March 11, 2004
Untapped Power? The Status of U.N. Information Operations
Multifunctional peacekeeping operations helped define the United Nations' post-Cold War resurgence. Missions such as the United Nations Transition Assistance Group in Namibia (UNTAG) and United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) sought to stabilize war-torn countries, provide temporary administrations, and supervise rebuilding efforts. The capstone of their missions was to organize and monitor free and fair elections and thus provide a final push towards self-governance.
UNTAG and UNTAC succeeded in part because they benefitted from another post-Cold War innovation: active information campaigns designed to help the operations achieve their mandate. Going far beyond public relations, these missions used radio, television, and other outreach efforts (even including puppet shows), to calm local populations’ fears about the nature of the missions, refute rumors that would have harmed the missions, and educate people about elections.
Information is power, and these operations show that information in the hands of the U.N. is power to help promote peace. Yet the U.N. is often reluctant or unable to use this form of power. There has been no sustained program to experiment with information operations, and the United Nations' (U.N.) information capabilities and expertise are getting better but remain inadequate. Why do these problems persist more than a decade after the recognized information successes of UNTAC and UNTAG? How can these problems be fixed?
To answer these questions, I begin by defining information operations. Second, I offer a brief review of UNTAG’s and UNTAC’s information successes to illustrate the potential of information operations. Third, I examine a number of recent U.N. reports and show that information is under-appreciated at the leadership level of the U.N., but that the U.N. is taking steps in the right direction.
Fourth, to understand recent information trends at the field level, I survey three recently launched peacekeeping operations: the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). These missions paint a mixed picture of innovation and inadequacy.
Finally, I show how problems ranging from hardware and training, to bureaucratic inertia stand in the way of the U.N.’s more aggressive use of information.
What are Information Operations?
I define information operations as the use of media (all forms of communication devices from puppets to television) to help a peacekeeping operation accomplish its mandate. At the simplest end of the information operation continuum is basic public affairs, in which a mission spokesperson responds to questions from reporters, puts out self-promotional brochures and news-releases, and so forth.
At the most demanding and aggressive end of the continuum, one can imagine a full scale Chapter VII-authorized use of information involving the equipment and personnel necessary to monitor information in the conflict area, to plan and program information and counter-information activities across a broad array of print and broadcast media, and sufficient hardware to meet these goals. One aim of such a mission might be to defang the propaganda of ethno-nationalist hate mongers.
UNTAC lay in the middle of this continuum of information operations. It relied on consent, used a wide array of information gathering and disseminating techniques, and had a fairly large information staff. Experience from the UNTAG and UNTAC cases discussed below show that can achieve a number of objectives, including:
• Reducing false rumors that adversaries may have about each other (examples: reducing fears of election-day violence, rumors of troop movements or military construction).
• Reducing false rumors that local parties may have about the U.N. operation (example: informing locals that the U.N. is not there to displace people or support one side or another).
• Confirming or reinforcing positive developments (examples: confirming troop withdrawals or disarmament).
• Helping local parties understand why and how to vote, or how to fulfill other functions helpful to society (example: instructions on how to use ballot boxes explaining why votes are secret).
• Disclosing violations by local parties (and the threat of disclosure), which can help spur compliance (example: disclosure reducing pre-election fraud and dirty tricks).
Is the Past a Prelude? UNTAG, UNTAC, and Information
UNTAG was among the first U.N. missions to mount an extensive information campaign. The idea was so new that Cedric Thornberry, Director of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Namibia, began by sitting down with his staff and asking: “What is an information campaign?” UNTAG used radio, television, pamphlets, buttons, stickers, and direct people-to-people to explain voting procedures, secrecy of ballots, repatriation of refugees, the role of U.N. civilian police (UNCIVPOL) units, and to publicize the disarming and removal of South African units. Not only did UNTAG succeed with voter education, it clarified the purposes of its mission, assured voters that it was impartial, calmed refugees’ fears, and reported mostly calming news about the durability of the cease-fire and departure of foreign troops. Many of these issues were the subject of false rumors (of violence that was in fact not happening, for example), and UNTAG’s information campaign defeated these rumors. Fen Osler Hampson notes that “the ability of the United Nations to overcome the suspicions and hostility it faced...was also a key to its success.”
