Waste Deep in the Blue Muddy

Neil MacFarquahar scratches us where we itch.

Many feel that peacekeeping has become a panacea, with the deployment of United Nations forces considered proof that the Security Council is paying attention to a crisis, whether the troops are effective or not. The Council has a tendency to just keep extending missions once approved.

As a result, the number of personnel on peacekeeping missions has grown to 113,000 soldiers, police officers and civilians assigned to 18 missions, from 40,000 in 2000.

In the past few months alone, the Security Council has voted to take over a European mission deployed in Chad, to beef up the force in eastern Congo and to contemplate deploying a new force in Somalia. The peacekeeping budget has ballooned to $8 billion.

That’s pretty much the fundamental dynamic that is squeezing UN Peacekeeping at the moment. Making matters worse is that fact that so few P-5 members have troops committed to peacekeeping missions. For example, if you look at the Darfur mission, which is arguably the highest profile peacekeeping mission today, you’ll hardly see any troops from the P-5. This creates a vicious cycle of sorts: because P-5 members don’t have their own troops in harms way, they have less of a stake in the mission’s success. And because they don’t have a direct stake in the success of the mission, they are less willing to do the heavy diplomatic lifting that is often required to shepherd through a lasting peace agreement.

Fortunately, it seems that the crisis in UN peacekeeping is getting far greater attention these days. Susan Rice even listed fixing peacekeeping as her top priority during her Senate confirmation hearing. Whether or not this means we can see greater US participation in UN peacekeeping (beyond, that is, funding the bulk of the missions) is still up in the air.