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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Dinner Remarks UN Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial

Good evening.

I want to thank Secretary Fallon for his kind introduction. And I want to thank the 

United Kingdom for hosting this important – and first of its kind – United Nations Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial.

Earlier today at Oxford University, I spoke with students about how, in a changing world, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other like-minded nations must continue to stand together and stand up for the values and the principled international order that have, for decades, helped make a better world.

In Prime Minister May and Defense Secretary Fallon, the UK has leaders who are committed to doing so; their hosting this conference is just one example of that commitment. And for all of us, they are good friends and the right partners at a time of great change in the world.

I’m pleased to be here this evening with so many of the United States’ – and my own – friends, allies, and partners. Many of us have grown up together over our years in the international defense community…working together to protect our people and make a better world for our children.

Of course, it’s a very rare occasion to gather this many Defense Ministers in one room. And there are two important reasons why so many of us are here. First is the United Nations. My friend Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who could not be here this week, Under Secretary Generals Ladsous and Khare, and their teams have worked with each of our nations to increase the potential and the power of UN peace operations. 

And the second reason we’re here is that we believe in the importance of UN Peacekeeping and the value of peace operations. We do so for humanitarian reasons, but also because, as defense officials, we appreciate that it is more efficient and effective to prevent the development of serious dangers, rather than confronting them later on.

We’ve learned that lesson time and again, sometimes the hard way, from the aftermath of World War II right up through to today. And we must remember it at a time of global change and instability, when the need for and importance of peace operations will only grow.

Today’s world requires our brave peacekeepers to take real but necessary risks to help end, and, most importantly, prevent conflict. That is why it’s imperative that all our nations and militaries contribute more to these operations, and that we improve how we conduct them. I’d like to speak with you tonight about both those important efforts, and about the contributions the United States is making to UN Peacekeeping.

Of course, we’re having this conversation at a time and in a security environment that, like so much else in our lives, is rapidly changing. Indeed, thanks to the work of many of your nations and militaries and your adherence to the principles I mentioned earlier, the people of the world have generally grown healthier, freer, richer, and safer over the past 75 years. And the world has become more prosperous and dynamic as a result. All that change – economic, political, military, social, and technological…personal and national…regional and global – has produced many opportunities for our nations, but it has also created challenges and crises as well.

As so, today, the U.S. Defense Department, which I lead and represent here, is focused on five immediate, major, evolving challenges.

In Europe, the Defense Department is standing with America’s NATO allies and taking a strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression while also leaving the door open to working with Russia where our shared interests align. In the vital Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. military is a committed partner in building a principled and inclusive security network of nations, many of whom are represented here, to ensure every nation in that dynamic region – every nation – can continue to rise and prosper. Meanwhile, the Defense Department is also strengthening its deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. The U.S. military is also checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf, all while standing with friends and allies in the region. And, the Defense Department is continuing to counter and defeat terrorism – in particular, accelerating the certain and lasting defeat of ISIL in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and everywhere it metastasizes around the world.

Many of your nations are helping meet these challenges, particularly that last one. And on behalf of the United States, I thank you for your commitment and contributions to the counter-ISIL campaign. I convened the Defense Ministerial of the Counter-ISIL Coalition for the very first time last year, and we united around a campaign plan which we are systematically executing. Since then and thanks to the contributions and sacrifices of our local partners in Iraq,
Syria, and elsewhere and servicemembers from across this coalition, our campaign has accelerated, pressuring and squeezing ISIL, and rolling it back towards Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

The challenge posed by ISIL demonstrates how small, local insurrections can grow into global threats: endangering innocent civilians at the source, and widening to threaten the people and homelands of many of our nations. And today, with several places – fragile and conflict affected states – where local dangers might grow into global threats, the importance of UN Peacekeeping and the demand for it are understandably growing.

