Nothing quite compares to the complexity and convolutedness that is the United Nations. It is often criticized for being slow and ineffective in its core mission of maintaining peace and security, but would our world be better off without it? I was curious to learn more about UN peacekeeping missions and as a student of the MBA programme in CSR & NGO Management, I had the opportunity to join a two-week training module in Hamburg on the topic.
The “UN Peacekeeping Operations” module is offered by the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College as part of their two-year general staff course, and it generally takes place from late August to early September once a year. While most modules at the Staff College are for military officers only, this segment is unique because it aims to create civil-military cooperation in a simulated peacekeeping mission and relies on civil participation.
Around 75 external participants, including students and working professionals from various backgrounds and nationalities, joined 65 military and navy officers for the two-week course, staying on-site at a modern and well-equipped military barracks. We had all received a course reader several weeks in advance to give us some background knowledge of the UN, so that during the actual program we could delve deeper into real-life peacekeeping missions through the words of seasoned UN professionals.
The first week focused on content. Lectures in the mornings were delivered on topics ranging from humanitarian coordination of a peacekeeping mission to the mandate to protect civilians. Valuable lessons learned through first-hand experiences were shared by distinguished speakers, among them General Manfred Eisele, a former Assistant UN Secretary General under Kofi Annan, and Dr. Wolfgang Weissbrod-Weber, who currently heads the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara.
Eye-opening accounts of missions in Mali, Afghanistan and South Sudan, among others, led to animated break-time discussions with fellow participants, before we separated into 12 different groups for the afternoon sessions. These distinct seminars were designed to prepare participants for the simulated peacekeeping mission the following week by focusing on particular components, such as political, military and humanitarian branches.
I myself chose to join the seminar on public information and communication, which was a new addition this year to the module. Our group received training on speaking in front of the camera and composed a narrative, or key message, that we would share with the public about our imaginary peacekeeping mission.
The second week was the practical application of all we had learned, as we were divided into three UN mission headquarters tasked with assessing the war-torn country of “Kolpoto” that had asked the UN for assistance in implementing a newly signed peace treaty.
I was given a leadership role as the head of the public information department of Headquarters 3 and as designated spokesperson. Participants took on roles in the departments of political affairs, civil affairs, humanitarian coordination, development, police, military and logistics and struggled to coordinate their various tasks through daily meetings between all the heads of the different departments. The goal was to produce a concise plan for the head of the mission by the end of the week. Through it all, the cooperation and mutual learning between the civil and the military participants was crucial.
It was an intense and rewarding experience and I felt that I had been introduced to a whole new world, complete with its own language (there really is no end to the acronyms of the UN and the military). I am grateful for the chance I had to participate in this training module, to network with like-minded individuals and enrich my understanding of the UN, which will contribute to my study and work life in the NGO sector.