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UN Plaza: Peacekeeper Edition

In the latest UN Plaza installment, I interview Nick Birnback from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. We discuss the recent surge of current operations and why Americans should care about peacekeeping.

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Secretary-General Introduces his Adviser on the “Responsibility to Protect”

An important step toward entrenching a bold new international norm to prevent mass atrocities, as reported by the UN News Centre:

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Edward Luck of the United States as his Special Adviser with a focus on the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Currently Vice President and Director of Studies of the International Peace Academy and Director of Columbia University’s Center on International Organizations, Mr. Luck will serve at the Assistant Secretary-General level on a part-time basis.

Agreed to by world leaders in 2005, the responsibility to protect holds States responsible for shielding their own populations from genocide and other major human rights abuses and requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.

Mr. Luck’s appointment represents a crucial first step in shifting the paradigm that allows abusive regimes to massacre their own populations. While R2P was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly, it still faces stiff opposition in practice, and Mr. Luck will have an uphill battle toward implementing it. He must assure skeptics that R2P does not simply provide a carte blanche for intervention while simultaneously ensuring that the doctrine possesses sufficient teeth to change dictators’ behavior. With his background working on issues of peacekeeping and UN reform, Mr. Luck seems to understand the need to balance the interests of individual Member States with the imperative of broad international goals. The importance of the responsibility to protect cannot be understated, and Mr. Luck deserves our full support in his efforts to make this bold new theory a reality.

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Bergmann on Funding UN Peacekeeping

Over on Democracy Arsenal, Max Bergmann takes on a subject near and dear to our hearts. He hits all the highlights: Justin Rood’s excellent piece on how the president’s new budget request shortchanges African peacekeeping; the 2005 RAND Corporation Study finding that UN peacekeeping is more effective and cheaper than comparable US efforts; and most critically, the burden sharing theme.

Sayeth Bergmann:

“Because our military is bogged down in Iraq and stretched to its limits in Afghanistan we face so many challenges around the world, our reliance on the United Nations to address trouble spots and to prevent them from worsening has only increased. Shorting the UN on peacekeeping funding is therefore akin to shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Amen to that.

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Stiffing the Blue Helmets

This op-ed originally appeared in The Guardian

Today, at the end of his week-long jaunt through Africa, President Bush stops in Liberia, the war-torn east African country, to highlight that country’s democratic transition. Two weeks prior to his visit, though, the president imperilled Liberia and other emerging democracies by releasing a budget request that significantly shortchanged UN peacekeeping, which over the last seven years has been the main vehicle by which African conflicts have become African democracies. This is not only disingenuous, but it is an incredibly shortsighted move.

With an annual budget of only $6bn, UN peacekeeping can hardly spare the cash. The shortage caused by American stinginess may soon be felt in missions that need the most help, such as the peacekeeping force for Darfur. The president’s budget under funds that mission by $136m – a substantial sum considering that the UN is struggling to come up with equipment like 24 helicopters needed to transport peacekeepers across Darfur’s vast, unforgiving terrain.

Darfur is not the only mission in which the president is unwilling to fully invest. Missions to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and yes, Liberia, (to name a few) also stand to lose US funds. This is hardly helpful to the spread of democracy on the continent. Spending a relatively modest sum on peacekeeping today helps to ensure that countries emerging from civil war do not descend back into conflict.

Peacekeeping missions generally begin after two or more combatants sign a ceasefire, but before a lasting peace has taken hold. Over time, the job of being a buffer often morphs into a vast nation-building project, and the UN has a solid track record in this kind of work. Liberia, which elected Africa’s first female head of state in 2005, is one prominent example of the transformative effect of peacekeeping. Yet another is neighbouring Sierra Leone, where UN peacekeeping has planted the roots of democracy following one of Africa’s most brutal conflicts.

Groups outside the United Nations have noted the UN’s nation-building successes. A 2005 Rand Corporation study, for example, found that UN-led nation-building efforts are more successful – and cheaper – than comparative American-led efforts.

The United States has also recognised the UN’s usefulness in this regard. Since the start of the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the UN has quietly assumed responsibility for managing a growing number of conflicts, not only in Africa, but worldwide. The flare-up in Haiti in 2004 and the July 2006 fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, for example, were both mitigated by sending UN peacekeepers, very few of whom were from the United States. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that of the over 90,000 UN troops and police currently deployed to 20 missions worldwide, only 293 are American.

At the heart of this arrangement is an implicit deal: The UN will go to places where the US cannot or does not want to so long as the US picks up a little over a quarter of the cost of each mission. At least, that is the way it is supposed to work. In reality, the US, as a veto-wielding member of the UN security council, has approved mission after mission while falling behind on its payments. If the president’s budget passes as is, the US will be $610m short of what it owes to peacekeeping this year, bumping America’s total arrears to nearly $2bn.

Peacekeeping certainly has its flaws. The UN has very little authority to discipline individual peacekeepers accused of improprieties, including sexual misconduct. Peacekeeping also tends to struggle in cases where, like Darfur, the parties are still in conflict and no single powerful country takes responsibility for the mission’s success.

Still, despite its shortcomings peacekeeping remains a pretty solid investment. For relatively modest sums, the UN takes up the burden of managing conflicts and overseeing the democratic transition of post-conflict societies. If promoting democracy in Africa and beyond is as much of a priority as the White House proclaims, then surely somewhere in the massive $3.1 trillion budget request, the president can find spare change to pay America’s share of the cost of UN peacekeeping.

