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February 21, 2008

Bush cuts funding for UN peacekeeping efforts in Africa
Posted by Max Bergmann

The President has rightly received credit on his trip to Africa for his administration’s efforts combating HIV/AIDS and Malaria in Africa. This clearly is a lone bright spot in an overall dismal foreign policy record. It also clearly undercuts Republican (and some Democratic) members of Congress that argue foreign assistance programs are useless and wasteful. The generally warm reception the President has received on the continent reflects the power of assistance programs to both do good and to enhance our national interests by gaining allies, improving our international image, and by helping to facilitate stability.

But at the same time the President is getting credit for these initiatives, he has totally dropped the ball on the security side of the equation.

Most shockingly, the President, at a time when U.S. forces are stretched thin, when conflicts in Africa are in danger of spreading instability, and when it has become almost universally agreed that it is in our clear national interests to prevent the emergence of new failed states and instability, his administration has decided to cut funding for UN peacekeeping efforts.

On the eve of President Bush's trip to Africa, his administration has decided to drastically cut money for United Nations peacekeeping missions in war-torn countries there. According to White House figures quietly released this week, more than $193 million for U.N. troops would be cut for missions in Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire and elsewhere.

This is happening despite the fact that the UN is currently engaged in armed clashes in the Congo.

Most people don’t realize that the UN has the highest number of troops deployed abroad than anyone else besides the U.S. The UN has 90,000 peacekeeping troops deployed around the world in 17 different missions in some of the most dangerous hot spots, including Kosovo, Congo, East Timor, Haiti, and Lebanon. While the favorite conservative talking point is that UN missions are ineffective, because of the failure 15 years ago in Bosnia when the Dutch were held hostage by Serbian forces and unable to stop genocide. This argument is still made, despite RAND having shown that UN peacekeeping has been highly effective compared to U.S. efforts (pdf). UN forces however do fail, but this is often the result of either too few troops or too little money. And sometimes the peacekeeping forces are placed in a security environment where little could reasonably be expected. However, the fact is that, while our forces - since end of the Cold War - were constantly reinventing the wheel each time they engaged in peacekeeping operations, the UN instead, learned from each of its missions and in the process developed a high degree of knowledge and expertise.

Because our military is bogged down in Iraq and stretched to its limits in Afghanistan we face so many challenges around the world, our reliance on the United Nations to address trouble spots and to prevent them from worsening has only increased. Shorting the UN on peacekeeping funding is therefore akin to shooting ourselves in the foot.

And just as an aside, when John McCain had the opportunity to vote to approve a small increase in UN peacekeeping funding in 2005, he took the Bush line and opposed it.


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Very nice review of an issue of direct concern to U.S. national security...but unfortunately something Americans really pay little attention to. Just a couple questions:

1) Why would an administration that launched a proxy war against Somalia want U.N. peacekeeping soldiers interfering?

2) Why would an administration that blocked international efforts to stop the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon want to facilitate the possible expansion of U.N. peacekeepers on the Israeli-Lebanese border?

Peacekeeping soldiers really constrain a superpower's freedom of action. I mean, imagine where we'd be if one could somehow impose peacekeepers between the U.S. and Iran?

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