Peacekeeping: International Forum Helps Turn Talk into Action

Posted by Mike Smith
February 4, 2010
UN Peacekeeper With Refugee Women and Babies in Darfur

About the Author: Mike Smith leads the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) program management team in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Over the past decade, global demand has spiked for soldiers, police officers, and diplomats to serve on international peacekeeping missions stabilizing some of the world's most challenging hotspots. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Egypt with Ted Tanoue, Deputy Director, Office of Peace Operations, Sanctions, and Counterterrorism, with the State Department's Bureau of International Organizations, where we met with U.S. peacekeeping partners from more than 35 countries and several international organizations to consider new ways we can turn talk into action and support hundreds of millions of people around the world struggling to stop the violence and set the stage for recovery in their countries.

This forum, known as "The G8++ Global Peace Support Operations Capacity Building Clearinghouse," has a mouthful of a name, but it also has an important mission: to bring together everyone involved in peacekeeping capacity building -- the United Nations and regional bodies such as the European Union and the African Union; leading financial supporters, including the United States, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom; and major contributors of peacekeeping personnel such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria to enhance cooperation and improve our collective ability to work together and help countries emerge from conflict.

The United States initiated this forum in 2007, and the United Kingdom hosted its second meeting in 2008. Egypt, a significant contributor of peacekeeping personnel, did a great job hosting the December 2009 deliberations -- the first non-G8 country to do so. South Korea volunteered to host our next meeting in 2010, which we hope will spur increased interest in peacekeeping among Asian countries.

As representatives of the United States, we focused intensively on President Obama's commitment to help strengthen America's support of international peacekeeping. One key way we accomplish this is "capacity building," or matching countries willing to provide personnel with the training, equipment, and other kinds of support needed to get the job done. In this respect, the conference was also a great opportunity to catch up with several international colleagues I work with through the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), a U.S.-led effort to build foreign countries' capacities to conduct peacekeeping operations.

The United States has long been the world's top financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, providing on average more than one quarter of the international organization's budget to support more than 116,000 "blue helmets," police, and civilians working to secure the peace and protect at-risk populations in 15 peacekeeping missions around the world. In recent years, the United States has also stepped up international efforts to meet a growing demand for more trained personnel and equipment to strengthen international efforts to stabilize some of the world's most challenging hotspots.

That's where GPOI comes in. Launched following the 2004 G-8 Sea Island Summit in support of the G-8 Action Plan to Expand Global Capability for Peace Support Operations, GPOI currently provides training and other peacekeeping capacity building support to 59 partner countries and regional organizations around the world, about half of which are located in Africa.

Over the years there were questions about whether GPOI would achieve its goal to train and equip 75,000 peacekeepers worldwide by 2010. But this summer, the State Department announced that it surpassed its GPOI goal a year early, training more than 103,000 foreign peacekeepers so far, as well as facilitating the deployment of over 70,000 peacekeeping forces to 19 United Nations, African Union, and other regional peace support operations around the globe.

A few weeks before I headed to Cairo, GPOI launched Phase II (running from Fiscal Years 2010 to 2014), during which we plan to build on its successful partnerships and shift our focus from direct training by U.S. trainers to activities that increase the self-sufficiency of GPOI partners to train peacekeepers on their own. By doing so, GPOI will further multiply the number of future peacekeeping forces and empower partner countries to strengthen their own roles in the shared global challenge of increasing and sustaining peace.

It is in all of our interests to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of peacekeeping. Through GPOI, initiatives such as the clearinghouse, stepped-up diplomatic efforts to mediate conflicts, and U.S. engagement at the UN to further strengthen peacekeeping capabilities, the United States is ready now more than ever to do its part in the name of promoting peace.

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