This morning we are quite privileged to be joined by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Susan Rice, as well as a distinguished private panel that will follow her testimony and question period.

I want to begin on a different point by thanking Ambassador Rice for her efforts to rebuild the UN human rights mechanism, which has been badly compromised by a pathological focus on Israel, and tarnished by a failure to focus on some of the world’s worst human rights violators.

But the purpose of this hearing is to examine the challenges faced by international peacekeeping operations, and to explore various options for making such operations more effective, particularly in protecting innocent civilians.

Since 1948, the member states of the United Nations have supported 63 peacekeeping operations on four continents.

Today, the UN fields more than 90,000 uniformed peacekeepers and thousands of civilian personnel in 15 peacekeeping missions, from Congo to Haiti to Lebanon.

We support UN peacekeeping efforts because it is in our national interest to see that states do not fail, that voids are not opened for terrorists to fill, and that economies and lives do not crumble under the weight of war.

And for those reasons, it’s very important that we pay our UN peacekeeping dues in full, as we propose in the State Department authorization bill passed by this committee and the House last month.

Around the world, many UN peacekeeping operations have yielded positive results on the ground.

In the Balkans and East Timor, in Kashmir and Liberia, in Cyprus and the Golan Heights, UN blue helmets have worked to create the political space for peace, prevent mass atrocities, and avoid the collapse of states.

As we consider the future of peacekeeping, it’s important to recognize that such operations have become increasingly complex.

More than ever before, they are designed to address the root causes of conflict, and to build sustainable peace.

This is reflected in the sheer scale of current operations, which have an average of nine times as many troops, observers and police, and 13 times as many civilians, as the average operation did 10 years ago.

But these expanded peacekeeping mandates have put a severe strain on the system.

The demand for resources often exceeds the supply provided by the international community, and as a result, peacekeeping missions frequently lack the troops, helicopters and other equipment they need.

At a time when peacekeepers are increasingly deployed in complex and unstable situations, and sometimes become the targets of combatants, that can be a recipe for disaster.

The United States has taken some important steps to address the lack of capacity and resources.

For example, the U.S. military has assisted in the strategic movement of troops, equipment, and supplies to support UN peacekeeping missions.

In Darfur, we have funded over 25 percent of the cost of the hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping operation and constructed and maintained 34 Darfur base camps for over 7,000 AU peacekeepers.

And through the Global Peace Operations Initiative, we will provide training and material assistance to 75,000 troops from a number of African countries, many of whom will be deployed with UN peacekeeping missions.

What else can the U.S. and other nations do to increase the capacity of the United Nations and regional organizations to respond to emerging crisis?

Are expanded peacekeeping mandates the right approach to dealing with the types of conflicts we face today? Or are we asking our peacekeepers to do too much?

And what steps can we take to help ensure that UN peacekeeping operations have adequate personnel and resources to carry out their missions?

One of the key tests of the international peacekeeping system is its ability to protect civilians, consistent with the emerging international norm known as “the responsibility to protect.”

This concept, endorsed by the UN Security Council in 2006, holds that states have a responsibility to protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Should they fail to do so, the international community has a responsibility to step in and protect threatened populations – with the use of force if absolutely necessary.

But strong words have not always been matched by strong actions.

Since 1999, when a UN peacekeeping operation was established in the Eastern Congo, over 5 million people have died as a consequence of war, and an additional 45,000 perish every month.

And in conflict zones from Congo to Bosnia to Darfur, peacekeepers have been unable to prevent the use of rape as a weapon of war, and even genocide.

How can we equip the United Nations to more effectively protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities?

What can the United States do at the Security Council to discourage or overcome political foot-dragging – as we saw in Kosovo and Rwanda – that prevents rapid deployments at times of humanitarian crisis?

What is our strategy for making sure that women form a critical mass of peacekeepers and peacemakers, both to reduce sexual violence in conflict and to ensure that post-conflict reconstruction prioritizes the wellbeing of women and girls?

And finally, the key question: Is the international peacekeeping system, as it is conceived today, capable of preventing genocide, ethnic cleansing and other mass atrocities?

Or do we need to develop an entirely new model for our increasingly complex world?

We thank Ambassador Rice and our other panelists for being here today to share their insights on this important set of issues, and we do look forward to your testimony.