International Order & Conflict

Peacekeeping Dues and Don’ts: A Checklist for the Next President

By Dr. William J. Durch

The Challenge

While America can act on its own in many matters of peace and security, even a superpower has finite resources as the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated. The next administration must answer serious questions of resource allocation regarding peace and stability operations and make it clear that it supports an effective UN.

The Context

Contemporary peace operations got their start after World War II, when some 200 unarmed observers wearing United Nationals armbands patrolled cease-fire lines between India and Pakistan and the armistice lines around the new state of Israel. Six decades later, 104,000 troops, police, and civilian personnel in 20 UN missions on four continents use presence, persuasion, and modern weapons to support the rebuilding of peace under tough conditions. When fully deployed, the large UN-African Union mission in Darfur will drive that total to 130,000. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) manages a further 50,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo and Afghanistan, the European Union (EU) manages 2,300 troops and police in Bosnia, and the African Union (AU) managed about 7,000 in Darfur through the end of 2007, when that force merged into the UN-AU “hybrid” force. The US government authorized, endorsed, or supported all of these operations through its votes in the Security Council or on NATO’s North Atlantic Council.

The United States chronically under-budgets its share of UN peacekeeping costs, even as it votes for more and expanded peacekeeping missions on the Security Council. As of February 2008, the US had built up $1.2 billion in essentially permanent prior-year debt for UN peacekeeping and was likely to fall at least another $500 million short in its peacekeeping dues for 2007-08. At the end of May, 11 months into the UN’s current peacekeeping fiscal year, member states still owed the organization $1.3 billion toward the $6.8 billion peacekeeping budget.

Where to Start

Early in the new term, while the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations is in session, the president should set out the following principles and policy goals:

  • Affirm that the United States and the United Nations share common goals in expanding the writ of human rights and realizing human dignity, which in turn requires international peace and human security

The majority of UN member states are poor, less than free, and often difficult to deal with. As a global institution, the UN includes the world’s worst human rights offenders but also its strongest human rights proponents. Moreover, the UN Charter and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reflect Western values on a global stage. The General Assembly regularly votes budgets for peace operations that Washingtonsees fit to support in the Security Council, and those budgets are cleared first by a committee of 16 states on which the United States has nearly always had a strong voice. UN operating agencies working outside the realm of high politics and security provides a wide range of services in food aid, refugee support, human rights support, global public health, vaccinations against childhood diseases, and nuclear non-proliferation.

  • Offer strong support—in cash and kind—to every UN peace operation for which it casts its vote in the Security Council and set an example for others by promptly contributing the U.S. share of UN peacekeeping costs

The UN is precluded from borrowing to finance its operations, so when the Security Council votes to support a mission, the UN must rely on Member States’ payments towards the mission’s “assessed” budget to get things underway. The State Department frequently under-budgets for UN peacekeeping operations, and the Office of Management and Budget in recent years has cut those requests further, making it up later with “supplemental” requests. Indeed, day-to-day US-UN relations on matters of peace and security are driven more by cost considerations than they are by US interests. Even UN missions launched with urgent US backing may not receive US funds for months unless they can hitch a ride on a timely supplemental in Congress. US delays encourage other member nations to hold back funds, and UN peacekeeping operations, as a result, are chronically in arrears, jeopardizing the people, places, and peace that such operations are intended to protect.

  • Support the continued restructuring and strengthening of UN headquarters’ offices that plan and support peace operations

Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon proposed, and the General Assembly approved, splitting the Department of Peacekeeping Operations into two parts, one (which keeps the old name) that is focused on policy, strategy, and planning, and another (the Department of Field Support) that is focused on finance, personnel, logistics, and communications. The General Assembly also agreed to add 287 staff to UN Headquarters support of peacekeeping, bringing the total New York staff to about 1,200, to manage up to 130,000 personnel in the field. Its cost, together with that of the UN’s main peacekeeping logistics base at Brindisi, Italy, is five percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget.

  • Promise temporary US military support, in collaboration with its NATO allies, for UN operations that experience trouble from local spoilers or terrorist activities 

In spring 2000, in Sierra Leone, Britain turned a non-combatant evacuation operation into a mini-counterinsurgency campaign against the armed gangs that threatened both the country’s fragile peace and a wobbly new UN peacekeeping operation. A British contingent stayed on to train and mentor Sierra Leone’s army, while the UN operation restructured itself and ended up doing a creditable job, withdrawing in 2005.

In 2004, in Haiti, US armed forces led a coalition of the willing that preceded and then handed over to a UN operation. Such US deployments can and should run in parallel, however, as British, French, NATO, Australian, and EU operations have done, should a UN operation need extra help or run into trouble.

  • Pledge strong and sustained U.S. diplomatic and political support to UN peacekeeping operations, but insist that governments discipline troops who violate international humanitarian law

Every successful peace operation has had the strong support of at least one great power. Such support does not guarantee success. But its absence is nearly a guarantee of failure. Similarly, disciplined and professional troops are essential to protect vulnerable post-conflict populations. Future eligibility for US-supported training programs like the Global Peace Operations Initiative should be tied to recipient states’ willingness to undertake disciplinary procedures against troops who commit crimes while on UN peacekeeping duty and to their willingness to publicize the results.

What’s on the Line

As all-consuming at the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are at the moment, there is a world of hurt beyond their borders. How much can or should America try to help, either on its own, or in the company of other states? The question will probably never be answered precisely because politicians want and need the flexibility to adapt as problems change and challenges evolve. But it can be answered in broad terms. Even after the United States is substantially disengaged from Iraq, the country will find it both cost-effective and politically expedient to lean on other states and organizations to help it advance shared strategic interests in international peace, security, justice, and prosperity.

For nearly half a century, Washington was the recognized leader of the free world, earning that distinction by investing in and protecting the freedom of others. In the new century, as in the last, alternatives to western-style liberty and self rule are being offered to—or forced upon—peoples in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the borderlands of Europe, especially in countries recently torn apart by war. Preserving liberty and fostering democracy among such countries is critical to America’s interests. It is too big a job for any one country to shoulder alone, but by working with allies and institutions like the UN, we can share that burden and earn back the respect of the world.

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