The recognition that Brazil has in the international scene regarding United Nations (U.N.) Peacekeeping Missions isn’t new nor recent. The 13 years that the Brazilian force was present in Haiti (2004-2017), with Brazilian officers leading the military component in the challenging roles as Force Commanders, have definitely taken the recognition of our troops to a higher level. The Brazilian Way of Peacekeeping, which is a combination of the characteristic attributed to Brazilians in the search to follow the path of negotiation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, which can be found in the Brazilian Constitution, both in the internal and external political spheres, on sustainable development (Kenkel 2011) and our Soft Power, which is the ability to exert power through influence, persuasion, and attractiveness, having as fundamental bases culture, political values, and foreign policy (Nye 2011), are widely known in the midst of U.N. peacekeeping missions and are also subject of articles, being national or international ones. In the words of Nasser (2012), the Brazilian peacekeepers’ solidary way of serving can be understood as a demonstration of power of influence, Soft Power, while also knowing how to make use of Hard Power, which can be translated as a typical military means for the benefit of peace. As published on the site Defesa em Foco, the Brazilian troops have “the capacity for interaction and adaptation inherent to the Brazilian people and widely demonstrated by our soldiers and associated with the professionalism in various employment situations have won the confidence of the Haitian people in the work developed by the Brazilian contingent over the past years. As a result, there is considerable support from the local population for the operations of our troops. Because of this relationship of respect and admiration combined with the ease of integration of the Brazilian soldier, today we find many Haitians who speak Portuguese well, including children.”
However, with the end of the successful missions in Haiti and, subsequently, with the departure of the Brazilian Navy’s flagship from Lebanon (UNIFIL), we no longer have troops deployed in peacekeeping operations. Brazil is then “compelled,” in the best sense of the term, to rethink ways of being present in issues related to Peacekeeping Operations.
Individual missions with the participation of Brazilian military and police personnel, although existent for several years, have gained more prominence and importance, and training for them has been and is being increasingly improved through the Brazilian Joint Training Peacekeeping Operations Center (CCOPAB). As a result of the invaluable skills and significant performance of our blue helmets overseas, more Brazilian men and women in uniform are being deployed in the most diverse missions. We also stress the selection of Brazilian generals to positions of great visibility and prominence, such as Force Commanders and Chiefs of Staff in multidimensional and robust missions, as well as the selection of other officers to join U.N. departments in New York, under the Secondment regime. In other words, even without a significant Brazilian contingent deployed, Brazil managed to “recreate”itself and show other capabilities in exercising other functions in peacekeeping missions within the U.N.
To this end, Brazil has advanced even further in the continuous acquisition and consolidation of knowledge, with subsequent training followed by deployment on the ground and the consequent external recognition. An example of this was the invitation sent by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations to the Permanent Mission of Brazil at its headquarters in New York, requesting experts in the Protection of Civilians to join the Working Group responsible for updating the Implementing Guidelines for the Protection of Civilians for Military Components of U.N. Peacekeeping Missions. It is important to point out that other U.N. member states have received such an invitation as well. However, it is equally important to remember that if Brazil had not already had the solid recognition it has in peacekeepingoperations, it certainly would not have been sought to respond to the request made. This is the result of the work developed over the years, with the natural difficulties of the process, including the uninterrupted training of peacekeepers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, we must recognize our value as a creative source of high quality human resources, with the ability to prepare blue helmets to act in various fronts existing in the scope of peacekeeping operations, such as conducting training in the Protection of Civilians for military components and sending personnel abroad to join working groups with the mission of reviewing and updating content to better train peacekeepers with regard to the protection of vulnerable populations, the subject of this article.
