Biden to UN: We owe peacekeepers more

Ayee Macaraig
Biden to UN: We owe peacekeepers more
The US Vice President leads a UN summit on strengthening peace operations. The Philippines attended the summit after the controversy over the Golan mission.

UNITED NATIONS – “When we ask [peacekeepers] to do more than ever, in even more difficult and more dangerous environments, we owe them more.”

US Vice President Joe Biden called on the international community to step up support for peacekeeping operations as troops from countries like the Philippines face increasingly dangerous and complex challenges in global hotspots.

Biden presided over a US-organized United Nations high-level summit on peacekeeping at the UN Headquarters in New York on Friday, September 26, where top leaders from over 30 countries announced troop and equipment pledges to strengthen peace operations. The Philippines was among the few troop contributing countries invited to, and which attended, the summit.

America’s Vice President discussed how UN peacekeeping drastically evolved since it started in 1948.

“As the nature of conflict and combatants has evolved – to include sophisticated non-state actors as well as traditional armies – the instruments of peacekeeping have evolved as well,” Biden said.

“Had we met in the same fora 20 years ago, no one would have anticipated the type of peacekeeping operations from non-state actors that we’re engaged with. So when I say think strategically, we have to think ahead, as well.”

Biden expressed support for the review of peace operations that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon ordered.

In his speech at the summit, Ban cited the Golan Heights as one of the areas where peacekeepers struggle with growing risks. In late August, controversy surrounded Filipino troops’ standoff with Syrian rebels in the Golan where they said the UN mission commander ordered them to surrender weapons to the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra front supposedly to secure the release of kidnapped Fijian peacekeepers. The Filipinos defied the order and hatched their own escape plan. 

The UN has denied the Filipinos’ claim and supported the commander. The issue was not discussed in the summit.

Ban said UN member states must support peacekeeping missions to enable the world body to quickly deploy personnel, operate safely, and protect civilians.

“I recognize that the UN Secretariat must also do its part to continually improve this vital instrument,” the UN chief said.

Ban explained that he called for a review of peace operations because it has been 15 years since the last comprehensive review. It was then called the Brahimi report, named after former UN Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who chaired the review panel. 

On top of the review, the Secretary-General announced that the UN will convene a meeting of military chiefs of staff of countries involved in peacekeeping operations in the coming months.

Ban said more than 130,000 troops, police and civilian staff are now deployed as peacekeepers, a UN record.

As of August, of this number, 672 are from the Philippines. The Philippines ranks 33rd among countries contributing police and military personnel to the UN.

Use of force, consent are issues

Since the Golan standoff controversy, the Philippines called on the UN to review rules of engagement and the mandate in the Golan Heights mission, with emphasis on the safety of peacekeepers during kidnapping and siege incidents.

In the summit, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn expressed similar concerns, raising the argument that the deployment of blue helmets is sometimes considered “inappropriate” because  “there is no peace to keep.”

“In Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo, developments on the ground made it imperative to use force beyond what’s required for self-defense. These are ad hoc arrangements that lack the underpinnings of well thought-out, agreed doctrines and principles. We cannot pretend there are no problems in the way traditional peacekeeping principles are interpreted and applied,” he said.  

“The idea of non-use of force except in self-defense might lead peacekeepers to focus more on their own safety even in the face of potential mass atrocities,” he added.

Hailemariam also raised the issue of asking consent when non-state actors like rebels, militants and terrorists are involved.

“It is also possible that the principle of consent of parties can be interpreted in a way that makes it lose meaning. There are groups like Al-Shabab and asking for their consent may be both unwise and impractical. We began to encounter more of these instances lately. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that there is difficulty in identifying the parties themselves.”

The summit did not resolve these issues as these are expected to be taken up in the review. Ban will appoint a high-level panel to conduct the review. His spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric responded to questions from Rappler about the scope of the review.

“I think the challenges that we faced 15 years ago have changed. They’re multifaceted; the issue of terror groups, the issue of resources for peacekeeping are challenging, and so it will be a wholesale review and look forward in how we do peacekeeping,” Dujarric said.

Pledges of troops, helicopters 

Biden cited the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, which aims to build the capacity of 6 African militaries to deploy peacekeepers as an initiative of the US to support peacekeeping.

The White House outlined the commitments the countries made in the summit:

  • Sweden, Indonesia, Nepal, and Egypt committed to future troop deployments
  • Colombia followed Mexico in announcing its intent to return to peacekeeping
  • Bangladesh, Serbia, and Vietnam announced new contributions of key enablers, including aviation, engineering, and hospital units
  • China, Indonesia and Chile pledged to consider deploying helicopters. Bangladesh, Nepal, Rwanda, and Ethiopia pledged to take further measures to protect civilians from violence through peacekeeping operations
  • Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Mongolia, and Indonesia committed to make available troops for rapid deployment
  • Japan, Spain, France, Latvia, Ireland, Croatia, Chile, and Pakistan pledged to bolster their support for peacekeeping capacity-building

In the coming year, Uruguay, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and the Netherlands will also convene regional leaders to gain more support for peacekeeping. – 

Rappler multimedia reporter Ayee Macaraig is a 2014 fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists. She is in New York to cover the UN General Assembly, foreign policy, diplomacy, and world events.

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