Today, United Nations Peacekeeping celebrates a birthday. At 64, I think it’s safe to say that Peacekeeping is officially in its prime. Surely, with its years have come many hard-earned accomplishments. In fact, to date there have been 67 peacekeeping operations on four continents. But ever since its infancy, this historic—and indeed heroic—institution has been an overachiever.
What began with a handful of brave souls setting out to the Middle East amid the 1948 war has evolved to become the second largest deployed military force in the world. Today, more than 120,000 military personnel from 117 countries serve as UN peacekeepers in 17 of the most difficult regions in the world.
For six decades, these men and women—most recognizable in their blue helmets—have been responsible for restoring stability where terror lived. They are charged with rebuilding societies that have been wracked by violence and natural disasters. And they are challenged to restore confidence in families and communities who have known little but war.
We see the results of their work across the globe. Their impact is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where peacekeepers help people become more than residents and civilians but also voters and citizens. There, it is peacekeepers who distribute voter registration materials and oversee elections that build democracy.
We also see an impact along the border between Sudan and South Sudan, where peacekeepers are quite literally what stands between war and a pathway to resolution. Their presence is what protects thousands of families—moms and dads and young children—from getting caught in crossfire.
The results of their work are visible in Haiti, where peacekeepers have now provided training to more than 5,000 new police officers, equipping the Haitian National Police to carry forward the vision of a rebuilt society.
Indeed, the list of UN peacekeepers’ accomplishments is long — even longer than their many years of service. Yet, it has not come without risk, as providing security is no simpler today than it was in 1948. Last year, 112 peacekeepers died, and another 27 have died since the beginning of 2012. As the face of change in violent and unstable environments, their work to look past conflict and toward a peaceful, productive future has certainly come at a great cost.
Their life-saving work—in the interest of all humankind—is particularly in the interest of the United States. The U.S. cannot promote international security alone, nor should it have to. UN peacekeeping draws upon the economic and human resources of UN Member States, allowing our nation to share the burden of protecting global peace and collective security and reducing the need for unilateral intervention.
In the darkest hours of global conflict, time and again, it is UN peacekeepers who carry forward a torch for peace and stability. Today, on the birthday of UN Peacekeeping and the official International Day of UN Peacekeeping, it’s a good time to reflect on the UN’s role in stabilizing nations and saving lives. Join me in sending a simple ‘thank you’ to peacekeepers who are serving around the globe to create a safer and better world.