4:00 P.M., EDTMODERATOR:
All right. Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming. Thank you for waiting for a few minutes. And thanks again to the Foreign Press Center for its hospitality today. I’d like to introduce Samantha Power, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council at the White House. She will be speaking on the meeting earlier today the President held with troop-contributing countries, and she will address the broader topic of peacekeeping at the United Nations.
And without further ado, a great pleasure to introduce Samantha.MS. POWER:
Hello, everybody. It’s great to be here, and it was a privilege earlier today to sit in on what I believe is the first gathering that has occurred at the United Nations – again, a pleasure to be here and a great privilege to be in attendance today as the President sat down, I believe for the first time in history, with the leading troop contributors to UN Peacekeeping.
It’s also a pleasure to be here today with the U.S. Government’s team that helps shepherd our support for peacekeeping through the U.S. Government: Jim Scheer, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Defense Department; Victoria Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the State Department; Salman Ahmed, who works very closely with Ambassador Susan Rice at the U.S. Mission here at the UN; and Jeff Brown, who is the director for Multilateral Affairs at the NSC. All played invaluable roles also in helping assemble this, again, unprecedented meeting.
As many of you know, there are some 113,000 peacekeepers active around the world in a range of very, very diverse and increasingly complex missions. What too often – too rarely happens is that the member-states of the United Nations too rarely sit down with those troop-contributing countries to reflect on what they do in the field, what they need, how they can perform more effectively on behalf of the civilians in harm’s way who so often rely upon them.
And so President Obama conceived of this meeting as an effort to sit down with the leading troop-contributing countries and mainly just to listen, very much in keeping with the themes that you heard articulated in the speech today, the era of engagement and the era of responsibility. He sat down with these unheralded actors in the international system and engaged with them, listened to them, heard their concerns in terms of mandates, in terms of resources, in terms of the need for greater capacity in order to maximize civilian potential.
But also, of course, this meeting was in keeping with the era of responsibility – how all of us who are part of the UN system have a responsibility to burden-share, and to ensure that those whom we send out into harm’s way have the resources that they need to do the job.
I thought what I would do here is sort of scene-set a little bit in describing this meeting which was not open to the press, just so – especially those of you who come from countries that were represented in the room have a sense of how the engagement went. Represented in the room were most of the top 15 leading troop contributors, and most at a head-of-state level.
So let me just run through the list and remind people who was in attendance. Bangladesh was in attendance; Prime Minister Hasina was in attendance. The Chinese attended at the permanent representative level. Egypt Foreign Minister Gheit attended. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Mesfin attended. President Mills of Ghana, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy both were in attendance. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh attended. The prime minister of Nepal, Prime Minister Nepal; the Nigerian Foreign Minister Mr. Maduekwe; President Zardari of Pakistan; President Kagame of Rwanda, President Wade of Senegal; President Vazquez of Uruguay.
And also in attendance, and I think very importantly, were the two officials within the UN system who have the greatest responsibility for peacekeeping – of course, the Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Mr. Alain Le Roy, and Susana Malcorra, Under Secretary General for Field Support.
And the way the meeting sort of unfolded, President Obama asked each of the troop contributors to weigh in on the challenges that they had faced and to address the question of how together we can enhance civilian protection in – out in the real and messy world. So I’m just going to again share – give you a little bit of a flavor of what was said and what President Obama heard, and then describe for you his closing comments at the end of the meeting as he kind of took in each of these inputs from a very diverse set of actors.
The Bangladesh prime minister began by expressing pride in the fact that Bangladesh is the leading contributor of police, and this is something President Obama has focused a lot on. Most of us, when we talk about peacekeeping, tend to focus on traditional military forces. But of course, police work – civilian police work in conflict areas is essential and is often some of the most taxing work to be done because of the language requirements and the intelligence requirements to do good police work.
The Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina also talked about the degree to which her country – and probably speaking for many countries in the room and also those not represented for them, Somalia was a crucial, and of course, a very unfortunate chapter in the history of peacekeeping. And she described the effort to bounce back from the Black Hawk Down incident which so many Americans remember so well.
