Roundtable Discussion With Peacekeeping Experts

Rose Gottemoeller
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA)
Johannesburg, South Africa
December 15, 2015

Thank you for having me here today at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA). Thanks also to the experts that are joining us from the African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) and the Institute of Security Studies (ISS).

Peacekeeping is a core component of security in Africa and a key part of the idea of African solutions for African problems. Countries here are playing a more prominent role than ever before in both United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) peacekeeping effort. The five largest UN peacekeeping operations in the world are currently located in Africa. The African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM – would be the largest in the world, if it were deployed under UN auspices. From my recent visits to Djibouti and Kenya, it is clear to me that African countries are committed to this effort in Somalia.

While it is true that Africa is driving a significant portion of the demand for peacekeepers, it is also true that African troop and police-contributing countries are playing a more prominent role in these operations more so now than ever. One example is that 13 of the top 20 contributors of peacekeepers to United Nations missions are located in Africa-- one of those, of course, is South Africa.

The United States recognizes and appreciates the significant role South Africa plays in peacekeeping, both in terms of leadership and in deployment of personnel and equipment. South Africa is a robust contributor to international peacekeeping and currently contributes 2,159 troops, advisors, and police officers to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the United Nations - African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). The South African National Defense Forces (SANDF) forces form the core of MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade, which is extraordinarily important. We consider South Africa to be one of our strongest partners in promoting regional peace and security on the continent.

The AU has now also stepped up to take on a more prominent role in responding to conflict, as well. In several recent conflicts, we have seen the AU serve as the point of the spear when it comes to crisis response, including in Mali and Central African Republic. The AU continues to take the lead in Somalia, where AMISOM troops have been conducting offensive operations with some success against al-Shabaab. In my meetings in both Djibouti three weeks ago and then again this week in Kenya, I heard varying perspectives on Somalia and the dichotomy of a war torn state and a process of nation formation. There were both optimists and pessimists on where things are heading.

In Mali and Somalia, UN and AU peacekeepers respectively are finding themselves called upon to operate in areas where violent extremist organizations are very active and in some cases getting worse. Again, looking at Somalia, ISIL is trying to insert itself and then may threaten to move into Kenya.

UN and AU peacekeepers have also struggled to implement complex mandates, particularly those focused on the protection of civilians, but we have not done enough. Too often, we have witnessed peacekeepers stand by in the face of violence perpetrated against the civilian population, whether under orders from their capitals or under their own volition.

Another issue is resources. The capacity at the level of AU headquarters to manage and direct peacekeeping operations remains limited due to resource and staffing constraints.

The regional responses to the crises in Mali and Central African Republic are emblematic of these resource challenges. While troop-contributors were quick to demonstrate the political will to respond to the outbreak of conflict in those two countries, many of the contingents deployed without the equipment, training, and logistical support they needed to implement their mandates effectively.

So, in sum, the continued rise of violent extremism, the complexity of mandates, and resources issues are the top three issues at the moment.

The United States is deeply committed to helping our partners address these significant challenges. We have put 850 million dollars into AMISOM. Among its programming, funds from the U.S. Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (GPOI) have supported U.S. Africa Command to conduct specialized peacekeeping training for several GPOI partner countries, in areas such as logistics, higher level staff, and gender in peace operations.

Our assistance is not limited to just military contingents. We are also putting money into police forces, which now represent approximately 15% of peacekeepers. There is growing demand for, and recognition of, the distinct and important role law enforcement and other criminal justice actors play in modern peace operations to support host nations emerging from conflict. The United States works closely with police-contributing partner counties to build capacity to train, deploy, and sustain police for peacekeeping operations.

In line with this commitment, President Obama introduced a major new initiative to build additional conflict response capacity during the U.S.-Africa Leader’s Summit in 2014 – the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership (APRRP). The idea is to build the capacity of an initial six African countries’ militaries and police forces to deploy peacekeepers to emerging African conflicts. The inaugural APRRP partners are Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

As you know, President Obama hosted a peacekeeping summit this past September, which was emblematic of his personal commitment to this issue.

During the Summit, leaders of 49 countries and three international organizations made pledges that far exceeded our expectations. South Africa’s commitment of a Military Threat Assessment Unit, together with the commitments of other countries and organizations, will give the United Nations peacekeeping access to significant new capabilities. This includes well over 40,000 military personnel and police, plus critical assets and enablers, such as approximately 40 helicopters, 15 engineering companies, and 10 field hospitals.

So we applaud South Africa’s efforts to play a greater role in peacekeeping, as signified by their participation in the September meeting.

As I wrap up, I just want to revisit the notion of African solutions for African problems. South Africa has been a continued leader for the AU-UN High Level Panel on Peace Operations proposal that UN assessed-funds be used to help cover a share of the costs of AU peace operations focused on peace enforcement or counterterrorism.

We think that with commitments from both the UN side and the AU side coming together in a framework that would help to tackle under-resourcing. Still, decisions must be made, as countries still need to find the funds for the 25% contribution.

With that I will conclude my remarks – thank you for this opportunity, once again, and I look forward to our discussion.