"Conflict is costly – seemingly expensive peacekeeping operations are much cheaper," said Julian Harston, a former Assistant Secretary-General in his keynote address to an audience of peacekeepers, civil society representatives and government officials from ten Central and Eastern European countries. The practitioners gathered at the United Nations Office in Vienna on 27 May at the third Networking for Peace forum.
UNIS Director Maher Nasser (center) addresses the participants
Hosted by the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna in cooperation with the Association of Austrian Peacekeepers (AAP), the Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports and the City of Vienna, the meeting was organized to coincide with the 8th observance of the International Day of UN Peacekeepers and provided a platform for participants to share experiences and ideas for regional cooperation in peacekeeping and between associations of peacekeepers.
After brief words of welcome, Maher Nasser, UNIS Director, asked participants to stand up for a minute of silence to honour the sacrifices of men and women who lost their lives while serving under the UN flag. In his welcome remarks, retired General Günther Greindl, President of AAP, spoke about the value of having associations of peacekeepers and networking with each other and with other segments of society. These were important in establishing better public understanding of peacekeeping and peacekeeping goals and objectives which would encourage increased support and participation in peacekeeping.
In providing an overview of the current state of UN peacekeeping, Mr. Harston pointed out 6 key challenges that every mission needs to address: to restore security and stability in the mission country, to ensure a legitimate political framework, to revitalize the economy, to support national reconciliation, to bring civil society back together and to take into account the regional context. Given these enormous tasks, peacekeeping has become an increasingly complex endeavour. In order for missions to succeed, member states need to provide sufficient resources, Mr. Harston elaborated from his longstanding experience and requested to keep mission mandates in line with the support the international community is willing to provide: “Without proper support, peacekeeping is being pushed to the wall: it will be overburdened and under funded at the same time.”
Associations of peacekeepers can help generate the support needed by making the benefits of peacekeeping known and thus increase public support in their respective home countries. Participants at the forum from Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary and Austria took the opportunity to discuss the respective contributions of their countries to international peace efforts and the lessons learnt from mission participation.
Lt. General Günther Höfler, Commander of the Austrian Defence Forces, presented the concept of Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in the context of Security Council resolution 1894 (2009) which was sponsored by Austria in the UN Security Council. "The decisive part is the implementation in the field. All stakeholders need to be involved in a comprehensive approach", stressed Lt. General Höfler. Austrian forces participated in the recent UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) where protection of refugees and internally displaced persons was part of the mission mandate. It was commonly agreed that cooperation between the actors on the ground is vital, not only between military and civilians but also between troop contributors.
The forum ended with a lively discussion on different ways to further increase such regional cooperation, for instance by using new and social media networks.