In part due to UNTAG’s successes, the U.N. created a new post for UNTAC: Advisor on Information to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. The advisor, Tim Carney, said that the parties to the Paris Peace Accords (which led to UNTAC) acknowledged early on “the vital, central role of information” and this let him “treat information imaginatively.”
UNTAC launched an ambitious information campaign, and even started its own radio station. Radio UNTAC became the most popular station in Cambodia, and at its peak broadcast fifteen hours a day. Like UNTAG, UNTAC’s information operation enjoyed many educational and rumor-reducing achievements. For example, UNTAC dispelled fears that the ballot-marking pencils contained radio beacons that would reveal votes to the Khmer Rouge and make voters targets for retribution.
Although the situation in Cambodia deteriorated after UNTAC’s departure, most observers lauded the operation. Without information/education, the elections might have failed. Ingrid Lehmann, citing five scholars and UNTAC officials, says that “Radio UNTAC was, according to most observers, one of the prime success stories of the U.N. operation in Cambodia.” Kevin Kennedy, former chief of the Peace and Security section of the U.N. Department of Public Information (DPI) said that Radio UNTAC was “critical.” Yet in 1996, several years after these clearly successful information operations, U.N. scholar Michael Doyle said that the U.N. was “allergic” to information. To some extent, this is still true.
The Status of Information Operations at the Headquarters Level
The August 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, better known as the Brahimi report, remains a keystone for assessing and critiquing peacekeeping operations. The report reveals the U.N.’s inadequate appreciation of information operations in peacekeeping operations. The report’s assessment of the causes of conflict does not recognize the information environment as a factor that can affect the difficulty of coming to or implementing a peace accord. The report ignores issues of whether the media in the conflict area is independent or partisan, sparse or dense, or whether the adversaries are illiterate, or full of rumors, fears, and misinformation. Information tools such as radio and television broadcasting are only mentioned once in a laundry list of expertises that have proven hard to deploy on short notice. The report does not mention broadcasting or print hardware.
The report strongly recommends an Executive Committee on Peace and Security Information and Strategic Analysis Secretariat (EISAS). This sounds promising for information operations, but the focus of this ultimately unsuccessful recommendation was instead to gather and coordinate information about operations and world events.
Only five of the report’s 280 paragraphs are devoted public information (PI). The most encouraging for information operations is number 146:
An effective public information and communications capacity in mission areas is an operational necessity for virtually all United Nations peace operations. Effective communication helps to dispel rumour, to counter disinformation and to secure the cooperation of local populations. It can provide leverage in dealing with leaders of rival groups, enhance security of United Nations personnel and serve as a force multiplier. It is thus essential that every peace operation formulate public information campaign strategies, particularly for key aspects of a mission’s mandate, and that such strategies and the personnel required to implement them be included in the very first elements deployed to help start up a new mission.
While the report is to be commended for recognizing the role of information in dispelling rumors and acting as a force multiplier, the following paragraphs describe how the report led to only one “relatively minor” recommendation for improving information operations.
The Brahimi report’s most critical information-related finding was that “no unit at [U.N.] Headquarters has specific line responsibility for the operational requirements of public information components in peace operations.” They note that the small, but soon expanding, team of four in the Peace and Security Section of the DPI “has had little capacity to create doctrine, strategy or standard operating procedures for public information functions in the field.”
To address this concern, an August 2001 implementation report proposed setting up a team of four information specialists within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions soon blocked this worthy initiative:
The Committee is of the opinion, however, that the Department of Public Information should have a dedicated technical unit to perform the functions described. The operational activities and related programmes should be requested in the context of each peacekeeping mission. Accordingly, the Committee does not agree to the establishment of this functional capacity in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
This assessment implies the improbable: that the DPI is more likely to consider the context of each mission than the DPKO. There is currently only one information specialist, David Wimhurst, within the DPKO. I argue below that the U.N. should greatly expand this capacity.
