Is the Trump Administration Learning to Love UN Peacekeeping?

Yesterday, in an otherwise bellicose and nationalist speech, President Donald Trump did single out UN Peacekeeping as a  worthy endeavor of the United Nations. “I want to salute the work of the United Nations in seeking to address the problems that cause people to flee from their homes. The United Nations and African Union led peacekeeping missions to have invaluable contributions in stabilizing conflicts in Africa,” he said.

Today, Vice President Pence  participated in a Security Council meeting on strengthening UN peacekeeping. The meeting was a so-called “high-level open debate” titled “Reform of UN peacekeeping: implementation and follow-up.”

The “follow up” is in reference to a 2015 report on peacekeeping reform lead by Jose Ramos Horta, a nobel peace prize laureate and former prime minister of East Timor. That report identified several efficiencies that could be introduced to peacekeeping, but also sought to assert what is known as the “primacy of politics” in the deployment of peacekeeping operations. In short, this is the idea that peacekeeping operations should compliment (and not be a substitute for) steady political engagement towards a peace process.  It was a reform plan broadly embraced by members of the United Nations, including the Obama administration. Now, it seems, the Trump administration is on board.

There are about 100,000 blue helmets serving in 16 missions around the world. A few missions are in the process of ending or have recently ended, including Haiti, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire. But other missions are stretched to capacity, even as their responsibilities are increasing. Under pressure from the United States, which has been pushing to sharp cuts to UN peacekeeping, the mission to DR Congo is downsizing, even as a new crisis is brewing in the country. In the Central African Republic, renewed conflict is overwhelming the 13,000 strong mission. In Mali, the mission is literally fighting violent extremists and terrorists,  and itself is increasingly the victim of an unrelenting onslaught of terrorist attacks.

The budget released by the White House last spring would cut UN peacekeeping by around $1 billion, though the final budget passed by congress would not likely include cuts that drastic.

Still, it could be that the Trump administration is learning to love UN Peacekeeping. At the Security Council meeting today, Vice President Pence voted for the resolution embracing the peacekeeping reform report and pledging to implement its recommendations. He also offered his own personal endorsement of UN peacekeeping, calling it “the most important part of the United Nations.” Adding, “keeping the peace requires more than peacekeeping, it requires action and the unwavering resolve of every country today.”

Between Donald Trump’s remarks before the General Assembly and Mike Pence’s appearance at the Security Council, it would seem that the Trump administration it would seem the President and Vice President have come to embrace the most visible and, often most beleaguered, part of the United Nations: Blue Helmets.