Remarks by General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a Meeting on UN Peacekeeping at the 69th Regiment Armory
United States Mission to the United Nations
New York City
July 28, 2015
Well, good morning to you all. And first and foremost, I would like to thank Ambassador Power for that very kind introduction, and it is a distinct pleasure to serve our country together. My wife Deanie is here with me. We’re coming up near the end of a 41-year career and I can’t think of any event that I’d rather add to my diary toward the end of that career than this one – to challenge, you’re thinking, and my own, at some level – because we’ve got a lot of work to do and it won’t stop just because this Chairman of the Joint Chiefs leaves. I’m also, by the way, an honorary member of the Fighting 69th, placed into the Hall of Fame, mostly because of my singing ability rather than my military work. It is wonderful to be back here in New York City, and it’s certainly a pleasure to be here with you all this morning. Gatherings such as this are exactly why the United Nations was envisioned in the first place, and that is, to bring the nations of the world together in some common cause.
Like many of you, I’ve acquired a great appreciation for history over these years, and so you might find it interesting, as I did, that in 1945 – on this very day – the United States Senate ratified the Charter of the United Nations. I almost said something I would have regretted about, “Maybe that’s the last time they – ” never mind. U.S. President Harry Truman signed the Charter eleven days later, and by the end of that year the Charter was fully ratified and in effect.
It’s in the spirit of that Charter – to help “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” – that the United Nations peacekeeping operations have evolved as a dynamic tool to help create conditions for lasting peace in countries torn by conflict.
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the UN, I’m sure you’re aware that President Obama, as Ambassador Power said, along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and several other heads of state will co-host this Summit on Peace Operations later this year. That summit of world leaders seeks to solidify the commitments needed to ensure an increasingly capable and reliable UN peacekeeping mission. It’s not enough just to talk about it; we actually have to deliver on the promise. Another goal of the summit will be to take a strategic look at what reforms may further strengthen UN peacekeeping operations. I think it’s always healthy to look internal, at our systems and processes for reform.
Improving global peacekeeping efforts will require active participation and solid commitments from member nations. There are three core needs that we’ve collectively identified, which must be addressed for this effort to be successful.
First, the UN needs to generate contributions to mitigate equipment shortfalls, significant equipment shortfalls. Enduring gaps in equipment platforms continue to undermine our efforts in ongoing missions around the world. And member nations must contribute more in this area or else risk failure of ongoing – and future – UN peacekeeping missions.
Second, the UN requires commitments from member nations to provide rapid response forces for emerging crises. People ask me to predict the future, on occasion, and I always tell them I really don’t know what will come next, but here’s what I do know; it will come more quickly. Some of you may be familiar with the phrase: a stitch in time saves nine. The rapid deployment of units within 30, 60, or 90 days – for a finite period – can help resolve developing crises, prevent expanded conflict, and in the process save more innocent lives.
And third, the UN seeks more highly-skilled personnel, both police and military, to staff future missions and backfill units transitioning from contingency operations. That is to say, we need the capability not just to begin a peacekeeping mission, but to sustain it over time. And experienced personnel add critical skills and tremendous value towards improving peacekeeping operations on the ground.
I’ll tell you this, in my 41 years of military service, I’ve never witnessed such significant shifts in the international security environment as we are seeing all around us today. The complex array of threats and, let’s call it geopolitical jockeying, requires all of us to contend with an unpredictable landscape and our support to peacekeeping operations must keep pace with that unpredictability.
The number of people today forcibly displaced from their homes due to violence reached nearly 60 million this past year. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that last year, an average of 42,500 people were forced from their homes every day. Let me stray from my prepared remarks to tell you a concern I have, as I leave this particular office but look to the future of security around the globe. I think there may be a point where such – the magnitude of this problem becomes such that we almost become immune to it, or certainly we become insensitive to it. And the more we know about it, because of ubiquitous information, the more it can seem to be so overwhelming, that why would you even try to do anything about it? I think we’re close to that point, and it’ll be a shame, it’ll be a historical shame, and it will be a shame if we don’t realize that we may be at that point, and shake ourselves back into the reality that we can do something about it.
Thank you – I need to bring you with me to Washington.
The number of refugees fleeing the countries around the globe are increasingly a direct consequence of proxy wars instigated by regional powers. The ethnic, religious, and political nature of the conflicts make them difficult to contain, and since they don’t always – in fact, probably never – follow existing norms of international behavior, spillover to neighboring countries is inevitable. In turn, the resulting humanitarian catastrophes fuel further instability and state fragility. It’s a terrible cycle, in which we find ourselves.
Many of you here today are painfully aware that few of today’s crises remain contained by state borders. Today’s security challenges cut across the lines not only of geography, but diplomacy, economics, and of course, ideology. No clear-cut boundaries define these spheres. And therefore, effective strategy and operations must also transcend how we’ve done things in the past. What we’ve done in the past is hardly applicable to what we think we’re going to need to do in the future. And this upcoming Summit, and your presence here today, are a great step in coming to that realization.
