One of the final extra-curricular events I attended during my first graduate semester in the NYU SCPS program took place at the Museum of Tolerance in New York. UN Peacekeeping on the Front Lines, hosted by the Better World Campaign, sought to reinforce the relationship between the United States (U.S.) and the United Nations (UN).
Speakers included Victoria Holt, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. State Department; Ambassador Masood Khan, the Permanent Representative from Pakistan; and Edmond Mulet, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. This event honored UN peacekeepers around the world as well as gave the small group of attendees an opportunity to ask questions about UN missions around the world.
Countries contribute to the program through monetary dues and by offering citizens to work as peacekeepers around the world. The U.S. contributes, on average, 2 billion a year to UN peacekeeping missions, 28 percent of contributions to the program. Countries with limited funds contribute larger numbers of citizens to serve as peacekeepers in regions with conflicts. I was shocked to learn that Pakistan supplies more than 8,000 citizens to missions around the globe.
Conflicts in Cyprus, North and South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Mali were discussed, as well as the different obstacles that peacekeepers face in these varying situations, such as refugee populations, militias, failing countries, and country-to-country conflicts.
Historically UN peacekeepers have carried weapons, but were not allowed to fire upon general populations or militaries in the countries that they work in, even in order to protect themselves. But with increasing numbers of peacekeepers attacked and losing their lives, the position of the UN regarding weapons appears to have evolved. A new, special UN brigade dispatched to monitor the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is allowed to defend themselves with their weapons. This trial run marks a new stance on peacekeeping by the UN. Only time will tell what public reaction will be to this change and if this helps or hurts global peacekeeping missions.