But also what is – what often gets too little attention – the death of peacekeepers that occurred in Somalia, including Bangladeshi peacekeepers. She stressed the importance of ensuring that peacekeepers out in the field have the right equipment in order to do the work, and specifically stressed the need for more regularized and professional airlift of capacity so that peacekeepers could expeditiously deployed as soon as their missions were – operations were authorized by the Security Council.
President Kagame of Rwanda thanked President Obama for the logistic and training support that Rwandan troops have received. President Obama had thanked President Kagame right at the start for all the efforts the Rwandans have made in Darfur and in Southern Sudan, that Rwandans have, of course, been something of a backbone to the UNAMID operation in Darfur, and President Obama expressed his thanks for that.
I think very importantly, President Kagame also talked about the importance of pursuing peacemaking with equal vigor to peacekeeping, and stressing that too often, peacekeepers in the past have been sent in as stopgaps when there is no peace to keep. And so President Kagame stressed the importance of accompanying peacekeeping operations with very energetic and vigorous diplomatic and political efforts.
Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy described the various ways Italy has contributed to peacekeeping, not only in the UN context, but of course, also through NATO and through the European Union. He talked at some length about the importance of ensuring that peacekeepers in the field are really interacting with local populations; that it’s not about being barricaded behind closed doors, but really about being at one with the community. And it’s in those interactions that one gets, of course, the most effective peacekeeping because of the interaction with civilians and the support provided by civilians and vice versa.
I should say that President Obama did single out Mr. Berlusconi for appreciation, noting that while there was a period in which European peacekeepers were heavily involved in UN peacekeeping, it was especially appreciated that Italy, in light of the recent influx of peacekeepers to Lebanon, that Italy had assumed that role and found itself again in the top ten among troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping. That’s a very important trend, and one, of course, we would like to see reinforced.
President Zardari of Pakistan thanked President Obama for paying UN dues and expressed gratitude and the hope that Pakistani peacekeepers would be paid, because apparently, they have some outstanding debts. And he assumed that since the United States was now keeping a balanced checkbook at the UN, that that would mean that Pakistani peacekeepers would soon be paid. And President Zardari, I think, also importantly stressed a version of what Prime Minister Berlusconi had talked about, but maybe it’s corollary, which is the degree to which peacekeeping affords peacekeepers the opportunity to mingle with not only local populations, as Berlusconi had said, but with one another, and portrayed peacekeeping as sort of the embodiment, in a way, of the global community that is gathered here in New York for these few days.
President Mills of Ghana, who President Obama, of course, had had the opportunity to meet earlier in the year in Ghana, talked about the effects of the global financial crisis and financial shortfalls on peacekeeping operations, both in terms of, of course, creating environments where conflict becomes more likely as resources are more scarce, but also the difficulty that troops who do wear blue helmets face when contributing countries at the United Nations aren’t themselves able to maintain the financial commitments that are needed.
The president of Senegal talked about the aid missions which Senegal is currently undertaking around the world and expressed a pride that Senegal has two high commanders in UN peacekeeping history, and says that that, for the Senegalese people, is a source of considerable pride. And indeed, he expressed additional pride in the fact that two countries have recently come to the United Nations and specifically requested Senegalese peacekeepers be part of the peacekeeping missions that deploy. The Government of Guinea and that of Sudan apparently made these requests. And so he took that as a sign of the good that Senegalese peacekeepers are doing around the world.
Prime Minister Nepal of Nepal described Nepalese efforts at peacekeeping over five decades. Talked about the need for innovation in order to meet these increasing, complex, and multidimensional operations that go on around the world, and wanted to make sure that at headquarters and in terms of financial contributions and troop contributions, that peacekeepers and the peacekeeping effort was keeping up with the times. He also described the pernicious effect that the influx of small arms and the traffic of small arms is having in conflict areas around the world, and that that also is something that the United Nations needed to address, in addition to peacekeeping.
One sort of side note – it appears that Prime Minister of Nepal – Prime Minister Nepal of Nepal made an effort to actually convey his thanks to President Obama for convening the meeting by bringing a very large Gurkha knife to the United Nations in order to present as a symbol of peace, because the Gurkhas do, of course, such terrific work in peacekeeping around the world. And he described his disappointment that the Secret Service had not permitted him to present this Gurkha knife to President Obama. And President Obama echoed that disappointment.
