Why President Obama is Hosting a Summit on UN Peacekeeping

There are any number of actives, events and meetings that a President can hold at the United Nations during UN Week. The President can pick a global issue, declare a “summit” and you can bet that most other world leaders would want to attend. In years’ past, President Obama has done just that, holding events on a range of issues, from countering violent extremism to peace in South Sudan.

This year, President Obama is choosing to focus on UN Peacekeeping. And for good reason.

UN Peacekeeping is under unprecedented strain. There are over 100,000 troops serving in 16 missions worldwide. Most of these missions are short staffed, many lack equipment like helicopters, and a few are operating in the midst of jihadist insurgencies in which UN Peacekeepers are routinely targeted. “The world is asking peacekeepers to do more, in more places, and in more complex conflicts than at any time in history,” writes Gideon Maltz, deputy chief of staff at the US Mission to the UN.

Despite this strain, the Obama administration still views UN Peacekeeping as an effective tool to help manage conflicts worldwide, particularly when no single country is willing to do all the heavy lifting. And since the twin disasters of Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, it has a had a pretty good track record of success. In the last decade and half, places like East Timor, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote D’Ivoire have benefited mightily from UN Peacekeeping.

But the prospect’s for success in many of today’s missions do not look so strong. In Mali, the UN faces a jihadist insurgency–something it’s never had to grapple with before. In South Sudan, peacekeepers are relegated to protecting thousands of civilians who have fled to UN bases seeking protection. The newest mission, in the Central African Republic, is still 2,000 troops short of its authorized strength.

President Obama is holding this summit because the USA wants UN Peacekeeping to be better at its job. Though there are very few Americans serving in peacekeeping operations, the USA has the largest financial stake in UN Peacekeeping, underwriting about 28% of the $8.2 billion price tag. The USA also has an outsized interest in promoting the kind of global stability that successful peacekeeping operations can deliver. The challenge for the USA and the rest of the world is to provide UN Peacekeepers with the tools they require to do their jobs well.

That is what this summit is all about.

Check back soon for more details on the summit and its outcome. 

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