Peacekeeping: Fatal Unemployment

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October 20,2008:  The UN is facing the grim possibility of "pacified" countries blowing up again shortly after the peacekeepers are withdrawn. It's happened before, especially in Africa. This has more to do with economics, than anything else. A recent opinion survey in Liberia revealed that about 30 percent of the former fighters would go back to their gun toting ways if there were no other way to make a living, or to right actual or perceived wrongs against their family, tribe or religion. This was not really surprising, because that sort of thing has already happened. Moreover, Africa had centuries of interminable tribal wars before the colonial governments showed up in the 19th century (and then left about a hundred years later.) The post colonial world of Africa, and the Middle East, has reverted to its warlike ways. And most of these wars grow out of anger about corruption and lack of economic opportunity. Those two problems are more resistant to solution than the violence that peacekeepers deal with.

Meanwhile, the UN is currently spending about $7 billion a year on fifteen peacekeeping operations. This pays for a force of over 100,000 troops and support staff. It's actually a pretty cheap way of keeping some conflicts under control. The causes of the unrest may not be resolved by peacekeepers, but at least the problem is contained and doesn't bother the rest of the world too much. Even with that, many UN members are not enthusiastic about all this peacekeeping activity. That's because there's increasing enthusiasm for sending in peacekeepers where they are not wanted (by the government, usually a bad one, that is often the cause of the trouble in the first place.)

Most of the money is going to a few large peacekeeping operations. Three of the largest get over half the cash. Thus the Congo operations get 17.5 percent of the money, Darfur (western Sudan) gets 22 percent and southern Sudan gets 12 percent. Africa has the largest number of "failed states" on the planet and, as such, is most in need of outside security assistance. The Middle East is also a source of much unrest. But there the problem isn't a lack of government, just bad government. Most Middle Eastern nations are run by tyrants, who have created police states that at least keep anarchy at bay. To further complicate matters, religion has become a touchy subject. While Islamic radicalism is more of a problem to fellow Moslems than it is to infidels (non-Moslems), most Middle Eastern governments avoid blaming Islam for these problems. Since it's increasing difficult to pin the blame on "colonialism" or "crusaders," the Middle Eastern nations encourage other UN members to just stay away from the religious angle altogether. This has made it difficult to deal with peacekeeping issues in Moslem nations, since religion usually plays a part in creating the problem. To the UN, this is just another diplomatic problem to be dealt with, and not very well.

 


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