The final speaker – and keep in mind this meeting was just an hour-long meeting, so an awful lot was crammed in – was President Vazquez of Uruguay. And he gave a very interesting and multifaceted kind of summation, really, of the state of peacekeeping right now, stressing civilian protection and the need to ensure that the ratio of civilians to military killed in armed conflict, which used to be 9-to-1 military-civilian in World War I and is now 8-to-2 of civilian-to-military, that that ratio was unacceptable.
He suggested that we needed to widen the pool of countries who participated in peacekeeping. Of course, more than a hundred countries contribute, but all at very different scales, and he described the peacekeeping efforts and the opportunity to participate as the chance to join what he called an army of peace. He noted that while for financial contributors, peacekeeping may seem expensive, it is only 0.55 percent of the global military expenditure in the world. These are based on NGO figures. And finally, he basically described this effort as both a strategic and a moral imperative, and that it was important to see it as both not a humanitarian luxury, but in the interest of all member-states of the United Nations.
President Obama took extensive notes throughout this conversation, I think was really appreciative of the degree of preparation that these leaders brought to the table, again, for a conversation that was the first of its kind. And he closed with what he took to be some of the conclusions of the meeting, and I’ll just run through them: First of all, a need to marry mandates and resources. It’s no secret that some of the most unfortunate chapters in UN peacekeeping over the past two decades have occurred in instances where the mandates given to peacekeepers did not match the means, or in situations where peacekeepers were in places where there was no peace to keep and had no way to follow through on what civilians expected of them in terms of civilian protection.
So again, what President Obama took away from this meeting was the need to coordinate on the front end with those forces who are going out into harm’s way, into conflict areas, to ensure that the Security Council and the TCCs are – have a two-way channel of communication, again, at the outset, but also as situations on the ground evolve.
Second, President Obama stressed the need to expand and enhance the efforts by those countries that have military resources to train and equip and lift and facilitate the work of peacekeepers out in conflict zones. And part of that, of course, is ensuring an adequate supply and logistic train – chain so that those peacekeepers, once they’re deployed, also have the means to be resupplied and to have what they need to do the job.
He came back to President Kagame’s point about the importance of peacekeeping as – I’m sorry, the importance of peacemaking as well as peacekeeping, the need to ensure that we have diplomatic and political energy commensurate with the peacekeeping and the sort of military stopgap effort, or the military effort to kind of freeze situations on the ground. He said it’s essential that peacekeeping not simply be a band-aid, but that we have to see conflict on a continuum where you have prevention and all the possibilities there, peacekeeping itself where you try to create a kind of cooling situation in which negotiation – political work can get done, and then of course, reconstruction and development and ensuring societies can get back on their feet. So attention to peacekeeping is in no way intended to suggest that peace-building or prevention are any less important to this President. I mean, this was a message he drove home, again, at the end of the meeting.
And then finally, echoing the themes that a number of the other leaders have made, the importance of securing support from local populations. And this, again – I mean, much of these themes are interrelated. The way to do that is to ensure a robust civilian protection. The way to do that is to marry means and mandates and to, again, enhance the dialogue that goes on between those countries that pay for peacekeeping, those countries that send peacekeeping forces out into the field, and then of course, those who are protecting vulnerable people from conflict and from human rights abuse.
President Obama closed the meeting by saying and pledging, “My Administration will work bilaterally and multilaterally to assure that you get the support, respect, and thanks that you deserve.” And again, this is a meeting that is meant to show all of those things – support, in terms of the U.S. financial, political, diplomatic and even personnel support. Respect – we need to hear from you, we need to gather from you how we can be most helpful, we and other countries similarly situated. And thanks, finally, after many, many years of peacekeepers being out in the fields, often taking casualties and taking fire, to actually be able to gather those countries in one room and have the opportunity to say a formal thank you was an important dimension to this.
