Renewing U.S. Commitment to U.N. Peacekeeping in AfricaRenewing U.S. Commitment to U.N. Peacekeeping in Africa
Judd Devermont: Good afternoon. My name is Judd Devermont, and I am the director of the African Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And it is my pleasure to welcome you to “Renewing U.S. Commitment to U.N. Peacekeeping in Africa.” This even is in partnership with the U.N. Foundation.
When President Joe Biden said “America is back” at the Munich Security Conference in February he wasn’t just talking about our transatlantic partnerships. It was a message about multilateralism, about shared interests, and global challenges. While he only mentioned the U.N. in that speech once, it has been evident from day one that he’s determined to break with the former administration’s opposition to and skepticism of the U.N. and peacekeeping missions.
President Biden affirmed his commitment when he nominated Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, as his U.N. envoy, when he virtually hosted U.N. permanent representatives in early March, vowing to resume a values-based global leadership and reengage with international institutes, and when he said in his international security strategy guidance, “because the United Nations and other international organizations, however imperfect, remain essential for advancing our interests we will reengage as a full participant and work to meet our financial obligations in full and on time.”
Last week, he made good on that promise, or at least partially. The Biden administration’s first budget proposes nearly $2 billion for U.N. peacekeeping. This includes 300 million (dollars) to pay down the more than $1 billion in overdue bills to the United Nations. That’s an important start. And it’s imperative that Congress support the president’s budget. But of course, there’s more to say and more to do. The United States not only has to pay off its total arrears, but it must take additional steps to become a more effective partner. As we’ll discuss, I believe that means considering how we contribute American expertise to peacekeeping forces. It means supporting U.N./non-U.N. peacekeeping missions in sub-Saharan Africa through assessed contributions. And it means, paradoxically, being loud and unafraid when missions are ineffective, mandates are too unfocused, and deployments are too lengthy.
Today we have an opportunity to talk about why the U.N. and peacekeeping matters in Africa, what else the United States should do, and how the international community – through the U.N. and multilateral bodies – should respond to the pressing challenges in the region, including in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, Central African Republic, and northern Mozambique.
I’m delighted to be joined by three very accomplished practitioners, diplomats, and thought leaders to help us unpack these questions. Reuben Brigety is Sewanee’s 17th vice-chancellor and president. He previously served as dean of the Elliot School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, where I’m a teacher. And he is the former U.S. Ambassador to the African Union.
Hanna Tetteh is the special representative of the secretary-general to the African Union and the head of the United Nations Office to the African Union. She was previously director general of the United Nations office in Nairobi. Prior to her assignments with the U.N., she was Ghana’s minister of foreign affairs from 2013 to 2017, and minister for trade and industry from 2009 to 2013.
And Peter Yeo. He’s the president of the Better World Campaign. He is the senior vice president at the United Nations Foundation. Peter previously served as the deputy staff director at the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Representative Tom Lantos and Representative Howard Berman. Earlier in his career, he served as the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department during the Clinton administration.
In addition to these three excellent panelists, we have the honor of hearing from Representative Karen Bass, who’s going to share her thoughts via a prerecorded message. I don’t think I have to introduce Ms. Bass, but I’ll just do it for the sake of making sure it’s all out there.
Representative Karen Bass represents the 37th Congressional District in California. She serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where she is the chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights. She also serves on the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, where she has been active in working to craft sound criminal justice reform policies. Congressmember Bass served as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus in 2019 and 2020.
So we’re going to share Ms. Bass’ video and then we will transition to a moderated discussion. Thank you.
Representative Karen Bass (D-CA):
(From video.) (In progress) – the director of the Africa Program and the team at CSIS, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to participate in the event real-time, but I hope that in the future, in the near future, we will be able to have events in person. This event, on a critical matter of how we strengthen the peacekeeping missions on the continent, I’m honored to participate in.
I believe in general that peacekeeping is a good global thing that the United States and other nations should support according to their pledges. So I fully support the secretary general’s action for the peacekeeping declaration of shared commitments on U.N. peacekeeping that seeks to focus and strengthen peacekeeping missions in a world that is facing multiple and complex threats.
For more than 70 years, peacekeeping missions have saved the lives of civilians, reduced violence, and created opportunities for long-lasting peace. An impactful and cost-effective conflict-management and mitigation tool, peacekeeping can prevent food insecurity, population displacement, and escalation of conflict, while also supporting good governance, promoting, and protecting human rights, and advancing social, economic and development goals.
These benefits are exactly what Africa needs as it faces difficult challenges across its geographical regions and prepares to support some of the world’s largest populations. The diversity of the continent means that our approach to policy must be flexible and focused when looking to assist its needs.
Peacekeeping is no different. Currently there are U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sudan’s Abyei region, the DRC, the CAR, Western Sahara, South Sudan, and the recently drawn-down mission in the Darfur. These missions vary in size, structure and mandate but are critical to the local, regional, and continental progress of Africa and its citizens.