But peacekeeping itself is also changing in this new era….growing more difficult, demanding, and dangerous and its missions more far-reaching. Like many of you, I’ve seen that progression over the course of my own career – from the 1970s and 80s when the Cold War still cast a shadow over peacekeeping in interstate conflict…through the 1990s, when tragedies in Rwanda and Bosnia shamed the world into transforming how we make and keep peace…to the
missions in the current era, where our ambitions and our peacekeepers’ skills are being tested more and more in intrastate conflicts with, between, and among non-state actors.

Decades ago, peacekeepers were typically sent to permissive environments to monitor an agreed-upon peace between warring parties. As you all know, today’s peacekeepers confront ruthless groups and violent extremists who flout the laws of war and who are fighting in more ways and in more domains than ever before. Indeed, today’s peacekeepers serve in some of the most dangerous parts of the world, and make tremendous sacrifices, including many who make the ultimate sacrifice.

What’s more, decades ago, peacekeepers served mostly to keep adversaries separated. Now their assignments run the gamut from facilitating peace agreements and protecting civilians to stopping violence and preventing atrocities – sometimes all the way to countering insurgencies. Today’s fast-moving and dangerous missions also require quick and effective decisions…often about the use of force…and often made, if not amid the fog of war than amid the fog of an uncertain peace.

And, we’ve also seen that making peace today is only the start, for the UN and for operations like our counter-ISIL campaign. To make peace lasting – to make it stick – we must also enable sustainable progress. When the fighting stops, we must collaborate with all of our partners – diplomatic and economic, law enforcement and civilian, international and local – to help communities and nations transition and recover from conflict. That’s the linchpin to lasting peace and security.

It’s clear that peacekeeping in the modern world will require more of our peacekeepers, our missions, and our operations leaders. But it will also require more of each of us in this room, and the militaries we have the honor and responsibility to lead. We all must make additional contributions, and make important improvements to UN Peacekeeping.

For its part, the United States – even as it’s responding to the five challenges I mentioned earlier, and underwriting stability and security in every region across the globe – is continuing America’s longstanding, robust financial support for UN peacekeeping. Contributing over $2 billion dollars in 2016, the United States is the largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations.

At the historic Leaders’ Summit that President Obama convened last year, the U.S. made nine additional commitments. And I have made it a priority in the Pentagon to implement those that require the action of the Defense Department, as have Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power in their respective domains.

In the spirit of the Michael Fallon’s purpose in convening this summit, let me now offer you a progress report on what the Defense Department has done to make good on President Obama’s commitments.

First, the United States has been finalizing plans to double the number of senior and seasoned American military officers – working with the UN to place some 40 officers with specific skills in planning and logistics and other important areas – that will serve in UN peace operations.

Second, through a new logistical support framework, the U.S. government is able to rapidly provide critical capabilities – like airlift – to UN operations, as we provided parachutes used to airdrop food aid into Syria earlier this year.

Third, the United States has also successfully worked with the UN to identify field-tested technologies to solve critical operational challenges, including an interoperable radio system to support communications, as well as the geo-spatial software tool GeoShape and the handheld device Arbiter that support improved situational awareness and decision-making.

Fourth, America is training troop contributing countries to counter improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Fifth, the United States is training UN staff to develop and conduct table-top exercises to prepare senior mission leaders – and the UN’s staff has successfully conducted two in-mission exercises so far.

And sixth, the Defense Department has finalized our policies and procedures, and now stands ready to provide engineering support to UN peace operations.

In addition to meeting last year’s commitments, the United States and the Defense Department are committed to leveraging more than a decade of hard-earned operational experience in austere and dangerous environments to improve the military and operational components of peace operations. So today, I’m proud to announce that the United States is pledging to make additional contributions to UN peacekeeping in five areas.

First, to help develop competent and effective senior mission leaders for peace operations, the Defense Department is offering to help train, develop, and prepare future leaders by reinforcing the UN’s Enhanced Leader Development Program.

Next, to bring an end to sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, the Defense Department – leveraging our own recent experience trying to rid our force of the scourge of sexual assault – is offering to help enable the UN’s National Investigative Officers and improve training to prevent sexual exploitation and other conduct and discipline issues.