The Status of Information Operations in the Field
A brief survey of three recently launched operations presents a complex picture, with successes in areas where missions undertake local initiative and innovation, and room for improvement where information operations are under-appreciated. The reason that there is so much variation between missions is lack of leadership and innovation from U.N. headquarters.
UNMEE operates between Ethiopia and Eritrea, where misperceptions run high between adversaries and about the U.N. However, the current chief of mission does not value information, so information efforts are scant. In Kosovo, UNMIK started out with very high UNTAC-like ambitions, but peaked with moderate print and broadcast operations, which were then scaled back. UNMIK appreciates the role of information and is leveraging its limited resources in part by coordinating with and urging stories upon the local media. In Congo, MONUC helps run the most ambitious radio operation in the U.N.’s history, Radio Okapi, developed by an innovative partnership between the U.N. and a Swiss NGO, the Fondation Hirondelle. However, the use of other media by MONUC seems wholly inadequate to the scale of the mission. On the whole, recognition of the potential of information operations is uneven, and information resources are generally insufficient.
United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)
In mid-June 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea signed an OAU-brokered cease-fire, and on June 31, the U.N. Security Council established UNMEE with resolution 1312. Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a permanent peace agreement on December 12, which required “establishment of a neutral Boundary Commission to ‘delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border.’” UNMEE quickly deployed, reaching and then exceeding its mandated strength of 4,200 troops (including 220 observers) in early 2001. It costs about $231 million per year. The core of UNMEE’s mandate is to monitor the cease-fire, the redeployments of the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, and the subsequent buffer zone, as well as to assist the Boundary Commission and to help with demining and humanitarian activities.
Information operations started slowly, suffered setbacks, and remain inadequate. UNMEE radio first broadcast from Eritrea in January 2001. The broadcasts lasted for one hour, and were repeated twice a week. Eritrea suspended broadcasts in October 2001, and permitted resumption of the one-hour shows in June 2002. Ethiopia does not want to cede control of its airwaves, and refuses to give UNMEE free air time. To help circumvent these local difficulties, UNMEE began shortwave broadcasts from the United Arab Emirates, with one hour shows on Tuesdays and Fridays. Considerably reducing the effective length of its shows, UNMEE divides each hour into English and anywhere between three to five local languages.
The central purpose of the broadcasts, and the two outreach centers originally put in each country, is to explain and publicize the mission’s mandate and work. These goals are on the modest end of the information operations continuum, but UNMEE’s means remain insufficient for the task. For example, the information centers have staff and documentation to help citizens understand the U.N., the peace process, and to increase mine awareness. Before the Eritrean government shut down its two centers in mid-summer, 2003, the center in the Eritrean capitol of Asmara (population: 435,000) served only several hundred people a week. UNMEE’s weekly press briefings are still the “key instrument for disseminating news about the Mission’s activities.” A weekly press briefing does not a meaningful information operation make.
This is unfortunate because, according to Chris Coleman, team leader for UNMEE at the DPKO, there are still many misperceptions and misunderstandings to clear up. A March 2002 U.N. report notes that there remains tensions and suspicions between the two side’s forces. Coleman stressed that the biggest need was for the proactive use of information, to clarify the role of UNMEE and especially that of the Boundary Commission.
Both Eritrea and especially Ethiopia resist U.N. information efforts. However, another U.N. official (not Coleman) placed the blame for inadequate use of information by UNMEE on current chief of mission: he “does not subscribe to the importance of public information on a regular basis.”
U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)
On June 10, 1999, Security Council Resolution 1244 created UNMIK to help Kosovo move towards autonomy from Serbian-led Yugoslavia. The Security Council mandated UNMIK to help with civilian administration and promote self-government in Kosovo, help coordinate the humanitarian efforts of international agencies, help maintain law and order, promote human rights, and assist with refugee repatriation.
