The 2020 report of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) marked the culmination of nearly a decade of efforts to improve the committee’s working methods and deliver a more relevant report. Because the report was restructured around the eight thematic priorities of the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, it also helped translate the initiative’s Declaration of Shared Commitments into practice.
But the report’s adoption was not just significant due to its restructuring. Reaching agreement on a new substantive report was a noteworthy achievement after 2019, when the committee had failed to reach consensus on a report for the second time in a decade. In the words of many delegates, the committee had “hit rock bottom.” Yet this may have been one of the reasons delegations were so open to reform. Failure to reach consensus on a new substantive report in 2019 had diminished the committee’s relevance, which was already in question due to its unwieldy working methods and lengthy reports, as well as the growing number of processes informing peacekeeping policy. Delegations were therefore open and willing to discuss reform as a way to reassert the committee’s relevance.
Many of the lessons from this reform are specific to the unique characteristics and situation of the C-34 in 2019 and 2020. Yet at the same time, it offers some lessons and principles for other UN reform initiatives. Timing and circumstances matter, there must be an appetite for reform, those leading the reform process must listen and be impartial arbiters, and delegations must be patient and have realistic expectations. The reform of the C-34 did not happen in a year—it took close to a decade of steady engagement by consecutive chairs of the Working Group of the Whole, the Bureau, and member states.
The reforms have not led to desirable outcomes for member states on all of their priority issues. Moreover, not all aspects of the A4P reform agenda were addressed equally and substantively across the report. The bigger challenges for the committee moving forward are likely to be around how to ensure mutual accountability and direct requests at member states, the Secretariat, and other stakeholders. Such changes in approach would further increase the relevance of the C-34 going forward. Nonetheless, by providing clearer and more relevant direction to peacekeeping stakeholders, the C-34’s 2020 report is a step in the right direction.