THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: With that, let me quickly introduce today’s press conference. This is an on-the-record press conference with Mr. Michael Smith, the director, and Ms. Jennifer Pulliam, the deputy director. They’re from the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Global Programs and Initiatives. And to mark the occasion of the UN’s International Day of Peacekeepers, which is tomorrow, they will be reviewing U.S. contributions to global peacekeeping operations through the Global Peace Operations Initiative. GPOI is a State Department-funded security assistance program focused on strengthening the international capacity and capabilities of partner countries and regional organizations to execute the UN and regional peace operations.
So again, I’ll ask you to put your phones on mute for now, and I’ll turn it over to Mr. Smith for some opening remarks, please.
Courage, bravery, selfless service, and sacrifice are just a few words used to capture the aggregate character of these great women and men.Mr. Michael Smith, Director of GPI
MR SMITH: Benjamin, thank you very much. Tomorrow on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, we honor the men and women serving under the flag of the United Nations with the mission of peace. That mission, which dates back approximately 71 years, is central to the purpose of the United Nations and indispensable to peace and security on the globe. The demand for peacekeepers is at an all-time high. Nearly 113,000 UN peacekeepers from over 124 countries serve the cause of peace. Nearly two-thirds of them operate in conflict areas under robust and demanding mandates, often at tremendous risk to themselves. This risk is underscored by the fact that more than 3,800 peacekeepers have lost their lives serving under the UN flag since 1948, including 98 last year.
The first UN peacekeeping mission was established on May 29th, 1948, when the Security Council authorized the deployment of a small number of UN military observers to the Middle East to form the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, or UNTSO, to monitor the armistice agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Since then, more than 1 million men and women have served in 72 UN peacekeeping operations, directly impacting the lives of millions of people, protecting the world’s most vulnerable, and saving countless lives.
Courage, bravery, selfless service, and sacrifice are just a few words used to capture the aggregate character of these great women and men. Drawing from this history, the theme for this year’s International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is “Protecting Civilians, Protecting Peace.” As the demand for peacekeeping has grown in recent years, so have the demands placed on those missions, including crucial evolution and mandates to incorporate the protection of civilians.
While we ask more of peacekeepers, we as a global community must strive to ensure that they possess the necessary training, tools, and resources to advance the cause of peace. The United States remains a committed partner in UN peacekeeping and is dedicated to supporting such requirements through robust capacity-building programs such as our Global Peace Operations Initiative, or as Benjamin referred to it, GPOI.
With that in mind, I’ll turn to Jennifer Pulliam, who is the principal deputy director of the Office of Global Programs and Initiatives, and is also the program director for GPOI.
MS PULLIAM: Thank you very much, Mike. I’ll speak a little bit more about the work that we do through the Global Peace Operations Initiative, or GPOI program. GPOI is the U.S. Government’s primary tool for building international capabilities to more effectively conduct United Nations and African Union peacekeeping operations. Established in 2004, this program has sustained bipartisan support for more than a decade. It further serves as a model initiative for fostering international collaboration in support of shared peace and security objectives.
GPOI is a State Department-funded program, but as a military-capacity-building initiative, we work in close partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense to plan and implement program activities. Through GPOI we provide training, equipment, advisory support, training facility upgrades, and other assistance to strengthen the capacity of select troop-contributing countries to prepare, deploy, and sustain their peacekeepers to increasingly complex UN and regional operations.
Currently, we provide support to 54 partner countries around the globe. The nature and the scope of assistance differs across countries depending on the type of military capabilities a particular partner is deploying and the country’s specific support requirements. Activities include the conduct of regional training courses on topics such as protection of civilians, United Nations logistics, or prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.
We also deploy mobile training teams to provide bilateral training on a spectrum of topics, including medical, leadership, staff office development, and other subjects. We may also assign longer-term advisors, focused on areas such as logistics or training planning and resource management in order to foster greater institutional development.
In many cases, the assistance we provide though this program is a decisive factor in our partner’s ability to deploy and sustain peacekeeping forces. As one example, at a March 2019 UN peacekeeping ministerial held in New York, the U.S. pledged our capacity-building support to assist Bangladesh in preparing an unarmed, unmanned, aerial surveillance system for UAS capability for deployment to UN peacekeeping operations. The United States has committed at least 13 million in equipment and training support to Bangladesh’s initiative. The increased availability of UAS capabilities will significantly improve the UN’s operational information and intelligence capacity, enabling missions to better protect civilian populations and improve the safety of deployed peacekeepers.
Our capacity-building activities are significant force multipliers, with GPOI providing one of our most effective security assistance programs in terms of return on investment. In fact, GPOI partner countries have increased their number of deployed troops by 160 percent since becoming GPOI partners, versus only a 46 percent increase by non-partners. And importantly this assistance results not only in higher deployment numbers, but in better trained and equipped peacekeepers filling mission gaps.
For example, through GPOI the United States has provided major equipment items, such as armored personnel carriers to peacekeeping training centers in several African partner countries, including Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger, to ensure peacekeepers are able to train on the same equipment they will operate in mission. Particularly with equipment such as APCs, such training in advance of deployment ensures peacekeepers are better prepared to carry out mandated tasks, prevent unnecessary accidents, and improves the maintenance and sustainment of deployed equipment.
GPOI activities additionally promote U.S. Women, Peace, and Security, or WPS, objectives and support United Nations targets to increase the number of deployed female peacekeepers. Assessments have demonstrated that the integration of females into peacekeeping units better enables those units to engage with local communities and may further have a positive effect on unit conduct and discipline. Accordingly, GPOI encourages the integration of females into sponsored training, supports training for female engagement teams, integrates gender topics into training for all peacekeepers, and funds enabling training facility projects, such as building female barracks and latrines to facilitate female participation in training. We’ve subsequently witnessed a 103 percent increase in the deployment of female personnel by GPOI partners, compared to a 1 percent increase among non-partners during that same time period.
