Serbia’s Growing Role as a UN Peacekeeping Troop Contributor

Posted by Fred Stern
March 9, 2014
Serbian Soldiers Are Pictured at a United Nations Peacekeeping Force Camp

Only decades removed from the conflicts in its own recent history, the Republic of Serbia is clearly demonstrating its commitment to promoting peace and security by working to train and equip its armed forces to take part in international peacekeeping.  The United States is supporting Serbia’s efforts to take on this important mission through the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) -- a State Department-led effort to help meet the growing global demand for trained peacekeeping personnel.

The United States Supports Serbian Peacekeeping Goals: The Government of Serbia and Serbian military leadership have increased the focus on peacekeeping operations and training in recent years. Serbian participation in multinational peacekeeping missions, as well as the creation of a regional leadership role for Serbia in the pre-deployment training of Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) forces, enables the Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) to show neighbors that it is taking concrete steps to develop into a force that is capable of substantially contributing to regional and international stability. U.S. engagement contributes to improving this situation and even fostering regional reconciliation. The Government of Serbia has not been merely a passive recipient of U.S. Government assistance through GPOI, but has made difficult financial decisions to invest its own national funds in constructing a peace operations training center. 

Wide Participation in Peacekeeping: Since entering into a partnership with the United States through the Department of State-led Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) in 2011, the number of peacekeepers Serbia deploys on UN missions has grown exponentially.  As of January 2014, Serbia had 213 peacekeepers deployed to six UN missions, with plans to increase deployments in the future.  The largest contingents of SAF peacekeepers currently are deployed with the UN missions in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and Cyprus (UNFICYP).  However, Serbian peacekeepers are also engaged in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Liberia (UNMIL), and Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI), and with the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in the Middle East. Serbia also participates in EU missions in Somalia/Uganda and the EU NAVFOR Operation ATALANTA to fight piracy in the Indian Ocean, and was the first non-EU state to offer forces for the European Union Training Mission in Mali.

GPOI: The Global Peace Operations Initiative is a U.S. Government-funded security assistance program working to meet the growing global demand for specially trained personnel to conduct international peace operations by building the capabilities of U.S. partner countries to train and sustain peacekeepers; increasing the number of capable military troops and formed police units available for deployment; and facilitating the preparation, logistical support, and deployment of peacekeepers. GPOI promotes international peace and security, saving lives while reducing the burden on U.S. military forces, and helping set the stage for post-conflict recovery around the world.

GPOI works to build the peacekeeping capacity of countries currently contributing, or preparing to contribute, personnel to global peacekeeping operations.  Created in 2005, GPOI enhances international capability to effectively conduct UN and regional peace operations.  GPOI trains military and formed police units (FPU) from among its 65 partner nations to serve in peacekeeping missions, supplies peacekeeping forces with essential non-lethal equipment, and refurbishes peacekeeping training facilities.  Working in partnership with the Department of Defense, GPOI has directly trained 197,567 peacekeepers as of January 31, 2014 and enabled the training of an additional 57,483 peacekeeping for a total of 255,050 peacekeepers trained; supported 52 national and regional peace operations training centers and 2 regional headquarters; and facilitated the deployment of 191,636+ personnel from 38 countries to 28 operations around the world.  GPOI continuously builds on this progress by “training the trainers,” thereby creating sustainable capabilities in partner nations that can self-sufficiently train their own forces to meet the growing global demand for well-trained peacekeeping personnel.

Serbian Women Part of the Equation: Female peacekeepers play an important role in peacekeeping by broadening the skill sets available within a mission, particularly by improving access and support for local women in post-conflict societies struggling to rebuild.  Having adopted a National Action Plan under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2010, Serbia has been working to increase the participation of women in PKOs.  For example, Serbian peacekeepers of both sexes currently take a one-week, UN-approved pre-deployment training course on gender issues in multinational operations.  According to the United Nations, women on average comprise seven percent of Serbia's peace support operations personnel.  Serbia took a look at the role of women in its peacekeeping force in a published report in 2012.  The report noted the specific challenges Serbian women face in peacekeeping missions, but emphasized that having women in these missions is essential.  Specifically, the report noted that female peacekeepers are particularly effective at facilitating reporting of violence against women and girls, and providing healthcare to women and girls.  The report linked the process of developing a professional army with fully integrating women into the military ranks, noting that by 2012, women constituted approximately 13 percent of the SAF, with a growing number of women in the officer corps.  Serbia deployed its first female officer to a peacekeeping operation (MONUSCO) in 2013, and as of January 2014, Serbia has 15 female peacekeepers in the field.  As the number of women in Serbia’s armed forces increases, and as more women graduate from Serbia’s Military Academy, Serbia will be in an even better position to integrate women into peacekeeping contingents. 

In a meeting last July, Serbia’s Head of the Department for Common Security Defense Policy told visiting American officials that “we’re hoping our efforts will improve Serbia’s image.”  In January of this year, Serbia’s Defense Minister, Nebojsa Rodic, reiterated his country’s commitment to increasingly contribute to peacekeeping operations when he visited Washington.  The United States will continue to partner with Serbia in facilitating this positive trend.

About the Author: Fred Stern serves as a Foreign Service Officer in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

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