Beyond the technological turn: reconsidering the significance of the intervention brigade and peacekeeping drones for UN conflict management.

Author:Piiparinen, Touko

In 2013 the United Nations applied two new peacekeeping instruments, the Intervention Brigade and unmanned aerial vehicles, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This article argues that the significance and novelty of the Brigade and UAVs for UN peacekeeping are not only attributable to their technologically advanced and robust capacities, as maintained in previous accounts. Most importantly, these instruments also function as the harbingers of a new paradigm for peacekeeping--sovereignty building. The current technological turn of UN peacekeeping is only an epiphenomenon of a more profound paradigm shift in UN peacekeeping toward sovereignty building. Sovereignty building can be defined as an emerging set of peacekeeping practices that aims to create or reinforce four constitutive elements of sovereignty, which have previously been sidelined in state building; namely, sovereign agency (the political will of the host government), sovereign space (the area of supreme state authority), related sovereignty (the sovereignty network of subregional and regional peers), and popular sovereignty (the protection of the population). Keywords: peacekeeping, unmanned aerial vehicles. United Nations.


THE UN PEACE OPERATION IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC), Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en RD Congo (MONUSCO), has functioned as a laboratory for testing new peacekeeping techniques. Many of those instruments have subsequently been approved and applied throughout the UN peacekeeping system. One new technology is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for MONUSCO's surveillance purposes. The Security Council's decision to deploy UAVs as a part of MONUSCO in January 2013 marks the first-ever authorization of UAVs in UN peacekeeping. (1) The template for peacekeeping drones is expected to be replicated in the UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) in southern Sudan and in Cote d'Ivoire. (2) The second new instrument employed by the UN in the DRC is the so-called Intervention Brigade (henceforth, the Brigade) authorized by the Security Council in March 2013, which also provides a model of offensive operations for future UN peacekeeping. A third, normative, innovation is the "due diligence policy," officially termed the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy on UN Support to Non-UN Security Forces (HRDDP), which was introduced and tested in MONUSCO and then adopted as a universal policy for all UN entities in late 2011. (3)

My purpose in this article is to examine the main significance and added value of the Brigade and UAVs for UN peacekeeping. Previous accounts have revealed that these new peacekeeping instruments put into use the technological innovations of surveillance, robust peacekeeping, and the offensive concept of operations at the operational and strategic levels. (4) However, the mainstream literature has thus far overlooked the fact that the Brigade and UAVs also, more crucially, serve as a laboratory for experimenting with a new paradigm for peacekeeping (i.e., sovereignty building). In order to grasp their significance for UN peacekeeping as a whole, it is necessary to look beyond the operational, strategic, and doctrinal levels of analysis and take into consideration their implications at the paradigmatic level.

In the first section of this article, I outline the theoretical framework of the sovereignty-building paradigm. I apply that framework in the case study of the DRC in the subsequent part of the article; namely, in the section concerning the Brigade and in the third section regarding UAVs. Sovereignty building cannot be characterized as a doctrine since it is not codified in official UN documents such as the Capstone Doctrine of 2008. These documents define the doctrines of "post-conflict peace-building" and "state-building" in precise terms, but do not mention sovereignty building at all. To draw on Thomas Kuhn's classic theory, sovereignty building could instead be defined as a paradigm; namely, a set of peacekeeping practices (5) that the UN is actually performing, experimenting with, and testing in the DRC with the help of the Brigade and UAVs. Sovereignty building is already being performed in practice, but is not officially or systematically codified--yet.

The emergence of sovereignty building provides one example of the way in which innovations in UN peacekeeping usually develop through practice and continuous trial and error, rather than through a formal doctrine imposed top down in the bureaucratic hierarchy. On a more philosophical note, sovereignty building emerges from the Hegelian cycle of dialectics, in which the prevailing thesis of peacekeeping (state building) is challenged by an antithesis (sovereignty building).

Sovereignty building creates, reinforces, and expands the constitutive parts of sovereignty, which have previously been sidelined in state building. These elements could be described as the four Aristotelian causes of sovereignty building: sovereign agency (efficient cause, i.e., that by which peace and security are made); sovereign space (material cause, i.e., that out of which peace and security are made); sovereignty network (formal cause, i.e., that according to which peace and security are made); and popular sovereignty (final cause, i.e., that for the sake of which peace and security are made). Sovereign agency includes ownership, political will, and determination on the part of the host government to promote peace and security, including peacekeeping; sovereign space means the area where supreme and legitimate state authority prevails over substate actors such as militias in eastern DRC; sovereignty network denotes the relatedness and compliance of the host government to the subregional, regional, and international communities to which it belongs; and popular sovereignty entails the protection of civilians (PoC) as a prerequisite for responsible sovereignty.

Sovereignty building differs from state building in terms of its principal focuses, primary level of analysis, and ontological premises. Sovereignty building lays more emphasis on (sovereign) agency than on (state) structure, on the extension of sovereign space than on the extension of state institutions, and on related ontology than on atomistic ontology. Sovereignty building considers the extension of sovereign space (i.e., the area of supreme state authority) as a precondition for the extension of state institutions. That is because state institutions upholding the rule of law (RoL) can usually be built and maintained on a sustainable basis only if they are grounded in sovereign space, which secures them from interference and illegitimate interventions by external actors, including insurgents. In the DRC, the Brigade implements sovereignty building by "carving out" sovereign space for the Congolese government in the eastern part of the country which, in concrete terms, means the neutralization of those illegal armed groups that have challenged the supreme state authority and state institutions and thus effectively impeded state building.

Sovereignty Building: An Emerging Paradigm for Global Security and UN Peacekeeping

A "paradigm," as Kuhn famously defines, means a set of practices that "provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners." (6) Sovereignty building could be defined as an emerging paradigm of global security, which entails a combination of socioeconomic, political, and military practices based on a universal model of problems and solutions. According to that model, the key problem of global security does not reside in the weakness of state structures per se as believed in state building, but in the weakness--or complete absence--of the elemental features of sovereignty in a target state, including the social contract between the ruler and the ruled and the supreme authority, ownership, and responsibility of the host government in providing basic services (including basic security) to citizens. The key solution, as the sovereignty-building model further presumes, resides in creating or strengthening those key attributes of sovereignty before undertaking technical state-building functions. The main ontological difference between sovereignty building and state building thus concerns the primary level of analysis: while state building revolves around state structure, sovereignty building focuses more on sovereign agency.

To draw on Kuhn's terminology again, the "community of practitioners" that design, implement, and experiment new sovereignty-building practices is growing and becoming increasingly influential in multiple sectors of global security, including development cooperation, conflict management, and human rights. With regard to development cooperation, those new practices invigorate the ownership, political will, initiative, and responsibility of the sovereign ruler. The UN Peacebuilding Commission established in 2005, for example, has designed new practices to promote national ownership, which have already contributed to the "furthering of the sovereignty agenda" (7) in global security. In a similar fashion, the new model of Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation "focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting pre-conceived and packaged 'best practice' solutions)." (8) Here again, locally nominated and locally owned solutions are prioritized over externally imposed ones.

The turn to sovereignty is also visible in conflict management. The concept of special political missions (SPMs) promoted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, for example, highlights locally owned political processes. As opposed to peacekeeping operations, SPMs are composed of mainly civilian experts and relatively small in size. Although the functions and mandates of SPMs vary greatly from early warning, fact-finding, and preventive diplomacy to peace mediation and peacebuilding, (9) the common...

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