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New UN Technology

The need for a new expert panel on technology and UN peace operations

Downloadable PDF version of “The need for a new expert panel on technology and UN peace operations”

Exploring the impact of digital technology on conflict dynamics and peace operations: the story so far

Having served in 2014 on the Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping, I saw how useful such a body could be. It reviewed UN progress, explored new areas, and served as a channel for many new proposals. The 2015 TIP Report was enthusiastically accepted by those UN departments most involved with peacekeeping. An extensive 18-month TIP Implementation Strategy was very quickly developed. Good progress was made as the UN tried out many new technologies in the field, including aerostats (tethered balloons with video cameras), novel UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, for observation), mobile command centres, and new forms of data collection and analysis, as well as more secure means of communication. However, momentum for the TIP Implementation Strategy waned after 18 months. Some progress continued in the field but most of the 120 recommendations from the TIP report were left unimplemented, unexplored and unprioritized.

A stock-taking of progress since the TIP Report would be valuable, especially for the UN’s experiences with new technologies, e.g., UAVs, which have gone from three in 2014 to over 100 at present (mostly mini-UAVs). Many lessons can be learned from the past half-decade. New technologies have been explored, some abandoned, but all of the experiences provide significant opportunities for analysis and institutional learning.

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Peacekeeping games, anyone?

So many people play online as warfighters but, in stark contrast, no one plays as peacekeepers. The immediate explanation is simple: there are no such games. But that is a mystery to me. Peacekeeping is more intellectually and ethically challenging, more deeply meaningful, more emotionally rewarding (saving people), and still includes the challenges (and excitement) of combat. So I began to explore the possibilities of peacekeeping gaming which led to publishing of a detailed paper recently: “From Wargaming to Peacekeeping: Digital Simulations with Peacekeeper Roles Needed” (pdf) in the journal International Peacekeeping.

I first asked myself and my research assistants, avid gamers who became my co-authors: what existing games come close to peacekeeping? A search online for “peacekeeping” games yielded some ridiculous results at first. For instance, the game Peacekeeper – Trench Defense describes itself this way:

Fight epic battles, slay endless waves of enemy hordes, and restore the peace! You’re the Peacekeeper, one of the world’s toughest elite soldiers. A relentless onslaught of enemy troops is invading your land. It’s up to you to restore the peace, and what better way to do that than with your huge arsenal of guns?!

Not exactly what we had in mind.

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From Wargaming to Peacegaming: Digital Simulations with Peacekeeper Roles Needed

A. Walter Dorn, Stewart Webb and Sylvain Pâquet

Originally published in International Peacekeeping, 27:2, 289-310 (2020). (pdf)

ABSTRACT

Militaries around the world have benefited from computerized games. Many recruits have been attracted to the military through military-style video games. After recruitment, games and simulations provide an important means of soldier training, including before actual deployments. However, electronic games are lacking for UN peace operations. The multidimensionality of peacekeeping has yet to be simulated in serious games to complement the many games that too often depict a binary battlefield of blue-team versus red-team (or, often in public games, good versus evil). Not only could soldiers benefit from nuanced and ambitious peace-related games, so too could civilian peacekeepers, and the public at large. Peacekeeping gaming should not be merely at the tactical level; the operational and strategic levels can be gamed as well. The decision-making in future peacekeeping simulations could help instruct conflict-resolution and critical thinking skills. The paper posits that such digital games could be an important tool for current and future peacekeepers, both military and civilian. Commercial games could also help educate the public on UN peacekeeping. The paper suggests that the United Nations partner with some member states and perhaps the video game industry to provide in-depth training simulations that mirror the challenges and complexities of modern peace operations.

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Eliminating Hidden Killers: How Can Technology Help Humanitarian Demining?

Originally published in Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, 8(1): 5, pp. 1–17. (html) (pdf) DOI: https:/doi.org/10.5334/sta.743. For tables see pdf.

Despite twenty-first-century technological advances by Western militaries for demining and the removal of improvised explosive devices, humanitarian demining relies mostly on mid-twentieth-century technology. While international legal efforts to curb the global use of landmines have been quite successful, constraints on humanitarian demining technology mean that unfortunate and preventable deaths of both civilians and deminers continue to occur. Developing devices and technologies to help human deminers successfully and safely carry out their work is a major challenge. Each phase of the physical demining process (i.e., vegetation clearance, mine detection, and removal) can benefit from the development of demining technologies. However, even with the prospect of “smart” demining technology, the human aspect of supervision remains a crucial challenge. Although current research and development hold promise for the future of humanitarian demining, the barriers to progress in the field are more than technical. The prioritization of military operations, a lack of coordination between governments and humanitarian actors, a tendency towards secrecy, and an underlying lack of funding are just some of the roadblocks to eliminating the yearly death toll associated with humanitarian demining, in addition to other impacts on post-conflict societies. This paper calls for new ideas, renewed innovation, and new sources of governmental and non-governmental support for this often-neglected aspect of international security.

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New UN Technology

Two of the fundamental objectives of Pugwash are to reduce the negative applications of technology, such as use and stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, and to increase the positive applications, such as support of UN peace activities like arms control, peace operations, etc. The UN Secretary-General released in September 2018 a “Strategy on New Technologies,” outlining important principles for technologies in general. More particularly, the United Nations is making significant progress in implementing new technologies in its peace activities. For instance, peace operations technologies have expanded more in the past five years than the previous twenty-five, according to the experience and observations of Walter Dorn, who has been following this subject for over 30 years.

CPG member and former CPG Chair Dr. Walter Dorn (www.walterdorn.net) served a member of the UN’s Expert Panel on Technology and Innovation in UN Peacekeeping that produced the 2015 report “Performance Peacekeeping.” Since the mid-1980s, he has been seeking to assist the United Nations in using technology for its peace initiatives. He now co-chairs, with CPG member Robin Collins, the CPG project on New UN Technologies.

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