An article on the UN Peacekeeping system, from a viewpoint of the New York Post.

Photo by Evstafiev Mikhail

No Peace to Be Kept

Where American taxes rest in peace

$7.2 billion are budgeted for United Nations peacekeeping operations in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, a rise of one third on the previous year. Chances are that this amount will still be exceeded once more.

American taxpayers pony up for as much as 22 percent of it, but don't have any more voting power in budget questions than, say, the microstate Vanuatu. No wonder the US was the only country that in December 2007 voted against the adoption of the budget.

The reputation of blue helmets however has not been able to benefit from these funds. Cases of UN peacekeepers being involved in sexual abuses, weapons trade and human trafficking have left deep scars on the once praised institution.

Time for a reform

First calls for a reform of UN peacekeeping were raised after blue helmet missions failed to avoid the massacres in Srebrenica and Rwanda in the mid-90s.

The United Nations took 5 years to answer. Only in 2000, the Brahimi Report concretized steps to reform UN peace operations. But as usual, the United Nations had trouble in walking the talk.

In 2004, the topic somewhat reemerged after new cases of sexual exploitation by UN officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had become public. The UN again prove its sluggishness to respond to this urgent matter and didn't come up with anything but new principles and guidelines in the so-called Capstone Doctrine 4 years later, in early 2008.

No peace to be kept

The fundamental problem about UN peacekeeping missions is its dependence on the goodwill of local governments. No peacekeepers are deployed if the local government doesn't agree on it. Thus, the UN's area of operation rests very limited to a few more or less good-willing nations. There is no way a rogue state like Iran would ever accept blue helmets on its territory.

What's more, countries have repeatedly hindered peacekeeping operations by attaching conditions to them. Sudan for example only accepted peacekeepers from African Union countries.

The Brahimi Report calls for "clear, credible and achievable mandates". This however is rarely the case because of the conditions that hosting countries attach to their agreement: How can peacekeepers guarantee the safety of refugees, if they aren't allowed by the local government to carry weapons or make use of them?

Oftentimes, peacekeepers are deployed to regions where even the fundamental condition for peacekeeping does not exists, that is there is simply no peace to be kept.

These problems often make peacekeeping operations last years and years and make the local population dependent on the stabilizing presence of the UN.

Pumping more and more money into these operations therefore doesn't solve the problems peacekeeping is struggling with. The Brahimi Report indeed affirms that "no amount of money or resources can substitute for the significant changes that are urgently needed in the culture of the Organization."

Unless these changes happen, American taxpayers are no longer willing to foot the bill and it's the US government's job to continue expressing opposition.

Ivo Näpflin (New York Post), ZagiNews, October 8, 2008,