United Nations Rapid Deployment

Initial deployment of UN staff into a mission area is often driven by political need and is usually based on limited knowledge of situation on the ground. As a result, camps and facilities are set up in non optimal locations. These camps are very difficult to move later. Secondly, in many missions there is a need to expand rapidly into a new area, which was not accessible on initial deployment. Mission success is very dependent on getting the right staff on the ground quickly; political, humanitarian, rule of law, and others.

UN Headquarters, Member States and now the Global Field Support Center (GFSC) continue to look at a number of different approaches for deploying an initial headquarters rapidly.

UNHQ/DPKO has been trying to secure rapidly deployable security and enabling units from Member States since the mid 1990s through the establishment of a UN Standby Arrangement System. The Brahimi Panel Report of August 2000 reinforced the need for rapid deployment for peacekeeping success. A number of Member States have rapidly deployable capabilities, usually deployed by their military or an emergency rapid response team. These rapidly deployable capacities are scare, expensive and demand a specially trained team to deploy and manage them. UNHQ success in securing a Member State’s rapidly deployable capabilities has been limited mainly because most Member States require significant national debate to approve international deployments and the resource is primarily for national support issues.

The most common rapid deployment method used by UNHQ is to leverage the United Nations Logistic Base (UNLB Brindisi), UN headquarters and other field mission staff to provide surge support to the new mission startup, whilst the new mission recruits its staff from rosters. Security is provided by a Member State, coalition of the willing, AU, EU, NATO, etc until the UN can deploy blue helmets. But physically setting up an initial headquarters in a volatile environment for these critical staff has proven to be every difficult. The use of standard UN equipment and material from the UN Strategic Reserve Stock to construct the new mission facilities demands significant transport resources. As a result this approach requires months to achieve an effective facility on the ground.

At present, the use of a commercial vendor to provide the initial headquarters set-up plus support services is an option being progressed by GFSC. The procurement activity is underway for a camp of 200 staff. Contracting a commercial vendor to work with UN provided equipment presents many issues, which will likely result in a slow deployment.

Many oil and mining companies use semi-permanent camps, which can be installed quickly and then moved and used a number of times. These camps are usually based on some type of soft-wall structures and have all camp facilities included; accommodations, ablutions, warehouses, workshops, offices, etc. They can also be modified to operate in environments from very hot to very cold. In addition, there are service providers who set-up and run these camps with a very small international support element because they quickly recruit and train locals to do most of the tasks. These camps are also very compact to reduce their transportation costs. They are erectable in 1-2 weeks and can be moved in 1-2 weeks.The key is to secure portable equipment and contract a good service provider who can install and operate in austere and volatile environments without UN assistance.

If the UN wants to succeed in securing a rapid deployment capability, it needs to accept that:

  • Rapid deployment demands specialized equipment and services. Much like the the creation of the Strategic Deployment Stock (SDS), there is a need to set up a rapid deployment capacity. UNHQ needs to secure this capacity from the UN Committees and General Assembly. Relying on Member States for their capability is not an effective option.
  • Commercial vendors are already operating in austere and volatile environments for their prime clients. The UN is just another client that should be levering proven commercial success. UNHQ needs to better leverage the commercial market for specific regions.
  • The GFSC needs to secure a proven commercial team who can put together the right support packages for specific mission requirements. This team of experts need not be large. The team should be able to go into areas where UN staff cannot go to secure accurate information and find sub contractors to do the work.
  • An expert UN security team needs to stationed at GFSC to ensure that the deployment solution includes the necessary safety and security measures to allow UN staff deployment as soon as possible.

The UN rapid deployment efforts over the last 15 years have met with limited success. Member States know rapid deployment demands specialized staff, equipment and processes. Member States should therefore be asked to fund this requirement. The UN also knows that deploying UN staff into new volatile areas to conduct effective activities is problematic. A commercial solution controlled through GFSC needs to be put in place.

I look forward to hearing from others who have thoughts and ideas on UN rapid deployment.