Additionally, to help the UN peace operations predict, plan, and secure the capabilities they need in the field, the Defense Department is offering to help synchronize capability development efforts, especially to help fill critical gaps such as counter-IED operations and
medical evacuation.

Furthermore, to help UN and troop contributing countries more rapidly deploy units to crisis zones, the Defense Department will leverage our own unique capabilities and recent operational experience to help peacekeepers get on the ground – and get working – more quickly.

And finally, to optimize operational and environmental designs for UN Peacekeeping camps and sites, the Defense Department will partner with the UN to improve energy, water, and waste management efficiency.
Taken together, these new commitments, along with last year’s, and our ongoing financial support for UN peacekeeping, demonstrate the priority that President Obama, I, and the entire U.S. government place on peace operations.

And I’m here to ask each of you, and your defense institutions, to continue to prioritize it as well. Many nations here tonight have already pledged to contribute additional uniformed personnel and enablers; we applaud your commitment and honor your sacrifices. Thank you for your efforts to deliver these pledges as rapidly as possible. And thank you for looking for additional ways to contribute to this important cause.

As we all know, however, new troops, equipment, and support to UN Peacekeeping can only do so much on their own. That’s why we also need to look at – and be honest about – where our operations and peacekeepers have fallen short, and to take steps to improve the diversity, leadership, accountability, and performance of our peace operations.

UN forces have grown, and the numbers and diversity of contributing nations is now increasing too. That’s a good thing, as is the increasing role of women peacekeepers. After all, there are some missions and some communities, particularly those with at-risk populations, where women peacekeepers are uniquely positioned to advance peace and security. That’s why having more women peacekeepers is something all of us should strive for because it will both
improve the effectiveness of peace operations and allow us to draw from the widest possible pool of talent that meets our mission standards. And I applaud this ministerial’s focus on the importance of women in peacekeeping.

We also have to make some critical reforms to UN Peacekeeping. While this is indeed a dangerous time for peacekeepers, each of us knows from the experiences of our own militaries, difficult missions and dangerous environments do not excuse poor performance, sexual exploitation and abuse, or other unacceptable behavior.

UN Peacekeeping has great potential, and together, with important, achievable reforms, we can make it as effective as the world needs it to be. So, as I see it, here’s where we all need to focus:

First, as we know from our own militaries, meritocracy works and improves mission effectiveness. That’s why we must select qualified leaders of peace operations missions, and empower them to more effectively manage their forces in complex, austere, and dangerous environments.

Second, while each contributing nation must hold its own people accountable, the UN must also ensure the leaders of peace operations and their forces are rigorously assessed against clear standards for their performance, equipment, and conduct. That means consistently underperforming units must be sent home and replaced by someone more committed to the task.

And third, we must continue to work to improve performance in operations, both in the field and at UN headquarters in New York. Peacekeepers must be trained, equipped, enabled, and motivated to succeed.

We need these three reforms to ensure UN Peacekeeping can succeed in today’s world. And now is the time to make these changes, when the demand for peacekeeping is high and when – thanks to the work of the UN, last year’s summit, and this week’s ministerial – our governments have each renewed their commitment to these missions. The stakes are too high – for those we seek to protect, for our peacekeepers, and for our shared interests – to miss this opportunity for reform.

All of this and more will be discussed tomorrow. So let me just close by reviewing one more lesson we’ve been reminded of again and again over the past few decades: none of our countries can do this on our own.

With new contributions from each of our nations and much needed reforms, we can responsibly share the growing peacekeeping burden at a time of global change. And we can ensure our peacekeepers can continue to not only prevent local dangers from growing into global crises, but also help provide the citizens of our nations, and others around the world, with the security they need to live their lives, to dream their dreams, to give their children a better future. That is after all, our job. And I’m proud to have colleagues like you here to do mine with.

Thank you.