Max Boot’s UN mercenaries

Max Boot takes issue with Gideon Rachman’s assumption that conservatives are reflexively opposed to the very idea of the “UN army” that Rachman raised in his FT column the other day. Boot avers that he — unlike, he admits, most conservatives — is not in fact is not opposed to the concept, only Rachman’s specific proposal.

Rachman suggested that troop contributing countries “give the UN first call” on some of their military personnel. Boot objects to this model, but before doing so he laments that UN peacekeepers “have a disturbing propensity to commit sex crimes and other offenses for which they are currently not punished.” He even says “that’s why” he doesn’t agree with Rachman.

First of all, the insistence that blue helmets are more likely to commit sex crimes than other military personnel is greatly exaggerated. Abuse by UN peacekeepers is reprehensible, but, since it has been built up into a meme by conservative hysteria, it shadows the equally reprehensible abuse committed by men in militaries all over the world — including, yes, the United States’ own.

But Boot’s real gripe with Rachman’s plan is that his UN army would still be composed of troops from countries like “Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.,” which Boot calls “the bottom of the barrel.” It’s hard not to read into the juxtaposition of his words an assumption that soldiers from these developing countries are more likely to commit sexual abuse than those from Western countries.

Even giving Boot the benefit of the doubt — that his argument bespeaks not ethnic prejudices, but a somewhat legitimate comment on differing accountability standards among more and less well-trained militaries — his counter-proposal makes little sense. He fails to acknowledge that the reason that UN peacekeepers are drawn from “the bottom of the barrel” is because top military nations like the United States do not offer troops to UN missions.

Boot would fix the problem by adopting a Blackwater-esque (gulp, no issues of war crimes there…) approach, suggesting that the UN hire veterans from Western militaries. But beyond the issue of legitimacy (how would this differ from a Western intervention?), Boot again does not consider that of cost. Who is to pay for these UN mercenaries? To attract talent willing to go to the most dangerous places on Earth, you need to have a source of funding, and unless he’s in favor of providing more money for the UN, which I feel safe in assuming that conservatives generally oppose, then he’ll have to come up with a more realistic alternative.

(image from UN Photo)