Vesalius College International Affairs Capstone is a course that allows students in their final year of bachelor studies to combine and apply all their gained knowledge and skills to real life challenges in the field of International Affairs. The particularity of the Capstone course lies in its interaction with Brussels-based policy-makers from internationally recognized Organizations. Indeed, previous Capstone students worked in close cooperation with the European Union’s External Action Service (Maghreb Unit and Syria Desk Officer) and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
This year, our Capstone class has been given the privilege to work with the United Nations Liaison Office for Peace and Security (UNLOPS). In light of this, we created the Institute for Peace in Partnership (IPP) with the aim to conduct research and develop realistic recommendations for the strengthening of UN-EU relations in the area of global peace and security. As security threats have become more complex, UN Peacekeeping has been facing challenges which it has to address.
On Thursday 12 February, we met our clients Dr. Rory Keane and Ms. Annika Kohnert who gave us directions for our research path. This article will provide an overview of our clients briefing as well as our strategy to come up with recommendations.
External Clients Meeting
Our clients are Dr. Rory Keane, the head of the United Nations Liaison Office for Peace and Security (UNLOPS), and a fellow UNLOPS staff, Ms. Annika Kohnert. Both Dr. Keane and Ms. Kohnert are very accomplished in the field of Peacekeeping. Dr. Keane has worked for Romano Prodi who was the previous United Nations Special Envoy for the Sahel Region. In addition to that, Dr. Keane also has served as the security sector advisor to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Liberia. In the past, he has not only worked for the United Nations but also for the OECD and the European Commission in the field of peace and security. Ms. Kohnert is a Carlo Schmid Fellow at UNLOPS. She has experience working on projects on the Middle East with McKinsey & Company and multiple internships for the German Embassy to the United States of America, the French Assemblée Nationale and the German Bundestag.
During our meeting, Dr. Keane gave a presentation on the future of UN peace operations with a particular focus on global-regional partnership. He provided background on the increasingly complex challenges of peace and security notably leading to rising numbers of UN Peacekeeping missions. Moreover, he explained that mission mandates become more difficult (e.g. Protection of Civilians mandates). Therefore, there is an essential need for adjustment of Peacekeeping, for instance better quality of troop capabilities. Dr. Keane also noted that 2015 was the year of reform for UN peace operations. In other words, multiple reviews on the architecture of peace operations were conducted. The most relevant to our Capstone project is the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) Report. This report not only assesses the current shape of UN peace operations, but also provides solutions and recommendations that could improve them. Dr. Keane summarized the HIPPO report into 3Ps: people, partnerships and politics. His presentation also looked at UN-EU partnership in the field of Peacekeeping and noted the priorities of this partnership. Those are: rapid response, support to the African peace and security architecture, facilitation of EU member states contributions to UN Peacekeeping, cooperation in rule of law and security sector reform, cooperation in support and logistics and enhanced information and analysis exchange.
With this in mind, Dr. Keane presented our task, which is to provide realistic and innovative ideas to strengthen the EU-UN partnership in the domain of peace and security. The Capstone students then engaged in many questions ranging from rapid response to “lessons learned”. On the question on rapid response, Dr. Keane explained that the main hurdles are the lack of political will from EU Member States and financial restrictions. There was also a question regarding the practicality of “lessons learned” and he noted the importance of differentiating between “lessons learned” and “lessons identified” as crucial for implementation.
The research path taken by the Institute for Peace in Partnership revolves around the 2015-2018 Priorities to strengthen UN-EU Strategic Partnership on Peacekeeping and Crisis Management. Through our contribution, we aim to offer concrete solutions advancing the objectives of this document, in accordance with the key principles it establishes.
First, our research will suggest means to enhance EU-UN cooperation on rapid response to crises by examining how EU Battlegroups can work in parallel or sequence with UN Peacekeeping missions. Second, we aim to put forward recommendations on EU-UN partnership for African peace and security, focusing on financial and political mechanisms, as well as conflict prevention. Third, the contribution of EU Member States to UN Peacekeeping will be examined in order to identify the elements that hinder integration of European resources for UN Peacekeeping purposes. Fourth, our study will include suggestions to improve EU-UN cooperation in the field of the Rule of Law and Security Sector Reforms, focusing on coordination with host-state agencies and the “Train and Equip initiative”. Fifth, we intend to propose developments of the hand-over of equipment and facilities by the EU to UN Peacekeeping missions. Finally, we will analyze how EU-UN information sharing could be developed, especially regarding Strategic Reviews of missions and classified information.
After meeting our clients and determining our concrete research path of our Capstone project, we find ourselves busy researching and planning. Our objective is to deliver the best recommendations in order to guide our clients through future policy decisions and improve cooperation between the EU and the UN at the UN Liaison Office for Peace and Security in Brussels.
It is important for our group to gain as much in-depth knowledge in the area of Peacekeeping and EU-UN cooperation as possible. This is supported on the one hand through lectures given by Dr. Joachim A. Koops, Dean of Vesalius College, and on the other hand by independently researching for our individual parts of the project. Moreover, we are trying to learn from experts in the field by arranging interviews and attending events organized by various think tanks which are of concern to our project. Finally, we are organizing a guest lecture at Vesalius College with one or more experts from the field. This event will especially serve the student body that can also benefit from our effort, as it is important to us to share what we have learned through our Capstone project. Our ambition is to get others involved and create awareness of the importance of this topic, not only through our blog but also in person.
To conclude, as our whole group is very passionate about this project, we expect very creative and useful solutions to assist UNLOPS’ next steps in cooperation with the EU. Through our blog and Facebook page, you are able to follow our research steps very closely until the submission of our final recommendations at the end of March. We are confident that our location in the center of Brussels, our links with experts in the fields of peace and security, and our varied background and expertise will allow us to produce a high quality output. We expect that our originality and competences will help to advance the effectiveness of UN Peacekeeping, especially through deeper UN-EU partnership.
Magalie Bemba, Antonia Rechberg, Ingrid Silalahi, and Sophie L. Vériter
 European External Action Service (EEAS), Strengthening the UN-EU Strategic Partnership on Peacekeeping and Crisis Management: Priorities 2015-2018, 7632/15, Brussels, 27 March 2015. Accessed 17 February 2016. http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-7632-2015-INIT/en/pdf
 The key principles are: (1) shared ownership of the priorities and objective to add value to both organizations, (2) EU as a key foreign policy actor and security provider, (3) institutional and political cooperation, (4) continuity of the 2012 Action Plan, (5) forward looking agenda, (6) EU-UN-AU triangular cooperation, (7) agreement with HIPPO report.