Peacekeeping intelligence: Emerging Concepts for the Future Chapter 14—Hugh Smith, ‘Intelligence and un peacekeeping’ s 26/3 (Aut ‘94)



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The Need for Intelligence

Intelligence is required at all levels and is needed in both the planning and deployment of peacekeeping. Strategic intelligence is obviously required to understand the political situation between the parties to a conflict prior to UN involvement and, once peacekeepers are deployed, to anticipate the political moves of governments or factions, especially if there is a risk of violence.5 The fundamental importance of political intelligence is self-evident, for the UN is seeking to produce a desired political outcome. Information about the economy and society of the country will also be valuable.


Operational intelligence is required to plan the most effective deployment of resources and to carry out the UN mandate. It will be particularly important in fluid military and political situations. The ability to assess the level of armaments, and the movements, strategies, military potential of and likely threats to peacekeepers by the contending factions is obviously vital. The security or insecurity of transport and supplies is also crucial. In addition, there is the vast array of information that military forces need in order to deploy to and maintain themselves in a given country: terrain, weather, transport routes and their usability, water and electricity supplies, hospital and medical resources, risks from disease, communications facilities and local infrastructure. All of these may affect the viabi1ity of the mission in general.
Tactical intelligence is needed by troops on the ground to support peace- keeping activities, such as monitoring cease-fires or border areas and to alert personnel to potential dangers. The identification of breaches of cease-fires, unauthorised troop and weapon movements, the level of demobilisation and the existence of weapons caches can be critical to the maintenance of peace. Such tactical information is liable to pose difficult political problems for the UN and has the potential to take on strategic significance in delicate situations. The management of intelligence at the tactical level, moreover, can be influential in maintaining or losing the UN’s credibility among the parties to the conflict. If intelligence is not deftly handled, it is easy for the organisation to gain a reputation for being slow to react and for gullibility and political partiality. At the tactical level, too, counter-intelligence may be necessary if there are elements hostile to the UN.

Current Deficiencies and Partial Remedies

The existing structure of intelligence in peacekeeping operations is largely ad hoc at both the planning and deployment stages. The UN’s inability to conduct adequate advance planning is one of the acknowledged defects of peacekeeping and is one of the areas currently being strengthened.6 Some of the problems are inherent, such as the suddenness with which some crises arise, but a weakness is often the lack of relevant intelligence. In some instances, the UN is able to send fact-finding missions or reconnaissance and advance parties (as with the UN Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC)), but the scope of these missions is usually limited by a lack of time and resources. More often than not, the UN can provide only minimal information to peacekeepers before they are deployed.


In some instances, states are able to provide their own contingents with the necessary intelligence prior to deployment. Some countries will have extensive knowledge of the area concerned, especially if they have been a colonial power there or are regional neighbours. More likely, however, the contributing state will have had time or no connection with the area concerned. Most participants in peacekeeping operations find themselves operating well outside their area of direct military and political interest. Small and even middle powers simply cannot maintain accurate and current intelligence on every part of the world where they might be called upon to take part in peacekeeping operations.
On deployment, peacekeeping missions will establish some kind of headquarters that will have at least rudimentary facilities for receiving and processing what is called ‘military information’. In most cases, the intelligence function must be built up over a period of time with the personnel that are available end can be spared from less pressing tasks. Even in major operations, such as the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), raw information often had to substitute for intelligence, at least in the early phases when collection plans were lacking and no capacity existed for processing the data gathered. The mixture of nationalities invo1ved also makes for difficult communications as well as revealing national differences in operating procedures and significant variations in the level of training and expertise.

There are also differences in attitude between the various nationalities. Some countries will reject the development of an intelligence capacity because they do not appreciate its significance, because they consider it inappropriate for the UN, or because they see their role as simply collecting data without providing analysis.