Peacekeeping missions in Africa have had mixed results. The missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast were considered successful, while those in Mali, the DRC, the CAR, South Sudan, and Darfur have proven more challenging. And some failed to adhere to the principles of consent, impartiality, and the non-use of force except for in self-defense and defense of the mandate.
Experts note that missions in countries where all aggressors, including governments and/or nonstate actors, failed to agree or adhere to cease-fires require nuanced approaches to mission mandates and force operational guidelines. The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations has taken steps to rectify these issues to protect civilians and soldiers alike.
All this said, I believe peacekeeping operations align well with U.S. foreign-policy goals of good governance, peace and security, human rights protection and promotion, and economic development and prosperity. Moreover, President Biden’s statement that the U.S. has returned to the international stage and the advent of Covid-19 offers an – (audio break) – opportunity to reevaluate our leadership opportunities, including renewed and robust support of peacekeeping missions.
We have a strong U.S. representative at the U.N., Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who represents the U.S. values, foreign policy, and objectives extremely well. During her confirmation hearing, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield committed to working on managing arrears and to actively collaborate with member states while upholding U.S. and international standards of democracy, inclusion, and multilateralism.
Specific to peacekeeping operations in Africa, last month the U.N. Security Council extended peacekeeping missions in Somalia, South Sudan, and increased troops and police in the DRC, which I take as a strong signal for continued support. In addition to strong leadership, I believe the U.S. can also support peacekeeping operations through fulfilling our commitments to pay, especially outstanding assessments as was done in 1999 and 2009, and current dues while seeking avenues to address the shortfalls.
In the Obama administration, the president and then Vice President Biden held donor conferences that garnered additional support. This was a strategic and important move that would be useful today. Also, it’s a positive step that the Biden administration is moving to reverse the Trump administration’s policy to curtail the application of peacekeeping credit to outstanding U.S. balances as a means to limit the further accumulation of arrears.
In addition to financial contributions, the U.S. should continue its contributions to equipping, training, and resourcing missions, which must include women across the range of operations. As a subset of this requirement, the U.S. should seek additional methods to support the AU economic cooperation – well, ECOWAS – and other African entities that provide peacekeeping and other stabilizing activities on the continent.
Also, routine financial support through the U.N. would be useful as additional technical support such as embedding international, administrative, and policy experts to secretariats to strengthen organizations. These efforts not only reinforce peace, but they also contribute to economic growth, development, and access to education and health. With the support of successful partnerships in peacekeeping and other areas, Africa can lessen its development and security challenges.
And, finally, the U.S. can play a greater role in customizing missions to circumstances on the ground that account for nonstate actors, climate change, pandemics, transnational flow of people and goods, emerging technologies, and the like. These activities will sharpen the focus of the missions and complement the growing number of political solutions characterized by political envoys, sanctions, and political missions.
Of course, political missions require greater communication between government, peacekeeping bodies, and civilians, and I fully believe this communication is important, because if the goal is to protect people then their voices should be heard. That should be obvious. But I think that if we view peacekeeping as the building of partnerships, there will be limitless opportunities to mission mandates, structures, and operations. And as the U.S. reconciles its domestic policy and navigates its return to the international stage, our continued support of flexible and focused peacekeeping missions will be a good, strong start.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you today, and as I said at the beginning, I look forward to when we can meet again, but meet again in person. Thank you.
Mr. Devermont: Great. Thank you. Again, we’re really delighted that Congresswoman Bass was willing to share her thoughts for this event. We’re going to start our moderated discussion right now between myself and our three panelists. But there will be opportunities for you to ask questions. It’s very easy in this platform. You can just go to our website, click on the event page, and then submit your question and then we will ask them later at the – in this engagement.
I guess I want to start with you, Peter, first. President Biden’s administration’s budget is a real strong signal of support for the U.N. peacekeeping, and it includes, as we’ve talked about, $300 million to pay down U.N. arrears for the last four years. I’d like to hear from you on why this is so important, and what does it mean to have renewed U.S. global leadership?
Peter Yeo: Well, thanks, Judd, for sponsoring this event; to CSIS.
You know, I think that the most important thing is not only the $300 million down payment that’s included in the president’s so-called skinny budget. It’s a two-year commitment to actually fully pay all of the peacekeeping arrears that were accumulated during the Trump administration, which failed to pay our annual peacekeeping dues. So I think it’s a two-year commitment that’s particularly important to note.
You know, I think that there’s sort of three positive outcomes that will come from paying our dues to the U.N. First is credibility. You know, paying our peacekeeping arrears actually strengthens U.S. standing at the U.N. and our commitment to multilateral engagement. And frankly, that’s all a prerequisite for getting what we need to get done to serve our country’s interests in the context of the U.N. and the U.N. Security Council.
