The only Norwegian officer at the UNTSO headquarters

UN Peacekeeping 75

UN Peacekeeping 75. The UN Secretary-General has stated that “UN peacekeepers are the beating heart of our commitment to a more peaceful world.” This year marks the 75th anniversary of UN peacekeeping forces. On this occasion, UNRIC interviewed Major Tom. He is deployed as a military personnel officer at United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) headquarters in Jerusalem.

UN Peacekeeping 75 UNTSO is the UN’s oldest peacekeeping operation and was deployed after the outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Norway has provided personnel there since 1956. In addition to UNTSO, Major Tom has participated in several UN and NATO missions for Norway. Among other things, he has worked for the Norwegian Armed Forces in Lebanon and served as an observer in Syria.

UN Peacekeeping 75
Major Tom of UNTSO

“I’ve always been fond of the UN, as the only organization that gets 193 member states to agree on a mandate and a mission,” he explains. His current position in Jerusalem involves supporting the other missions with all matters related to personnel management. They replace their force twelve times a year, and Major Tom is involved in everything from recruitment to when they are sent home. He describes it as “very rewarding”.

Lost a piece of his heart to the Middle East

UN Peacekeeping 75 When asked why he decided to work at UNTSO and relocate to the Middle East, he explains that we must go back to 1988. At that time, UN peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing armed clashes and facilitating negotiations. This was a great recognition of the peace forces’ work in helping to realize the UN goals. “Two years later, in 1990, I had the opportunity to spend a year at UNIFIL in Lebanon. It was a unique experience in which I lost a piece of my heart to the Middle East.

Eyes and ears on the ground

Major Tom would not have worked a total of 4 years at the United Nations if he didn’t feel that he was making a difference. “We are present and act as eyes and ears on the ground for the locals. If something were to happen, we can report it and act as eyewitnesses,” he says. In some of the missions abroad, they also take part in various negotiations and agreements. Major Tom believes that the fact that they are unarmed puts them in a special position to interact and become close with the local population, the various parties, and not least the authorities in Jerusalem and Syria.

Feels safe

UN Peacekeeping 75 As a Norwegian officer and Norwegian in Jerusalem, Major Tom feels safe and can travel freely. At the same time, he is aware that the security situation is closely monitored, and he gets updates and a good overview if something happens via apps on his phone. “We are constantly thinking about safety and risk, and what could affect this, as it can quickly change.

Same mindset as when they were military observers

As the system is today, everyone starts as military observers. Major Tom thinks this is crucial. “Although I am now deployed at the headquarters, I continue to serve as a military observer for the United Nations. The difference is that I now have other work tasks. Everyone who works at the headquarters is aware that our role is to support the outstations in carrying out their mission on the ground. This applies to everything from observations and patrolling to inspections and reporting,” he says.

It is clear that the purpose and mission of UNTSO are ingrained in its headquarters. “It’s not like I’m just sitting in isolation as a personnel officer. I see the bigger picture,” Major Tom emphasizes. He spent his first six months as an observer in Syria, where he still is in his mindset when he works. “We can’t let go of that mindset, even though we’re now working at the headquarters.

The Nordic countries have their own system

UN Peacekeeping 75 UNTSO facilitates for employees to see a larger context. Norway has a system where, together with the other Nordic countries, they send officers after service as instructors on observer courses. UNTSO helps to arrange this in Finland, among other places. “I think this system is very natural and I really like it. Once officers have been out in the field, they ought to be able to transfer their knowledge by being instructors and training others, Major Tom explains. He was an instructor after service from 2018-2019.

The only Norwegian at the headquarters

UN Peacekeeping 75
UN Peacekeeping 75

On the military side of UNTSO, there are 153 observers from all over the world and 28 different nations. They also have civilian local staff who are supporting the mission. Overall, there are at least 50 countries in the UNTSO mission. Although Major Tom is the only Norwegian at the headquarters in Jerusalem, he does not mind. “I find it admirable that the UN has such a wide range of cultural diversity. The international environment enables us to push one another’s limits and learn from each other,” he explains. With employees coming from different corners of the world, he meets people he would never have met otherwise. He finds the friendships he develops both enriching and educational.

Read more about UN peacekeeping forces here, here, and here.