Peacekeeping: September 25, 2003


The United Nations: International Peacekeeper or Diplomatic Burden?

The United Nations has often been misrepresented by the press, criticized by the American public, and hailed by European leaders for its diplomatic visions. In the past half-century, there has been a continuous debate regarding its sovereignty over member nations and its effectiveness as an international mediator. While the UN has had many benefits since its founding, it is certainly not a hegemonic cure-all for the worlds problems, especially given issues such as corruption and budget instability.

The Basics: Peacekeeping vs. Peacemaking

The press repeatedly uses the terms peacemaking and peacekeeping interchangeably, not even acknowledging the sharp difference between the two. Peacekeeping refers to the deployment of an international force that acts as a buffer between opposing factions, and is usually meant to prevent war rather than stop it. Peacekeeping forces are usually invited by at least one combatant. Peacemaking, on the other hand, employs a heavily armed force that aims to stop a conflict. This philosophy arose out of frustration with lightly equipped peacekeeping forces that were often unable to maintain stability.

Since 1945, approximately 1800 people have died in UN operations with a total cost of $3 billion. Canada and Fiji have contributed personnel to almost all peacekeeping missions, with Ireland and Scandinavian countries coming in a close second. The end of the Cold War, however, has made it possible for larger powers to contribute to the UNs endeavors.

The Issue of Sovereignty

Despite having much power on the international scene, the UN must ultimately heed to the demands of its member states, especially those on the Security Council. One major catch to this, though, is that one nation in the Council can veto a resolution that every other member agrees on. Moreover, powerful nations can sometimes ignore the will of the organization and act on their own impulses.

In response, there have been two major movements: one calling for greater UN sovereignty over its member states, and one criticizing the organization and emphasizing the hegemony of each member state. Many of those who support of the former wish to establish a UN standing army that could quickly intervene in international conflicts. Former Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali proposed an initiative similar to this with a positive response at first. However, his backing waned quickly with nationalism as a barrier. Many were concerned that such an undertaking would undermine the sovereignty of lesser-developed countries and, to some extent, that of powerful nations. This can already be seen in Chinas continual abuse of human rights without significant international action, while smaller countries do the same and are thus subject to peacekeeping or peacemaking operations.

Budget Problems

The United Nations budget has three central elements: the core budget for administration and regular programs, the peacekeeping budget for operations under the auspices of the Security Council, and the voluntary contributions budget, which funds the United Nations Childrens Fund and the United Nations Environment Programme. The costs of the former two are approximately $1.2 billion and $2.9 billion. Currently, the United States is accountable for 22 percent of the budget, followed by Japan (19 percent), Germany (10 percent), France (6.5 percent), and Great Britain (5.6 percent).

The UN has many severe budget problems, as many nations have not fully paid their bills. According to political scientist John T. Rourke, its peacekeeping budget is half the size of New York Citys public safety budget, which includes the entire police and fire departments. There is much international criticism against the United States for its unwillingness to pay its bills, although many other nations are guilty of the same. This is especially notable because the UN is being asked to do more and more, chiefly in terms of peacekeeping around the world. In 1999, however, the U.S. made a compromise with the UN that it would gradually pay off its debt as long as it was lowered from 25 percent to 22 percent of the UN budget.

Claims of Corruption and Inefficiency

According to the Cato Institute, the average salary of a midlevel account in the UN is about $84,000, with that of a non-UN accountant at $42,000. A UN computer analyst receives about $120,000 in income, while a non-UN computer analyst earns $57,000. This is one of the central criticisms of the organization, as many Americans see it as a bureaucracy with little benefit in proportion to its price tag. Boutros-Ghali even stated, Perhaps half of the UN work force does nothing useful.

Almost $4 million was stolen from UN offices in Mogadishu, Somalia, and money has been spent questionably in the past decade. For example, $15,000 was spent flying representatives from a liberation movement in Saharan Africa to a conference on the development of small islands, according to Cato. It is quite ironic that the Sahara Desert has no islands.

Other criticisms of poor spending in the UNs budget include $369,000 for fuel in Somalia that the contractor never delivered, $100,000 of the UN Relief and Works Agencys budget going into the project directors personal bank account, and a member of the UN Center for Human Settlements loaning $98,000 of its money to a business partner.

Finally, the UN is not equipped to run military operations because it has no central command-control-communications and intelligence units, according to Cato. Soldiers come from many nations and, therefore, have different standards and training that could cause disunity on the field.


Within the U.S., the UN is certainly controversial, as it has been a subject of controversy for some time. However, this issue is not one of black and white, but one that possesses shades of gray. The UN has had many supposed benefits, such as increased stability around the world and the fact that it is a forum for diplomacy between nations, thus preventing some conflicts. It is highly probable, likewise, that the organization will reform in time due to the U.S.s financial pressurea force not to be reckoned with. -- Geoffrey Cain




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