Ireland seeks EU structure to share UN peacekeeping information

Initiative by Minister of State aims to increase EU participation in UN missions

Ireland will today lead a six-strong group of European Union states that will encourage other EU states to play a larger role in United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world.

The request will be made when the Minister of State for Defence, Paul Kehoe, meets his EU counterparts in Brussels. It has the backing of the UN.

The initiative also has the support of EU member states Sweden, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, but Ireland hopes that wider EU backing can be achieved, including drawing into UN peacekeeping missions countries that are not associated traditionally with UN peacekeeping operations and who do not share Ireland's record of 60 years' unbroken UN duties.

The problem the initiative seeks to address is the uncertainty as to the length of commitment when a country is asked to sign up to a UN peacekeeping mission. Because it is not possible to predict the end of a proposed peacekeeping mission at the outset, some countries are reluctant to sign up.


Under the Irish initiative, participating countries of the EU would be able to commit to a UN mission on a time-limited basis, thereby avoiding what some in the UN describe as a “vicious circle” of unending commitment of resources.

Countries would be able to rotate in and out of UN missions, tailoring their involvement to fit in with other defence commitments they might have to meet.

Information exchange

Mr Kehoe will suggest to other EU defence ministers that member states willing to commit to UN duties meet every three months to exchange information.

The information would include the current state of UN missions in which member states are involved, likely longer-term needs in those missions, new UN missions under consideration and member state availability of resources, were they to commit to a UN mission.

For Ireland, the problem of open-ended commitment has come into sharp focus after the Finnish decision to exit Unifil, the long-standing UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon. Estonian troops are also pulling out.

Ireland has agreed for now to bridge the gap created by the Finnish exit by increasing its commitment to a full Unifil battalion. This means that 442 Irish troops will be assigned to backfill Unifil for the next year, by which time Ireland wants a new partner to replace the Finns so that Irish involvement can be scaled back.

Meeting willing EU partners for to discuss actual and potential UN commitments every three months would allow for so-called horizon planning – that is, planning for the longer term, but on the basis that a commitment sought was not open ended.

One of the key concerns for EU member states contributing to UN missions has been the ability to plan both initial participation and also planned future exits from such operations, consistent with member states' available military capacity, according to an assessment of the problem by the Department of Defence.

Road map

“The initiative we have launched today is designed to provide a road map to enhance co-ordination among our EU partners to deliver greater certainty for member States in contributing to UN missions,” Mr Kehoe will say to his EU counterparts.

The initiative has the backing of the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and is in line with the existing EU-UN strategic partnership relationship.

According to Mr Kehoe, Ireland’s active engagement in all aspects of the EU’s evolving common security and defence policy “has enabled us to influence the EU agenda in collaboration with partners, including ensuring that the UN continues to lie at the heart of EU policy on international crisis management”.

The initiative also comes against a backdrop of deeper engagement between some EU member states discussing the need to enhance European security co-operation in the context of a perceived weakening of the transatlantic relationship because of the advent of US president Donald Trump.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times