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Strategic Thinking

A native woman carrying firewood.

author’s collection

The war in Sudan has left the South the poorest region in the world.

Struggling for Efficiency: Observations on UN Strategic and Institutional Leadership, South Sudan, 2005-2006

by Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Goodspeed

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At the time of writing this article, the United Nations (UN) Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) appears to be succeeding, and in the foreseeable short term, it seems unlikely that South Sudan will relapse into civil war as a result of security related issues. In this respect, United Nations efforts have been extremely worthwhile. Nonetheless, working as a member of the United Nations in the Sudan was often a frustrating experience. Despite the organization’s maddening sluggishness and its unending flood of administrative gaffes, it should be remembered that it is the only organization that is implementing the peace agreement and carrying out a program to provide a measure of security in that anguished part of the world. By any reckoning, this constitutes success. In this respect, my assessments of the leadership issues that I encountered while on duty with the UN should be viewed in light of my support for the notion that the UN is an indispensable international institution doing an essential job. But it is an institution that desperately needs to be reformed – not abolished or marginalized.

It is easy to be cynical about the UN. It is much harder to furnish constructive analyses on the institution’s collective leadership. It is in this latter spirit that this article has been prepared.

As with any such complex mission, most of the truly significant leadership issues proved to be ones that had elements reaching across the spectrum. Accordingly, in Sudan and in UNMIS, one can find relevant topics affecting direct leadership, institutional leadership, and the strategic levels of leadership. However, because my position allowed me an excellent vantage point from which to observe much of the internal workings of the military component of UNMIS, I have chosen to restrict the comments in this paper to the strategic and institutional levels of the mission’s leadership.

Map of Sudan

CMJ map by Monica Muller

Map of Sudan

Historical Background

To understand the context of leadership issues in UNMIS, it is important to appreciate the situation that existed there. Violent tensions have existed between northerners and southerners in the Sudan since the days when the Pharaoh’s soldiers forayed south from Egypt and into the Sudan to seize slaves for building the pyramids. In January 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended a civil war that had blazed almost continuously since the country’s independence in 1956. Essentially, since the end of British rule, the African south has resisted the Arabic north’s attempts to impose upon it by force the three cornerstones of Khartoum’s Southern Policy: conversion of the south to Islam, imposition of Sharia law, and the forcible spread of its Arabic culture. In addition to these long-standing causes of the war, at least, since the late 1970s, the African south has demanded its fair share of the wealth generated from the country’s newly discovered oil fields. Most of these oil fields lie in the south, while virtually all oil revenues ended up going to the government in Khartoum.

The war was a protracted guerrilla campaign that saw the makeshift south Sudanese army (the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or SPLA), pitted against the north’s better- trained and equipped standing army. The war, because of its racial and religious overtones, was particularly vicious. It was eloquently, but chillingly, described to me by one northern veteran, a senior Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) officer, as being an endless succession of “just patrolling, ambushes and burning villages; everyday, just patrolling, ambushes and burning villages.”1 This epigrammatic description of the war probably explains quite accurately why there were four million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) – as well as why the actual conduct of the war went largely unrecorded. With the exception of a smattering of armoured vehicles, a few helicopter gun ships and Antonov transports, the war was, for the most part, a very low technology struggle fought almost entirely in southern Sudan. The war uprooted more than four million people and killed over two million all told.2 Throughout the years, the north garrisoned key cities and towns along the Nile and clung to a few principal provincial centres that possessed major airfields. From out of these bases, northern troops periodically patrolled, fighting a kind of ‘on-again, off-again’ ‘search and destroy’ campaign. For most of the war, the SPLA lived in the bush, in small towns and villages, and conducted endless small-scale raids and ambushes. Their efforts steadily drained the north of its will to fight, and bled it both militarily and economically.

