United Nations peacekeeping remains a critical tool for promoting international peace and stability. The United States presidency of the UN Security Council in December provides opportunity for commitments to enhancing the capabilities and performance measures of peacekeeping operations. Early this month, I traveled to New York to join several nations who share this commitment to improve performance and strengthening accountability which are essential to meeting peacekeeping challenges.
United Nations peacekeeping operations remain integral in upholding the values of the United Nations since the organization’s inception, with the first peacekeeping operation taking place after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Today, more than 110,000 UN personnel from 124 countries serve in peacekeeping roles in 14 missions around the world. With such an expansive presence, it is incumbent upon the UN to focus on improving the performance of peacekeeping personnel.
The UN made efforts in recent years to emplace systems to improve performance and accountability, to include the establishment of the UN’s Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System (PCRS). More than 200 units are currently registered in the PCRS, a system which validates the readiness of peacekeeping units to deploy to mission. In addition to the PCRS, the United States is directly investing in the UN Secretariat’s capacity to develop and implement a performance evaluation framework, which facilitates the compilation and analysis of objective data across a diverse set of performance factors. Despite this, formal reporting to member states on mission performance remains ad hoc, at best. Further fostering a culture of accountability and increased transparency will help peacekeeping missions achieve their mandates, better protect civilians and peacekeepers, and ensure efficient use of resources.
The United States drafted and led negotiations in the Security Council to pass the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 2436 in September 2018. This resolution calls for improving mission performance and addressing peacekeeper performance challenges, including by deploying the most capable and willing units, implementing a performance policy framework, and transparent reporting by the UN on performance. Since the adoption of UNSCR 2436, the United States committed $74 million for peacekeeping capacity building activities which help reinforce performance and accountability measures. However, improving performance and accountability require sustained efforts by the UN Secretariat and all Member States.
As Secretary Pompeo noted in 2018, “the United States is committed to a future with better, smarter peacekeeping operations that more effectively and efficiently address conflicts, support political solutions, and meet the needs of people on the ground.” The United States remains the largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, as well as the largest capacity-building contributor, reinforcing the ability of troop and police contributing countries to effectively train, deploy, and sustain peacekeeping forces in UN operations. Since 2005, the United States invested nearly $1.5 billion through our military and police peacekeeping capacity-building initiatives alone.
A critical pillar of our efforts to enhance the capabilities of peacekeeping operations is the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). Fundamentally, an effective peacekeeping force requires well-trained, disciplined, and properly equipped security forces—GPOI has played a pivotal role in cultivating this. GPOI brings together the Department of State and the Department of Defense to strengthen international capacity and capabilities to implement United Nations and regional peace operations. GPOI’s 54 partner nations comprise the bulk of uniformed forces engaged in UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Through our program activities, GPOI assists partner countries to enhance their self-sufficiency in training for peacekeeping operations; and, so far, over half of our GPOI partners have achieved this objective. The program also delivers training and equipment to build the capacity of our partners in critical enabling capabilities such as aviation, engineering, and medical services – all of which have been persistent shortfalls in UN missions.
The United States is also committed to supporting the UN’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against the very people peacekeepers are deployed to protect. To increase accountability for SEA, the UN requires troop contributing countries to assign a National Investigation Officer (NIO) to every deployed military unit of 150 or more personnel; the NIOs investigate and document incidents of potential misconduct and gather evidence for possible disciplinary and legal action. To support this effort, in 2018 the United States, through GPOI, funded and coordinated the development and implementation of a joint UN-U.S. NIO Course focused on improving accountability.
When peacekeeping missions operate at a high level of performance, they provide the necessary space and support for a political process and are better able to keep civilians and peacekeepers safe. For this reason, United Nations peacekeepers are indispensable facilitators of peace and security. The United States is deeply committed to greater transparency, accountability, effectiveness, and fiscal efficiency in peacekeeping operations. Our standing as a leading source of financial, technical, and material support for peacekeeping operations demonstrates this commitment and we will build on the progress made to date and continue to work with the UN Secretariat and like-minded countries to improve peacekeeping performance and goodwill among nations.
About the Author: R. Clarke Cooper serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.