The broad range of the mandate requires education of the populace on a range of issues, from the operation of a free market economy and political development, to forming a new Constitutional Framework. To service these needs, UNMIK produces biweekly, hour-long television broadcasts (formerly weekly, 25 minute long) on issues from human rights to health, including “themes that are still too sensitive for local media to cover,” as well as issues that the local media neglects to cover such as violence against Serbs. UNMIK also produces a monthly program on crime, and another on the economy.
On radio, UNMIK broadcasts a five minute daily program in Albanian, Serbian, and English, and a six-minute weekly roundup. UNMIK borrows station time for its TV and radio programs. UNMIK’s print unit covers the same themes as the broadcast division with their bimonthly magazine, fact sheets, booklets and leaflets, and UNMIK newsletters. They used to produce weekly inserts for local newspapers.
The print effort is more substantial than the broadcast activities, but all seem to pale before the scope of the mandate and before the number of other information sources in the area (some 92 radio stations, 24 television stations, and seven daily newspapers). This is not an indictment per se; it is difficult for the U.N. to compete in a dense media environment.
Nonetheless, some in UNMIK went in hoping to replicate the UNTAC model – but the resources and political support were not there. For example, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and UNMIK divided media responsibilities, but cooperation between the two soon soured. Instead of sharing the information burden, OSCE and UNMIK policies often conflicted and/or their initiatives were redundant.
There are three positives about information operations in Kosovo. The first is UNMIK’s Temporary Media Commissioner who monitors the media and ensures adherence to print and broadcast codes. The aim is to prevent libel, overtly hostile hate radio broadcasts, and so forth. The Commissioner has the authority to fine violators, which, combined with UNMIK Regulation 2000/4 prohibiting hate speech, give the U.N. the authority to aggressively control the information flow and reduce tensions. In practice, limiting hate speech has proved difficult, but these attempts offer a useful precedent.
The second was the cooperation between UNMIK and the Fondation Hirondelle to set up the Blue Sky radio station. Funded by the Swiss government, the station was a step towards strengthening independent journalism in Kosovo, a move opposed by groups ranging from political parties to organized crime. Blue Sky started up in October 1999, but was folded into Radio Television Kosovo (RTK) in July 2000. RTK is the national public broadcaster in Kosovo, supervised by the OSCE and managed by the European Broadcasting Union. Blue Sky covered UNMIK’s activities, and other developments in Kosovo, thus was an information-multiplier for UNMIK. Although it is not common practice in the realm of information, Blue Sky demonstrated productive collaboration between the U.N. and an NGO to meet common goals.
Finally, UNMIK officials use techniques more subtle than direct broadcasting to influence the information flow. According to UNMIK press officer Eleanor Beardsley, in one instance in August 2002, UNMIK began arresting major Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) heroes for war crimes. As the anti-Serb KLA enjoys considerable support in Kosovo, 10,000 Kosovars took to the street in violent protest. UNMIK got the top police officials on the TV that night and showed that those arrested had indeed tortured Kosovar Albanians suspected of collaborating with the Serbs. The protests “stopped on a dime.”
To help get good stories out, UNMIK hosts dinners for editors and intellectuals to talk on background, and UNMIK brings journalists along for police operations. Having locals help produce UNMIK’s print and broadcast output helps build credibility. Ms. Beardsley said “We are in the business of changing society and hearts and minds here....There is so much twisting of information and misinformation out there, especially in the Balkans. So we don’t try to counter all of it. But we do fight back.” UNMIK’s intentions are good, and they are doing the best they can with limited resources.
