By Bill Miller
The US Congress has a unique opportunity and responsibility to both assist people living in dangerous, war-torn areas, as well as helping the US achieve many of its foreign policy goals through sufficient funding for United Nations peacekeeping operations. The UN Charter, adopted on June 26, 1945, in San Francisco, never mentioned the word “peacekeeping.” Regardless, UN Peacekeeping Missions, the first of which was launched in 1948 as a UN Observation Mission to monitor the Arab-Israeli conflict, have become the linchpin of international efforts to promote peace, stability and security in some of the most dangerous areas of the world.
One of the three major goals of the UN is to eliminate the scourge of war and promote peace and security, which it attempts to do by helping to reduce conflicts around the world. Since 1948, the UN has fielded 68 peacekeeping missions that saved lives, averted wars, and helped bring democracy to dozens of countries. Over 100,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers are now deployed in 15 operations around the world, from Haiti to Mali to Cyprus.
The US has an obligation to fund approximately 28% of the UN peacekeeping budget. When Congress passed its latest bill to fund the US government in 2014, it left gigantic holes in what’s owed to the UN’s peacekeeping operations.
In fact, the Fiscal Year 2014 omnibus bill underfunds United Nations peacekeeping by a crippling 12 percent. It also zeroed out funding for the latest UN peacekeeping mission in Mali — a nation which had, until very recently, been a hub for al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists. Additionally, it places a cap on peacekeeping contributions which means the US is currently underfunding every single peacekeeping mission.
The President's Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 15) budget proposal makes dramatic progress on getting the U.S. out of the red at the UN and back in good standing with US allies and international partners. The budget allocates over $2.5 billion to UN peacekeeping in FY15, making a major down payment on US back dues and anticipating potential needs in places like the Central African Republic. The President's budget also requests that the cap on peacekeeping contributions be lifted, and it would fully fund the Mali mission for FY15.
By authorizing and appropriating the resources needed to support peacekeeping missions, Congress would send a strong message that the U.S. will honor its commitments and work in partnership to make the world a more peaceful, secure place. Mali, Ukraine and South Sudan may be over 5,000 miles from most Americans both in distance and in relation to how they may view peacekeeping as something that may not touch their lives, which would be inaccurate because peacekeeping does impact them.
The US Congress, when deliberating UN funding, should remember that even though the US pays 28% of the peacekeeping’s $8 billion budget, it is still a bargain because other countries contribute almost all of the troops, which keeps Americans out of harm’s way, and these countries pay 72% of the total. Just imagine what the Haitian peacekeeping operation would cost the US taxpayer if the UN pulled out and the US had to go back into Haiti.
Two other studies that strengthen the peacekeeping argument. First, a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) study indicated that UN peacekeeping costs US taxpayers only one-eighth of what a US military mission would cost. Second, a Rand Think Tank Report reported that when the UN can conduct a peacekeeping mission, it is more successful than when the US military takes on a unilateral peacekeeping assignment.
Although the latest American public opinion poll shows that the UN has a 60% favorability rating versus 28% unfavorable, a whopping 88% of the public wants the UN to deal with hotspots such as Syria. Peacekeeping is one such approach to reducing conflict and devastation.
Peace that is waged by the UN not only helps the people in the war zone, but it also helps the US financially and militarily, as well as achieving foreign policy goals to promote democracy, eliminate conflicts and encourage economic and social development. It is hard to operate a business in the middle of a civil war.
George Clooney, who is a UN Messenger of Peace, was quoted as saying, “Peace is a full-time job. It's protecting civilians, overseeing elections, and disarming ex-combatants. The UN has over 100,000 Peacekeepers on the ground, in places others can't or won't go, doing things others can't or won't do. Peace, like war, must be waged.'