Karlsrud highlights opportunities and challenges linked to the use of new technologies in UN peacekeeping

‘A technician team prepare the launch of MONUSCO Unarmed drone during official ceremony with Herve Ladsous, Goma the 3rd of December 2013’. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

John Karlsrud,  Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS), discussed the implications of technological innovations for UN peacekeeping operations in his article  New Tools for Blue Helmets. Dated from 16 June 2015 and published in the Global Peace Operations Review, Karlsrud’s article suggests how these new tools are potential double-edged swords. On the one hand, the use of new technologies can improve peacekeeping at every level of operations while, on the other hand, they may lead to the possibility of further exacerbating tensions due to the complex political environment of peace operations.

Previous experiences, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the current deployment of innovative technologies in UN peace operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, have demonstrated that  technologies may benefit mission objectives. According to Karlsrud, they enable the right type and amount of force to be employed at the right level, at the right place and time. In addition to that, there is an improvement of the situational awareness on the ground, the strengthening of intra and inter-organizational cooperation and better protection of at-risk civilians and troops alike. Similarly, crises can be more accurately mapped and response to natural disasters enhanced. Although the use of drones and other information-gathering tools often grabs the headlines, the technological toolkit also involves mapping softwares, commercial satellite imagery, distribution of mobile phones to the local population, use of signals intelligence, social media, among others.

However, Karlsrud reminds that, without clear political guidelines for their adoption and knowledge about local perceptions in UN peacekeeping contexts, more innovative technologies won’t necessarily lead to better actions to protect civilian or troops on the ground. Gathered data, for instance, could be used for counter-productive efforts while raising questions about privacy and confidentiality issues. Furthermore, in addition to concerns of how data is stored and sensitive information safeguarded, many countries and organizations alike are concerned about “new technologies” being a catchall euphemism for “intelligence gathering”. Correspondingly, many humanitarian actors, driven by principles such as neutrality and impartiality, are wary and reluctant to use observation drones and other information gathering technologies.

Conclusively, it is contended that new technological tools in peacekeeping will require new capacities. Guidelines for their operational use should be developed along with trained experts, technicians and decision-makers to implement and operate them. Concerns about privacy need to be properly addressed and innovative technologies reviewed and adjusted to prevent negative and unintended consequences. ‘If used sensibly and sensitively, they offer an opportunity to create people-centered peacekeeping’, argued Karlsrud.

John Karlsrud’s full article can be found here.