In today’s confirmation hearing for Zalmay Khalilzad, nominated to be the next United States ambassador to the United Nations, a number of senators pointed out a problematic contradiction of American policy toward the UN. At the Security Council, the United States and other members advocate sending more and more UN peacekeepers to global hot spots. But back in Washington, the White House is proposing to slash its financial contributions to UN peacekeeping operations.

At the hearing, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, explained this dilemma well:

…the United Nations remains a key component of U.S. foreign policy. In particular, U.N. peacekeeping missions are a cost-effective method of enforcing peace and helping shattered societies re-build. The ability of U.N. peacekeeping missions to be a force-multiplier was underscored by a 2006 General Accounting Office analysis of the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission in Haiti. The GAO concluded: “The U.N. budgeted $428 million for the first 14 months of the mission. A U.S. operation of the same size and duration would have cost an estimated $876 million.” The report noted that the U.S. contribution to the Haiti peacekeeping mission was $116 million – roughly one-eighth the cost of a unilateral American operation.

With this in mind, I was perplexed to see that the Administration’s FY 2008 budget request asks for approximately $300 million less for peacekeeping than in the previous year. Little evidence was presented to explain why the current sixteen missions would suddenly require less funding than in previous years. Moreover, additional peacekeeping missions may arise in Chad and Darfur, further straining the peacekeeping budget.

Something has to give. In the past year the United States and other members have voted to increase UN peacekeeping operations around the world by over 50%. If the United States does not pony up cash for these peacekeeping operations (which it could have vetoed) future peacekeeping operations, including a potential deployment to Darfur, will have a hard time getting off the ground.

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