And frankly, whether it’s Iraq, or Iran, or maybe for the purposes of this discussion Central African Republic, or Mali, or Sudan, or South Sudan – to the extent that we have paid our bills, it makes it easier for us to get maximum leverage in our diplomatic discussions. And this is a point that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has made crystal clear in her confirmation hearing and comments since then.
I think the second point I would make is that it really enhances potential for cooperation. You know, paying our arrears increases our ability to promote reform at the U.N., including in peacekeeping, and to counter the rise of China and Russia, which is obviously a hot topic these days wherever you go. You know, it’s – we need to have met our financial commitments to the U.N. to have maximum leverage.
I think the third element that I would just say is, you know, we need to make sure that the peacekeeping role in Covid is enhanced and fulfilled, because when you – Newsweek just did a story about this – that peacekeepers are actually on the frontlines of making sure that the people around the world, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have access to not only PPE but ultimately vaccines. And so you U.N. peacekeepers can play an important role – are playing an important role in battling Covid. It’s good for the people that live in those countries, of course. It’s good for us because, we can’t be safe as Americans in our own country until we defeat Covid everywhere.
So I think for cooperation, including promoting continued reform and getting yourselves a seat at the table, in terms of American credibility in terms of Covid, that’s what this package is about. Now the hard work begins. We have to make sure that Congress appropriates the funds in the context of the FY ’22 appropriations bill. But I’m confident that we can get this done.
Mr. Devermont: Well, Ambassador Brigety, let’s talk about the hard work. Maybe a little bit more about the consequences of Congress doesn’t pass this budget and the I think broadly, to augment what Peter said, you know, what does this really mean for effectiveness of peacekeeping operations? How does this impact our diplomatic relations with African counterparts?
Reuben E. Brigety II: Sure. Well, again, it’s wonderful to be here and to be on the call with my friends and distinguished panelists. Let me say a couple of things. So first of all, the issue about the – both the timing and the extent of paying U.S. arrears, particularly in the context of peacekeeping, is frankly, in my judgement, less about the financial consequences and much more about the credibility of the United States as a leader. And not only in this current round, but the fact that this is – this continues to happen over the course of the last three decades, due to fundamental partisan differences about the value of international cooperation.
And so it seems to me that the first order of business is to rebuild a responsible governing center consensus that is bipartisan, that helps us to understand how we can advance America’s interests through cooperation with the rest of the world, and understands the value proposition of doing so – not only diplomatically but financially. And quite frankly, U.S. financial support for international U.N. peacekeeping is a bargain, financially, given that, frankly, many other countries are prepared to send in peacekeepers to help resolve armed conflicts in places where there’s no way the United States would be willing to go, or would be – or would have the political consensus to be able to do so.
And as has been said multiple times, we cannot simply draw up – the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are no longer simply moats to defend the fortress of America. The world is increasingly complex, increasingly intertwined, and we have interests in promoting peace, prosperity, and stability in – you know, across the world.
Now, in particular as it relates to our relationships with Africa, let me say two other things. As you noted, I had the great privilege of serving as the U.S.’s ambassador to the African Union, and in so doing had great visibility not only into African Union peace support operations but also into U.N. operations in which African countries participated and also hybrid U.N.-AU missions. And what I can tell you is that the resourcefulness, the valor, and the ingenuity that African militaries have demonstrated in both AU and U.N. and hybrid operations is extraordinary, and again, deserves U.S. support as a means of helping to continue to provide peace and stability on the continent.
The final thing I will say is this: You also can’t look into military peacekeeping in isolation. The much broader question are the extent to which our existing structures for multilateral diplomacy are actually doing their job to prevent and mediate armed conflicts – prevent armed conflicts from breaking out and mediate them successfully so that you don’t have peace support operations that have to last two or three decades because we can’t figure out the politics.
So that’s what I think.
Mr. Devermont: SRSG, I think Peter and Ambassador Brigety teed you up very nicely, right? Both of them reiterated that this is not just about money; it’s about partnership, it’s about credibility, and it also needs to be paired with multilateral diplomacy. But it would be useful to hear your thoughts as special representative of the secretary-general to the African Union and head of the U.N. Nations Office to the African Union, what is the optimal U.S. role here in supporting African and U.S. initiatives to address insecurity – I mean, conflicts – but also, maybe to pick up on Peter’s point, Covid-19?
Hanna Serwaa Tetteh: Well, thank you very much. And even though I agree with the statements expressed by Peter and by Ambassador Brigety that it’s not just about the money but it’s also about the partnership, from the perspective of the United Nations I will say it’s also about the money.
We currently have, as Representative Bass noted, six U.N. peacekeeping missions on the continent. We have approximately 49,000 uniformed personnel, approximately 8,000 civilians, and a total budget of – sorry – $4.556 billion. And when we are not able to have the resources to be able to finance the troop rotations and so on and so forth, especially in times when we are within a Covid situation, you can imagine that it puts pressure on troops that have been in particular missions for a while and don’t necessarily see the prospect of being able to rotate and to move out and go back, you know, within the time that would normally be allotted.