The Working Group (WG), created by the U.N. Office of Military Affairs of the Department of Peace Operations (UN OMA DPO), included the participation of a group of experts in the Protection of Civilians (PoC), appointed by U.N. member states, with two representatives from Brazil among them. All with experience in peacekeepingoperations and, most of them integrating the strategic level in their organizations. Besides the military personnel, the meeting of the WG, in Guatemala, was also attended by a civilian PoC expert member who occupies a strategic level position within U.N. headquarters. Although the PoC Implementing Guidelines are aimed at training peacekeeping operations military components, the expertise of civilians on the subject greatly helps to conduct the process of reviewing and updating the content, which is extensive, thorough, and demands considerable time from the experts, whether military or civilian.
As a way to enter the final phase of the work to review and update the Guidelines, an in-person meeting was held with the members of the WG, in Guatemala City, May 16– 20, 2022. For geographic, scheduling, and/or financial reasons, most members were unable to attend the event in the Guatemalan capital. Out of the 17members, 10 managed to attend the meeting, two of them Brazilians, to start the final phase of the project, which had already been developed, through regular videoconferences, for five months.
The in-person meeting week was marked by very high level debates about PoC, when those present were able to share their points of view about the new lines of thought that should lead the Guidelines, discussing the nuances and the reasons for conceptual changes in terms of wording, considering in depth what would be more “palatable” to what the political tendencies of the United Nations’ high ranks currently dictate. As previously mentioned, the debate on PoC took place primarily at the strategic level, sometimes making contact at the political level as well. The strategic level is the source from where orders flow toward the operational level, where they are “translated” for execution and application at the tactical level. This directional flow of orders has a reason for being and, without any doubt, must be respected. This is how large institutions are based and organized to achieve their goals. It happens the same way in armed forces worldwide. However, as a member of the WG and coming from the tactical level, where I deal directly with the training of peacekeepers at CCOPAB, I believe that there was a too focused thinking centered on the strategic level and, sometimes, on the political level. And I reiterate the importance of both. However, it was very clear that there was a huge gap between what is envisioned at the strategic level and what is to be applied by the blue helmet on the ground, who is often forgotten, and who is at the end of the line of all that flow of orders. And among the flow of orders, guidelines, and manuals issued by the U.N. strategic level and the peacekeeper on the ground (tactical level), there is the training conducted by the peacekeeping operations training centers, which we can say are the antechambers of the tactical level, one step prior to the peacekeeping mission, and whose relevance was brought up by Brazilian representatives at the debate table, in an attempt to sensitize others, more focused on the strategic level, about the need to look more closely at the student being trained to be a peacekeeper.
Boots on the ground
In other words, in the Brazilian view within the WG, the flow of orders should naturally remain top-bottom, from the top level to the bottom one. However, for the production of manuals and/or guidelines, it would be more interesting if it were at times more bottom-up, with information, suggestions, recommendations coming from the lower echelon to feed the decisions, directives,and guidelines from the top. Going a little further, when reviewing and updating content, one must look at the reality of the terrain, the knowledge needs of the peacekeeper at the tactical level, the demands of the type of training he or she must receive before the deployment, the wording must be accessible and as objective and as simple as possible (not simplistic), remembering that there are military personnel from all over the world being trained at this time, and that they have a common objective: to act in a minimally satisfactory manner in a peacekeepingoperation. Therefore, proper training must be an object of attention as well. And the best source of information about these needs are peacekeeping operations training centers worldwide, because they are the ones that train, guide, and have their attention entirely focused on the field, the place where the reality lived by the blue helmets comes from, and where information and scenario updates arrive faster and with fewer filters than the cold reports sent to the high levels of the U.N. in New York. In other words, the activity of reviewing and updating content should be more boots on the ground, more focused on the needs and challenges of the operations, more specific to the protection of civilians, a topic of recognized relevance for historical issues experienced by the U.N. To this end, the WG, whose noble and overarching task is to update the information of the manuals and guidelines for the best performance of peacekeepers in the field through pre-deployment training and on-mission training, should have among their members a larger number of professionals representing the tactical level, who deal directly with blue helmets training on a regular basis, without ever excluding those of the strategic level, of course. The idea is to promote integration between the levels, with the direct exchange of knowledge and experiences for the benefit of the target audience of the work of revising and updating the guidelines: the future peacekeeper, in the case of this article, the blue helmets of the military component. And, dare I go further, for the benefit of the vulnerable population that daily experiences the terrible impacts of armed conflicts. A peacekeeper that is well trained in PoC is connected to the idea of a better protected population, the greatest beneficiary of better resources for its protection.