So I think that wraps things up. Happy to take any questions you have peacekeeping.MODERATOR:
As we take questions (inaudible).QUESTION:
Thank you. My name is Laolu Akande. I work for the Guardian of Nigeria. I just have two really quick questions, specifically on the UNAMID situation in Darfur. For a long while, the generals of the troops there, I believe it was General Agwai, stressed the need that they needed about 18 helicopters. And all through (inaudible) there for about two years, I don’t think they got up to four. Did the President make any commitment to ensure that this kind of situation does not repeat itself?
Number two, about Somalia, what is the expectations that the U.S. Government have regarding Nigeria providing troops for Somalia? I understand there’s been back and forth on the need for Nigeria, which is the fourth-ranking countries supplying the troops. Does the American government expect Nigeria to send more troops to Somalia?MS. POWER:
Let me start with the second question just – I think that, again, part of the function of this meeting was to encourage peacekeepers like Nigeria, where – unfortunately, President Yar'Adua was unable to attend the meeting, but to thank Nigeria for all of the efforts it’s making around the world. The discussion did not focus on a particular mission and – nor again, in that kind of setting, would that have been appropriate.
I will say, just in terms of our Somalia policy, that it is a huge priority to the President to work with other countries and to find some kind of formula in which some of the chaos and the suffering that has been experienced by the Somali people can be mitigated. I don’t think the President or anybody else thinks that there’s a straight military solution to what ails Somalia, but I believe our countries will continue the dialogue with one another as we think through together what the best formula is to try to stabilize what is currently a very unstable and very tragic situation.
On the helicopters, you raise an excellent point. And it’s not just the last few years where we’ve had the helicopter Darfur issue. Of course, one only has to go back to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 to remember all of the painstaking effort that was made just to try to get armored personnel carriers to the peacekeepers in Rwanda while the genocide was underway. There are issues of red tape that I think this Administration is committing – it has committed itself and is engaged in trying to cut through. That is in other countries, and of course, as well in our collective effort in every country, we’ve got to cut through the red tape.
And then there is – really the message again that the President delivered today in the General Assembly is how can we get countries – each of us to ask ourselves where can we add value here. Maybe we’re not a country that’s going to send troops to South Sudan or to Haiti or to Liberia – this is any country – but maybe we have helicopters or maybe we have helicopter pilots. And that’s why I closed with the quote that the President gave at the end of his press conference saying respect, support, and thanks, and him saying that we’re going to work bilaterally and multilaterally.
Each of us within the United Nations who cares about burden sharing, about civilian protection, about peacekeeping, has to make an effort to go directly to capitals to try to get those commitments to be made in terms of resources. Every country has something to offer in this space, and so many countries have so much to gain if we can start to expedite the deployment of helicopters and other forms of equipment that give the troops on the ground the mobility and the eyes and the ears that they need to deliver on the promise of that blue and white flag that the United Nations brings.
So again, this didn’t – nobody happened to bring it up, but it’s something the President certainly is aware of. And I think we’ve made a lot of progress since President Obama took over, again, through the great work of folks at our Defense Department and elsewhere in the U.S. Government, to close some of these gaps. But they’re not closed yet, and we will not stop pushing and stop pleading and stop urging, working with the Department of Peacekeeping and others, and Susan Malcorra who pulls together a lot of these lists of what is needed. But first you’ve got to map the universe – what is needed, who can supply it, and how can you convince them to make the contributions that will enhance civilian welfare.
Hi, my name is Mark Goldberg. I write a blog called UN Dispatch. I’m wondering if you see any connection between the presence of Western troops in peacekeeping missions and the relative success or failure of those missions? And relatedly, if you’ve discussed at all the possibility or prospect of American contribution – troop contributions to peacekeeping missions.MS. POWER:
I think that’s an excellent question. And peacekeeping, again, has a long history. Western countries used to be much more involved on the ground in peacekeeping than they are currently. Although as I mention in the context of Italy, certain countries are coming forward and certain countries have said that they are going to be departing Afghanistan; that may create the possibility for more troop contributions to peacekeeping.
But it is important to stress the degree to which there’s UN peacekeeping and then there are other forms of peacekeeping. A lot of the work being done at Provincial Reconstruction Teams out in Afghanistan, a lot of the civilian welfare work done by NATO and by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, looks analogous in places, in particular communities, to that which is done by peacekeepers.
