When violence erupts in a fragile state or political transitions break down, UN peacekeeping operations are an essential component of the international community’s response. But the world is asking peacekeepers to do more, in more places, and in more complex conflicts than at any time in history. It’s in every country’s interest to improve the capabilities of peacekeepers to carry out their mandate: to protect civilians, facilitate peace, and rebuild states and societies.
That is why this year President Barack Obama is co-hosting the Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping during the UN General Assembly. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter, the world must do more to equip UN peacekeepers with the flexibility, the capacity, and the political backing to meet the 21st century needs. We are committed to modernizing peacekeeping missions and pressing to fill critical gaps.
President Obama said "We must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping and not leave the task to a few countries," in remarks in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2009 [UN Photo]
What is the current state of peacekeeping? There are currently 16 UN peacekeeping missions worldwide, made up of more than 120,000 personnel; this is compared to just 75,000 total personnel a decade ago.
The challenges faced by UN peacekeepers have fundamentally changed, too. Two-thirds of peacekeeping missions serve in active conflicts. Peacekeepers are tasked with containing violent groups, ensuring safe delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance, protecting civilians from atrocities, and bolstering the stability in countries emerging from brutal civil wars as well as to prevent new outbreaks of violence in long-running conflicts.
And the breadth and depth of crises facing the international community loom large. Worldwide displacement has hit staggering new high of 59.5 million. That’s nearly 60 million people who have been forced from their homes because of violence, persecution, conflict or instability.
Worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded according the United Nations [UNHCR Photo]
So what does the world need to do to enhance peacekeeping operations?
The United Nations has identified a number of core needs in current and future peacekeeping operations, including infantry, engineering companies, medical capabilities, aviation assets, and police forces, as well as areas for capacity building. The upcoming summit will galvanize the international community to meet these needs.
Additionally, the upcoming summit must mobilize support for advancing institutional reform of UN peacekeeping, with special attention to rooting out sexual exploitation and abuse.
This year’s summit follows a successful 2014 Summit, hosted by Vice President Joe Biden, in which over 30 countries participated and made pledges.
We’re looking forward to building on this success and making peacekeeping thrive in our time.
About the Author: Gideon Maltz serves as Deputy Chief of Staff to the U.S Permanent Representative to the United Nations at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York.
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