Victoria Holt
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Carlisle, PA
November 15, 2011

Thank you, Major General Martin, for the kind introduction, and thank you very much to the IAPTC, the IAPTC Executive Committee, and particularly Brigadier General Abul Basher Amin, President of the IAPTC and Commandant of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operations and Training. I would like to recognize our esteemed guests – including Mr. Dale Ormond, Brigadier General Timothy Traynor, and our distinguished United Nations panelists, including Izumi Nakamitsu and Tony Banbury. I would also like to thank the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute; they are true partners with us at the State Department and within our interagency process. They are able to work across the interagency and keep us tuned into what is going on with peacekeeping – and for that, I am very grateful.

Today I would like to focus on why it is such a pivotal time for peacekeeping, why the United States is committed to it, and what the key challenges are. In that context, allow me to emphasize the importance of your work as the training community for peacekeeping missions. This Association and your institutes offer a key connection between the ambitions of the international community for UN peacekeeping missions and what happens in the field, between the words of a UN resolution and the ability of peacekeepers to know how to deliver on core tasks. That is the central work you do, and precisely why your role matters so much and is so influential.

I’ll expand on what I mean in a moment, but first just an anecdotal scene setter. Every morning a number of senior State Department officials participate in an eight o’clock phone call to discuss daily issues and priorities. When we ask our colleagues in New York about the Security Council agenda, very frequently the response includes a peacekeeping mission, or a political situation in a country with an operation, or an operation on its border or a political mission. This is what draws our attention at a strategic level. We consider on a daily basis the peacekeepers that have been deployed – military, police and civilians. Do they have the best strength they can, the best leaders they can, the best equipment they can? And, equally important, do they receive the training they need?

These issues are at the top of our agenda because, ultimately, peace operations are a gamble. They are a gamble on whether the parties to a political agreement remain resolved, that they will stick to their ambition for peace. They are a gamble for the international community, which hopes to can come in and nudge, persuade, and cajole the parties to live up to those ambitions, to express their differences through politics, not through violence. It is a gamble that parties to a conflict will put down arms and pick up ballots, that they will listen to lawyers about rule of law, and that they will talk to their own civil society. This is not easy in any case, and we ask peacekeepers to go into situations difficult enough to make such a gamble. If it was easy, you wouldn’t need a peacekeeping operation.

So, we are all committed to something that is among the more difficult jobs in the international community. That ambition, those gambles, occasionally set us up for failure, which is something that this conference and others want to anticipate better – so we can recognize when a political, fragile peace is in danger of unraveling, and figure out what we can do to reinforce it.

Next, I would like to talk briefly about some of the well-known challenges and why we recognize that training is one component of addressing them. Certainly the tempo of peacekeeping missions has not diminished. Over a decade ago we saw a surge of new missions, and by its nature you would think that it would surge and then go back down – except this surge has not really ended. Starting in the late 1990s, after a period of reconsideration, new missions were launched. Many of those missions are with us today, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; in Kosovo, with police training; in East Timor, which is winding down; in Sierra Leone, which is almost completed: many of these missions that started in the last decade are still with us today.

And we have also seen an increase in the demands and expectations of these missions. Not only have peacekeepers been asked to go into places where there is a very difficult effort to build a state, to help the rule of law take hold, to help the political peace strengthen and to help a government govern. But we have also asked peacekeepers to go to places where they need Chapter VII authorization – where not everyone has laid down their guns – where sometimes those who wish to continue the fight are doing so. And in these places we may have strategic consent and an invitation to deploy peacekeepers, but it’s not always assured. Thus, the role of the peacekeeper is often, at the very local level, to make sure as best they can that things stay together – that violence does reoccur.

So in a sense we are asking more of peacekeepers and more of ourselves. We can certainly look back and see many of the things that the Brahimi Report laid out which have actually taken place. Many of the reforms called for over a decade ago are now well on their way. But we’ve added to that list. We’ve added to what UN missions are being asked to do. We are assessing training regimens to strengthen the connection between the aspirations of the international community – whether it is expressed by the General Assembly, the C-34, the Security Council, host nations, troop and police contributing countries, etc., and the on-the-ground functions of peace operations.

