekeeping has been a flagship activity of the United Nations. For many people around the world, it is actually the UN. Looking back at 60 years of Egyptian contributions to UN peacekeeping, how do you explain Egypt’s steadfast commitment to this endeavor? What motivates Egypt, not only to continue to contribute, but also to increase and diversify its commitments?
I. Awad: Egypt is a founding and very active member of the UN. A true believer in multilateralism historically, and a true believer in the unparalleled international legitimacy embodied in the UN Charter, decisions and policy frameworks. This is the starting point that motivates Egypt, and was behind Egypt’s steadfast commitment to one of the most important and critical activities of the UN. As you rightly mentioned, it is the flagship activity of the UN. It is the true belief and conviction in the UN and the principles embodied in its Charter--and the legitimacy it offers in all the activities that it leads--that has motivated Egypt’s early contribution to peacekeeping operations.
Peacekeeping is a defining activity of the UN. It’s probably one of its most valuable instruments in the maintenance of international peace and security, and in meeting the aspirations of its founding members to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war (the primary purpose of the UN). In this sense, while peacekeeping was not necessarily mentioned as an activity as such in the Charter, it has evolved as a very valuable instrument for the UN to actually meet one of its primary objectives and goals: the maintenance of international peace and security.
From the early dates, Egypt was both a host and a contributor of the earliest generations of UN peacekeeping operations: the UN emergency deployment in 1948, in connection with the 1948 war (the Arab-Israeli war), and the Congo ONUC operation later on in the 1960s. So, historically for Egypt, UN peacekeepers were considered as enablers of the right to self-determination, and also as enablers to the transition from colonialism to the new wave of independence. This was the primary goal that defined Egypt’s foreign policy at that time (in the 1950s and 60s primarily), and it’s global commitment to the new world that was taking shape then. Later on, UN peacekeepers were considered as enablers of political settlements between and among states: newly independent and fighting around resources, or border disputes inherited from imperial periods. UN peacekeepers were deployed to enable the new generation of states to settle their differences, to draw their borders and to agree on a way to live together peacefully. This was also a very important function of UN peacekeeping in its earlier versions. Much later, in a different version, UN peacekeepers were considered as enablers of political solutions and political settlements within the states--in the context of intra-state conflicts. Especially, in the kinds of conflicts that emerged in the post-cold war era (in the early 1990s until the early 2000s.)
As you can see, Egypt is an active member of the UN. It is also an active member of the region where most of these events, issues and activities took place--mainly in the Middle East, the Arab World and Africa. It found itself committed to supporting international engagements--through UN peacekeeping--to resolve and manage problems and issues arising from the post-colonial period, over a period of at least three decades. Most of these UN peacekeeping activities took place in deployments in Africa and the developing world generally. Egypt has always been committed to the welfare and legitimate concerns of its brothers and sisters in Africa and in the Arab World.
This gives you an overview and answers your question about what motivated Egypt to start early on as an active troop and, later on, police contributor, and to diversify its contribution over the decades. Most recently, while a very active and a large contributor of military components and observers, it has also become one of the leading police-contributing countries with the police component of modern UN peacekeeping operations gaining prominence and increasing importance in the fulfillment of UN peacekeeping mandates.
R. Eissa: As the Deputy Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN in New York during the country’s fifth term on the UN Security Council, how would you assess Egypt’s normative contributions to the ongoing reform process of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, including by presenting a unified African position through the multiple events organized between Cairo, Addis Ababa, and New York in the last five years?
I. Awad: Egypt’s most recent membership term on the Security Council coincided with a critical phase for both UN peacekeeping and UN peacebuilding. It started in 2016 and continued throughout 2017--a period that followed two very important reviews: the 2015 report and review led by the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations or HIPPO, and the 2015 United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture Review. These two important reviews witnessed very active Egyptian contribution in various forms: (i) as a member of the Peacebuilding Commission in 2015, where a lot of the discussions led to the adoption of the famous 2016 twin resolutions, and (ii) through the active interaction of the Permanent Mission of Egypt with the members of the High-Level Independent Panel in the various events, workshops and discussions that took place in New York and as well as in the field in 2015. Egypt then was among the top troop-contributing countries and it was very important for the members of the High-Level Independent Panel to interview and to interact with the leading troop contributing countries on the ground as they prepared for the seminal and very important review and report. So, that’s one side of the contribution to the evolution of the new approach to peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
Accordingly, as a member of the Security Council in the period right after these two important reviews, and because of its active participation in them, Egypt took it upon itself to prioritize and take forward the very important recommendations and policy approaches that emanated. Hence, Egypt’s very active contribution in the normative development of the next generation of peacekeeping, the primary link of peacekeeping to peacebuilding, and the notion of the primacy of politics.
