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July 31, 09

NEWS / United Nations Peacekeepers Overstretched, U.S. Ambassador Says

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — The 93,000 U.N. peacekeepers deployed in 15 conflict areas around the world are saving lives and bringing stability to troubled areas, but U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice says they are also overstretched and need greater international support. In addition, Rice said, U.N. internal management reforms could boost the effectiveness of the peacekeeping operations.

Speaking before U.S. lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington July 29, Rice said the benefit of U.N. peacekeepers is not only to the areas they are deployed, but also to U.N. member states that might otherwise face the consequences of conflicts spilling over international boundaries.

“I think it’s fair to say that if the U.N. were not present … the conflicts would continue to rage on, that fragile peace processes would collapse, [and] elections would not be held in places as critical as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Liberia or Haiti,” Rice said.

U.N. peacekeeping “is saving lives and it is preventing conflict zones from being exploited as they often are by extremists, by criminals. They can also often become breeding zones for disease and other transnational security threats,” she added.

But there is a need to match supply with demand, she said. With the current levels of peacekeeping operations, “the U.N. has overstretched,” Rice said. “There are several critical authorizations where the authorized strength is not met by the number of troops on the ground and there is a major capacity gap that needs to be filled.”

The ambassador said the Obama administration is providing support to peacekeepers in training, recruitment, equipment and transportation, as well as paying $2.2 billion in peacekeeping costs.

“We are paying slightly more than 25 percent of the cost of these operations. We are contributing over and above that on a voluntary basis to lift in and equip and support and train and deploy many of the peacekeepers that are active in the most complex and important operations,” Rice said. The United States has also trained 81,000 peacekeepers through the U.S. Global Peace Operations Initiative.

She told lawmakers that as more peacekeepers are needed, the willingness of other countries to provide troops and police “is likely to increase if they see that key Security Council members, including the United States, not only value their sacrifice, but respect their concerns.”

The Obama administration is also “willing to consider directly contributing more military observers, military staff officers, civilian police and other civilian personnel,” including female personnel, to operations. “We will also explore ways to provide additional enabling assistance to peacekeeping missions, either by ourselves or together with partners,” Rice said.

At the same time, Rice said, peacekeeping missions are “not always the right answer” in all situations, and regional forces or other types of deployments might be more effective. Rice said that in Somalia, for example, there is “a tradition of really violent opposition to outsiders of all sorts,” and the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, is providing support to the population and is “not viewed with the same skepticism and hostility that the U.N. might [be].”

The United States and other members of the Security Council need to ensure that mandates given to peacekeeping missions are “well-tailored, achievable and rational.” Rice said, “That has not always been the case to the extent necessary.”

The United Nations’ internal management can be strengthened through additional reforms to enable a peacekeeping force to deploy more rapidly and to “ensure that its operations are performed with greater transparency and efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”

“We need peacekeeping missions that are planned well, deployed quickly, budgeted realistically, equipped seriously, led ably and ended responsibly,” Rice said.


Rice discussed Eritrea’s support of extremists in neighboring Somalia, and said the United States takes note of calls from Somalia’s neighbors and the African Union for sanctions to be implemented by the U.N. Security Council against Eritrea.

Eritrea is “taking steps that are destabilizing Somalia [and] the region and that have a direct impact on our security and that of others. It is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it. And nor will other members of the Security Council,” Rice said.

In addition to supporting extremist elements in Somalia such as Al Shabaab, Eritrean forces crossed Djibouti’s borders in 2008 and killed 40 soldiers. “The council demanded that Eritrea acknowledge this dispute and act to resolve it. Djibouti has upheld its obligations, Eritrea has not. And it has essentially stiffed and stonewalled the U.N. and others on this,” she said.

Rice said the Obama administration continues to hope for improved relations and that Eritrea will “step back from its destabilizing activities.” She said if there are no “signs of that signal in short order,” the United States “will be taking appropriate steps with partners in Africa and the Security Council to take cognizance of Eritrea’s actions.”



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