The peace agreement consisted of five elements: the underlying principles for the peace accord; a formula for power sharing in a new, united Sudan; a formula for wealth sharing, particularly the sharing of oil revenues; the resolution of long-standing north-south boundary disputes; and, most importantly for the military contingent of UNMIS, the security arrangements that had to be put in place to provide the country with a peaceable future. It is important to note that the peace agreement was not merely a ceasefire implementation process. It was a complex accord that had numerous simultaneous actions, all of which, depending upon how they were implemented, could cement the peace process – or could lead to renewed hostilities.

By the time the UN arrived in the region, and throughout the duration of my tour, there was still considerable banditry in south Sudan, but organized fighting between the two sides had stopped. The UN, therefore, was tasked to conduct a monitoring and verification peace support operation and to provide support to assist acceptance of the Peace Agreement.3 Force was only authorized to protect UN personnel, or to protect civilians and IDPs in circumstances “where they are in immediate danger and if no other protection is available.”4 Despite the elaborately worded references to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which normally is the authorization for a more aggressive use of force for peace enforcement, the mission was, to all intents and purposes, a Chapter VI monitoring and verification operation.

A CMJC meeting

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The CJMC in session in Juba, April 2006. Lieutenant General Lidder (top right) is chairing the meeting.

The International Context, the Leadership, and the Challenges

My role in the mission was to serve as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Joint Monitoring and Control Organization. (JMCO) The JMCO was a small, multinational staff deliberately located well forward in the long-besieged and impoverished city of Juba in south Sudan. The JMCO provided staff assistance to Sudan’s most senior military negotiators, and it conducted daily preparatory discussions with the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army.

From the perspective of strategic leadership, UNMIS clearly illustrated many of the strengths and weaknesses of the UN. Perhaps the most obvious strategic problem that plagued the mission to south Sudan was that it was a peacekeeping mission, rather than a peacemaking mission, and it was deployed much later than it should have been. By the time the UN and the international community stepped in, the war had burnt itself out. There is no question that the UN’s presence in Sudan has done much to save lives and to ensure that the fighting did not break out again. But, as one sage old sergeant said to me the day I got my orders for the Sudan: “That’s great sir, but you’re leaving three or four years too late.”

Of course, the international community cares about such places as the Sudan. The problem is it just does not care enough to actually do anything to prevent or stop these kinds of outrages from taking place. And that, in the simplest terms, is the overriding strategic failing of the United Nations and its political leaders. It is a failing that colours and permeates the operations and workings of the entire organization. At the heart of many UN operations, the broader international commitment to peace-support operations is extremely limited, and there is no willingness to assume any risk on behalf of a cause that is not perceived as an immediate threat to all members of the Security Council.

To put a respectable face on this bald strategic and political failing, there is, in many circles of the UN, an aura of self-important bluster and smug piety with respect to its operations. Fortunately, these attitudes are kept in check by many of the institution’s soldiers and civilians who tacitly appreciate the true nature of their deployment and the particular circumstances surrounding the creation of UNMIS. When the highest level of political commitment to an operation is patently hollow, the odds of it being overwhelmingly successful are small. In this case, the UN, for want of member support, had to opt for the much simpler and much more easily achievable task of overseeing a peace agreement long after the real damage had been inflicted. The work the UN was ultimately called upon to do – to oversee and to nurture the peace process – was a useful, necessary, and often difficult task, but it was a job that was, tragically, undertaken much too late.

Notwithstanding the belated strategic context of the mission, the quality of the mission’s strategic leaders was high. For all intents and purposes, there were, in reality, only two truly strategic leaders on the ground: the Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG), and his Force Commander.5

The SRSG, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, was criticized perpetually by the Sudanese press, and, dismayingly, by far too many of his civilian UN employees, for being insufficiently diplomatic – a trait most soldiers in the mission found to be a refresh-ing and desperately-needed attribute in the UN’s official, but nonetheless hypocritical, institutional environment of moral equivalence. Despite such differing opinions of the political strategic leadership, the fact remained that, unless the most senior UN official spoke plainly about linking the crisis in Darfur with the wider prospects for peace in the south, all efforts toward a lasting peace in Sudan would have become a charade. In this respect, the SRSG displayed a high degree of honesty, candour and integrity – all of which are fundamental preconditions for strategic leadership. But unfortunately, they would seem to be traits that have all too frequently been sacrificed at the most senior diplomatic levels in favour of short-term expediency.

