(By Bella Yahuma and Amy Gorman) On Wednesday May 29, 2013 (International Day of UN Peacekeepers), CTNSP hosted a panel discussion on modern technology changes impacting the nature of military and United Nations operations in Africa. The conference was organized into three parts: a keynote presentation by Dr. Walter Dorn presenting on technology and his book Keeping Watch: Monitoring, Technology & Innovation in UN Peace Operations; two panel discussions on lessons for UN peacekeeping and on lessons for African militaries.
During his keynote speech, Dr. Walter Dorn, Professor of Defense Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) and the Canadian Forces College (CFC) and author of Keeping Watch: Monitoring, Technology, and Innovation in UN Peace Operations, spoke on the need to protect civilians with modern technology and how the appropriate use of technology can promote peace. Prior to the end of the Cold War, cameras and other sophisticated recording devices were not allowed in the Cyprus Green Zone. Operators solely depended on the human eye aided by binoculars to monitor and expose violators of peace and perpetrators of mass atrocities. This limits their ability to cover a wide area or underground activities; therefore, second generation UN peacekeeping operations cannot continue to depend on just the watchful eye to monitor the enemy. Modern technology is necessary in new peacekeeping operations in order to develop court certified recording devices that could be used in the International Criminal Court to prosecute war criminals and to increase safety of personnel in the field especially in demilitarized zones. Any technology developed, must manage peacekeeping intelligence information safely; for example, the maintenance and safety of informants. The UN is still behind in adopting and utilizing these and other modern technology.
In the first panel discussion, the speakers deliberated on the topic, Lessons for UN Peacekeeping. They argued that modern technology is an invaluable asset to current and future peacekeeping operations. Technology not only supports intelligence gathering but also is relevant to (i) command and control operations; (ii) movement and maneuvers; (iii) fire support and (iv) logistics. Current peacekeeping operations lack relevant information, practical equipment, and adequate transportation such as helicopter blade time. An opinion was put forth that the US military is often limited in that they are more reactive than proactive defaulting to tried and tested technologies instead of emerging technologies. Further, they pondered over the need to develop comprehensive protection strategies and policies that would enable peacekeepers to engage more with the local communities where they operate. Currently, there are no official policies that encourage this relationship. New methodologies are being developed and are presently being tested in East Congo and South Sudan in collaboration with civil society groups. The need to engage local communities in peacekeeping operations is important because their understanding of the conflict give them the unique ability to develop the best suitable protection strategies for that area. . Participants also got to hear from practitioners in the field on the role of modern technology in peace operations. The Community Alert Network (CAN) is a prevention and early warning program developed by members of the community in the Congo in order to increase their resilience and capacity to protect themselves. The CAN concept is based on the use of 25 closed user group (CUG) with a maximum of 12 mobile phones each, covering a cluster of ten communities also known as company operating bases (COB) or temporary operating bases (TOB) led by community liaison assistants (CLAs). CLAs receive United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) phones or very high frequency (VHF) radios and use them to alert MONUSCO in case of imminent threat. Despite significant achievements such as increased community participation in protection activities and building national authorities capacities to respond to and mitigate threats, the project remains challenged technically in areas of network coverage; financially and community training.
During the second session, panelists discussed the topic, Lessons for African Militaries. They observed that the African continent is changing technologically and everyone has access to a cell phone. In 2010, crowd-sourced information was used to set peacekeeping standards. There is a need to develop humanitarian response technologies that would enable communities to protect themselves and build networks that directly connect them to their local governments. Availability of smartphones increases visibility of both positive and negative actions. Through the integration of smartphones and internet into local government and civilian interactions, community perceptions and expectations have changed especially within the police force. With the advancement in online translation technology, language is no longer a barrier to accessing and sharing of information. The presenters asserted that peacekeeping operations should be deployed in three levels: (i) “field triage”—deployment of systems that gather and provide information to the operators in the field; (ii) “in time training”—this is where the operators identify current situations on the ground and work on how to rectify them in the short term and lastly, (iii) involves long-term operations that support civil authorities. Long-term solutions to local problems can be resolved by engaging local communities in global education systems using electronic and other social media available in the internet. A panelist also acknowledged that the problem with African peacekeeping information technology is that it is developed in “Silicon Valley” created on a western centric model that is impractical to implement in Africa. Information technology has been designed and used as a solution to Africa’s problems instead of being used as a tool to achieve peace. For viable solutions, information technology to in Africa should undergo six distinct steps for successful implementation. These are:
- Identifying the problem & establishing the objectives
- Agreeing on a strategy
- Designing the system
- Implementing the system
- Monitoring and assessing the result
- Exit the process
If the exit process is not successful, then start the process again from the beginning until satisfaction from all the parts. A Six-Layers-Model has been proposed to bridge the gap between the western model and the realities on the field in Africa.
In the question and answer period, the participants agreed that technology should be approached with caution because when it is pulled out or becomes obsolete, it creates a vacuum damaging those left behind because they have now become depend on it. According to the status of forces agreement (SOFA), the UN has the right to bring in all and any technology equipment they need to function in the field with no restrictions from the host government; however, but the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) require the consent of host nation. Technology should be treated as an asset in peacekeeping operations and should not be a substitute for strategic thinking on civilian protection. There is a need for increased unclassified intelligence sharing to develop peaceful insurgent measures. Developing peacekeeping technologies for civilian protection requires a holistic bottom up approach.