The UN gets no love. Jim Moore and other lefty friends concerned about the ongoing slaughter in Sudan are (justifiably) furious that the UN hasn’t taken a stronger stance and moved to intervene in Darfur. Folks on the right love to point to the oil for food scandal as evidence that the UN is corrupt and incompetent. Tom Barnett, even while praising the UN for taking peacekeeping seriously, manages to beat them up for ineffectuality and incompetence. And even I, a UN fan, am shocked and horrified by the abuse of power by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, trading pocket change for sexual favors from 12 year old girls.
All this criticism aside, a recent piece in the Economist on the rebuilding of failed states, suggests that the UN is, in fact, pretty damned good at peacekeeping. The article credits the 15,000 UN peacekeepers – mostly from Bangladesh – with providing the security that nation has needed to re-establish a semblence of order. The Economist cites a paper from defense thinktank RAND that credits the UN for success in seven of eight recent peacekeeping missions – the debacle in the DRC is the lone exception. An older RAND study finds the US batting .500 in peacekeeping missions, failing to establish order in Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq. And while the US has taken on harder peacekeeping missions than the UN, the UN does its work with far less funding: the 11 peacekeeping missions the UN runs around the world today have a budget less than what the US spends in Iraq in a month.
It’s an unfortunate fact that the US tends to intervene more often in countries where we have “strategic interests”, rather than in countries where there are compelling humanitarian reasons to intervene. This goes a long way towards explaining why the UN has been the force that’s brough peace to Liberia, rather than the US… despite the US’s historical ties to the nation. Add the Bush administration’s bias towards helping the success stories of the developing world over the basket cases through projects like the Millenium Challenge Account and it’s clear that the US isn’t going to fill a global peacekeeping gap should the UN prove unable to deploy troops to troubled nations.
So, ’nuff respect for UN peacekeepers and thanks to nations like Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ghana and others that do their part in providing the troops needed to help these countries regain a modicum of stability and security.
(Disclaimer – I periodically consult for UNITAR – the UN’s training department – on matters of IT policy. And if you think the $500 they pay me once or twice a year biases my point of view, well that’s your right to conclude that I’m quite that cheap.)