Force generation is the process by which the UN Secretariat generates, rotates, and repatriates contributions of military and police personnel and equipment from member states, based on the requirements derived for each peace operation from its UN Security Council resolution. At the UN, force generation is a time-intensive, complex process that must be completed with great speed. It is based on plans developed without a precise understanding of the capabilities available to operationalize those plans. It is a highly technical process requiring intricate knowledge and careful logistics that must also be cognizant of—and sometimes subordinate to—politics. It requires deep institutional knowledge, but is largely conducted by military staff seconded from UN member states for only limited periods of time. Such contradictions highlight the political, bureaucratic, and logistical challenges to effective force generation that are systemic—and, in some cases, unavoidable.
Consequently, capability gaps are an almost constant feature of UN peacekeeping operations. Such gaps can stem from both the lack of particular assets (e.g., military utility helicopters) but also the uneven performance of deployed assets (e.g., a particular military or police contingent). Despite progress in a number of areas, initial efforts to adopt a “capability-driven approach” (as opposed to a “numbers-based approach”) to UN peacekeeping have yet to produce the desired effects. The UN’s system of force generation, a logical starting point for such efforts, has not yet been the subject of targeted study or reform.
Such a study is timely because the UN force generation system stands at a crossroads. Financial constraints, combined with the resistance of some host-country governments to large troop deployments on their territory, may lead to peacekeeping missions with smaller footprints. At the same time, new, emerging, and so-called “returning” troop and police-contributing countries (TCC/PCCs) are expressing greater interest in contributing capabilities to UN operations. In theory, a higher supply of capabilities on offer, combined with a fixed demand, could present a window of opportunity for the UN to generate better capabilities while also filling capability gaps. But to seize this potential opportunity, the UN must reform the way it thinks about and executes force generation.