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Four questions – and answers – about U.S. support of peacekeeping in Africa

- May 15, 2015

A man holding Burundi’s flag stands on a tank as people take to the streets to celebrate, waving branches, beeping car horns and parading through Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 following the radio announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. (Jennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images)
According to a section of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, if the recent attempted coup in Burundi had succeeded, the U.S. government would have been required to suspend its military assistance to the country. This would have jeopardized Washington’s policy of supporting the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia, where Burundi is a major troop contributor, and raised questions about its continued use of autocratic regimes as peacekeeping partners.
The United States is the largest financial supporter of peace operations in Africa. But as I discuss in a new report for the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States makes other multidimensional contributions to peace operations on the continent. Washington exercises influence over the strategic direction of many peace operations; it runs a variety of “train and equip” programs; and some of its personnel participate directly in these missions. I draw on the findings of the report to answer four basic questions about U.S. support for peace operations in Africa:

  1. How does the United States support peace operations in Africa?

The United States plays a key role in shaping the strategic direction and design of peace operations on the continent. Washington’s permanent seat on the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council grants significant leverage on many issues, including shaping mission mandates and the ability to veto any proposed peace operation it does not support. Likewise, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have played leading roles in authorizing the expansion of peace operations in Africa.
The United States also used its influence to push for institutional peacekeeping reforms at the United Nations. One major institutional reform is still ongoing: the development of operational standards for U.N. peacekeepers. The United States also supported the Senior Advisory Group process, which in 2012 called for longer troop rotations to preserve institutional memory, reductions in reimbursement to countries whose peacekeepers deploy without necessary equipment, financial premiums for countries providing critical enabling capabilities (such as engineering or aviation units), and provision of danger pay to troops in high-risk areas.

  1. What financial assistance does the U.S. provide?

The United States is the largest financial supporter of U.N. and African peace operations. It is responsible for 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget (which covers special political missions) and 28.4% of the U.N. peacekeeping budget. Some of these costs are recouped by U.S. businesses, which win a significant portion of contracts supporting U.N. missions. Washington also provides direct financial support to the African Union’s activities as well as contributing countries involved in peace operations.
Excluding U.S. contributions to the U.N.’s regular budget, in fiscal year 2013, U.S. financial contributions to peace operations in Africa amounted to approximately $2.6 billion. Some funding comes from Pentagon initiatives including the Defense Institution Building, Building Partner Capacity, and International Education and Training programs. The Pentagon’s Section 1206 program, which trains and equips partners in counterterror and stability operations, has become particularly important, given the overlap between counterterrorism and peacekeeping activities in some countries, notably Mali and Somalia, and perhaps Nigeria.

  1. What assistance packages does Washington provide for peace operations?

Beyond funding, the United States provides a variety of “train and equip” programs to support troop- and police-contributing countries (T/PCCs) and African regional organizations. These cover a wide range of training needs, logistical and communications support, strategic airlift, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), vehicles, and personal equipment items (including ammunition in some cases). The largest of these is the Global Peace Operations Initiative, which includes the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. Through these programs, Washington has trained over 250,000 African peacekeepers since 2005.
The U.S. Africa Command (based in Germany) and the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (based in Djibouti) also provide assistance to the African Union’s Peace and Security Department and African T/PCCs, including training exercises focused on headquarters functions and command-and-control arrangements.
In August 2014, the Obama administration launched the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, which earmarks $110 million per year for 3-5 years to enhance the rapid deployment capabilities of six African countries.

  1. How many U.S. uniformed personnel participate in peace operations in Africa?

The United States currently deploys about 450 uniformed personnel in peace operations in Africa. As of April 30, 2015, 57 of these were U.S. personnel serving as U.N. “blue helmets” in five missions on the continent. The rest are U.S. special forces and military advisers who provide in theater support to the African-led missions to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa (approximately 280–300 personnel) and al-Shabab in Somalia (approximately 120 personnel).
Washington has also deployed technical experts to Central African Republic to oversee the construction of expeditionary bases for the U.N. operation there, MINUSCA. U.S. troops were also dispatched to support the U.N. and African Union anti–Ebola “health-keeping” missions in West Africa. Discussions are underway about whether the United States should deploy specialist military contingents as U.N. “blue helmets.” These could provide combat service or support roles, including predominantly inside-the-wire activities related to medical, engineering, aviation, logistics, as well as ISR capabilities, which are often in short supply in U.N. missions.
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Paul D. Williams is associate professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and nonresident senior adviser at the International Peace Institute in New York, where he helps manage the Providing for Peacekeeping Project, an independent research project that analyzes how to develop more effective U.N. peace operations.