US President Barack Obama on Monday told a United Nations (UN) summit that more than 50 countries have pledged some 40 000 peacekeepers for possible deployment on United Nations missions, as well as helicopters, medical units and training and equipment to deal with roadside bombs.
He chaired a summit of world leaders at the United Nations to garner commitments to boost the capacity and capabilities of UN peacekeeping and to allow the world body to deploy forces more rapidly if a new operation is created.
“Our goal should be to make every new peace operation more efficient and more effective than the last,” Obama said.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said in addition to some 40 000 new troops and police, more than 50 countries had pledged to provide more than 40 helicopters, 15 military engineering companies and 10 field hospitals.
China made one of the biggest commitments. President Xi Jinping pledged to set up a “permanent peacekeeping police squad and build a peacekeeping standby force of 8 000 troops.”
Speaking on the margin of the summit UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the demand for peacekeeping has never been greater.
According to the UN, the summit comes at a time when peacekeeping missions are unprecedented in scale of operation and scope of mandates with 125 000 troops, police and civilian personnel in 15 operations across four continents.
Ban said the more than 120 countries are currently contributing personnel disarm, demobilise and reintegrate ex-combatants; strengthen rule of law and security institutions and promote human rights.
“These numbers show peacekeeping’s value, but are also a sign of troubled times,” he said.
Elaborating the Secretary-General pointed out “the situations into which peacekeepers are deployed have never been more challenging, as tasks multiply and we face extremists, criminal groups and others who show no regard for international humanitarian or human rights law”.
To ensure UN peacekeeping is up to these and future challenges, Ban spoke of the need “to act urgently, boldly and collectively,” to have predictable and effective military capabilities, a qualified police personnel, including more female officers, and a standby reserve.
Amid a stream of allegations of misconduct and sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR), US officials say the surplus troops will also allow the world body to exercise more discretion in its 16 current missions.
“The overwhelming number of peacekeepers serve with honour and decency in extraordinarily difficult situations. But we have seen some appalling cases of peacekeepers abusing civilians and that is totally unacceptable,” Obama said.
He also reminded participants of the need to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse and said he counted on all troop and police contributing countries to act swiftly and decisively to hold perpetrators to account.
“Those who serve in peace operations must never prey on the people they are meant to protect,” he said.
According to the UN website, the United States provides 82 of the more than 106 500 people deployed on UN peacekeeping missions: 34 troops, 42 police and six military advisers. But Washington pays for more than 28% of the more than $8.2 billion UN peacekeeping budget.
Obama said the United States would work to double the number of military advisers it contributes to UN peacekeeping, and offer logistical support, including air and sea lift, and training.
“When there’s an urgent need and we’re uniquely positioned to help, we’ll undertake engineering projects like building airfields and base camps for new missions,” he said.
During a speech in Brussels in March, Power called on Europe to consider contributing more to UN peacekeeping. She said two decades ago Europeans made up 40% of UN peacekeepers, but this has fallen to about seven percent.
More than a dozen European countries stepped up on Monday. British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to send 70 troops and experts to the UN and African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia and up to 300 troops to the UN mission in South Sudan.
“I believe these things are in our own national interest,” Cameron told the summit. “When countries break up, we see the problems of migration can affect us all. When countries become havens to terror, we all suffer as a result”.
The top five troop and police contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Rwanda. They all made further pledges at the summit.