United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC)
In July 1999, the U.N. passed Security Council resolution 1258 which authorized the deployment of up to 90 military liaison personnel to the region around the Democratic Republic of Congo. In November, the U.N. formed MONUC at a strength of about 600 (500 observers plus the previous 90 liaison and survey personnel) with resolution 1279. Then in February 2000, resolution 1291 expanded MONUC to more than 5,500 military personnel. The deployed strength as of December 31, 2002, was 4,420 military personnel, 49 civilian police, and 559 international and 675 local civilian personnel. Most of the parties signed a peace agreement in December 2002, but conflict continues between various ethnic groups within Congo.
In resolution 1291, the Security Council mandated MONUC to monitor the cease-fire, establish liaison with all parties, collect information on the parties’ forces, help to disarm and demobilize those forces, supervise and verify the disengagement of forces, monitor the disengagement line, as well as to assist with humanitarian activities and demining. MONUC deployed into a violent and complicated ongoing conflict.
Some of Monuc’s information operations are fairly typical. For example, it produced some 60,000 posters and 50,000 bumper stickers from June to October 2002. It puts out a monthly magazine in French with a circulation of 5,000, a weekly newsletter, and a biweekly bulletin; as well as compiling a daily press review with news clippings. A major theme is to encourage combatants to disarm and repatriate.
There is one remarkable information-related innovation: Radio Okapi. Radio Okapi broadcasts twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It reaches the whole Congo on FM via eight relay stations and on shortwave via three transmitters. Launched in February 2002, Radio Okapi’s content ranges from music to news, and includes material provided by the U.N. or interviews with MONUC officials. The main peace-related topics peace are: disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement, and reintegration. According to David Smith, MONUC’s chief of information:
There is no single voice that unites all the Congolese people. This radio project will allow people in the rebel-held territories to speak to people in government-controlled territories for the first time since the war broke out. A big role of the radio will be to convince people that it’s in their interest to lay down their arms and either be repatriated to their home country, if they come from somewhere else, or to find ways to join civil society and leave the war behind.
Radio Okapi is a joint project between MONUC and the Swiss-based NGO Fondation Hirondelle. Smith and David Wimhurst of the U.N. and the Fondation Hirondelle began planning the station in June 2001. The Fondation Hirondelle raised the funds, bought the equipment, and donated it to the U.N. which then deployed it out of Brindisi, Italy (the location of the U.N.’s rapid deployment logistics base (UNLB). The NGO currently pays about eighty-five percent of the operating expenses. The main station is located in MONUC’s Kinshasa headquarters but Radio Okapi is sufficiently independent that, says Smith, it might even criticize the U.N.’s role in the country. Beyond sheer ambition, Radio Okapi innovated in a number of ways: bypassing the U.N. procurement system, direct ties between the U.N. and an NGO (including legal agreements between them), and speed of deployment: concept to broadcast in seven months. According to Wimhurst, “The U.N. can’t do this by itself. The partnership model is successful for the audience, the donors, the mission, and it will leave behind a well-funded independent radio for the Congo.”
Asked what effect the radio had in the Congo, an official at the Fondation Hirondelle said it was hard to judge as yet, but that in-country polling revealed that it had become the most popular station in the country within six months of its launch.
Conclusion: Impediments to U.N. Information Operations
Despite some areas of progress, there are many hurdles to overcome before the U.N. can use information operations to maximum advantage. These include difficulties with personnel, planning, and hardware, and bureaucratic resistance. There are also fears about keeping information operations impartial, and fears that information operations are tantamount to spying by the U.N. or member states. The fundamental problem for information operations at the U.N. is that they remain ad hoc, with little institutionalized support, and without sufficient planning and resources coming from the highest levels.
Personnel Capabilities: Problems with Recruitment, Staffing, and Training
The major personnel problem is that there is insufficient training for information operations. As a result, it takes too much time to assemble an information team. There is still a long way to go towards developing a useful rapid deployment roster and some of the reported progress in the years-long effort is “just PR” [public relations].
The DPI and the DPKO have organized some public information-related workshops and training exercises, including one in Dakar in late 2003 to train public information officers in Africa how to handle issues that come up with demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR). Unfortunately, the DPKO resisted this effort and sent a lower level staffer than the DPI had wished for.
