UNDSS acts as the central coordinator and advisory body for security issues within the UN system © AAG.COM

UNSMS: a comprehensive approach to global security
Going back to basics with UN security organization
1 Oct 2023

In an increasingly unpredictable environment with diverse and complex security challenges, the United Nations Security Management System (UNSMS) is designed to enable the safe delivery of UN mandates and programmes within acceptable security risk levels.

Establishing the context: what is the UNSMS?

The UNSMS is a system of policies and procedures related to the security of personnel, premises, assets, and operations worldwide. The system provides a holistic framework for managing security within the UN, including for associated personnel who often operate in high-risk environments across the globe.

The catalyst: origin of the UNSMS

The tragic bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 acted as the catalyst for the creation of the UNSMS. The attack highlighted the critical need for a standardized system for managing security risks within the UN. 

Consequently, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution leading to the establishment of the Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), responsible for leading and coordinating the UNSMS.

Structure and mechanisms: how does the UNSMS operate?

The UNSMS operates through a multitude of actors and entities, both at the headquarters and field levels. These actors work collaboratively, establishing a synchronized approach to security and safeguarding all UN personnel, premises, and assets. Key among these are the Designated Officials for Security (DOs) and Security Management Teams (SMTs). The DOs, typically the most senior UN officials within a country, are responsible for implementing these policies and guidelines at the field level and making security decisions for the 

UN system based on these policies and guidelines. They are supported by the SMTs, which comprise the heads of each UN entity in-country, for strategic guidance on security-related matters.

UNDSS acts as the central coordinator and advisory body for security issues within the UN system. It oversees crisis management, coordinates security operations, and conducts staff safety training.

The UNSMS comprises some 50 organizations, including UNDSS. All UNSMS organizations are members of the Inter-Agency Security Management Network (IASMN), a forum chaired by UNDSS that reviews and develops policy, procedure, and practice and provides recommendations on these to the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM). The IASMN comprises senior managers who have oversight of the security function within their organizations.

A critical component of the UNSMS is the Security Risk Management (SRM) process, a systematic methodology to identify, analyze, and manage potential security risks. The SRM process ensures that all decisions made by the UN are underpinned by comprehensive risk assessments.

The UNSMS operates through a multitude of actors and entities, both at the headquarters and field levels © UN-HABITAT

The impact and significance of the UNSMS

The UNSMS holds a pivotal position within the United Nations, enabling organizations to fulfill their mandate across the world, including in areas that present significant security risks. 

By managing and mitigating these risks, the UNSMS empowers UN personnel to effectively execute their duties, contributing directly to global peace, security, and development. The system is the manifestation of the UN’s commitment to its ‘duty of care.’ It reflects the organization’s obligation to prioritize and maintain the safety of its personnel.

The UNSMS and future challenges

The UNSMS continuously evolves to meet the shifting landscape of global security threats. By adopting a proactive, risk-informed approach to security, it ensures that the UN is prepared to navigate an uncertain future while keeping its personnel and assets secure.

In this context, the UNSMS has shown resilience and adaptability, balancing the needs of duty to mitigate risks to its personnel with the requirement to deliver on the UN’s mandate. 

From climate change-related security risks to conflicts and pandemics, the UNSMS stands at the frontlines, enabling the delivery of assistance to those most in need.

Conclusion: facilitating the United Nations

The UNSMS is integral to the UN’s work. It provides the crucial foundation that allows the UN to support its most asset – its people – enabling them to work tirelessly towards promoting peace, protecting human rights, and fostering social and economic development worldwide. As an enabler of UN mandates, the UNSMS will continue to play a vital role in managing the diverse and complex security challenges that the UN will face.

* Chris Kariyo is a Public Information Officer at UNDSS.
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