Peacekeeping Grows, Strains U.N.

Peacekeepers on patrol in Lebanon are part of a global U.N. force that will number more than 100,000 by year's end.
Peacekeepers on patrol in Lebanon are part of a global U.N. force that will number more than 100,000 by year's end. (By Francois Mori -- Associated Press)
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 17, 2006

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations is set to field its largest peacekeeping enterprise in its 61-year history, with more than 100,000 troops and police to be deployed by year's end in missions around the world.

The number could climb -- past 115,000 -- if Sudan accepts a new peacekeeping mission for Darfur, and costs for the forces could surpass $7 billion a year, more than double the $3 billion spent in 2000.

The unprecedented growth in peacekeeping operations is placing strains on the United Nations' capacity to respond to emerging crises in various parts of the world and is draining the pool of available troops both for the world body and for NATO. Global leaders will address those issues this week at annual appearances before the U.N. General Assembly. "When you look around the world today, we are stretched," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters last week as he highlighted major themes for the session.

The latest surge in U.N. peacekeeping surpasses the previous peak, in the early 1990s, when more than 80,000 troops served in more than a dozen international missions, including major operations in Cambodia, Bosnia and Somalia.

It also marks the end of a retreat in funding for new missions by the United States, which was reluctant to approve risky and costly undertakings in Rwanda and other conflict zones after the deaths in 1993 of more than 18 U.S. Army Rangers at the hands of Somali militias. The United States still refuses to place its ground troops under U.N. command.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that the Bush administration continues to have misgivings about the organization's fitness to effectively manage its peacekeeping operations but that a proliferation of crises has forced U.S. support. "The requirements to establish or change existing peacekeeping missions are dictated by circumstances in the world, and that's why we have responded as we have," Bolton said.

The U.N. Security Council last month authorized an increase of more than 40 percent in the overall size of the peacekeeping force, including 1,600 police officers for East Timor and 13,000 additional troops for Lebanon, where the United Nations is trying to prevent a resumption of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. The council also authorized more than 22,000 peacekeepers for Darfur, where government-backed militias are believed responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the displacement of more than 2 million people.

The Sudanese government, however, has refused to allow the United Nations to send peacekeepers to Darfur and has ably played on Western fears of entering a military quagmire. "The Sudanese have been very clear in exploiting some of these issues, saying, 'If you want to have another Iraq, come,' and this scared away some governments," Annan said.

U.N. officials have expressed concern that creation of these large missions carries risks for some of the organization's less visible operations, particularly in African countries such as Ivory Coast and Congo.

"The risk that there is going to be political neglect is high," Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the U.N.'s undersecretary for peacekeeping, said in an interview. "Darfur could be a victim of that overstretch."

According to a paper by Security Council Report, a private monitoring group, "There is simply no precedent in the United Nations for an increase in operations of this magnitude in the space of twenty days." The paper added: "It will present huge management challenges for the United Nations, which has been struggling to improve its capacity to manage the growth in peacekeeping operations."

The United Nations' critics in Congress have highlighted its failure to stamp out corruption in spending programs and to rein in sexual abuses against minors in several peacekeeping missions. The House has passed legislation threatening to cut off funding to the organization if it fails to prove it can better manage its costs.

"I can't say we go into this with a great deal of confidence, but we go into this with a sense that this has got to be done," Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said of the new missions in Lebanon and Sudan. "The bottom line is right now there aren't a lot of choices."

The Bush administration has struggled to contain U.N. peacekeeping costs by ending or scaling back existing operations to make way for new ones. That strategy backfired in East Timor, where violence erupted between military factions after U.N. troops pulled out. The United States and other Security Council members responded last month by approving a new force of 1,600 U.N. police for East Timor.

Despite its initial reservations about the virtues of U.N. nation-building, the Bush administration has led efforts to reinforce existing operations and create new ones for Haiti, Liberia, Sudan and Lebanon. It has repeatedly approved operations in countries where it has few national interests.

"You still have this rhetoric about the United Nations being a broken, fractured, incompetent and undependable organization," said James Dobbins, a senior foreign policy emissary for the Clinton and Bush administrations and author of a recent study by the Rand Corp. on U.N. peacekeeping. However, "There is no doubt that the Bush administration . . . embraces the concept of nation-building to a degree the Clinton administration couldn't have gotten away with it."

Dobbins credits the United Nations with providing some of the most inexpensive peacekeeping services in the world, saying it costs $45,000 a year to fund a U.N. peacekeeper, compared with $200,000 to deploy one NATO soldier. He also said the organization relies on a small number of military planners and headquarters staff members to launch a mission. "Four hundred to 600 people are managing the largest expeditionary force in the world other than that of the United States. It's bigger than NATO and the European Union put together," he said.

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