The Force Commanders (there were two of them during my tour, Major General Akbar from Bangladesh, and Lieutenant General Lidder from India) were both highly principled, shrewd, tough, energetic, experienced and capable soldiers. Given the mandate they were tasked to implement, they both wrestled, for the most part successfully, with problems that were not of their making. And given the constraints imposed upon them, they managed to keep the peace process from foundering. Both officers moved the peace process forward. In doing so, both Force Commanders displayed an infectiously optimistic outlook which they translated into an endlessly patient but practical vision for implementing the CPA. And both men, in their own very different ways, were successful in motivating a highly diverse military organization.

It is worthwhile noting that in UNMIS’s early days, the UN has certainly done a good job in choosing its strategic leaders for the Sudan. And while the collective UN leadership in New York is readily singled out and censured for its shortcomings, it must be given full credit for wise decisions with respect to leadership selection. Leadership is a critical skill, and one that can compensate down the line for other institutional shortcomings. The reverse, of course, is that when poor strategic leaders are placed in positions of power, other problems are invariably amplified.

Strategic leadership in a peacekeeping mission differs from that of a traditional warfighting campaign. In the context of a Chapter VI peacekeeping mission, the key features of the commander’s plan are, for the most part, developed for him in detail by the terms of the peace agreement. In implementing a sequence of actions that have been hammered out carefully by those who preceded the commander at the peace conference, there is little scope left for broad changes to the plan. Nonetheless, the Force Commander can do much to influence the pace and tone of operations. He can develop personal relationships with key players on both sides, and, through these relationships, he can cultivate and influence the long-term expectations of all parties. Of equal importance, the Force Commander sets the tone as to how aggressively and doggedly the military component of a peacekeeping mission reacts to threats to the ceasefire. In this respect, his strategic influence is vital to the success of the operation. Often, the personal influence of the Force Commander can have an immediate calming influence when there are breaches of the ceasefire, or, as is often the case, when, over time, tension builds between the two sides. On a long-term basis, his personality and influence do much to shape and develop the attitudes of the belligerent parties. And, in this respect, trust, goodwill and a cautious respect for the peacekeeping force must be regarded as strategically valuable assets.

Strategic commanders in a multi-national peacekeeping setting are faced with some unique difficulties in terms of welding together a team that will be responsive to his objectives and operating style. Force Commanders are usually rotated in and out of their positions on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. This, in a multinational and multicultural setting, creates difficulties of continuity and focus. Also in the UN context, a strategic leader will likely have little control over who is on his staff, what position they will hold and what training and preparation they will have undergone. This sharing of the peacekeeper’s strategic responsibilities with the UN staff in New York reduces the commander’s flexibility and places demands on his creativity and time management skills. Fortunately, the staff of the Directorate of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has, for the most part, managed to ensure that most of the key positions in their field headquarters are filled by reasonably competent and experienced individuals. Nonetheless, the issue of quality in key staff officers remains, for obvious reasons, an extremely sensitive matter. For if the international selection pool is small, and is based solely upon current availability rather than well established national commitments, the likelihood of having incompetents in a key staff position rises dramatically. This, in turn, affects the character and prospects of success for the entire mission.

Thus, one of the long-term reforms that Canada should champion in DPKO is the institution of practical and clearly defined quality control standards for officers who are assigned to important staff positions for UN operations. This, of course, presupposes that Canada is not only willing, but also is capable of providing significant numbers of our own most promising and energetic officers for staff service in support of UN operations. Given our constraints on the number of formed units we can supply to such endeavours, Canada, with only a modest increase to its existing investment, could do much to enhance the UN’s institutional effectiveness, strengthen the key staffs of the UN’s most senior commanders, and, at the same time, rebuild our profile in an important international institution.6


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SPLA troops on the move during Independence Day.

