Nation Building Strategies

In the New Republic online, Peter Beinart has written a not-to-be missed essay touting the successful nation building strategies the United Nations has been quietly developing without much fanfare here in the United States.

For the record, what Beinart calls “nation building” the United Nations would likely call “peace building.” But the intent is the same: to help restore national institutions in a country torn apart by conflict. To that end, Beinart uses the UN’s recent logistical accomplishments in the Congolese elections as an entry into a discussion of the future of nation building in the face of America’s experience in Iraq.

He hits all the main points. As a result of Iraq, says Beinart, Americans may have a declining appetite for ambitious nation building projects. However, the United Nations is poised to fill that gap. As Beinart notes, the UN has a capacity to oversee complex nation/peace building operations that is unparalleled by any government on its own; long serving expert staff in areas as diverse as justice sector development and election management makes the UN uniquely suited to take on these tasks in societies emerging from conflict.

Peacekeepers are the core of these kinds of operations. And perhaps the one point that Beinart could have emphasized more forcefully is the gap between the demand for peacekeepers worldwide and the financial resources available to the United Nations to oversee their deployment. The Department of Peace Keeping Operations is forced to maintain the current level of peacekeepers around the world and prepare for new missions without ever experiencing an increase in its budget commensurate to the new operations the Security Council authorizes.

Complicating matters is that the single largest financial donor to peacekeeping operations, the United States, is constantly in arrears. The United States has agreed to pay 27% of the costs of peacekeepers around the globe, but it never makes that amount in full. For FY 2007, it is estimated that the United States will be close to $400 million in arrears.

These backlogs come at a time when the United States is increasingly looking to peacekeeping operations for world conflict zones. For example, just yesterday Ambassador Bolton raised the prospect of a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia. People can debate the merits of sending blue helmets to Somalia (for the record, the prominent NGO The International Crisis Group cautions against this approach) but if peacekeepers for Somalia are approved, this would be the fourth mission the Security Council will have authorized since August. The Security Council already approved missions for Lebanon, Darfur, and East Timor, which if implemented in full would increase the number of blue helmets across the globe by 50%.

Financially supporting in full peacekeeping operations is critical. It is the only way that major powers, the United States included, can maximize the UN’s share of the burden of maintaining peace and security throughout the globe.