Both reviews concluded that without an overarching political strategy that defines the mandate of peacekeeping and the engagement in peacebuilding efforts, those efforts will not be effective and will not really yield the results aspired for. As a member of the Security Council, Egypt wanted to ensure that such recommendations take shape in the resolutions adopted by the Council. Accordingly, it was appointed as the Coordinator of the Advisory Role of the Peacebuilding Commission to the Security Council with specific focus on the advisory capacity of the Peacebuilding Commission during the formation, review and exit, and transition of UN peacekeeping missions.
Hence, Egypt played a practical role in taking forward the outcome of the 2015 major policy documents and made sure they were translated into a practical approach and policies by the Security Council. In parallel, it maintained its membership on the Peacebuilding Commission and has had the twin role of making sure that these normative developments take shape in real life. An example of this was the very important Security Council Resolution 2333, which defines the plan for the transition of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). At that time, UNMIL was deployed and Liberia was an agenda item on the Peacebuilding Commission. In its capacity, Egypt played a major role in informing the transition plan adopted by the Security Council through Resolution 2333 to enable a very orderly and unique transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding.
In connection with the same, and as the president of the Security Council for the first time, in May 2016, and I take very special pride that, the Permanent Mission of Egypt and CCCPA partnered to organize a ministerial meeting breakfast in New York to launch Egypt’s presidency of the Security Council. The breakfast hosted ministers, members of the Security Council and nominees for the position of the United Nations Secretary-General at that time. The theme of the breakfast and the discussion between the attendees was around the new concept the “peace continuum”, introduced at that breakfast. The peace continuum was introduced as a defining approach to the future of peacekeeping and the interlinkage with peacebuilding. It was later on adopted by the incoming Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, as one of his main ideas and philosophies for the reform of the peace and security pillar of the UN. It caters to the next generation and the reforms of UN peacekeeping, and the idea behind the action for peacekeeping missions that emerged then.
This gives you an idea of Egypt’s unique and significant contribution as the President of the Security Council at the time, and together with the incoming Secretary-General to really push for the question of the peace continuum. In other words, that the role of peacekeeping operations is to actually lead to a longer term resolution of conflict, rather than just managing the conflict and keeping it at bay, keeping the guns silent without necessarily finding long-lasting solutions, which is actually the function of the peacebuilding dimension. This is one of the most significant contributions by Egypt and CCCPA.
Later on, during its second year term on the Security Council in August 2017, Egypt went a step further as the President of the Council and organized an open debate. More than 120 members of the Security Council participated on the contribution of peacekeeping to peacebuilding. The outcome of that debate culminated in Security Council Presidential Statement number 27 for the year 2017, adopted on the 23rd of December 2017. The drafting and negotiations of which were led by Egypt. The presidential statement also defined the question of “what is the role of peacekeeping in supporting longer term peacebuilding?” It has become part and parcel of that particular sector in the 2018 initiative by the Secretary-General - Action for Peacekeeping.
Following Egypt’s Security Council membership, and with the introduction of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative, again the government of Egypt and CCCPA partnered and organized--and this comes to the second part of your question about catering to a unified African position--the Cairo High-Level Regional Conference on the Performance of Peacekeeping Operations: From Mandate To Exit. The event hosted all African stakeholders and provided them with the platform to contribute their views to the initiative by the Secretary-General, the Action for Peacekeeping initiative. This is the regional conference that resulted in the Cairo Roadmap on Enhancing the Performance of Peacekeeping Operations: From Mandate to Exit, which later on became, in principle, the African Common Position on the Reform of Peacekeeping Operations. It was a long road that began in 2015 and ended in 2018.
It’s needless to say that also through CCCPA, and later on the government of Egypt, we became an integral part of the new strategy and policy guidance on a very important dimension of peacekeeping operations: DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration). Egypt’s contributions to the normative development of peacekeeping and specific aspects of peacekeeping did not necessarily confine themselves to the membership of the Security Council; it started before and is still continuing thereafter.
R.Eissa: Thank you, Ambassador. While it might be too early to assess in definitive ways the impact of COVID-19 on peacekeeping, in your opinion, what do you consider to be the most important factors that will determine the future of peacekeeping? Is it the changing geostrategic landscape? Or the financial crisis facing the UN? Will the newly established mission in Sudan be a model of post-COVID-19 peacekeeping?
I. Awad: This is a very important question, and really difficult to answer at this stage. What is certain is that COVID-19 has had an impact on the performance of existing peacekeeping operations in the field due to the restrictions imposed by the host countries on the rotation or movement of troops and personnel, as you know of course as you, CCCPA, provide pre-deployment training to our troops. So, it has already impacted the performance and the advancement of the implementation of certain mandates. That’s for sure.