The strategic demands of the most senior leadership in a UN peacekeeping operation vary in degree rather than kind from those of a coalition commander in a warfighting operation. The nature of command, the degree of authority, the diplomatic nuances, the need to project a strong personal identity, the degree of trust in – as well as the expectations that the commander has of his staffs, formations and units – are all in one form or another different. Some might argue that different kinds of personalities and backgrounds are required for a strategic leader in peacekeeping. However, what is common to the warfighting strategic leader and the peacekeeper is that both leaders require a strong military background and depth of experience in order to make the kinds of decisions that will be required of them. And, not of least importance, a peacekeeping general officer, like the most junior military observer, must, at all times, have military credibility with the warring parties. The issue of credibility is unfortunately often overlooked in discussions regarding the nature of Chapter VI peacekeeping.

One of the overarching and distinguishing features of UN operations is that they are all too often ‘ad hoc’ affairs. This is, in part, driven by the fact that each and every UN mission is dependent upon the goodwill of member states to volunteer troops, equipment, and funding. As was the case in the Sudan, pledges that are made are often not kept. Deadlines are frequently ignored, and quality and quantity assurances are routinely disregarded. This built-in uncertainty, in addition to other intrinsic disadvantages, drives an environment of caution and circumspection that affects every level of leadership. Combined with the fact that the UN is, at heart, a multicultural organization infused with what to all intents and purposes is a voluntary outlook, many individuals within the institution display a work ethic comparable to that found in a charitable fundraising association. There are thousands of enormously hard- working people in the UN, but there is also a disturbingly high percentage of dead weight. In these circumstances, the strategic leader’s range of action is constrained, and the issue of command presence takes on a unique connotation. The Force Commander is looked upon to set the organizational tone, and this is not an easy thing to do within a cumbersome multicultural force that displays a wide range of attitudes on matters such as personal work ethics, loyalty, commitment, and cooperation. Moving an agenda forward and working around the expectations and attitudes of such a diverse force is not an easy task, but it is an inescapable element of the strategic leader’s environment in the UN.

Perhaps some of the most compelling and insightful examples of strategic leadership that we should study are to be found amongst the warring parties themselves. Unfortunately, detailed knowledge of the parties to the conflict in the Sudan proved to be one of the areas in which we were inadequately prepared. Sudan was an excellent setting for examining leadership in the context of sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab world. One of the most obvious examples of strategic leadership is embodied in John Garang.

Garang, the charismatic leader of the SPLA, died in a helicopter crash shortly before I arrived in the country, but, even in death, his influence upon the traditions and behaviour of the south Sudanese military and political leadership was profound. Garang was, in his lifetime, and in the period following his death, accorded legendary status. Unfortunately, other than what can be gleaned from overly simplistic popular press clippings, we know very little about the man, what made him so admired, what were the key elements of success in his military and political leadership style and what circumstances enabled him to fire the imagination of so many people. Likewise, with the leadership of the Sudanese military, despite our proximity in working with them, we (and I would include virtually everyone I met in the UN in the category of ‘we’) still know very little about their leaders and their general leadership milieu.

There is likely to be turmoil in Africa for some time to come. Accordingly, the Canadian Forces (CF), and the rest of the world, should learn considerably more about the belligerent leaders and their situations than we know at present. Perhaps deliberately focussed, well-considered post-graduate study at RMC and the defence forum universities will provide us with a more useful insight into these men and their conditions. Such work would also provide us with a much better understanding of the nature of modern Africa. It would give us a greater appreciation of modern guerrilla movements. And it will increase our awareness of Islamic armies. And perhaps of more immediate benefit, we might also gain some insight into some of the tangential issues surrounding the ‘Greater War on Terrorism.’

