September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009 | Executive Summary on International Organizations

Executive Summary: Critical Reforms Required for U.N. Peacekeeping

One of the United Nations' primary responsibilities is to help to maintain international peace and security. U.N. peacekeeping debacles in the 1990s led to a necessary reevaluation of U.N. peacekeeping. However, as troubling situations have arisen in recent years, many of them in Africa, the Security Council has found itself under pressure to respond and "do something" even though it may violate the central lesson learned in the 1990s that "the United Nations does not wage war." As a result, U.N. peacekeeping is now being conducted with unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition, and the increasing demands have revealed ongoing, serious flaws. Audits and investigations over the past few years have revealed substantial mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in procurement for U.N. peacekeeping and widespread incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and civilian personnel.

What the U.S. Should Do. The U.S. should support U.N. peacekeeping operations when they further America's national interests. However, the broadening of U.N. peace operations into nontraditional missions--such as peace enforcement--and their inability to garner broad international support in terms of troop contributions, logistics support, and funding raise legitimate questions as to whether the U.N. should be engaging in the current number of missions and whether these situations are best addressed through the U.N. or through regional, multilateral, or ad hoc efforts.

U.N. peacekeeping operations can be useful and successful if employed with an awareness of their limitations and weaknesses. This awareness is crucial because the demand for U.N. peacekeeping shows little indication of declining in the foreseeable future. This requires the U.S. to press for substantial changes to address serious problems with U.N. peacekeeping. Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely continue and expand, undermining the U.N.'s credibility and ability to accomplish the key mission of maintaining international peace and security. Specifically, the U.S. should:

  • Seek to more equitably apply the U.N. peacekeeping scale of assessments. Given the far larger financial demands for U.N. peacekeeping, the system for assessing the U.N. peacekeeping budget is becoming an increasing burden on the member states with larger assessments while many other countries pay a pitance. For U.N. member states to take their U.N. peacekeeping oversight responsibilities seriously, particularly those on the Security Council, they must be invested in U.N. peacekeeping. Peacekeeping assessments should be revised to spread the financial burden more equitably among U.N. member states.
  • Reevaluate all U.N. operations that date back to the 1990s or earlier to determine whether the U.N. mission is contributing to resolving the situation or retarding that process. If an operation is not demonstrably facilitating resolution of the situation, the U.N. should ask stakeholders wishing to continue U.N. peacekeeping operations to assume the financial burden of the continued operation.
  • Be more judicious in authorizing U.N. peacekeeping operations. The pressure to "do something" should not trump sensible consideration of whether a U.N. presence will improve or destabilize a situation. This includes establishing clear and achievable objectives of the operations, carefully planning the requirements, securing pledges for the necessary resources before authorizing the operation, and demanding an exit strategy.
  • Seek to transform the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) structure to handle increased peace operation demands and to plan for future operations more effectively. Transforming the DPKO will require more direct involvement of the Security Council; more staff, supplies, and training; and greatly improved oversight by a capable, independent inspector general dedicated to peace operations. A key element will be incorporating greater flexibility so that the DPKO can rapidly expand and contract to meet varying levels of peace operation activity--including allowing gratis military and other seconded professionals to meet exceptional demands on U.N. peace operations.
  • Build up peacekeeping capabilities around the world, particularly in Africa. The U.N. has no standing armed forces and is entirely dependent on member states to donate troops and other personnel to fulfill peace operation mandates. This is appropriate. Nations should maintain control of their armed forces and refuse to support the establishment of armed forces outside of direct national oversight and responsibility. However, the current arrangement results in an ad hoc system plagued by delays and other shortfalls. The U.S. should concentrate on increasing peacekeeping resources under its Global Peace Operations Initiative, which has significantly bolstered the capacity and capabilities of regional troops, particularly in Africa, to serve as peacekeepers.
  • Implement a modern logistics system and streamline procurement proceduresso that missions receive what they need when they need it. To be effective, procurement and contracting need an improved governance structure subject to appropriate transparency, rigorous accountability, and independent oversight accompanied by robust investigatory capabilities and a reliable system of internal justice.
  • Implement mandatory, uniform standards of conduct for civilian and military personnel participating in U.N. peace operations. If the U.N. is to end sexual exploitation, abuse, and other misconduct by peacekeepers, it must do more than adopt a U.N. code of conduct, issue manuals, and send abusers home. The abusers and their governments must face real consequences to create incentives for effective enforcement.

Conclusion. The Obama Administration and Congress need to consider carefully any U.N. requests for additional funding for a system in which procurement problems have wasted millions of dollars and sexual abuse by peacekeepers is still unacceptably high and often goes unpunished. Indeed, the decision by the Administration and Congress to pay U.S. arrears to U.N. peacekeeping without demanding reforms sent entirely the wrong message and removed a powerful leverage point for encouraging reform. Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely continue and expand, undermining the U.N.'s credibility and ability to maintain international peace and security.

Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).

About the Author

Brett D. Schaefer Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: International Organizations