Celebrating UN Peacekeepers

May 29, 2013 By Taylor Johnson

This past weekend, Americans remembered and honored the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  In D.C., this means the roar of thousands of veterans on motorcycles in the streets or taking a moment to visit the city’s many armed forces’ memorials. Today, however, marks another, often less-recognized, opportunity to celebrate a different kind of force that supports American national security and values.

International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, celebrated each year on May 29, honors the service of UN Peacekeepers in creating stability around the world.  At UN Headquarters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a wreath-laying ceremony and presented the Dag Hammarskjöld medal to those who lost their lives serving in peacekeeping missions this year.  Currently, over 113,000 men and women from 114 United Nations member states, including the United States, risk their lives to promote peace in 16 different missions across 4 continents.

A ceremony marking the handing over of power from the UN mission in Timor-Leste to local forces

A ceremony marking the handing over of power from the UN mission in Timor-Leste to local forces

While this day provides an opportunity to honor the men and women who lost their lives over the past year, it should also be a time to acknowledge the key role of UN peacekeepers abroad.

Take Timor-Leste for example. On December 31, 2012, UN peacekeepers departed the country after 13 years of service.  Over those 13 years, UN peacekeepers helped transition the conflict-ridden country to a successful democracy following its bid for independence from Indonesia in 1999 and its formal realization of nationhood in 2002.  Although the UN peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste faced bumps along the road, the UN is leaving behind a fully functioning democracy.  The country has held two largely peaceful elections and today has the region’s highest participation of women in parliament at 38 percent.

Cases like Timor-Leste highlight the importance of peacekeeping forces to U.S. engagement abroad. Responding multilaterally to national security threats and humanitarian crises strengthens missions and significantly lowers the cost of a U.S. unilateral mission.  At a UN committee meeting last November, Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous highlighted the importance of peacekeeping to global development:

“The relative stability peacekeeping offers has also helped restore a measure of confidence of local and international investors in post-conflict zones, increasing economic activity and raising the GDP of these same countries. Put plainly: peacekeeping works.”

Peacekeeping results in new markets for U.S. businesses, greater opportunity in emerging democracies, and an overall safer world.

So, let’s take a moment to recognize the contributions of Americans and many others who risk their lives to protect our peace and prosperity around the world each day.

Head to the Better World Campaign for an opportunity to send your thanks to peacekeepers in the field.