An examination of ‘Institutional Leadership’ within UNMIS probably reveals more about the way UN operations are conducted than does any other area of study. The CF defines institutional leadership as that function “concerned with developing and maintaining an institution’s strategic and professional capabilities,” and that “which creates the conditions for operational success.”7 In its broadest form, institutional leadership is about the kind of culture that an organization perpetuates, and how that culture contributes to the success or failure of the institution. Because leadership in this ‘institutional’ sense is largely defined by the organization’s culture, it is an amorphous concept where in the temperament and personality of the organization is shaped by the collective character of its members.

As is recognized in our own leadership doctrine, institutional leadership issues invariably bleed into strategic issues, and the dividing line between the two categories is rarely distinct. In the Sudan, there were two major kinds of institutional issues that presented themselves. The first can be classified as those issues that were pre-determined by the nature and personality of the UN itself. The second are those important policies, plans and orders that originated almost quasi-anonymously as a result of numerous inter-departmental iterations, reviews, and approvals within UNMIS.

In a UN peacekeeping mission, which is, by nature, a highly rule-bound organization within which there is frequent personnel turnover, leadership at the institutional level tends to define the character of the mission. The character of Chapter VI UN missions are, for the most part, defined and constrained by a web of negotiated decrees and administrative rulings, as well as by the logistic, security, mobility, and tactical limitations to action that are imposed upon a force deployed for monitoring and verification tasks. Only periodically and with enormous effort do strategic leaders manage to leave a distinct and lasting personal stamp upon the conduct of operations.

Unlike the conduct of war, where lethal combat demands that commanders strive imaginatively and strenuously to destroy their opponent, in Chapter VI Peacekeeping Operations, the Force Commander’s latitude for innovation and creativity is more rigidly circumscribed by rules and regulations. The mission’s objectives, as well as almost all its associated courses of action, have been clearly determined in the negotiation stage of the peace process. In this respect, there is little original planning that goes into designing the operational concept of a Chapter VI mission.


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Meeting with Colonel Bolis Shair, the SPLA brigade commander, in Frandala village.

This was most evident in the collection of documents that spelled out how UNMIS was to operate. In Sudan, the Force Standing Orders, most of which were photocopied from other missions, ran to dozens of volumes, all of which were maintained on the Force shared drive. This was an appropriate place for the material, given the austere conditions in which most of the deployed units initially found themselves, and where few sub-units would be able to manage the scores of detailed instructions that made up the Force’s Standard Operating Procedures and Standing Orders. At first glance, this may seem to be a harsh assessment of the officious nature of the United Nations. But, in fairness, modern militaries are, by comparison, quite literally supported with libraries of legal, technical, training, and administrative instructions. However, in this respect, the difference between the UN and most modern armies is that the United Nations must assume that within a hastily assembled multicultural organization, the baseline of shared understanding of how a force operates is at a lower level than what one would find in a more permanently organized and stably funded standing military force. In tacit appreciation of the fact that, in such an organization – one that has so many different cultures and where nothing can be taken for granted – things that normally would be left unsaid and assumed need to be spelled out. Hence, there is a requirement for precise instruction. And in the context of the UN, this translates into volumes of detailed directives, many with which personnel in the field lack familiarity or even awareness – and this situation was a constant source of friction between the various headquarters staffs and units deployed in the sectors.

One key aspect of the institutional leadership within UNMIS that was most evident in south Sudan was that UNMIS was created as an “integrated peacekeeping mission.” From an institutional perspective, this meant that working alongside the armed forces there were large numbers of civilian police, UN agencies of various descriptions, scores of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the UN Administrative apparatus. For many, this “new” approach to peacekeeping did not appear substantially different from what had been happening for years in far-flung places, such as the Balkans, East Timor, and the Congo. In the Sudan, especially at the headquarters in Khartoum, there was considerably more evidence of integration than had heretofore been the case, and the military presence in Khartoum was notably much smaller than the civilian element. Within the various sectors in the field, this ratio was reversed.

Flag of Sudan.

Flag of Sudan.

