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Diplomacy in Action

Assessing U.S. Policy on Peacekeeping Operations in Africa


Remarks
Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights
Washington, DC
September 13, 2012

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Chairman Smith;
Ranking Member Bass;
Distinguished Members of the Committee; 

First of all, Thank you for convening this hearing on United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa. I appreciate the Committee’s attention to these important issues, and am pleased to discuss the Obama Administration’s commitment to promoting peace and security across Africa through multilateral action and shared responsibility.

Mr. Chairman, UN peacekeeping missions are a key tool to help bring stability to countries emerging from violent conflict – and to prevent conflict’s return. This Administration’s support for UN peacekeeping is deep, and builds on a strong, decades-long, bipartisan effort to improve these operations’ effectiveness.

That support is rooted in the fact that peacekeeping is not a policy in itself, but rather a key tool to deliver on policy goals. UN missions deploy to promote lasting political settlements that can in turn bring a durable peace. They provide backing for those who agree to put down their guns and to support the rule of law.

Assistant Secretary Carson has laid out our approach to some of these very peace and security issues in Africa. In my brief comments this afternoon, I will note a few highlights of the seven UN-supported peacekeeping missions in sub-Saharan Africa, and I appreciate the committee’s consideration of my submitted testimony, which includes a more expansive discussion of these missions, their objectives, and the priorities they reflect.

These peacekeeping missions serve critical purposes: supporting a new country in South Sudan; helping run elections in Liberia; promoting stability in Cote d’Ivoire; trying to stem renewed violence in eastern Congo. These missions are challenging and risky, but they unquestionably contribute to peace and stability across the continent.

They are also cost-effective, and in this era of increasing fiscal restraint, that is a fact worth noting. Over 70 percent of the annual cost of UN peacekeeping operations is paid by the rest of the world. Clearly, the cost of any unilateral action would be far greater. And because UN peacekeeping takes advantage of collective action and leverages the unique expertise of the UN, we ensure the efficient use of taxpayer dollars while significantly advancing U.S. national interests.

These missions are often the international community’s last resort, and we know they face acute challenges, especially in Africa.

Currently, roughly half of all UN peacekeeping operations are in Africa, comprising over 71,000 peacekeepers – approximately three-quarters of all "blue helmets" now serving. These are not your father’s and my father’s peacekeeping missions. Instead of observing ceasefires while political settlements could be reached under Chapter VII of the UN Charter as was often the case in decades past and is still the case with the oldest missions in existence. Today’s operations frequently have complex mandates. Today’s operations have a range of tasks and operate, at least in the case of all of the missions in Sub-Saharan Africa under Chapter VII authority. Those articles of the UN Charter authorize the use of force as part of the mission’s primary responsibility to restore and maintain peace and security, including the protection of civilians. These missions often operate in difficult environments where state authority is weak and peacekeepers are themselves targets of violence.

Yet in spite of these enhanced responsibilities and great challenges, UN peacekeeping missions have played pivotal roles across Africa.

I’ll begin with Sudan and South Sudan. UN peacekeepers were instrumental in supporting South Sudan’s independence under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and UNMISS is working with the new government to assist with strengthening its government institutions and its security sector.

Turning to Sudan, in Darfur, the UN/African Union hybrid operation UNAMID continues to play a critical role in the safety and security of Darfuris, taking a leading role in supporting the implementation of the Doha Document for Peace and helping ensure that the humanitarian conditions don’t deteriorate further.

And in Abyei along the tense Sudan-South Sudan border, UNISFA has been critical to maintaining stability despite the aerial bombardments from the Sudanese Armed Forces, militia activities, and ground attacks that have plagued the border area.

There are also crucial peacekeeping missions in West Africa, including in Liberia, where the UNMIL mission has assisted the government in strengthening its security sector and promoting the rule of law following years of devastating civil war. UNMIL has also helped disarm over 100,000 ex-combatants, including some 11,000 child soldiers, provided training to thousands of police officers, and delivering critical support to the 2011 national elections which brought President Johnson-Sirleaf a second term. UNMIL also boasts the first U.S. general officer to serve in a UN peacekeeping mission in nearly 20 years, U.S. Army Brigadier General Hugh Van Roosen. He is one of 28 U.S. personnel serving in UN peacekeeping missions worldwide. Today, with our support, UNMIL is evolving as needs change. It is beginning a shift in its personnel, from a focus on military to more police and civilian personnel, as it works to complete its tasks and transition responsibility for security to the government of Liberia.

In Cote d’Ivoire, UNOCI peacekeepers assist government efforts on security sector reform, and lead efforts at demobilization, disarmament, and rehabilitation of former combatants – an effort that has been successful enough that the mission is now gradually reducing its military component.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO – the second largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world – pursues an ambitious mandate to protect civilians and support stability in a highly volatile, conflict-prone region. Renewed fighting in the eastern province of North Kivu has undermined the progress of the past few years, and reminds us that much work remains to eliminate the threat to civilians posed by armed groups, and to take enduring action to provide effective governance in that region, address the legitimate grievances of stakeholders, and arrive at a durable political agreement.

Finally, in Somalia, the United Nations provides critical administrative support to the African Union peacekeeping mission through the UNSOA field support office. This relationship demonstrates how multilateral engagement, in conjunction with bilateral partners, can assist regional partners in their efforts to support the Somali authorities and eliminate the threat from al-Shabaab.

Mr. Chairman, no two missions are the same. But across missions, we see both best practices and critical challenges that deserve attention to improve operations, and enhance their effectiveness. These include:

  • Protection of civilians is a core task for all peacekeepers – military, police, and civilian – throughout the life of a mission.
  • Peacekeepers need the tools to respond swiftly and effectively to sexual and gender-based violence, and the UN’s policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse must be effectively applied.
  • Operations need to get right the support to the rule of law and policing to ensure successful transition back to governments.
  • Experienced leadership is crucial to whether UN operations can carry out their mandates, and the more women must be included in missions. 
  • Finally, fiscal discipline in peacekeeping budgets must be maintained, particularly in the context of current economic climate. We have led this charge and overall budgets this year are approximately $500 million less than they were last year, which will save U.S. taxpayers nearly $140 million.

Mr. Chairman, despite the incredible challenges faced by these missions, UN peacekeeping operations can deliver results in even the most challenging environments and conflict zones, in Africa and elsewhere. We support these missions not only because they advance U.S. national interests, but because they are a reflection of critical American values. They prevent further conflict, protect vulnerable civilians, and defend basic human rights.

We are all familiar with the devastating effects an unstable country far from our borders can pose to our national security. Where governments fail to meet the basic needs of their citizens or their responsibilities to provide security within their borders, the consequences can be far-reaching, including to the American people.

I thank the Committee for its support over the years in helping ensure that UN peacekeeping operations remain a useful and cost-effective tool that serves U.S. foreign policy goals, throughout Africa and around the world. I look forward to discussing these issues further, and welcome any questions you may have.



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