This week, the United Nations General Assembly reconvened in New York City.
Of the many high-profile speakers presenting and topics discussed on Monday, President Obama
with his call for reinforcing UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world stood out.
UN peacekeeping has been throughout its history in consistently ailing health, so a call for
increased troop and technological support from the leader of the most powerful country on Earth
was certainly much needed.
President Obama explicitly called upon European countries, who collectively only contribute less
than seven percent of the UN’s 90,000 peacekeepers, to increase their troop contributions. Two
decades ago, European countries contributed upwards of 25,000 troops for peacekeeping
operations, in stark contrast to the fewer than 6,000 currently. The United Kingdom, who
currently only has 300 peacekeeping troops, responded to Obama’s challenge by stating that it
plans on sending hundreds of its troops to peacekeeping missions in Somalia and South Sudan.
Adding to the Kigali Principles of May 2015 and the “intervention brigade” deployed by the UN
in 2013 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both of which explicitly invoked the need for
peacekeeping forces to use offensive means to protect civilian lives, this call and positive
response for increased support for UN peacekeeping missions show a shift in the international
community’s thinking about peacekeeping.
Before the “intervention brigade” and the Kigali Principles, peacekeepers were only permitted to
act out of self-defense. Without the ability to bring the fight to the rebels and terrorists they were
committed to stop, peacekeeping missions have rarely succeeded.
Because of their historical ineffectiveness and multiple allegations of peacekeepers committing
sexual abuse, the international community had for a long time no intention of granting additional
support to peacekeeping missions.
Now the international community has begun to realize that by failing to properly fund and supply
UN peacekeepers, they are perpetuating the problems faced by peacekeeping missions.
The UN, which has had difficulty receiving adequate troop supplies and technology to combat
well-armed rebel groups, used to recruit any troops they could get, regardless of sufficient
training and discipline, and then send them into situations where they were seriously unprepared.
The results have been catastrophic with scores peacekeepers dying from IEDs in northern Mali
and repeated cases of sexual abuse in the Central African Republic.
If the international community were to properly supply UN peacekeepers, with equipment like
IED-resistant vehicles and attack helicopters, then peacekeeping missions would without a doubt
achieve far higher levels of success. And if countries were to supply more troops, as Foreign
Policy contributor James Traub writes, the UN might for the first time “have a surplus capacity”
allowing it to, as one American official commented, “repatriate the worst performing units.”
The UN and its members find themselves at an important moment. For one of the first times in
history, there is substantive international support for increasing peacekeeping capabilities. Much
of the gratitude for this increased support is owed to the United States and President Obama,
someone who truly believes in peacekeeping. If UN members make good on their promises, they
could usher in a new era of international security unlike any other before.