In a situation such as in Sudan, where the shooting has stopped, an integrated force is logical for two reasons. The first is that the peace process had to be cultivated on several planes, not just on a military dimension, and this requires the close integration of a very wide range of organizations. The second reason was much shorter-term and more practical. Many of the more intrepid NGOs and United Nations agencies (one of the largest and most notable being the World Food Program) had remained in south Sudan throughout the most dangerous periods of the war. These organizations had a tremendous amount to offer in terms of local knowledge, intelligence, and an understanding of how the two sides operated and thought. Notwithstanding this, it appeared that there were very few of these individuals actually recruited into UNMIS when the mission was raised. Because UNMIS was created after the cessation of hostilities, it was developed ‘from scratch,’ and recruiting to fill key positions came largely from within the United Nations Secretariat’s career stream, as well as from requests to donor nations from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. The result was that, without having a leavening of individuals who had experience in the region put into key positions, the learning curve for those tasked with setting up the mission was considerably steeper than might otherwise have been the case. This meant that those United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs), national military contingents, and aid organizations that deployed into the field in their respective sectors did not have access to the kinds of useful local knowledge that would have helped them to become operational as quickly as possible.

As an institutional leadership problem, the results of this kind of ‘grass roots’ coordination had numerous practical consequences for the mission itself. The initial deployment of UNMIS had been much slower than planned, and, despite having the availability of a highly professional and competently led planning staff from NATO’s SHIRBRIG Brigade, the mission suffered from a number of avoidable administrative problems.

The UNMIS deployment was hamstrung by the failure of some of the key troop- contributing nations to deploy as promptly as they had initially promised. Moreover, for a variety of reasons, essential components of the Force, such as medical units and tactical aviation units, took much longer to be brought into theatre than had originally been envisaged. Such problems do not exist in isolation. Logistics problems were compounded by other issues, for within both the military and civilian elements of UNMIS there were few people who actually had experience operating in this particular part of the world. This combination created avoidable and predictable problems for the mission. For example, some of the staff deployment estimates miscalculated the nature of the area’s rainy season. The length and intensity of the rains in conjunction with south Sudan’s clay-based soil and the ubiquitous mine problem, meant that roads were frequently impassable. With inadequate helicopter lift, logistic efforts, no matter how well intentioned, could not proceed as envisaged.

In this respect, institutional leadership failings were a culmination of the collective errors and miscalculations of a host of nameless staff officers, bureaucrats, and contractors from several donor countries. This issue, combined with a less-than-adequate understanding of the region, meant that, despite having access to a first-class planning staff, the Force’s deployment was slow and inconsistent.

As a result, the delayed UN build-up helped foster a sense of disappointment and a loss of confidence in the UN’s capabilities amongst the Sudanese people. This disillusionment was also seriously compounded by wildly unrealistic expectations that many south Sudanese harboured with respect to the UN. Many of the local civil and military leaders assumed that the UN was going to build roads, hospitals, and schools, and ‘kick-start’ their economy. Thus, systemic logistics problems and a failure to understand the information needs of the population influenced the tone of military negotiations, right down to the local level. Handling these information and perception problems, in the context of a ‘joint mission,’ was the responsibility of the UNMIS Public Affairs Office, which was inadequately staffed and under-funded, and it experienced its own set of frustrations in coordinating the work of the mission’s military and civilian agencies.


author’s collection

Canadian Captain Aleem Sajan and Major Gustavo of Ecuador monitor the re-deployment of an SPLA column in South Sudan.


The foregoing is but one example of some of the interconnected and systemic coordination problems that were inherent in UNMIS joint operations. These issues demonstrate a kind of leadership problem that was often not glamorous or readily apparent. Nevertheless, the ability to overcome these problems effectively, and many others, was essential to helping to establish confidence in the peace process, and to building a basis for the re-establishment of civil society.