And that’s been one of the challenges with Covid, that because initially the whole world was grappling with how best to respond to this pandemic and we were not entirely sure as to how this was going to play out on the African continent, and in some instances we had situations where because you had, you know, international staff coming back into missions who came and had Covid, and therefore they were the first in the country to get Covid, it didn’t exactly set the right tone. And you know, we’ve struggled to be able to be a more proactive and productive support to the countries in which we have peacekeeping missions, and I’m happy to say that right now that is very much the case.
We think that it is important for these peacekeeping missions to be successful; to have predictable, regular financing; and for us to be sure that the things that we have committed to do within the mandates that they have been given, they are in a position to actually execute and get them done.
With regard to deployment of the – the rollout of the vaccine, as you know, there hasn’t been that much vaccine available on the continent. There are a couple of countries that have been able to get their first supplies from the COVAX initiative, but those have been limited in terms of the volumes of vaccine available. So I have no doubt that in the countries where we do have peacekeeping operations, the U.N. is going to play a very important role in supporting the vaccine rollout together with the civilian colleagues who are also working in those spaces, but it’s also the case that we need more vaccine.
Now, the AU has made arrangements to purchase the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It’s not yet available, but again, the sooner that it gets here the better. Because, as you have all mentioned, if we are unable to fix some of these problems here on the continent, they will come back to the U.S. anyway. And so it’s in your self-interest to help us to address them so that we are able to, as it were, create a safer world and for all of us to be able to move away from this pandemic.
And the last thing that I’d like to say is that I think it’s very welcome to have the U.S. back in the way in which has been expressed by the principal leaders within the Biden administration – President Biden himself, the new peer to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield. And we are really looking forward to work with a more proactive U.S. on the global stage because when you are not there your presence is missed.
And thank you very much for inviting me to be part of this panel.
Thanks, SRSG. And maybe I should just at this point commend the African Union and the African CDC. I think the leadership that they have shown on Covid-19 is exemplary. It deserves to be part of, you know, the success stories that we’re talking about when we talk about them globally, even though there’s huge challenges ahead of time.
And I share your comment about we need to make sure that we are getting out more vaccines. I am elated that Gayle Smith is now going to be leading on the diplomacy side on vaccine. She’s a friend of CSIS and I think she – and a longstanding friend of Africa. So I think we have a good partner set up to sort of work on the U.S. side.
But being a good partner – and I think the SRSG said this very well – is being able to really evaluate these peacekeeping missions and make sure they can actually execute. And, Peter, I’m going to ask you a question about sort of this issue around the efficacy of the peacekeeping missions because just looking around the continent right now there are new threats to the mission in Abyei. The Ethiopians are talking about pulling out. There’s been persistent questions about MINUSMA in Mali, and you and I went to see the mission back in 2018. There needs to be a process in which we evaluate and adjust and eventually wind down these programs in a safe and prudent manner, and right now we can look at what’s happening in Darfur and perhaps question whether the UNAMID withdrawal was a little bit too hasty. So I’d like to hear your thoughts on what are the kinds of ways that the Biden administration, in conjunction with the AU and the U.N., should think about missions and their mandates and effectively executing, as the SRSG said.
Mr. Yeo: Well, thanks, Judd, for the question.
You know, certainly it’s true that when you look at the missions in Abyei and Mali, they are facing significant challenges. I just want to emphasize, however, that, you know, when you look at Abyei, it’s played a pretty important role in keeping a lid on the situation for the past decade in terms of protecting civilians and reducing conflict and deescalating situations that could have dramatically upped the tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and the people in the region. And in the case of, you know – and you know, what’s frustrating, of course, in Abyei is that the governments of Sudan and South Sudan have, you know, continued to fail to implement the June 2011 agreement on the area.
In Mali, of course, the mission there continues to support the peace agreement and play a critical role, in conjunction with the French and in – with the government of Mali, in battling extremist – Islamic extremist organizations. And frankly, if the U.N. peacekeeping mission were not in Mali, had not been there, these extremist organizations largely would have taken over the entire country by now, so.
But there are challenges for sure. In Abyei, obviously, the new tensions that exist between Sudan and Ethiopia over Blue Nile, over the flow of refugees from Tigray certainly have raised questions about the durability of the 5,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Abyei, which is almost entirely staffed by Ethiopian soldiers. And further, the unwillingness of the SPLM and to sign an agreement with the government of Sudan raises what’s-next diplomatic questions that the governments of Sudan and South Sudan, and the AU, and IGAD are going to have to wrestle in the months and years ahead to try to get to a solution.
The SG was actually just asked about whether there was an alternative to get rid of the mission in Abyei, similar to Darfur, and the response back was not really in terms of the short and medium term. So I think we’re really going to have to look for a diplomatic solution there before we can think about ending the mission in medium term.
