05/11/2010 05:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Keep the Peacekeepers, but Outsource the Support Functions

Ever since the days when South African-based Executive Outcomes defeated UNITA rebel forces in Angola, thus helping to do what UN forces had long been unable to do, i.e., bring an end to the long running civil war there, people periodically bring up the idea of having private military and security firms supplement or even replace UN peacekeeping operations.

Others, such as the trade association IPOA, say its goals "are better supervision of private companies operating under the umbrella of UN or government-led operations and better coordination between private organizations, government, NGOs and international organizations."

It is no secret that while UN peace operations may be necessary, even desirable, nobody goes around saying they are models of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This is for a variety of reasons, not all of them the fault of the UN. Still, given the stakes in terms of lives saved anything that can be done to improve them is worth consideration.

One of the more recent studies on the subject examined the use of private security organizations in a peacekeeping role as a cost-effective and efficient alternative to United Nations peacekeepers, and developed an outsourcing scorecard for the UN.

The article which appeared last November in the South African Journal of Industrial Engineering surveyed forty national and international organizations through questionnaires, a review of relevant literature, and records. It found that outsourcing of support functions would lead to major cost savings in UN peacekeeping operations.

Conceptually, outsourcing UN peace operations is less of a leap than most people think. Every UN peace operation is in and of itself outsourced, as it depends on other nations providing troops for peacekeeping operations, since the UN does not have a standing military army or police force. And currently the specialized activities such as facilities maintenance, catering, and IT are services that are currently outsourced by all UN peacekeeping operations.

The article "Outsourced United Nations Peacekeeping Roles and Support Functions," by K.A. Charles and C.E. Cloete found that outsourcing support functions would ensure more effective, efficient, and expeditiously managed peacekeeping operations.

There are some caveats. The authors note that not all outsourcing is equal. They write that it is essential that top management possess a variety of negotiation and relationship management skills, as well as strategic planning expertise - which are lacking in the UN. Thus, the recruitment of the right personnel is essential, and the objective must be to ensure that outsourcing adds value to the organization

What exactly can be outsourced? The authors write:

The UN has vast assets, from thousands of vehicles to aircraft managed by the integrated support section, with a staff strength of 758 (Chart 2). However, when all support and logistics functions are outsourced, the number of support personnel in the section should be reduced from the original 758 people to just 14 (Chart 3). Thereafter, logistical support to peacekeepers should be undertaken by troop contributing nations and/or the service providers, while all operational functions would be handled by the office of the Force Commander. The most important cost-saving aspect of outsourcing peacekeeping would be the closure of the logistical base at Brindisi, Italy. The expected cost saving would be around $1.29 billion - i.e. $4.47 billion less $3.18 billion, as per the approved budget for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2005 (which includes the logistics base at Brindisi) (Table 2). When equipment maintenance and the rental of facilities are also removed, the cost reduction would be considerable.

It is important to note that outsourcing would also re-engineer staff in the political offices from 200 to 30, because most functions would be outsourced to NGOs, UN agencies, and the local authorities as outlined earlier. Therefore, 30 personnel would run the political office: six persons per office from each of the four remaining political offices under the Deputy SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General]; and an additional six from the office of the SRSG. The reduced administrative and support services sections would act as QA evaluator for the facilities management office. Therefore, a grand total of 58 staff members -22 QAs [Quality Assurance] and 36 political officers - would be required to run a peacekeeping operation when all non-core functions were outsourced. When this is compared to an average of 1,200 who are usually required to run a peacekeeping operation at full strength, there would be a major saving in reduced overhead and administrative costs.

In sum, "outsourcing the activities and functions of the integrated support section and the administrative services section would lead to a 98% reduction in staff strength, or 1,142 personnel including local nationals. This represents a saving in fixed costs - i.e., salaries, allowance, medical pension subsidies, and gratuities. The reduction of staff strength on peacekeeping operations would mean that the size of the DPKO would be reduced, since there would be fewer logistics services to provide. In all, considerable savings in staff remuneration would be recouped."