The American ambassador to the UN has words of praise for the senior commanders of the UN military forces and for their peacekeeping efforts around the world. But, along with her thanks, Ambassador Power asked for clarity as well on what is needed by the Blue Helmets in order to improve their mission
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to all of the force commanders for your briefings and for your service. Thank you, Under Secretary-General Ladsous, for assembling the force commanders here; this is a critical annual gathering, an important rite of passage. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the UN, the founders of this organization would never have conceived of the assortment of 16 force commanders gathered here today, nor the operating environments into which you deploy. The risk that you and the men and women under your command take are a powerful testament to the spirit that animates the United Nations. Your work, your leadership and your sacrifice could not be more important. I also want to take this occasion to extend my country’s deep appreciation to all countries on this Council and beyond in the United Nations who deploy troops and police to UN missions in very difficult environments. Peacekeepers deserve the support and attention of the Security Council, and we in turn, rely on your candor and your expertise as commanders to help us better address the challenges facing peacekeeping.
Before asking a couple questions, I will focus on three essential aspects of what the force commanders have just touched upon – specifically, the imperative of appropriate training, the importance of expanding the pool of troop contributing countries (and the kinds of contributions they make), and the critical question of how the system handles exceptions to the rules of engagement.
First, as has been said, we must prepare peacekeepers for the missions in which they serve – as they are increasingly dangerous missions. As many of you know, the United States recently conducted a study in Mali through the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to experienced force commanders, but the findings made it abundantly clear that tailored, pre-deployment training for peacekeepers headed to Mali is the most important and the largest gap in MINUSMA. And that, of course, was underscored here today by the MINUSMA force commander.
We must do everything possible to avoid sending men and women unprepared into environments where violent extremists operate. We owe it to our peacekeepers and the people they protect to do better. And we extend special condolences to Chad, which has lost more soldiers in MINUSMA, I believe, than any other contingent.
While the Asymmetric Warfare Group’s findings were specific to Mali, this need for contextualized training, including scenario-based protection of civilians training, goes far beyond any one mission. No one size fits all, needless to say. The context of protecting internally displaced persons during the rainy season in South Sudan while cohabitating with them in UNMISS sites is very different than protecting civilians against rebels who wear army uniforms and melt into the jungle in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or, for that matter, against banditry and militias in the Central African Republic. These are very, very different and specific contexts and specific threat environments.
This leads me to my second point, on expanding the scope of troop-contributing countries – and the kinds of contributions they make. We all agree that we need to continue to broaden and deepen the pool of troop-contributing countries and increase contingents with niche capabilities to operate in challenging environments. Some of those niche capabilities have been discussed today. To assist in this endeavor, the secretariat has published a paper detailing the capabilities required for current UN peacekeeping operations. President Obama will host a Peacekeeping Summit during the UN General Assembly High-Level Week with the goal of working with the Secretary-General and other troop-contributing countries and financial supporters of peacekeeping to ensure that the UN can draw on the resources of contributing nations to fulfill the essential role played by UN peacekeeping – to make it more responsive, more effective, and safer for civilians as well as for the peacekeepers who comprise these missions.
But increased and smarter contributions will not be enough to help modern peacekeeping operations meet the challenges they face. Responsive planning and support to missions must also improve. The legacy structure of sustainment planning and logistics support is currently not adequate to back peacekeepers who face these modern threats. When a peacekeeper in a mission is wounded, whether it is in Mali, Darfur, or elsewhere, it is unconscionable that he or she cannot receive immediate medical care, including evacuation.
Third, I’d like to turn quickly to caveats. Force commanders need to have confidence that contingents will follow their leadership. A recent study from the Global Peace Operations Initiative on operational partnerships in UN peacekeeping found that restrictive national caveats place undue burdens on those TCCs that have not put such restrictions in place, and who have to pick up the slack. And we heard about that here with the specifics of the Golan in mind.
Secret caveats, which are declared only when a crisis breaks out, pose a particular risk to all mission personnel, including the peacekeepers themselves who have the caveats. In emergencies, commanders need to know that orders will be carried out fully and without push-back.
But even open caveats, which are made known to mission leadership from the start, are deeply concerning when they restrict the ability of contingents to undertake mission-critical tasks. Decisions on how peacekeepers respond to a threat or how to engage to protect civilians should be left to the force commander and mission leadership and carried out through the mission’s chain of command with full respect for the mission’s mandate. Those unwilling to abide by the force commander’s directives or to fulfil the mandate should not deploy.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not address the recent terrible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse being committed at the hands of international forces, including some UN peacekeepers. While the vast majority of peacekeepers serve honorably – and make, again, tremendous sacrifices – I must say, unequivocally, that this alleged conduct is unacceptable and any personnel who commit such acts must be brought to justice by their national authorities. There is no room in UN peacekeeping, or in any regional or national mission, for those who would prey on the most vulnerable whom they are there to protect. This should be a principal that all of us can rally around at the United Nations.
Before I give up the floor, I have just a few questions for our briefers.
First, General Yohannes, it would be helpful to hear from you, as we have about MINUSMA, what the biggest training gaps are among troops who arrive as part of UNMISS and within the mission headquarters’ staff. What are the gaps that you’d like to see filled and any insight you have as to how we as a Council might help address these gaps?
General Finn, what is your standard operating procedure when a contingent comes to you and informs you that it has certain caveats on its operations? So we heard, again, your concerns about caveats. But when you receive that information, do you discuss this then with the contingent commander? Do you inform DPKO Headquarters? Is this reported to the Security Council in any manner? It is not, to my knowledge, but it may be that information is circulated that we are not aware of. And could we think constructively and productively about procedural changes that might help us mobilize the will to overcome this challenge, which you eloquently described?
Under Secretary-General Ladsous, what is needed from Member States, what is needed within the Secretariat, what is needed in the missions to improve support to peacekeepers with regard to medical evacuations? An issue that, of course, every troop-contributing country and police-contributing country probably would like to have more assurance on before they deploy into harm’s way.
And then the same question really for the force commanders, as you are dealing with the mechanics of medical evacuation in the field: concretely, are there things that you are missing, steps that you think we can be taking to ensure this most basic care for the troops and police under your command?