The U.N. received a grant from the British government’s Department for International Development to train information officers, but has yet to find a teacher. Unfortunately, the few people who could teach the course are too busy helping in the field to teach. Finally, training for public information issues related to tasks such as DDR is worthy, but there is no training for the nuts and bolts of public information: how to set up an office when deployed, logistics, budgeting, procurement, and so forth. Some “fifty percent of staff are not adequately trained or prepared for missions in the field. This is major...the single greatest weakness in public information.” Recruitment is another problem, in part because there are no hiring and recruitment staff with a background in public information.
Information Planning: Becoming a Higher Priority, but Problems with Doctrine and Procedures Remain
Planners must fully integrate information operations when preparing peacekeeping missions. On the positive side, on July 23, 2003, the Secretary-General sent out a “Guidance to Special Representatives of the Secretary-General: Public Information and Media Relations in United Nations Peace Operations,” giving general guidance for how Heads of Mission should work with their respective spokespersons and public information officers and what kinds of information they should be gathering and disseminating. Another positive is a chapter on Public Information in a forthcoming U.N. handbook on multidimensional operations. The book leaves specific operational instructions aside, but goes into admirable depth on the need for information operations to confront hate media, to explain the purpose of the mission to the local population, of developing independent media capabilities in-country, to play a proactive role in countering misperceptions, and to engage in counter-propaganda.
Despite these developments, there seem to be perpetual delays in formulating information standard operating procedures (SOPs), and public information staff face hurdles trying to communicate their needs to the planners. According to one source, the SOPs were in draft form in October 2001, and have been almost done for two years, but the DPI’s Peace and Security Section has been too overwhelmed to finalize them. Another problem in designing information missions and tailoring them once they are in place is that there are no metrics (polling, surveys, etc.) for measuring the impact of various media efforts. The U.N. can get messages out, but it can not assess their effects.
Hardware Capabilities: Considerable Progress and Potential
The U.N. has made considerable progress with hardware in two ways. The first is the pioneering cooperative effort between the Fondation Hirondelle and the U.N. in MONUC to provide radio coverage across the Congo (see above). This is a real hardware (and expertise) multiplier for the U.N., and provides a model for future innovation. Increasing numbers of NGOs such as Search for Common Ground, Clandestine Radio, and the Open Society Institute have joined the information fray and are trying to combat hate radio and promote peace in various areas. Many governments recognize the value of positive information and the necessity of combating hate radio; the British, Swiss, and U.S. governments are the three largest funders of Radio Okapi, and they channel the funds through their support of the Fondation Hirondelle.
The second is the acquisition of Public Information Strategic Deployment Stocks (SDS) for rapid deployment of media operations, located at the UNLB in Brindisi. The U.N. has procured about $1.5 million in equipment, mostly for radio broadcasting, along with materiel for print and video media. However, the procurement and deployment mechanisms are convoluted and inefficient. Information materiel is procured through two different U.N. entities (supply and communications), and arrives in Brindisi in a haphazard way with no asssurance of compatibility. From there, materiel is stored in different locations, and in part because different departments must release the equipment, it gets sent out from Brindisi in different packages.
The U.N. first used the SDS in its recent deployment to Liberia. The information team barely got a minimal broadcast out the first day. The information officers could not find their main transmitter for seven weeks, and they personally had to unload and search through hundreds of tons of equipment looking for the information materiel. Instead of being rapidly deployable, poor shipping procedures and inventory management meant that equipment languished on the docks.
Bureaucratic problems exacerbate several of the above mentioned hurdles facing information operations at the U.N. First, coordination will be hampered so long as the DPKO continues to have only one information officer in its 600 person-strong department. Second, physical distance between the DPI and the DPKO within U.N. headquarters limits cooperation. Third, the DPKO still does not pay enough attention information operations.