Finally, in closing, I’ll note that beyond our direct and indirect contributions to peacekeeping GPOI capacity-building activities help professionalize partner countries military forces, strengthen bilateral and multilateral relationships, and promote U.S. values. With that, I’ll close, and happy to answer any questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Again, just to remind, if you have a question, please email us at DCFPC@state.gov. So let me just get some ground rules for our questions. First off, if you are called, please state your name and outlet. And second, let me say from the start that we’re able to talk about GPOI topics today. If you have a question either about regional policy or some other theme, please do email us and we’ll get you connected with the correct press office. And also, our briefers are not going to speculate on potential future peace operations, just current operations as they stand now.
Our first questioner is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Good morning. My name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa USA. I know that President Trump is always saying that he wants to be the president of the U.S., not the president of the world. I was just wondering, do you think that peacekeeping operation is still a priority for the Trump administration? And if you can briefly talk about your peacekeeping operation in Africa, especially in West Africa, where you have Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations. Thank you.
MR SMITH: Sure. This is Michael Smith, and I’ll answer the first part of that question and Jennifer will do the second part. The United States Government has been dedicated to peacekeeping capacity building in the way that you described and committed to that for many years, and that continues to be the case today. In fact, we have found that our funding to support peacekeeping operations in terms of capacity building has been very, very strong and without any diminution at all. So we find that to be very encouraging for us at this time.
MS PULLIAM: I would agree. And with respect to the peacekeeping missions in Africa, I’d say from a GPOI capacity-building perspective, much of our assistance goes to support. I would say, on average, about half of our annual budget supports are African troop contributing partners deploying into African peacekeeping missions. And much of the budget that we provide to other regional partners is in support of their deployment into the missions in Africa. So certainly those operations remain a priority for the U.S. Government.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will be from Al Jazeera English, Mr. James Bays.
QUESTION: Hello there. James Bays, Al Jazeera English. Can I ask two things? One, when you look at peacekeeping and the current peacekeeping operations, are there areas where the U.S. and the Trump administration believe there are savings to be made, operations that could be drawn down? And secondly, when you look at the overall figures for peacekeeping, the U.S. remains by far the country with the biggest amount in arrears owed to the UN, over a billion dollars. Are there any plans – I know this gets involved with Congress – to pay some of that money?
MS PULLIAM: I think I’d like to refer that question to our International Organization Affairs Bureau, who manages the peacekeeping policy as well as the budget for our payment to United Nations Peacekeeping. We work within PM only on the capacity-building side.
MODERATOR: But, James, if you e-mail that question to me, I’ll make sure I get it to the right people.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I’m not seeing anyone else in the queue. I don’t want to presume that we’ve answered every question already. Is there anyone else I can call on?
QUESTION: Yes, Manik Mehta, if I may?
QUESTION: Hi. First of all, a big thank you to the State Department for organizing this conference. However, I have a question relative to the philosophy of peacekeeping. According to UN definition, the concept of peacekeeping has become somewhat anachronistic, and what we are looking at in the future is prevention of conflict, by which I mean the UN is paying greater attention to peace-building rather than just peacekeeping. I would welcome your thoughts on that.
MR SMITH: On the philosophy of peacekeeping and the greater focus nowadays on prevention of conflict, of course, we can’t speak for the United Nations and the use of terminology. But one thing that I would point to that you might look at as you investigate this question is the United Nations has changed the name of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to the Department of Peace Operations, and in so doing it increases the scope of the type of conflict mitigation activities that it pursues. Peacekeeping is a particular part of peace operations. Peace operations itself includes the prevention of conflict. It includes peace-building. And so it’s taking on a broader span of conflict mitigation activities in its new name, so that might get at your question about the philosophy of peacekeeping being – for that term to be anachronistic. It may be that in fact they realize that and have changed it accordingly.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let me again open the floor. If you’d like to ask a question, you can e-mail us at email@example.com, or if anyone has a question right now, I’ll take it. We like a briefing that answers all the questions that you have. Hearing no further questions, I’m going to thank folks for – oh, sorry, was there?
QUESTION: Yeah, Simon – it’s Simon Ateba from Today News Africa.
MODERATOR: Okay, Simon, we’ll give you one more.
QUESTION: Yeah. My second question was if you can talk a bit more broadly about your peacekeeping operation in Africa?
MODERATOR: I’m sorry, something in addition to the question you’ve already asked, Simon?
QUESTION: Yeah, I said I want you to talk broadly about some of your peacekeeping operation in Africa, especially in West Africa where you have Boko Haram terrorist organization, and other places like Somalia and even —
MS PULLIAM: Well, I’ll say in addition – and I spoke a little bit about the work that we’re doing to build the capacity of the African contributing partners deploying into those missions, which we do continue to view as a priority. I would separate out – from our perspective, we are really looking at building the capacity for United Nations and African Union missions. We would draw a line in terms of the work that we do between the counterterrorism activities happening in West Africa. So through our program, we don’t engage directly in support of the G5 Sahel. Certainly, work that the broader bureau and department is doing is working to support those activities and certainly, I think, we might be able to take that question to other parts of our bureau who could address the Boko Haram and G5 Sahel initiatives more specifically.
MODERATOR: So again, if you’ll e-mail that to me, Simon, I’ll make sure we get it to the right people. And we’ll take one last round. Anyone else have a question? All right. Well, then I thank you for joining us this morning. I thank our briefers for taking the time. We will be posting a transcript, and thank you for joining the Foreign Press Center this morning.