The Senate is holding confirmation hearings on Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense today. Hagel is a big supporter of the United Nations, but as Secretary of Defense his interaction with the UN would be somewhat limited; most USA-UN dealings flow though the State Department.
Still, there is some relationship between the US military and the UN. After the United States military, United Nations Peacekeeping is the largest deployment of troops around the world. There are currently 93,000 uniformed peacekeepers serving in 15 missions around the world. Only 128 of these peacekeepers are American. So would Secretary of Defense Hagel boost the number of Americans serving in peacekeeping missions? Maybe.
Here’s Hagel’s written response to a question regarding American contributions to UN peacekeeping:
9) U.S. Contributions to International Peacekeeping Missions
In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 29, 2009, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) stated that the United States “is willing to consider directly contributing more military observers, military staff officers, civilian
police, and other civilian personnel—including more women I should note—to UN peacekeeping operations.” General Dempsey has said the United States “should consider opportunities for U.S. personnel to contribute to UN peacekeeping missions” and that “experience shows that even a small number of trained and experienced American service
members can have a significant, positive effect on U.N. operations.”
In your view, should the United States increase the number of personnel it contributes in the form of staff positions and military observers to UN peacekeeping missions and other international peace operations?
I support in principle additional contributions of U.S. military personnel to key positions in UN peacekeeping operations where the mission is a strategic priority for the Department and the United States and where our servicemembers can add significant value to the mission effectiveness and efficiencies. I understand that, although we still provide military observers to UN peacekeeping missions, the Department has shifted its contributions almost exclusively to staff officer positions so as to maximize the returns on our investment.
In your view, what are the advantages and disadvantages of contributing additional military personnel to UN operations in the form of staff positions and military observer positions?
The success of UN peacekeeping operations is important to the United States. I believe that the U.S. should continue to provide military personnel to UN peacekeeping operations, especially for key staff positions that help shape the direction and success of the mission. Such support must be practicable and weighed against the potential costs and competing demands for military commitments. If confirmed, I will carefully evaluate the costs of requested UN support against the potential positive impacts and U.S. interests.
The USA is the largest financial contributor to UN Peacekeeping, picking up 27 % of the cost of each mission. However, it is overwhelmingly troops from the developing world that make up the rank and file of peacekeepers. This has been the trade-off and general posture of UN Peacekeeping since the late 1990s. Hagel’s comments suggest that while he’d consider boosting American participation in UN peacekeeping, we should not expect much of a radical change in current policy.