National contingents, of course, may partly overcome these problems by receiving intelligence directly from their own governments. Again, the ability of countries to do this varies and difficult situations may arise. Same contingents may be better supplied with intelligence than others or, more significantly, better supplied than the force commander. One UNPROFOR commander, Lieutenant-general Satish Nambiar, for example, could not, as an Indian nationa1, receive intelligence from NATO sources. In these circumstances, the principle of exclusive operational command by the UN may be undermined and the risk of contingents following orders only from their national authorities heightened.7
The ability of nationa1 contingents to collect and process intelligence within their area of operations will also vary. Some, perhaps most, will simply lack the resources, expertise and experience to conduct intelligence activities, while some may lack an interest in doing so. A number of countries, however, will incorporate an intelligence capacity into a contingent as a matter of routine. Their doctrine for nationa1 defence may also focus on the collection of information and the preparation of intelligence in low-level conflicts. Australia and Indonesia, for example, have concentrated on collecting intelligence for low-level conflicts, although for rather different reasons.
The pooling of intelligence in the course of peacekeeping operations is to be welcomed, but there are limitations. Such dissemination normally requires the approval of national headquarters and may require the sanitising of information. A further distinction may be drawn between intelligence that can be retained by other states and intelligence that can be shown to, bot not retained by, other states.8 Existing intelligence links among NATO countries and between the US and other states have proven particularly useful in allowing information to be shared among the countries concerned. In practice, too, contingents may use their own discretion in passing on information and informal networks will develop among some of the contingents.
In some circumstances, the force commander may be able to receive intelligence from a friendly nation that is not available to other national contingents. In the case of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), for example, the Force Commander, Lieutenant General John Sanderson, was no doubt provided with intelligence not only by his own government in Australia, but also by the United States. From the military perspective, this is unlikely to cause problems since commanders are frequently privy to information that their subordinates are not. The problem is, rather, a political one. As an Australian, General Sanderson could receive inte1ligence from the US in a way that, for example, an Indian or a Brazilian force commander could not. Countries might thus be denied the command of peacekeeping operations because of their political alignment.
Against this background of partial, ad hoc arrangements, there will be intelligence failures, usually minor, but sometimes disastrous. An example was the attempt by US Army Rangers to capture General Aideed in July 1993. A carefu11y-planned raid was executed on a suspected hideout, only to discover that the building was the office of a UN agency.9 This failure of intelligence was due in part to a refusal by US forces to share information with the UN. In the subsequent handover to the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II), by contrast, it was the UN that displayed initial reluctance to accept intelligence support from the United States, because of the organisation’s distrust of mi1itary intelligence and of US intelligence in particular.10
In the face of this patchwork of capabilities and ad hoc arrangements, the force commander must do what he can to hold the intelligence function together. The idea of one state playing the lead role in intelligence has been suggested, but this is likely to run into the expected political objections unless one state is playing the lead role in the mission as a whole. In the case of UNPROFOR, the establishment of a headquarters was certainly assisted by a common NATO background, but this is not likely to be a frequent occurrence. In general, an improvement in intelligence capabilities is more likely to occur as part of a wider process of professionalising the military side of peacekeeping in areas such as planning, logistics, training, communications, and command and control.11
An important step in this direction was the creation in 1993 of a Situation Centre at UN headquarters to monitor peacekeeping operations. The Centre gathers and processes information from the field on a continuous and systematic basis. The Centre functions for 24 hours a day and seven days a week, a major improvement on the previous arrangements whereby UN headquarters was accessib1e to peacekeepers in the field for only five days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM. With a staff of about 24, the Centre maintains two officers on duty at all times to receive communications from any UN peacekeeping operation.12 The Centre produces reports on the major operations under way that are then forwarded to the UN secretary-general, via the under-secretary-general for Peacekeeping, by noon each day or more frequently as required.
The Centre, however, does more than simply pass on information received from various transmissions to the UN Secretariat. The Centre has a research and information cell that interprets information received from the field and combines it with data obtained from a wide variety of other sources. The Centre is not a comprehensive intelligence unit, a command centre or a ‘war room’ (as some US Congressmen call it). It does, however, systematise data and has begun to provide an institutional memory.13 The Centre is also going some way towards meeting the growing demand from the UN leadership and from contributing states for intelligence about ongoing operations. It is apparent that, once the benefits of timely and accurate intelligence are understood, both national and international decision-makers will tend to seek even more intelligence.
The UN’s intelligence efforts in peacekeeping operations have thus been limited both in terms of planning and of conducting peacekeeping operations. Some improvements have been made, but the further development of intelligence capabilities raises a number of important issues that point to major constraints and possible inherent limits on what the UN can achieve.


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