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Friday Morning Coffee

President Bush’s dance movies in Liberia have been unfairly labeled as “David Brent-style gyrations.” Obama handily wins the Democratic “global primary,” but only claims .5 more delegates…don’t ask me how you get half a delegate.

Top Stories

vs.

>>Serbia – Hundred of thousands of Serbs protested Kosovo’s declaration of independence in Belgrade, setting fire to the already closed U.S. embassy and damaging the UK embassy, which was quickly condemned by the UN Security Council.

>>Uganda – Two days after reported progress in peace talks, the Lord’s Resistance Army has walked out of negotiations because the government balked at demands for cash and cabinet positions. The BBC reports on how the violence in Kenya has disrupted the food aid route from Mombasa to Kampala. The WFP has strategic reserves, but those are dwindling.

>>Missile Defense – In a predictable follow-up to yesterday’s missile strike on a failing satellite, U.S. Secretary of Defense has said that the action proved that the controversial U.S. missle defense system works.

>>Pakistan – The Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N, long-time rivals, have agreed to form a coalition government, after together claiming a majority of seats in parliamentary elections on Monday. Analysts speculate that the first acts of the new government may be to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudry as chief justice and call for a UN investigation into Bhutto’s assassination. The PPP will meet to pick the next Prime Minister. Party leader and Bhutto widower, Asif Ali Zardari is not eligible.

>>Iraq – Moqtada al-Sadr has agreed to extend his ceasefire, widely thought to have reduced violence in Iraq by more than half, another six months.

>>Iran – Britain and France have formally submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council seeking another round of sanctions against Iran. They hope for passage next week. The U.S. had hoped for earlier adoption of the resolution, but several Member States pressed to wait until after the IAEA’s latest report is released today.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch
  • Liberian
    President raises a glass to Bush and the U.S.
    by
    John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/02/2008_google_doc.php">A
    timely launch for Samantha Power’s new book – by
    John Boonstra
  • href="http://www.undispatch.com/archives/2008/02/more_on_the_eri.php">More
    on the Eritrean Peacekeeping Crisis – by Mark Leon
    Goldberg

The Rest of the Story
Africa

Americas

Asia

Europe

Middle East

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Liberian President raises a glass to Bush and the U.S.

At a lunch on the lawn of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered this happy toast to the health and prosperity of the American president and his country, which she described as Liberia’s “number one partner.” Liberia was the final destination on Bush’s six-day tour of Africa, and he received accolades there echoing the praises sung to him in his previous stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana. Beninese can now even celebrate a day named after President Bush — his trip there was the first ever by an American president — and Ghanaians can drive on a highway named in his honor.

Undoubtedly, President Bush deserves compliments for much of his work in Africa. His administration has greatly increased assistance to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria and has invested significant sums in promoting development. Humanitarian aid, however, is not a sufficient policy on its own, particularly in a society still experiencing the tensions of 14 years of civil war. The billions of dollars that the U.S. contributes to fighting disease, as well as the millions of textbooks that Bush has promised to provide for Liberia’s educational system, must be supplemented by concrete contributions to maintaining peace and stability in Liberia. Unfortunately, President Bush’s budget proposal falls almost $50 million short of meeting the needs of the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia, which, as we’ve mentioned before, was critical to Liberia’s dramatic turnaround and will continue to be central to its stability in the future.

At a lunch on the lawn of the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered this happy toast to the health and prosperity of the American president and his country, which she described as Liberia’s “number one partner.” Liberia was the final destination on Bush’s six-day tour of Africa, and he received accolades there echoing the praises sung to him in his previous stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana. Beninese can now even celebrate a day named after President Bush – his trip there was the first ever by an American president – and Ghanaians can drive on a highway named in his honor.

Undoubtedly, President Bush deserves compliments for much of his work in Africa. His administration has greatly increased assistance to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria and has invested significant sums in promoting development. Humanitarian aid, however, is not a sufficient policy on its own, particularly in a society still experiencing the tensions of 14 years of civil war. The billions of dollars that the U.S. contributes to fighting disease, as well as the millions of textbooks that Bush has promised to provide for Liberia’s educational system, must be supplemented by concrete contributions to maintaining peace and stability in Liberia. Unfortunately, President Bush’s budget proposal falls almost $50 million short of meeting the needs of the UN peacekeeping force in Liberia, which continues to provide essential security in a country still rife with weapons and threatened by violence.

Though she did not suggest “drinking lustily” to UN peacekeepers in this specific toast, Johnson-Sirleaf has been very outspoken in her support of the UN’s accomplishments in Liberia, which include organizing the free elections that brought her to power and bringing former dictator Charles Taylor to justice. President Bush too should greatly appreciate the efforts of these blue helmets, who greatly eased the concerns of his security detail by patrolling the streets of Monrovia during Bush’s visit.

President Bush’s commitments to fund development efforts in Africa are more than welcome to the Africans who have cheered him in their capitals, and they should be appreciated by Americans of all political stripes as well. However, President Bush cannot shirk from the U.S.’s responsibilities to contribute to peacekeeping efforts. Speaking from Rwanda earlier on his trip, Bush suggested that the delay in deploying peacekeepers to Darfur rests solely on the shoulders of other nations. The U.S. enjoys tremendous influence on the international stage, and it should use its position to both fully fund UN peacekeeping missions and to exert concentrated diplomatic pressure on countries like China, Russia, and Egypt that have been slowing the deployment of the force in Darfur.

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