Successive American administrations have had sometimes rocky, sometimes rosy relations with the UN, but one feature which all US governments have universally admired at the UN has been its peacekeeping missions. These undertakings have over the decades prevented the outbreak of conflict, disarmed combatants, overseen elections and trained police forces – all without involving US troops and saving Washington millions of dollars.
Today they number eighteen and involve over 100,000 UN soldiers. But now they may be in trouble. The US owes almost $500 million in back-dues to support these operations because several years ago Congress insisted that our nation should pay only 25% of the overall costs of these endeavors though we could afford more. Without these US outlays, these vital enterprises may now be crippled or forced to end.And why are they so important? They are doing the Lord’s work. They are monitoring war zones in some of the hottest spots on the planet – like the Congo, Darfur, Haiti, Iraq Lebanon and Kosovo – and assuring that battles, the kind of which could lead to larger and more serious world-wide conflagrations, don’t break out.
If more proof of their value was ever needed, recent studies by the Rand Corporation, the University of British Columbia and the General Accounting Organization have shown that UN peacekeeping missions have over the years helped clamp down on disorder and mayhem around the globe significantly at a cheaper cost and with more legitimacy and effectiveness than if done by Washington or other major powers.
Today Congress is taking a second look at its arrears in America’s peacekeeping account. Recently Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Senator Richard Lugar introduced a bill that would temporarily lift the 25% cap on US contributions to the UN’s peacekeeping forces. This is a good start. But Congress also needs to appropriate funds that would allow America to pay up its $500 million shortfall for the year 2008.
Surely this would be vital piece of legislation for our national security. I would urge anyone who cares about peace on earth to contact his or her representative and tell them why we need to lift the cap and fully fund peacekeeping. It would be a highest act of citizenship.
—Stephen Schlesinger is Director of the World Policy Institute at the New School University and Author of Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations