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UN launches peacekeeping digital transformation strategy

United Nations strategy sets out the need for data-driven and technology-enabled peacekeeping, but also highlights potential risks that come with a digital world

The United Nations (UN) has published a digital strategy for peacekeeping, setting out how technology can enable missions to be more effective and enhance the security and safety of peacekeepers.

The Strategy for the digital transformation of UN peacekeeping highlights how technology can be used as an enabler to help peacekeeping missions gain a better understanding of the conflict environment and create an “agile and responsive mandate implementation”.

However, it also recognises that understanding that conflicts are also shaped by technology is key in order to recognise the risks brought by digital.

“It raises key ethical questions around data ownership, sovereignty and consent, social justice and potential social harm, as well as biases in algorithms for processing and analysing data, and underscores the importance of choosing a do-no-harm approach,” says the strategy.

“For peacekeeping, under­standing an ever more fragmented, expanding and constantly shifting conflict landscape requires a mission to continuously digest, structure, re-struc­ture and analyse large amounts of information, and to respond in a timely manner. Peacekeeping mandates, and responsibilities to protect personnel, make the use of digital technologies a necessity in today’s world.”

The strategy sets out four goals, including driving innovation and creating a liaison function, connecting users and developers to work collaboratively to match mandate implementation challenges with technology solutions, and bridging the gap between those on the ground and those in UN headquarters.

It also wants to maximise the potential of technology, both current and new, to “empower mis­sions and augment their capacity to carry out their mandates more efficiently and effectively”.

This includes training peacekeepers in digital skills “to be able to carry out their work effectively and technological solutions to consolidate ICT/data systems, promote mobile, low bandwidth and offline applications, introduce advanced analytics tools, deploy additional technol­ogy for protection or provide service to remote sites and mobile deployments”, it says.

A third goal of the strategy is to understand threats and find opportunities to build awareness and support. This includes being able to get a clear picture of a situation and have an integrated approach to misinformation and hate speech, measuring the likelihood of cyber attacks and other attacks enabled by technology.

The fourth goal is to ensure responsible use of technology and developing clear principles for ethical use, particularly of data.

The strategy recommends the creation of an innovation and digital transformation team, which will be multidisciplinary to promote a culture of innovation and provide support to individual missions.

The UN sees technology as an enabler, but one that needs to be managed responsibly. “While leveraging the opportunities that digital technologies offer to strengthen the effectiveness of peacekeeping, this strategy highlights that with greater use of digital technologies come greater vulnerabilities, and hence a strong focus is on building safeguards and protections to ensure the responsible use of digital technology,” says the strategy.

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The aim is for peacekeeping to have staff that are technology-aware and data-literate with timely information that “enables integrated analysis for decision-making” and have access to the tools they need to respond to threats in a timely manner.

“A key feature in the recent evolution of digital technologies has been their convergence, partic­ularly a convergence of artificial intelligence and dual-use technologies,” the strategy says. “These technologies are designed and developed for beneficial uses, but can be weaponised or used with other malicious intent.

“The purposes for which technologies are used range from disinformation, misinformation and incitement to violence through hate speech, to surveillance, control and intelligence gathering, to dialogue platforms, mobilisation, outreach and recruitment into armed groups, and to cyber attacks.”

The strategy sets out several recommendations, including dedicated spaces for leadership to promote innovation, as well as ensuring dedicated funds are available to support innovative projects.

It also recommends building on guidance and tools used in other parts of the UN.

In a speech to the UN Security Council during its briefing on technology and peacekeeping, James Kariuki, UK deputy permanent representative to the UN, said that peacekeepers continue to “pay the ultimate price as they conduct their vital work implementing the mandates we set”, with 83 peacekeepers having lost their lives this year.

“Technology and innovation, supported by thorough training, can enhance the safety and security of all UN personnel,” he said.

India is currently working with the UN on its Unite Aware platform, a situational awareness programme aiming to utilise modern surveillance technology to find and assess real-time threats to peacekeepers.

Kariuki said the UK “is proud to partner with India to support initiatives such as Unite Aware”. He added: “This is a technology platform which improves peacekeepers’ situational awareness and information analysis – vital elements in keeping them safe.

“Technology such as this, alongside developments in peacekeeping intelligence, helps protect our peacekeepers and supports their ability to protect civilians. It contributes to the overall effectiveness of each mission. It provides real operational benefit.”

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