In Mali, it’s hard to see the progress at times – I get it; I’ve been there, you’ve been there – particularly in light of the military coup, in the fact that Mali remains the deadliest U.N. peacekeeping mission, and there are enormous casualties on the civilian side as well. The interim government, as Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield recently pointed out, hasn’t set a firm date yet for elections. These elections, of course, will be implemented by the U.N. peacekeepers there in part.
So, you know, ultimately, when you think about Mali, it’s going to be implementation of the 2015 agreement, getting the parties to actually implement it, taking implementation to the next level. That will allow the government of Mali to deploy its forces, the police and military, to central and northern Mali over the long term so that U.N. peacekeepers over time can exit the scene. It’s going to be a long time. And I think we just need to acknowledge and recognize that.
But just three quick points I want to make on – that Abyei and Mali raise, which is, first of all, peacekeeping missions do not last forever. You know, there’s a reputation that they do, but just in West Africa we’ve had three peacekeeping missions end successfully over the last 15 years – Sierra Leone in 2005, Côte d’Ivoire 2017, and Liberia in 2018, both of which I visited as they were closing out. So they don’t last forever.
Second of all, we have two decades of research now – independent research – that shows that peacekeeping missions work. They actually work in terms of saving lives, reducing the duration and the severity of conflict. So peacekeeping missions do work, and they certainly worked to some extent in the cases of Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia.
And then, third, I just want to make a point about peacekeeping. This is not your mother’s peacekeeping. It’s not your grandmother’s peacekeeping. It’s constantly changing. During the Obama administration we saw significant reforms being implemented that allowed for peacekeeping to be – peacekeepers to be deployed much more quickly. The cost of the individual peacekeeper deployed was reduced by 20 percent. So there have been some significant reforms.
But to your question, Judd, looking at the Biden administration, they need to focus on the next round of peacekeeping reforms that are being implemented. And there’s two buckets that are really important – performance measurement and strategic reviews. On performance measurement, there’s a new system of quarterly reviews on political, security, humanitarian, that peacekeepers – that peacekeeping missions are holding themselves accountable for and determining each quarter if they didn’t meet their targets, why not, and what needs to be adjusted in terms of the implementation of peacekeeping missions to hit their targets. Very private sector-y, but it needs to get done in the context of peacekeeping. The Biden administration needs to really focus on working with the U.N. to implement these new performance-measurement standards.
And second of all, the Security Council now puts strategic reviews as part of renewal mandates. I think we just need – the Biden administration really needs to focus on making sure that these are not just pro forma, that they’re a core element of the debate and that we take a serious look at the future of peacekeeping missions when they come up for renewal.
Mr. Devermont: That’s exactly right. I mean, we have to continue to update and assess. The conflicts are dynamic in and of themselves. It’s a new, I think, security landscape. So I agree with the points that you mentioned. And I think when we talk about Abyei, we have to remember, too, there’s politics here. The Ethiopian government sees leverage with respect to its own challenges internally. So, you know, I think what Ambassador Brigety said about diplomacy is so important. And then I think we have to recognize that there’s politics involved with these deployments. And then we have to make sure they’re fit for purpose as the landscape changes.
We have a disagreement about the fundamental importance of the Algiers accord, but I’m not going to belabor that conversation in this venue. You can go check CSIS analysis on that. But I –
Mr. Yeo: We can’t agree on everything.
Mr. Devermont: So I’m going to turn to the SRSG, because we’ve talked about missions where there are peacekeepers already deployed. But I’d love to get your thoughts on some of the – two of the biggest challenges that have emerged in the last, you know, recent years, several months. One of them is in Ethiopia and the other one is in northern Mozambique. And perhaps you could share a little bit, how do you think about U.N.-AU-U.S. coordination to – about these conflicts? And how do we respond to these with the urgency that they require?
Ms. Tetteh: Thank you very much. I think that it’s important for us to recognize that in some places the situation is not yet ripe for a peacekeeping operation. There is still the opportunity to be able to use political processes to try and get people to come back from the brink and to address some of the root causes of the conflicts, because a purely military response might not be the most effective response. And I think that in Mozambique, for instance, as a case in point, that is one of the situations where we’re talking about a counterterrorism as opposed to a peacekeeping engagement activity.
But at the same time we need to be able to understand what are the challenges within the Cabo Delgado region and how are we going to support, in this case, the sub-regional organization, SADC, which has demonstrated that it wishes to take leadership on this issue, working with the U.N. and with the African Union, to make sure that we can bring the political tools to bear to try and create solutions within those regions and deal with some of the governance deficits that they have – lack of service provision, challenges with inequality – and, of course, at the same time, to provide a humanitarian response. Because you also have a situation where our office in Mozambique estimates that there is a need to provide humanitarian support to about a million people for various reasons, not entirely linked to what is going on in Cabo Delgado but it’s certainly a part of it.