So I think that the key is for, as I mentioned in response to the prior question, is for every country to do its share, and for this burden – overall burden – which includes Afghanistan, which includes mitigating violence in Iraq, it includes the countries where UN peacekeepers are active, it includes Chad where you had a European peacekeeping force until recently. I think every Western country, just like every other country, needs to be looking at its roster of assets of all kinds and assessing what it can do. Because all of us, again, stand to gain if these societies are stabilized, and each of the forces out there on the ground can use additional support.
On the question of U.S. forces, I think we already have – I believe it’s 93 U.S. staff officers and others who are active in UN peacekeeping. I think the President in his chairman’s statement, which should circulate, has said this is something, of course, that the United States is willing to consider. It’s not something that he would rule out. But one always wants to do the cost benefit analysis there. I mean, there are certain places where U.S. forces are not, in fact, likely to be the greatest asset to a peacekeeping force, not because they wouldn’t be terrific peacekeepers, but because there is a political dimension to a U.S. deployment that has to be taken into account. And so one always wants to ask how do we balance our strategic priorities, the fact that we have so many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how would we assess the relative impact that U.S. forces would make to a peacekeeping mission.
So we’re looking at a lot of different routes to the same end. And again, the U.S. pays, as you know, almost a quarter of the peacekeeping share and does an awful lot of the training and equipping for those forces who go into harm’s way. So I think that what we hope is that we can start a larger conversation among developed countries and countries that have spare assets to join in that effort.QUESTION:
Thank you. Joanna Weschler, Security Council Report. From what you said, it sounds like the President made protecting civilians in harm’s way a very important part of what he understands as peacekeeping. Of the people who spoke, the troop contributors, other than the president of Uruguay, have anybody else made this an important element?MS. POWER:
Well, I’m not sure if anybody else made it an explicit element, but in some senses, my understanding of the conversation was that, in a sense, that’s what everybody was talking about. I mean, they weren’t talking about resources for resources’ sake. It was in no way – people – countries saying you haven’t given us enough, why don’t you give us more. That wasn’t the spirit of the conversation. It was really kind of almost like a brainstorming session about how together we could partner to do more.
And so again, off the top of my head, I can’t – and I don’t have the transcript – I can’t remember if people honed in on it quite in that way. But for instance, I mean, when President Kagame talks about the need for greater training and greater logistic support and so forth, I mean, he’s talking about it from the standpoint both of someone, of course, who was – came into the presidency in the wake of a genocide, and one who’s had some frustrations with UN peacekeepers in the past, but also one whose forces are in Darfur really struggling with this balance. When you are – when you have so few troops on the ground, I mean, that’s UNAMID in Rwanda as well, and yet you see civilians in need and you don’t necessarily have the mobility you need to get to them in time, and if you do, you’re exposed.
I mean, all of it, I sense, was in the spirit of trying to enhance civilian protection. So you did not get a sense from the countries that were in the room at all that the frustration was we don’t want the mandate to protect civilians. You got the sense, we understand that when we are deployed – I mean, the army of peace and all of that language – that when we are deployed in places where civilians are vulnerable, that that’s what civilians expect of us, and please, can we continue this dialogue, can we continue to work together to ensure that we can deliver on that promise.QUESTION:
Thank you. Kamau Cush with New African Magazine. Now, I understand that not all of Somalia’s in turmoil. In Somaliland, I understand – I think that’s in the north or south of the country – the forces who are in control there have things pretty much stable, so much so that one can get a telephone line within three days, I understand.
