On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on International Organizations held a hearing (video) on UN peacekeeping forces acting as a force multiplier for the U.S. with testimony from Tim Wirth, President of the UN Foundation; James Dobbins, Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND and a former Assistant Secretary of State; Joseph Christoff, Director of International Affairs and Trade at the GAO; and Steven Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

All in all, the hearing was positive for those who support the work of UN peacekeeping and believe that, because the UN is vital to U.S. national security, the U.S. should pay its full arrears. Chairman Bill Delahunt led off the hearing with the assertion that UN peacekeeping forces are a force multiplier and offer the U.S. “more bang for the buck,” pointing to the oft-quoted GAO report that he and Congressman Rohrabacher requested last year. (Christoff testified about this report in depth.) He also mentioned that the “U.S. military is stretched to its breaking point” and that the UN could go where the U.S. might not be welcome, but where it has national security interests. He offered the UN force in Lebanon as an example, postulating that a U.S. force in the same position would engage in combat almost daily and suffer terrorist attacks. He finished by saying that this is not merely an academic argument. The U.S. is voting for all of these missions in the Security Council, but not fully paying for them, even as the international community is preparing to create the largest and most complex peacekeeping mission in history (the impending mission to Darfur). Dobbins echoed Delahunt’s support for peacekeeping, but took a more analytical approach. He began by pointing out that no country has as much experience in nation-building as the U.S., who undertook its seventh such commitment this decade in Iraq. Yet, he asked, “How can we do it so often and so badly?” This, according to Dobbins, was the impetus for RAND’s reports comparing U.S.-led and UN peacekeeping efforts, which concluded that the UN is more effective at maintaining peace, building democracy, and facilitating the return of refugees mainly because the UN has done a better job of learning from its mistakes over the past 15 years. In fact, he said, contrary to popular belief, the incidence of civil war was cut in half between 1993 and 2003 and the number of war casualties worldwide decreased by an even greater percentage over the same time period. Despite escalations in Darfur and Iraq, the UN’s work in sub-Saharan Africa has been the main factor in bringing those numbers down. Dobbins conceded early failings in places like Somalia and Rwanda when the number of UN peacekeeping first skyrocketed in the early 1990s, but pointed to the UN’s increased professionalism and experience that resulted in later successes, including Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Burundi, Liberia, Namibia, Congo, Angola, and East Timor.

Dobbins also suggests that, because the Iraq war has been so difficult, American citizens might not support new stabilization efforts in the near future, but these efforts will, nonetheless be essential to American security. For this reason, among others, UN peacekeeping will be vital.

Wirth began with facts and figures also, suggesting that the U.S. has already spent more this week in Iraq than it will all year on UN peacekeeping and “it’s only Wednesday.” Stressing the importance of a strong U.S.-UN relationship, he said “the UN works when the U.S. wants it to. The UN has always been a key element of U.S. foreign policy, and, when the U.S. pays attention and pays its bills, the UN is both a bargain and an opportunity.” He continued, delineating six key aspects of the U.S.-UN relationship:

  • UN peacekeeping brings two types of burden-sharing to the table, financial (“when the U.S. puts 25 cents toward a UN peacekeeping mission, the rest of the world adds 75 cents”) and keeping U.S. troops out of harm’s way.
  • UN peacekeeping is cost effective (the GAO suggests that UN peacekeeping is eight times less expensive for American taxpayers).
  • “Peacekeeping is probably the most important laboratory for UN reform,” Wirth said, “Progress has been made, and important further recommendations have been proposed by the new Secretary-General. These will require persistent, diplomatic support from the U.S., and the new U.S. Permanent Representative has made an impressive start.”
  • Americans see UN peacekeeping as an avenue of reengagement with the rest of the world.
  • “The growth in both the size and importance of UN peacekeeping logically leads to a re-examination of the role that the U.S. agrees to play in it, and how the U.S. should be planning for the future,” Wirth said. He suggested that the Subcommittee should be pressing the State Department on these questions.
  • There will inevitably eventually be a phase out of the American presence in Iraq. The UN is the most logical candidate to fill that vacuum. Wirth suggests that we need to start thinking about how that will happen and what it will look like.

At the end of his testimony, Wirth brought the discussion back to U.S. arrears to the UN (which will probably reach $1 billion by 2008). Wirth asked, rhetorically, “Where will the billion dollars come from?…The UN doesn’t have a bank it can go to for financing. The methodology for getting others to pay is simple: the UN just doesn’t pay those who have agreed to send their own troops and ship their own equipment in support of new peacekeeping operations – they are left holding unpaid invoices.” He included a list of those nations, “India and Pakistan, close friends of the U.S. and two of the most reliable providers of UN peacekeeping help, are together owed more than $109 million; Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, is owed $77 million; Nigeria has been the most dependable and far-reaching face for stability in Africa and is owed $3.4 million; Brazil, our very close friend, is owed $7.2 million for its peacekeeping efforts in Haiti, 90 miles off our coast.”

Ranking Member Dana Rohrabacher did offer a healthy dose of criticism, suggesting that UN troops were ill-equipped and ill-trained compared to U.S. troops. Christoff spoke to this issue, saying that the highest caliber is not always necessary. UN peacekeeping has clearly been successful in many conflict zones–areas where U.S. troops will now not need to be deployed. Dobbins agreed, saying that UN peacekeeping, at its current level of efficiency, is still a bargain.

The UN’s efforts to address sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers was also a popular topic. Many of Rohrabacher’s and Groves’s concerns were related to the responsibility of troop-contributing countries to punish abusive troops. Dobbins mentioned that the U.S. would likely oppose a move to grant the UN authority to punish peacekeeping personnel. He also retorted that we have yet to punish coalition partners or contractors for committing or failing to prosecute improper activities in Iraq.

Although Delahunt got Groves to admit that several UN peacekeeping missions, including those in Haiti and Lebanon, are in the U.S. national interest, Groves remained adamant that U.S. taxpayers should not have to pay the arrears because the UN has yet to reform to a proper standard. Both Dobbins and Wirth pointed out that the U.S. has every opportunity to stop any UN peacekeeping mission from being created or extended. In fact, the existence of every peacekeeping mission requires the consent of the United States. Dobbins said that because of the way the Security Council is set up, if the U.S. wants a peacekeeping mission, other countries will pay 74 percent of the cost even if they don’t want to, whereas, if the U.S. doesn’t want a mission, it doesn’t happen.

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