So I think that the whole point of having all of these organizations with the structures, and tools, and now the greater collaboration that we have is for us to be able to be more proactive on the prevention as opposed to having to spend money on the peacekeeping. After all, if we are able to be effective in our prevention – peacebuilding interventions, we’re not going to spend as much money on deploying a peacekeeping operation.
In Ethiopia we have a situation, as you know, in northern Tigray where there is – it was initially characterized as a law enforcement operation. I think that it’s moved quite away from that. But there is – (audio break) – to begin to have a conversation on the cessation of hostilities. And we really need to be able to engage behind the scenes politically to try and push that as much as possible, because without that the attempts that we are making at providing humanitarian support within the entirety of the region are not going to be as successful as we would have wanted them to be. And it’s a shame that within a country these internal disputes could not have been resolved by other mechanisms.
I believe that where it is possible the emphasis always has to be prevention. The amount of money we invest in prevention is a fraction of what we invest in peacekeeping. If we had a greater budget to do that, I think we could do away with quite a number of these issues – these peacekeeping challenges that we have.
Mr. Devermont: And I think that is a really important point. And we’re talking today about peacekeeping, but I think, SRSG, the points that you’re making really allude to the family of U.N. agencies that are responding on the ground to these problems, particularly looking at the humanitarian response in both Tigray and Cabo Delgado. So the U.N. family and its partners – whether it’s SADC or the African Union – are doing a number of things before we get to peacekeeping.
If you have questions for our panelists, this is the time to submit them. We’ve already got a bunch of fantastic questions that we’re going to pose towards our panelists.
But before we do that, Ambassador Brigety, one last question. We’re not even at a hundred days yet into the Biden administration, but I’d still like to hear what you think the president and his team should be doing regarding peacekeeping. Is it time to reconsider a policy where we only send a handful of troops to the U.N.? Or as Representative Bass talked about, how do we embed more American expertise? Is it time to support, you know, U.N.-assessed costs for African-led security operations and security missions? Those are some examples, but what’s on your wish list for this revitalized relationship?
Mr. Brigety: You’re muted. That’s the quote of the decade. Sorry about that.
Let me start by saying, while I appreciate the articulation that the SRSG made about America being back, and that it’s been heard in many of the quarters across the world, as an American I’m actually quite frankly saddened that that expression has to be made in the first place. And it’s important – assessing that, the sentiment behind that, is actually quite important for getting to answer your question, Judd. And that’s this: We have long, in the United States, had a history of playing more or less, to use an American football metaphor, between 40-yard lines, as it were, in terms of our understanding of American engagement in the world and the value of diplomacy for advancing American interests.
And the fact that the previous administration, as so far afield of the general consensus of American leadership that has been bipartisan, is what makes the return back to a robust diplomatic engagement so remarkable. But here’s the thing, leadership requires consistency. It requires a level of sustained engagement precisely when the going gets tough, both abroad and at home. And so frankly, what is my biggest wish list? It’s to sort of get back to zero, as it were. We have some substantial ground to make up with regard to American credibility and leadership in many aspects, and particularly as it relates to issues on the continent of Africa. And that includes peacekeeping.
And here’s the thing, we also have to make up that ground with many of our partners understanding, A, that we can just as well lose it again in another four years, depending on the pendulum of American politics, given that the nature of our consensus has been so fundamentally broken the last four years. And, B, a number of our peers have had to hedge their gets over the last four years to learn essentially what they would do in the absence of American leadership, as the SRSG said so eloquently, that our presence has been missed.
Now, having said all of that, what do I think the most important things are with regard to American engagement in terms of peacekeeping on the continent of Africa? I frankly think that engaging American ground forces is essentially off the table. I think there’s just not the political consensus for that. But precisely because embedding American forces into U.N. peace support operations – peacekeeping operations, is essentially a non-start for us, that makes the question of funding all the more relevant. (Laughs.)
So because the challenges are not leaving. We have an interest in ensuring that many of these conflicts are resolved and resolved in a sustainable way. We know, as Peter said, that U.N. peacekeeping works. The data is clear. It is incontrovertible. And as we said from the very beginning, it is a bargain financially. And so also, frankly, trying to figure out a mechanism for sustainable contributions not only to the U.N. peacekeeping operations but to AU operations that are working either without – either outside the U.N. framework or that are working sort of parallel to it, is incredibly important.
And one understands why that has been so challenging because, of course, the U.S. is not a member of AU, and therefore it’s a question of sort of accountability of American tax dollars. But that doesn’t mean that the challenges are going away. And so we have got to figure out a way through this. And so I would put at the top of my list figuring out sustainable financing, and then also a full-on reassessment of our diplomatic capabilities for prevention and mediation, which are the frontlines of defense of not only preventing conflicts from happening in the first place but also being able to bring them to resolution.
Mr. Devermont: Thanks, Ambassador.
Peter, I’m going to turn to you for the first question, but Ambassador SRSG if you have thoughts too, please jump in. This question is from Andrew Yang (sp) from the U.S. Department of Treasury. He asks: Are there things that the U.S. can be doing better to strengthen accountability and oversight of U.N. peacekeeping activities to ensure these activities are achieving their intended objectives?