I had the privilege of sitting behind Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she addressed the Security Council a little over a year ago, when she said, “We will do our best to work together to improve every aspect of UN peacekeeping.” Ambassador Rice works every day on this in New York. She is a staunch and clear advocate for these UN missions, as is President Obama, who gives us direction. I regularly go to meetings in our White House that focus a great deal on how these peacekeeping missions are doing and what we can do to support them better.

Certainly our government turned often to the United Nations over the last two years. I have seen this in Sudan, in particular, where moving forward with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was very much a partnership with the leadership within the UN and the other member states that work within the UN system. We watched the peacekeeping missions have very difficult jobs. We now have three peacekeeping missions there.

We turned again to the United Nations when South Sudan needed support to become a government. That’s a very challenging mission – helping South Sudan become a nation when there are still armed groups inside the borders. And we know that there is ongoing violence along the border areas with Sudan. But we also know that peacekeeping is part of the answer, particularly in terms of helping to establish the rule of law.

So let me speak briefly about what we do. I must be upfront: the United States is not a high-level personnel provider to UN peacekeeping missions. You won’t see our numbers, military and police, on the top of the list for troop contributing countries. But that doesn’t indicate that we do not fully support those who do deploy from our country. I have had the pleasure of meeting the women who serve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including out in Goma. I have talked to the Americans – Creole Haitian Americans – who are serving as police in Haiti and helping work there with police training. I have been to Wau, South Sudan, where I also met U.S. police trainers. We appreciate the service of these individuals and care very much about their roles. We also recognize that it is other states that provide the bulk of personnel to UN missions.

In the end, peacekeeping is one of many tools to bring a stable peace. So often it is the diplomatic component that needs to support what the peacekeepers are doing in the field. And I think that is something that we feel we can help provide when a mission faces a challenge - whether it is Cote d’Ivoire’s elections going in a different direction; whether it is Congo itself facing elections later this month; or whether it is Haiti after an earthquake.

We have also supported direct training. I think I have a colleague here from the Global Peace Operations Initiative, which was launched in 2004 with the ambition to help train 75,000 forces, and has actually exceeded that amount. It is at over 140,000 today, and the program has also been extended and deepened. It has been broadened to look at training-the-trainer and helping build capacity on a greater scale. Many of you are familiar with that program; it is one that we greatly value. The Secretary also announced last year a new program to look more closely at police and police training, because we know that the rule of law is so critical to what UN operations are able to do. That’s an area I want to flag, where we have a commitment to strengthen support for peace operations as missions work more in this area.

But we also know that in spite of all our support for peacekeeping, it continues to face major challenges. I have mentioned a few. One certainly is how do we support better rule of law and police - whether they be formed units or individuals? How do these individuals learn the very detailed skill sets they may need? How do we persuade governments to give up personnel they may need at home? How do formed units actually understand their local community and how to do crowd control in a place where they might not even know the national language?

We have also faced capacity gaps. I think that this challenge is sometimes underestimated – that if a mission cannot move around its area of operation; if it cannot fly into an area where there is insecurity; if it doesn’t have the medical unit to back someone up – then this undermines the mission and its ability to move forward.

I have also mentioned the political piece. I won’t go into detail here, but I do believe that all of us must get the backing of those who send peacekeepers forward. There are also the countries who invited the peacekeepers in and support the mission – it’s the regional partners, it’s members of the Security Council, and it’s all of those countries represented here – who want to invest in peacekeeping success.

But let me focus on three issues that are really hard. I am picking these because I have seen this community help lead on them, and I want to appeal to your expertise so that we keep moving forward on each. The first has already been mentioned – it is the protection of civilians. While mandates have said “to protect civilians” for over a decade – and it’s certainly been the implicit role of peacekeepers since they have been deployed – there has really been huge movement forward on this challenge in just the last couple of years.

I want to give credit specifically to DPKO and the work that Izumi Nakamitsu and her team in the training shop – working with the partners here – to try and put some content behind that phrase ‘protection of civilians.’ I really can’t think of a harder job. The average military person is not necessarily trained to protect civilians. You don’t come from your government with a long history and understanding of what this means. And yet that is exactly what military personnel, with police and civilians, are being asked to do on these missions. And we know that if they aren’t aware of the problems and the challenges to civilian security, the whole mission could lose creditability and legitimacy if civilians are the victims of violence.