In retrospect, the handling of these highly inter-related issues became institutional leadership problems – problems that required the concerted efforts of numerous different groups. In the case of the UN, it would be pointless to try to identify one organization or group of individuals who had the ability to galvanize the UN into becoming a responsive and energetic institution. In the future, fixing shortcomings similar to these is only likely to take place if the character of the larger institution changes. This is a long and difficult process.

Although within UNMIS there was a shared sense of purpose, and personal relations between UN troops, agencies and departments were on the whole quite good, the operational integration of these organizations was not well developed, nor was there a sense of coherence in joint undertakings. There were unquestionably dynamic, hands-on leaders across the organization, but their efforts were all too often blunted and frustrated by the reluctant and uncertain bureaucrats and staff officers who were interpreting policy manuals and administrative instructions. And perhaps the single most important lesson is that diversity is a wonderful concept in terms of enabling people from all backgrounds to compete for positions of influence, but key decision-makers should be selected and employed on the basis of their abilities. Individuals who stalled and quibbled and who refused to make decisions from a sense of entitlement, fear of failure, or outright arrogance were responsible for much of the lethargy in the UN. However, if the UN could hire and retain people based upon their demonstrated abilities, the institution would be much stronger. If hiring practices were based upon ability, it is also unlikely that the UN’s middle ranks would become exclusively populated by individuals from the First World, a situation feared by so many. In my experience in the Sudan, there were numerous capable and dedicated leaders who came from every corner of the Third World. Equally, there were incompetents who came from Europe and North America. In my opinion, the first step the UN needs to take in addressing its institutional leadership problems is to have the courage to admit the nature of the problem.

Although Chapter VI Peacekeeping has been a reality for some time, one should remember that this form of joint undertaking is still in its infancy. And viewed in this light, it is worth bearing in mind that over time, the UN will improve. Perhaps one model the UN could use to help hasten improvements in their conduct of joint operations is that provided by the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan. Or conceivably, the UN could adopt the example of some of the world’s most effective large- scale multinational businesses. There are several effective models from which to choose.

Despite the scale of the problem facing the UN, the situation is not entirely bleak. There are encouraging signs for improving the organization’s institutional culture and for developing the quality of its middle level leaders. For example, the strategic leaders the United Nations chooses for its missions are usually highly competent people, because they are selected from amongst the planet’s best and brightest men and women. This has been a successful practice, as both leadership selection and retention have been based primarily upon competence, and only secondarily upon national origin and other factors. If the United Nations is serious about injecting vitality and competence into the institution, it should begin by following the same practices in selecting its middle leaders that it does for its strategic leaders.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Michael J. Goodspeed is an officer of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, currently serving in the Canadian Defence Academy.


  1. Author’s interview with a Sudanese liaison officer attached to the UN Joint Monitoring and Control Office, Juba, Sudan, 12 December 2005.
  2. The casualty rates for the war are conceded to be rough estimates. The figures of two million dead and four million displaced persons are figures that have been generally accepted by the international press as well as the UN, although the very nature of the country, its record keeping, and its penchant for secrecy means that a precise accounting of these figures will most likely always be impossible.
  3. UNMIS Military Roles, Tasks and Responsibilities – UNMIS Chief Operations Officer’s Briefing, 20 October 2005.
  4. Ibid.
  5. The Deputy SRSGs (Humanitarian and Political Affairs), the Chief Administrative Officer and the Police Commissioner, although of equivalent rank and status to the FC, and despite being vitally important to the mission’s success, were more closely involved in implementing the SRSG’s vision, and their efforts are more rightfully categorized as being institutional in nature. In terms of far reaching, over the horizon decision-making, I have categorized the Force Commander and SRSG as being strategic leaders.
  6. Canada has been quick to supply military observers and we undoubtedly have consistently fielded high quality individuals. However, many of these individuals are usually selected on an ‘as available’ basis and selection for service as an UNMO is often the result of fortuitous circumstances as well as astute and understanding supervisors rather than through deliberate planning.
  7. Leadership In the Canadian Forces: Conceptual Foundations (Kingston, Ontario: Canadian Defence Academy, 2005), p. 131.