Mr. Yeo: Yeah. I would say there’s three points I’d make. Which is that, first of all, as I noted, over the past year and a half, two years, in part under the leadership of the senior American military officer deployed to the U.N., General Hugh Van Roosen, the U.N. has developed these performance accountability tools and is rolling them out mission by mission. So we need to watch that space. And the Biden administration really needs to work in partnership, not just with the U.N. but other key players in the U.N. Security Council, to make sure that this rollout is going well, that these performance-measurement standards are taken seriously, and that, most importantly, it’s not some report that sits on the shelf but rather, you know, that it’s actually being implemented in real time by force commanders and the SRSGs, and that as the Security Council considers mandate renewals for peacekeeping, that this performance-measurement information is brought into the discussion.
Second point is training, which is that there are new, relatively new, standards, universal human standards, for how peacekeepers should be trained before they’re deployed to a mission. You know, there’s a big implementation issue there because many of the peacekeepers are coming from countries with quite under-resourced militaries. So we really need to make sure that there’s common training and that there’s a seriousness of purpose as it relates to holding force commanders accountable for these training protocols.
I think the third element is sexual exploitation and abuse, which remains an element of U.N. peacekeeping that is unacceptable, as it would be unacceptable in any military deployment. And the U.N., of course, over the past decade has taken a series of steps on transparency. And the most important step that the U.N. has taken is repatriating units in which there is ongoing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse. So there’s got to be accountability.
Forces need to be held accountable. There needs to be justice. The victims need to be held – the victims need to be helped. And the troop-contributing countries need to know that if their troops are engaged in SEA, then they are no longer welcome as U.N. peacekeepers. This is a work in progress, but, boy, this is an area where the Biden administration and other U.N. member states need to continue to push for full implementation of the SEA reforms that are already under way.
Great. Thank you, Peter.
Ambassador, SRSG, do you have anything to add? Or would you like me to move to the next question?
Ms. Tetteh: If I may, I would just like to add in contribution to what Peter said. A lot of the work that my office does as UNOAU in supporting the African Union is to provide exactly the kind of training supports that AU member states need to ensure that their troops do develop those standard operating procedures and regulatory frameworks and that they are part of the training they are given within their countries before they become part of peacekeeping operations so that we have less of these challenges going forward.
And the 10-year – my office has been in existence for 10 years. And over that period of 10 years, we have seen that there has been considerable progress. We still have things that we need to address, but I think that there has been a vast improvement on what the situation was before.
Ambassador Brigety, let me turn to you. You got a question from Nick Westcott, who’s at the Royal African Society. Nick was also a U.K. and EU diplomat. This sort of builds on your previous answer. But is the U.S. willing for the U.N. to fund more peacekeeping missions run by African organizations, you know, as they have now in kind, at least, with AMISOM?
Amb. Brigety: Muted again. Sorry.
So I very much appreciate the question. And let me take the prerogative – perhaps unfairly, but I’ll do it anyway – of rephrasing the question and ask, should the U.S. be willing to pay for or finance and support the peacekeeping operations that are done by other organizations. The answer, in my view, is yes, absolutely, for all the reasons we just stated.
Now, to your question about whether or not they are willing to do so, if I had to – I love Peter’s view on this, but if I had to guess, I would simply say there is not yet a political consensus on Capitol Hill in ways that have to be, given the vote totals and given the splits there are in Congress right now, to be able to support legislation to be able to do that.
AMISOM has – was – the nature of the funding mechanism for AMISOM was always articulated to be a one-off. It was explicitly designed not to be replicated. But it works. (Laughs.) Right? That’s the thing. And if anything, it is precisely a kind of example, even with, you know, challenges, to demonstrate what hybrid funding for a hybrid peacekeeping operation that’s in American interests can look like.
And so – and with apologies to those who are not Americans and are not particularly interested in the vagaries of our political process or our own political challenges, this goes back to what I was saying before, is we simply have to rebuild a bipartisan consensus for what American leadership and engagement in the world looks like in ways that are hard-nosed, consistent with our interests, that are also consistent with our values, and that make sense financially for us. And supporting – finding ways to support sustainable funding for peacekeeping and peace support operations in Africa, in my mind, is a no-brainer. But we have to do the work politically in order to get these sorts of results that are necessary.
Mr. Devermont: Peter, did you want to add to Ambassador Brigety’s points?
Mr. Yeo: Completely agree. I would just say in terms of the Hill, which is ultimately determining the funding on these issues, I think it’s a medium-term project. I think that the Hill is open to discussions about a greater role for the AU and other regional organizations in peacekeeping, you know, but it’s a more complex discussion because then we’re – have to layer in additional conversations about capacity and human rights training and other types of train-and-equip issues, which are sort of already being dealt with in the U.N. context. But I think the Hill is open to new ideas and long-term thinking about the future direction of peacekeeping, so I think it’s a medium-term project.