Greater cohesion of what is expected from the peacekeeper (strategic level) must be encouraged, and for this, it must be clear, direct, and objective, with minimal or, ideally, no room for noise in communication and doubts in the interpretation of orders. This is how military components all over the world should work. For those who deal with peacekeeping operations training, cohesion between what is expected from the peacekeeper and the transmission of knowledge is crucial. During this rich week of discussions and knowledge exchange in Guatemala, we could see that the desired changes that come from the strategic level take considerable time before information is satisfactorily disseminated at the peacekeeping operations training centers level. Terms such as female/malepeacekeepers should no longer be used, according to the representative of the DPO Office for the Protection of Civilians. They should be replaced by women/menpeacekeepers, for ethical reasons, which, however, were not deeply explained. Similarly, the use of imminent threat to characterize a threat that is underway should not be considered, and we should use credible or clear threat instead, in order to avoid the subjectivity of the word imminent. This was something that drew attention and generated some debate, especially from those who deal daily with the training of military personnel, since both new terms also have a somewhat subjective nature. Moreover, we were also reminded that the main U.N. content for personnel deployment, the Core Pre-Deployment Training Materials (CPTM), is mandatory for the deployment of peacekeepers and it contains the terms mentioned above, which, after this in-person meeting, seemed clearthat it should be abolished. Its last edition isfive years old and it does not have a date for review nor update of its content, which, it should be stressed again, is the main training material for blue helmets. The question that remains hanging in the air, from the Brazilian perspective, is in relation to the other peacekeeping operations training centers. When will they become aware of the new terms, the reasons for changes, in order to adapt their training methods? How many training centers convey to their trainees that the Women Protection Adviser (WPA) is the protection actor responsible for dealing with cases of conflict-related sexual violence that men and not only women suffer, and that there has not yet been an update of a more comprehensive term to protect victims, whether women or men? When will this information be widely known?
Thus, it was easy to note that we do not always use the same language and knowledge when it comes to peacekepingoperations, which can make training difficult and confuse the deployed blue helmet who works with other peacekeepers from different nationalities and with a prior training that, ideally, should be as standardized as possible. For this reason, it would be interesting to bring the strategic level closer to the training centers, so that together they can build more cohesive and objective manuals, which would meet the demand for solid knowledge of the peacekeeper. A process that can sometimes orbit and be top-bottom, and sometimes also bottom-up, in a productive exchange of knowledge.
Perhaps the creation of a cell or section within the U.N. Integrated Training Service (ITS) of the DPO, with a direct channel to the peacekeeping operations training centers, would be an initiative that would greatly enrich communication about what is objectively and clearly required from peacekeepers, reducing the gap between the strategic and tactical levels. Especially nowadays, when the U.N. current thought is directed toward strategic communication. And one of the requirements for an effective strategic communication is to know who you want to reach and how to reach them. With that said, peacekeeping operations training centers are and must be fundamental tools for the dissemination of this knowledge.
This being the case, from the perspective of those who have been involved in training personnel at the tactical level of U.N.peacekeeping operations for several years and whose mission is to translate and transmit the organization’s guidelines for action to military components, there is a good chance of minimizing mistakes that can negatively impact the mission, the image, and the credibility of the U.N. if there is more direct interaction between those who create the guidelines and manuals and those who transmit the knowledge of these documents. Especially with regard to the protection of civilians, a very current issue, the subject of the current review and update of guidelines, and my particular object of study. Hence the need for a more direct integration between the strategic level of the organization and the peacekeepingoperations training centers, which are those that deal daily and directly with future blue helmets, who receive their demands for knowledge, acting as the real peacekeepingmission antechambers.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members. This Academia article was machine-translated.