Now sometimes such violence is opportunistic, it is small and it will go away, but other times it is part of a larger political challenge. It is people attacking a civilian population for their own political gain, and those are different situations. So we fully support the efforts to create missions that understand the threats and vulnerabilities to civilians in their area – to understand the role within the mission of the civilian piece, particularly on early warning – but also the role of police and military to anticipate the violence and try and reduce it. It could be a mediation unit; it could be more aggressive patrolling. Occasionally it means going into a place when you don’t know exactly what is happening.

I think that this is something that is moving forward. But the challenge to you all is to help it move forward further – to make it take hold. I have actually watched the United Nations and this community be the innovators of some of the first training on these efforts. Some of the national governments are interested in this, but they are catching up with the work done within this community. It’s not easy, and nor should peacekeeping try and protect everybody from everything. That is impossible, and we recognize that. But there is that role in between what the mission can do and support to a host nation and their responsibilities.

So the question here is where we are now? Is there a voice for this community to recognize the progress that’s been made? Do you have recommendations on the core elements of training that other governments could adopt? And I think that is something that is built out of success despite facing a huge challenge.

Now related to this is a second issue which is not easy either. The Security Council has passed numerous resolutions dealing with sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). It has recognized it as a component of war, and it has asked peacekeeping missions to think about how it can handle this. This is not something that you can take out of a handbook, so I want to raise it in this community.

We know, for example, in Liberia, the number of those in Liberia who have suffered from some sort of sexual and gender-based violence – both in the conflict but also after conflicts – is very high. I have had American ambassadors come knock on my door in Washington and say, “I am working in a post-conflict environment, but the level of sexual and gender-based violence is horrible and I don’t know what we can do about it.” And that is a fair question, but you do know that the Security Council has asked full attention for this. And there’s the beginning of an effort to develop modules and training as part of the larger protection of civilians effort.

So again, I want to appeal to this community because you know that this is hard. Please tell us what you think the best lessons learned are from those who have deployed and come back. Tell us your experience of those who have been sent out, whether individuals or units or your senior leaders. Let’s build a community of knowledge here. The gap that we want to close is between the ambitions of the Security Council, the understanding of the international community, and the reality of what can actually be done in the field. If this is not achievable in the field, we have a huge problem. But this is the community of people who understand that better than I, and can teach us what we can do better.

The last one is also a significant challenge. It relates to peacekeepers who themselves engage in abusive conduct, and particularly sexual exploitation and abuse – we call it SEA. Such action can quickly undercut a mission’s credibility, regardless of all the food programs, all the governance activities, and all the well-run elections. It is a stain on peacekeepers that is pernicious and longstanding.

There has been much work done in this area, but on this issue I very sincerely appeal to you to think about how we can all do better. We do an annual report to our Congress on this issue. We tell them about the work done at the United Nations. But we know that it hasn’t gone away, though in some cases it may be coming to greater light.

Among the parallel challenges is the fact that some troop contributing countries fail to report back on actions they take when peacekeepers have abused a local citizen. That makes it very difficult for us to understand what their responsibilities are. Since peacekeepers are sent to protect people, to represent the international community, what do we do to make sure that they hold up the highest and best behavior for all of us?

Now, again, I raise these issues not because I think they are easy; I raise them because they are hard. I raise them because of our commitment to peacekeeping and to the training that you all support. I raise them because we firmly believe that this is one of the best mechanisms the international community has to help countries coming out of conflict to really have a chance at a stable peace.

Those are just a few opening remarks. I hope that I haven’t started with some of the toughest issues, but perhaps I have. But it’s out of a commitment to the work this community does. It’s an invitation to work with us as partners. I think that if there’s maybe a larger theme for the United States government, it is partnership. We see our role in the world as rolling up our sleeves and being part of multilateral organizations, working alongside regional organizations, working within the United Nations – not because the UN is a perfect institution or that we have an idealized vision of it – but exactly because it is what we have and we want to make it more effective, more able to deliver on both our moral and strategic ambitions.

Thank you very much, and a special thank you to the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and everybody here for the opportunity to speak today.