Now, is there any effort on the part of the peacekeepers to interact with those forces to get a sense in terms of what is it that they’re doing to keep that part of the country stable, and perhaps you can apply that to the rest of Somalia? Two, what efforts are being made to engage the combatants and the people who are fighting the peacekeepers, the folks who blew up the AU troops recently? What efforts are being made to engage them to do the kind of peacemaking that President Kagame spoke about? And are any efforts being made to address the concerns of Somali fishermen, who have complained and have been complaining over the years of overfishing in Somali waters by Japanese and other European fisheries? Thank you.MS. POWER:
We – I’m going to disappoint you here, unfortunately. We had an Africa briefing – I believe it was yesterday, Ben – where my colleague at the NSC, Michelle Gavin, and with Scott Gration, General Gration, our Sudan envoy, wouldn't have necessarily been able to speak to your question, but Michelle certainly would have. I can put you in touch directly with her or with the folks at the State Department, but I prefer not to get into something as far afield as that. I just wouldn't do justice, I think, to your very detailed and important question.MODERATOR:
We have time for one last one. MS. POWER:
We can talk after. QUESTION:
Thank you. John Halperin, Associated Press. I’m wondering – two questions. One is did the United States make any kind of new commitments today, if not for troops, then for contributing equipment to missions like Sudan that badly need them? And secondly, now that the United States is coughing up all this money, is there any kind of – are there any kind of measures being taken to prevent against corruption in peacekeeping, which has a long history at the UN? And what’s your level of concern about that? MS. POWER:
In terms of new commitments, this was not really the setting for this. This wasn’t one of these meetings which was about kind of coming away with a deliverable. It was a first conversation – again, what we hope will be a long dialogue. I think – certainly, I talked to the President after the meeting, and he was very energized by the discussion and very excited about what our team that’s gathered here can do and how much room there is to be helpful to folks who already, you could just tell, that the disposition was we’re ready to do this. And of course, keep in mind they had all just come from his General Assembly speech, so it was a good time to be having the conversation with countries that have done so much in these dangerous areas.
So I think our task now is to follow up and to concretize. But keep in mind – I mean, just to pull back from the meeting for a second, I mean, there’s an awful lot of cooperation going on on a daily basis. You might talk to my colleagues who are seated next you after the meeting, just about the degree of support that already exists.
But what this meeting does is I think it sends a very important signal back to capitals. I mean, a lot of peacekeeping missions are not popular. I mean, we have our own domestic debate, of course, about Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar debates are going on in the countries that were represented in the room. And while we have a president who is forever, appropriately, thanking our troops that are in harm’s way, the salience of the good that’s being done by these peacekeepers is not always evident in countries where – that have made large troop contributions.
So the main function of this meeting was to ensure that those leaders, many of whom are being asked to do more and more in this space, understood just how appreciated they were. And for the President to take out of the meeting, in a sense, a set of walking orders for those of us who will try to follow up in order to deepen what is already a pretty extensive relationship, which, again, these guys can talk to you about.
And the second question was? Forgive. QUESTION:
Corruption. Very – yeah. I mean, in a sense, if you want to think about what this meeting was, it was a meeting to look at what is done and to see how it can be done better, or how it can be done more effectively. And part of performing better means, of course, performing more efficiently and with the most rigorous professional standards, both in terms of troop performance, ending some of the abuses that have gotten a lot of headlines, and what you’re pointing to on the management side. It’s a big issue.
None of the countries – again, President Obama was more in a listening mode. None of the countries, at least in my recollection, brought up the issue. But one of the central prongs of Ambassador Rice’s reform agenda up here at the United Nations is on this management and corruption issue, much as it has been for prior administrations.
A lot has been agreed to, actually, at the United Nations in the last decade. The previous administration, obviously, had its own relationship with the United Nations, its own way of interacting with this body, but one way was to really drive hard on this issue. So part of our challenge is to ensure that what was agreed to in terms of corruption, waste, mismanagement, just gets implemented. And that requires extensive follow-through.
On the peacekeeping side, there are real oversight challenges because the ratio of personnel who work, as it were, in the head office here in the Secretariat, back, as it were, headquarters, are so far away, and the ratio of the number of personnel to the number of peacekeepers in the field is nothing like what we would have in the United States. I mean, it’s far, far – there are far more peacekeepers-to-personnel than there are in our system. And that has presented very real challenges in the past, and it’s shown in many peacekeeping missions in the past, that insufficient oversight or accountability. And that is something that President Obama has talked a lot about and talked in his opening remarks today about the importance of following through on the reform agenda that we, again, collectively have agreed to, but as he said in his speech before the General Assembly as well. Now it’s about action, and not words, if we’re going to really improve performance. MODERATOR:
Thank you, everyone.MS. POWER:
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