The future of peacekeeping will be determined, as you rightly mentioned, by many other factors. I would say yes, the changing geostrategic landscape, the current increasing polarization within the Security Council, which means the most powerful countries and among the P5 themselves, will have an impact on the quality of the mandate which requires consensus, and consensus primarily among the P5, in order for peacekeeping to advance. One of the most important factors that lead to the spread of peacekeeping--as an instrument of the UN in the mid-2000s and until I would say the beginning of the 2000s and perhaps until 2015/2016, for those 15 years, the post Brahimi Report on the Reform of Peace Operations--was that there was a unique consensus among the P5 on the importance of peacekeeping. I’m afraid that the current polarization might actually impact that consensus and hence, the quality of the mandate, the review process of the mandate, and the decision. The informed decisions on drawdown and withdrawal should be based on an analysis of how much peace has been restored, how much of the mandate has been achieved and fulfilled, how much specific countries where peacekeeping operations are deployed to reduce tension can manage their own issues peacefully with solid and capacitated institutions, i.e. the peacebuilding dimension. These are the factors that should inform the Security Council decision to start the drawdown, rather than merely politicizing the drawdown decision or prioritizing the financial dimension--the budget reconsideration behind the scope of the mandate, the size of the mission and so on and so forth.
As it stands now, that polarization reflects the larger geostrategic landscape and the financial crunch that comes out of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its financial and economic impact. It also reflects the shift by powerful Security Council member states away from multilateralism (as the solution to global problems) towards unilateralism and an inward-looking approach, rather than an outward looking or global engagement. All these might be factors that would define the future of peacekeeping operations. That’s one point.
The other one is a real analytical approach to the relevance of peacekeeping as it stands to solving the existing and prevailing conflicts, issues and challenges facing fragile conflict-affected states. This goes back to my earlier point, in response to your second question about whether peacekeeping operations are able to provide the role of enabler for political solutions, and enabler for an international partnership with the country concerned--the host state, to build and capacitate its own institutions and really support the question of national ownership. I.e. that the host state owns its own problems and builds its own security forces, based on certain principles and standards in order to take care of its own security and political and economic issues. Whether future peacekeeping mandates and peacekeeping deployments will actually prioritize that aspect vis-à-vis simply the physical protection of civilians, as is now one of its main priorities; and the shift towards the larger and broad protection concept, which is protection with a view building resilience in these societies, or supporting these societies to build a strong and solid social contract, that is going to be the defining question for the future of peacekeeping operations, among others. This in my view will be the test case.
This has to be applied as an approach, and put into practice across the board in the existing deployments: from MINUSMA in Mali, which is very different from the context where MINUSCA in the Central African Republic is deployed for example, which is also very different from the phase where MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is deployed, let alone other deployments such as UNFICYP in Cyprus, UNIFIL in Lebanon, and UNMISS in South Sudan.
These different contexts require tailored and different approaches driven by the question of building resilience within these societies and prioritizing investment in national capacities, ownership and institutions. I truly hope that this could still be the way forward for action for peacekeeping. Unfortunately, there is more focus now on the operational aspects of the performance of peacekeeping operations--from training to conduct and discipline of troops, to the quality of equipment. Many of these aspects reflect that certain financial contributors and members of the Security Council are still thinking about peacekeeping from the standpoint of stopping bloodshed and keeping and putting bandages on the wounds of societies and states, rather than conducting a surgical operation where the wounds can heal quicker and for good. This will very much be the big question mark about the future of peacekeeping operations.
Ending with the last part of your question about the newly established mission in Sudan and whether this will be a model of the post-COVID-19 peacekeeping, I would delink it from post-COVID-19 per say. I see where you are coming from here in terms of how small it is and how relatively cheaper it is when you compare it to MONUSCO, UNMISS or UNAMID for example, but I would say yes and no. The new UNITAMS, which is the name of the new mission in Sudan would have not been possible if it wasn’t for the long-term deployment of UNAMID and some sort of normalcy returning to Darfur. But, it also wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the political transition that took place in Sudan in April 2019, which brought national determination by the Sudanese themselves to use the United Nations political-security approach, not necessarily physical deployment of military components and police components, but the other aspects of peacekeeping that were less celebrated over the past 10-15 years in the form of mediation and support to the political transition, national reconciliation, the DDR process, and the SSR process. Those were aspects of the earlier peacekeeping mandates and are still aspects of the UNITAMS mandate, but have been brought to the fore and are driven by a national transition led by the Sudanese themselves. So yes and no, whether UNITAMS would actually fit all the contexts; I think it fits very well the context of Sudan. It might not necessarily fit other contexts in the same way, so we have to wait and see how other missions and other contexts will evolve in the next few months and years.
R.Eissa: Thank you very much Ambassador Awad. We are really grateful for your insightful contributions and for sharing your experience with us.