When one thinks of the end of May in the United States, one’s thoughts undoubtedly gravitate toward Memorial Day and the unofficial start of the summer season. Likely, they are not thinking of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers commemorated on May 29th. This day remembers those peacekeepers who have lost their lives keeping the peace.
The importance of this day should serve as a reminder to all Americans that U.N. peacekeepers are dispatched to many of the world’s hotspots meaning that the U.S. does not have to put American troops in harm’s way by sending them into hostile environments. In recent days, we have seen examples from the reporting in The New York Times of U.N. personnel who insert themselves in to some very bad situations in the cause of peace and who ultimately lose their lives.
The decision by the current administration to cut U.N. funding by approximately 40 percent, with peacekeeping operations seeing $1bn slashed from its budget, only highlights how wrongheaded and shortsighted their thinking is on this matter. A policy of unilateralism cannot work in an interconnected world. When the U.S. acts through multilateral institutions, such as maintaining its contributions to the peacekeeping budget, it reduces its long-term costs not only from a financial standpoint, but from a human one as well. The U.S. is stronger when it acts with its global partners as opposed to going it alone. This principle of collective security is enshrined in the U.N. Charter.
There are approximately 120,000 peacekeepers currently serving in 16 missions around the world where vital U.S. national security interests are at stake. Moreover, these interests are in parts of the world (Africa) where interjecting U.S. troops into these civil wars and post-conflict situations is not a viable option. It is U.N. peacekeepers who serve this role. The U.S. provides the largest share (28 percent) to the peacekeeping budget. This actually is a bargain for the U.S. as the costs per peacekeeper is approximately $1,300 per month; this is 25 percent less than what it must pay to American soldiers.
Since 1948, U.N. peacekeeping operations have had a great deal of success in helping to end conflicts in several countries including, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tajikistan. Further, peacekeepers have made a significant contribution in Sierra Leone, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Haiti, and Kosovo. These peacebuilding missions provide security, assist in political transitions, and help to fortify new state institutions.
They aid countries who are moving from conflict toward what they hope is a new era of peace and development. The U.N. is the institution who is summoned to bring about a sustainable peace in these civil conflicts. What these civil wars spawn are transnational threats such as terrorism, illicit trafficking in drugs, weapons, and humans. It is through the efforts of U.N. peacekeeping that such threats can be mitigated.
Moreover, the presence of peacekeepers can lessen the duration of conflict and limit the number of causalities. These operations are not without criticism. Yes, it is true, there have been instances of abuse by certain peacekeepers. In such cases, it is incumbent that the global body take swift action in seeing that the perpetrators of these crimes are punished in accordance with the law. The entities responsible for policing and taking the appropriate action against peacekeepers who violate U.N. norms of conduct are the member states who contribute to these operations. In this case, the U.S. can take a lead role to ensure that the necessary response is taken to rid these missions of those peacekeepers who abuse their position. It is important to note, however, that there are 120,000 peacekeepers who serve their role admirably; unfortunately, as in all walks of life, there are going to be a few bad actors. This in no way dismisses the actions taken by these individuals.
From a geopolitical point of view, U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping allows it to help formulate “the direction of peacekeeping policy” and to ensure that post-conflict states remain in the U.S. sphere of influence. Further, as China seeks a wider peacekeeping role, by maintaining its current financial levels to the peacekeeping budget, it can help to preserve its leadership role in this area. By cutting funding, the U.S. will simply yield its role to China.
Peacekeeping is an important tool that the U.S. can utilize to promote stability in regions of the world that have only known conflict. It helps the U.S. in upholding its values of peace, security, and prosperity for all. It is quite unfortunate that what leads the news are the several negative incidents that have occurred. However, what is important to note is that the institution of peacekeeping has withstood the test of time. On May 29th, take a moment to remember the successes achieved by many brave individuals who have decided to go where others would dare go.