One of the United Nations' primary responsibilities is to maintain international peace and security, and the U.N. Charter places principal responsibility for this task on the U.N. Security Council. The Charter gives the Security Council extensive powers to investigate disputes, to call on disputing parties to settle the conflict peacefully, to impose mandatory economic and diplomatic sanctions, and ultimately to use military force.
Traditionally, U.N. peace operations deployed in support of Security Council resolutions have involved relatively low-risk situations such as truce monitoring. However, since the end of the Cold War, U.N. peace operations have become more common and frequently involve more robust deployments in which peacekeepers are at greater risk. The unprecedented frequency and size of recent U.N. deployments and the resulting financial demands have overwhelmed the capabilities of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and other U.N. departments supporting peace operations, leading to serious problems of mismanagement, misconduct, poor planning, corruption, sexual abuse, unclear mandates, and other weaknesses.
Increased U.N. Peacekeeping Deployments. The size and expense of U.N. peace operations rose to unprecedented levels in 2006 and will likely rise even higher in 2007.
- As of October 2006, the estimated budget for the DPKO--just one department in the U.N. Secretariat--from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007, was approximately $4.75 billion. Expenditures could reach as high as $7 billion if U.N. missions in East Timor, Darfur, and Lebanon become fully operational. By comparison, the annualized regular budget for the rest of the Secretariat was $1.9 billion in 2006.
- As of February 2007, there were 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations led by the DPKO and another two political missions directed and supported by the DPKO. The 16 peacekeeping missions involved 80,094 uniformed personnel, including 68,923 troops, 2,446 military observers, and 8,675 police personnel. The total number of U.N., local, and volunteer personnel serving in 18 DPKO-led peace operations was 101,642 individuals. These operations involved the deployment of more uniformed personnel than are deployed by any single nation in the world other than the United States.
DPKO Problems. The U.N. has taken some steps to address the management and oversight failings, but many problems remain. Some of the more serious problems include:
- Mismanagement, fraud, and corruption. An Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) audit of $1 billion in DPKO procurement contracts over a six-year period found that at least $265 million was subject to waste, fraud, or abuse. The Department of Management and the DPKO accepted a majority of the 32 OIOS audit recommendations, but a number of disagreements remain, and it remains to be seen whether the new procedures are sufficient to prevent a recurrence of fraud and corruption.
- Sexual misconduct. In recent years, there have been harrowing reports of U.N. personnel committing crimes ranging from rape to forced prostitution of women and young girls in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. Sexual exploitation and abuse in U.N. operations undermine the credibility of U.N. peace operations and must be addressed through an effective plan and commitment to end abuses and ensure accountability. Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein of Jordan submitted a report to the Secretary-General making recommendations on how to address the sexual abuse problem. The General Assembly adopted the recommendations in principle in June 2005, and some recommendations have been implemented. However, countries continue to fail to investigate, try, and punish those guilty of such crimes.
- Unclear mandate for the use of force. Uncertainty over rules of engagement and peacekeepers' responsibilities to protect civilians contributed to situations such as the tragic decisions to stand down in the face of atrocities in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995, U.N. peacekeepers being taken hostage, and the inability to quickly support U.S. personnel in Somalia in 1993. As U.N. peace operations become more robust and missions are charged with peace enforcement and other responsibilities that will likely result in military action, the mission mandates must more clearly provide robust mission statements and rules of engagement that permit the use of lethal force to protect peacekeepers, civilians, and mission objectives. The U.N. has addressed some of these issues, but uncertainty remains over lines of authority, permissible defensive use of force, and when aggressive action is permitted.
- Unreliable troop contributions. Because the U.N. has no standing armed forces, it is entirely dependent on the willingness of member states to donate troops and personnel to fulfill peace operation mandates. Nations should maintain control of their armed forces, and establishing armed forces without national oversight is not recommended. However, this arrangement makes raising personnel for U.N. peace operations difficult. The U.N. needs a better system for identifying, locating, and securing qualified troops and personnel for its operations.
A Possible Solution. Just tinkering with the U.N. bureaucracy will not resolve these serious ongoing problems, and the slow and arduous process of Charter reform is not necessary. Instead, establishing a new, independent U.N. Peacekeeping Organization (UNPKO) overseen by an Executive Peacekeeping Board and charged with managing, implementing, and overseeing peace operations authorized by the Security Council could make U.N. peace operations more coherent, transparent, efficient, and accountable. An independent UNPKO could immediately adopt modern management, procurement, logistical, and oversight practices, sidestepping the management and human resources deadlock in the General Assembly.
Conclusion. U.N. peacekeeping problems are serious and need to be addressed, and the Administration and Congress need to consider carefully any requests by the United Nations for additional funding for a system in which procurement problems have wasted millions of dollars and sexual abuse by peacekeepers is still occurring. Merely tinkering with the U.N. bureaucracy will not solve the problems. Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely continue and expand, undermining the U.N.'s credibility and ability to accomplish one of its primary missions--maintaining 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.