The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer is seemingly apoplectic that the Obama administration would agree to a 1.2 to 1.7 percent increase in its dues payments to UN Peacekeeping. According to Schaefer this adds and additional $100 million a year to American contributions to UN Peacekeeping and means President Obama is “letting down” the American taxpayer.
The thing is, Schaefer presents this figure as if it were an abstraction that does not pay for anything. He does not even bother to try and assess whether or not the United States derives value from its investments in UN Peacekeeping.
In fact, these precious dollars go a long way to promoting American global interests. First, some perspective: American contributions to UN Peacekeeping comes to about $2.125 billion. For comparison’s sake, This amounts to less than 0.005 percent of U.S. spending on the Department of Defense. Still, it is not an insignificant sum. So what does that $2.125 billon get us?
There are about 116,000 personnel serving in 17 missions around the world. This includes places like south Sudan and Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Liberia, and, of course Haiti. The kicker here is that the U.S. only pays for a little over 1/4th of the costs of these missions. Everyone else picks up the rest of the tab. From an American perspective UN Peacekeeping is a bargain.
It seems that people who have ideological hang-ups about the United Nations never seem to follow the logical consequences of their argument. As a member of the Security Council, the United States approves every new mission. The costs of peacekeeping missions are increasing because the United States, and other P-5 countries, are approving new missions. If the United States were to shortchange UN Peacekeeping–at a time in which there is a surge in peacekeeping–missions around the world could start to crumble. Would we then let conflicts in places like Haiti and Darfur simply fester? If not, who will keep a lid on these conflicts and simultaneously undertake projects that can lead countries down the path toward stability? The United States? Regional actors like the EU, African Union or ASEAN? From an American perspective the advantage of using the UN is that United States can have some control over the process (like deciding where and how peacekeepers should be deployed) without actually putting any of its own troops in harms way or paying for it all.
Saying that contributing to peacekeeping means selling out the American taxpayer shows a pretty skewed worldview more informed by ideology than a dispassionate look at American interests. Schaefer may have noticed that the United States military is engaged in two massive foreign operations. That we can convince the rest of the world to keep a lid on 17 other conflicts–including one in our backyard–while only paying 27 percent of those costs is something that, frankly, we should embrace.