Fourth, the DPI focuses almost entirely on producing content, and the DPI has no one who focuses on technical issues (the technical people are outside contractors). The DPI also has no specialists in the logistics chain necessary to support information operations. Finally, many sources lamented that the DPI is over-centralized, lacks innovation, is self-absorbed, is insufficiently focused on peacekeeping (and other) missions in the field, and lacks respect from member nations and other units within the U.N.
One way to ameliorate these problems is to create a strong, dedicated information unit within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Such a unit is more likely to think creatively about using information in ways that go beyond self-promotion or clarification of an operation’s purposes (valuable as those functions are). The sole focus of the DPKO is the mandates of missions, while the DPI has responsibilities throughout the U.N. Hence, from a bureaucratic politics perspective, the DPKO is more likely to use information aggressively and creatively to serve the mission, and have less institutional incentive or momentum to divert information resources away from the mandate. There are staffers with DPKO experience in the Peace and Security Section of the DPI. This kind of cross-pollinization helps both the DPI and the DPKO, and should be increased, as should rotations between the field and the U.N. in New York.
An information unit within the DPKO would be the kind of bureaucratic shakeup that would lead both units to innovate. For example, if the DPKO gained more control of information operations, the DPI might feel increased competitive incentives to help more aggressively in the field. As is, information operations face greater structural hurdles than they should because most of the DPI is innovation-averse. Likewise, those in the DPKO who undervalue information operations might reassess if the DPKO contained more information advocates. A final argument for more information-resources to go to the DPKO is that for each civilian component in the field (finance, personnel, etc), the DPKO has a corresponding support unit in house – except for public information.
Some may fear increased information operations will cause resource loss from their own divisions. Luckily, information operations are cheap. For example, MONUC cost 608 million dollars from July 2002 through June 2003. Yet Radio Okapi, the most ambitious radio operation in the history of the U.N. costs about four million dollars a year – about two-thirds of one percent of MONUC’s expenses.
Fears of Losing Impartiality and Fears of Spying
A source of resistance for information operations is that member states fear spying by the U.N. and are suspicious of activities with the word “information” in their titles. In addition, many in the U.N. fear that the more active use of information would jeopardize its impartiality. I address these concerns in turn.
First, fears of spying can not be waved away; it will take time and experience with information operations. Those who fear can be reminded that survey missions and strategic analysis routinely precede peacekeeping operations, and all peacekeeping operations collect information (on such topics as the sources and nature of rumors, location and armament of adversaries, etc.), just to be effective. Despite this, some governments, particularly in Africa, resist even fact-finding missions. In this context, it is understandable that information operations and radio stations are “threatening and provoke caution in an organization where sovereignty is king.”
Second, fears that information operations will impair the U.N.’s impartiality are off base. Consider the Brahimi report’s sage advice about operations which may find themselves in violent situations:
Impartiality for such operations must therefore mean adherence to the principles of the Charter and the objectives of a mandate that is rooted in those principles. Such impartiality is not the same as neutrality or equal treatment of all parties in all cases for all time, which can amount to a policy of appeasement. In some cases, local parties consist not of moral equals but of obvious aggressors and victims, and peacekeepers may not only be operationally justified in using force but morally compelled to do so.
The U.N. will not lose impartiality by using truthful information. In any operation which deploys thousands of peacekeepers, it strains credulity to think that radio broadcasts will be the determining factor that makes the mission seem biased or partial. Indeed, information operations are often necessary to help combat misperceptions of bias.
Where aggressors are determined, little will stop them - including information. But where peace and war hang in the balance, there is evidence that information operations can coerce violators into better behavior. Combined with the clear benefits of explaining the mission, teaching about elections, defusing rumors and misperceptions, there are few if any sound reasons not to proceed with more robust information operations.
This article argues that the U.N. does not adequately understand the power of information. The U.N. continues to face barriers and problems as it plans for the future of information operations. This article should strengthen the arguments of those who wish to overcome these barriers and use information to more actively promote peace.