Mr. Devermont: Thanks, Peter.
I think we have time for one last question and I’m going to direct it to the SRSG, but I suspect Peter and Ambassador Brigety may have thoughts too. This is a question from Daphne (sp), who’s an international consultant. And she asks: What should be the criteria for concluding peacekeeping missions? And I would note here, SRSG, that when you were a foreign – your country, Ghana, is one of the most strongest contributors of peacekeeping missions. So I suspect in your other jobs you thought about this a lot, including this one.
Ms. Tetteh: Well, the short answer is when there’s a return to stability, and the – and that stability is sustainable. And the question is, what elements would go into that?
After you’ve had a cessation of hostilities and you’ve had a period of transition prior to having a government that has a legitimate mandate established, that is not enough to say we’ve come to the end of the road and now the peacekeeping operation can leave. There has to be usually security sector reform. There has to be disarmament, demobilization, reintegration. All of that costs money and it takes quite some time. And you have to be able to – you have to have a certain level of confidence that there has been enough of an effort in establishing a political structure where differences are engaged and resolved within that political structure nationally. And when we are sure that we’ve been able to create the environment where a peacekeeping operation is no longer necessary – where you have the country’s own forces which are able to take responsibility for the maintenance of law and order and you don’t – you can see clearly that there is – there is a chance for the leadership with the structures that have been established to take over and now manage the affairs of this country – then you can talk about exiting from a peacekeeping operation. But you are still going to be focused with other parts of the U.N. in providing the kind of development and governance support that strengthens that fragile process and builds on it.
And we’ve seen that happen in Côte d’Ivoire. We’ve seen that happen in Libera. We’ve seen that happen in Sierra Leone. So we know that it is possible.
But I think that it’s always important to make sure that we have during a peacekeeping operation a clear appreciation of what the mandate requires and the right levels of skills to be able to make sure that the objectives of the mandate are delivered. And if we have a mismatch and we are not ready to provide the kind of investment that is required to make it happen, we can find ourselves having peacekeeping operations lasting much longer than was originally anticipated.
And I think we need to move away because there’s – it is not the case that there have not been situations where peacekeeping has not lived up to – let me rephrase that. It is not the case that we’ve had situations where peacekeeping operations have always lived up to expectations. There have been a lot of things that have gone right, but there are some situations where it’s gone wrong. So we need, again, to see what is the best – at the same time as we are having a peacekeeping response and operational response, the political engagement to move these processes along. And I can’t emphasize that, you know, often enough because I think very often, especially when we’re talking about peacekeeping, we don’t focus on that and give it the same kind of time and investment.
Mr. Devermont: Thank you so much.
Peter and Ambassador Brigety, do you have anything to add?
Mr. Yeo: I –
Mr. Brigety: I would – go ahead.
Mr. Yeo: Just two quick points. Which is that, I think, first of all, we just need to recognize that when we deploy new peacekeeping missions – and there will be new peacekeeping missions in the future – people just need to psychologically recognize the fact that these missions, once they begin, are likely to remain in place for 10, 15, or 20 years. That’s how long it takes to tackle these types of broader security and political issues.
I think the second point is, it’s a give and take as the missions reach their natural points of conclusion where the U.N., and U.N. member states, and Security Council members have to sort of – threaten is too strong a term – but call for the exit plans and ratchet up the rhetoric on exit planning while at the same time the member states – the host country is saying, wait a minute, not yet. So it’s a dialogue that eventually leads to the conclusion of the missions – as it did in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, and Sierra Leone.
Mr. Brigety: If I can, Judd, I’ll just add, so to emphasize what the SRSG and Peter said: As difficult as all these things are, interestingly – in my perspective – the deployment and the operation of a peacekeeping mission is actually the relatively easier part. The harder part is the diplomacy and the politics. And the reason it’s important for us to keep that in mind and say it out loud is that you can’t – we can never sort of think about the deployment of a peacekeeping operation as the end of the mission or as the solution in and of itself. At best, all it does is create the space for which – in which the conditions for a lasting peace can be created if there is the political skill and political will in order to do so.
And that’s why it’s also so incredibly important to continue to focus on, frankly, financial and diplomatic support for diplomatic missions – the diplomatic aspect of a peacekeeping mission as well, so that you can finally get to a sustainable solution.
Mr. Devermont: Thanks, Ambassador.
Let me thank all of our panelists for their wise words and insights. I want to make a special to – excuse me – to Representative Karen Bass for her taped remarks, for the U.N. Foundation for their partnership. If you enjoyed this conversation, I have great news. Tomorrow we drop a new Into Africa podcast, where I talk to Peter’s colleague Shudriba Das (ph). We talk about the UNAMID withdrawal and we talk about the issues that we discussed today. So thanks to everyone for joining us and I hope to see everyone soon. Take care.