We must look to holistic, integrated approaches conducted with reliable and capable partners, and we need to keep regional context in mind, as Ambassador Power and I often discuss, we used to look at the world one group or one nation at a time, and yet, in today’s world where geography and ethnicity and religion and ideology matter, the issues that we find always transcend borders and are always regional in nature – and by the way, often global in nature.
Within this context, we really do need to draw on inputs from the whole membership of the United Nations, meaning Member States must make greater efforts to pool our resources, our capabilities, and our thinking. This is an imperative if we are to sustain UN peacekeeping missions and properly address the challenges we face today. But even more so, the ones we are likely to face in the future.
Of course, we should expect that nations will continue to deploy forces under their own flag, particularly when defending their homelands. But we also know that sustainability comes with numbers and unity. We’re stronger when we stand together. Standing together against those who threaten stability strengthens both our footing, or our capability on the battlefield, but also strengthens the perception of our publics, and therefore further isolates disruptive actors.
We’ve all sought to join strong, capable military partners in regional organizations and coalitions; whether in the pursuit of long-term stability, such as NATO, or to address a specific and timely threat, such as the way that the international community has coalesced around the threat of ISIL, or Daesh, as well as Boko Haram, and others like them.
In the same vein, UN peacekeeping missions serve to advance the collective security of all of the UN Member Nations. They provide opportunities to build trust and to build expertise, and they protect our common security interests. Thus, it makes sense that each Member State should consider what tangible share of personnel and assets they can contribute to peacekeeping operations.
Bear in mind, not only do these resources strengthen UN peacekeeping operations, and therefore global stability, but each contributing nation’s military benefits – as well as their police forces – benefit from the experience as well. These deployments help to reinforce readiness, test battlefield mettle, hone skills, and gain operational and, especially, leadership experience.
As military leaders, we sense the benefits to our militaries by participating in United Nations peacekeeping operations, but as I said police forces also gain many of these benefits as well, as they work to contribute to local stability. Given the nature of transnational criminal networks, UN-led peacekeeping operations contribute to the dismantling of illicit drugs, weapons, and human trafficking networks.
In doing so, all of these forces serve an important role in what I refer to often as the “desire to play an away game,” to use a sports metaphor. They help provide security for our collective nation’s citizens at home by increasing the readiness of your military and police forces, and mitigating threats beyond our national borders.
As the nature of threats has evolved, peacekeeping instruments continue to evolve as well. Peacekeeping has undergone significant reform over the past 20 years. There are now clear authorities for the use of force, as well as clear mandates for the protection of innocent civilians. UN-led peacekeeping operations have improved logistics, as well as modernized supply chain activities and asset management. Additionally, UN blue helmets experience increasingly robust lines of communication, and have benefited from better command and control, within and without headquarters, as well as a vast array of local, and U.S.-UN civilian missions and organizations with which they work. UN-led operations have taken on a more integrated approach, infusing tools and applications from military forces, police, and civilian organizations in response to crises.
The upcoming summit will pose an opportunity for UN member states to shift momentum in the direction of increased capability and capacity – the ingredients necessary to sustain peace. Additional military and police capabilities from Member States in support of UN peacekeeping can be the force multipliers that actually allow us to accomplish these missions.
So, each of the nations represented here today we know possess capabilities, and assets, and skillsets that complement the capabilities, and assets, and skillsets of other nations. These complementary resources can be decisive in setting conditions for a better peace on the ground, and a sustainable peace on the ground.
Ultimately, the missions we collectively support serve a most noble cause – the greater good of humanity and protecting those who do not have the means nor the strength to protect themselves. We stand together in peacekeeping for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. But it takes the cooperation and participation of all Member States of the United Nations to do so; to allow peace agreements to take root, to serve as a deterrent against the reemergence of hostilities, and to enable internally displaced persons and refugees to return home without fear of violence.
Today, peacekeepers are being asked to shoulder more responsibility in combat zones than at any time in history. Peacekeeping operations are under greater strain than ever before. Because of this reality, we’re at a critical juncture for this body.
Simply stated, a disproportionate responsibility is being borne by some few to ensure the stability and security of so many. This imbalance is unsustainable. Political and diplomatic backing of our respective governments is the only way to ensure the continued viability of future UN peacekeeping operations. Providing concrete commitments to fulfill the UN’s three core goals at the upcoming Summit is a start to alleviating that current imbalance.
And finally, I want to acknowledge that peacekeeping exists because men and women from your nations stand watch on the fault lines of conflict to sustain or promote a better peace. I’m optimistic that by working together, we can strengthen the system in which we operate, and meet operational needs ahead.
I want to thank each of you for your support of global peacekeeping and express my gratitude for your leadership within your own countries, and of those men and women serving in uniform who you represent.
And with that, I’m happy to take a few questions.