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Monday, December 11, 2017

Reprinted with permission from UN Dispatch

Slashing funding to UNICEF is just cruel. But you can also make the case that preventing children in poor countries from needlessly dying is also in American interests. That argument is a bit of a bank shot though: extreme poverty can lead to instability, foster the spread of disease, and give rise to extremism that could one day haunt the US.

Imposing extreme cuts to UN Peacekeeping, though, is a far more direct way to imperil American national security in the here and now.

There are about 100,000 peacekeepers around the world that serve in 16 missions. Only 68 of these peacekeepers are Americans. But each and everyone one of those missions was approved by the United States because the US has a permanent seat on the Security Council —  and only the Security Council can approve missions, their mandates and set troop sizes. While the USA puts very few boots on the ground, it does foot a good portion of the bill–28% to be exact. The US bill comes to over $2 billion. The rest of the world picks up the other 72% of the cost, or about $8 billion.

For this contribution the USA gets to deploy foreign boots to protect American security interests in places where the US is neither willing nor able to deploy troops on its own. The country of Mali in west Africa is a good example of this dynamic. The country was nearly overrun by Al Qaeda linked extremists three years ago. A European led intervention backed by UN Peacekeepers defeated that group. European armies have largely left, but a large (and dangerous) UN Peacekeeping mission remains on the ground, actively fighting extremists while helping to protect besieged populations rebuild their country. If the UN leaves, the country could once again be a haven for extremists. At that point, would the US opt to deploy marines to fight Jihadis in Timbuktu? Would it let Mali fall to that group and become a haven for extremists?

That’s just one mission. There is also UNIFIL, in which troops patrol southern Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from launching rocket attacks on Israel.

To be sure, other missions serve in places more ancillary to core American national security interests. The mission in Central African Republic helped prevent a genocide; the mission in Congo is keeping a lid on conflict in mineral producing regions there; and in South Sudan peacekeepers are providing protection to thousands of civilians huddled in and around peacekeeping bases in the midst of a civil war. But if not for these missions, we could expect larger scale instability in these countries that could spread throughout the region, and even the world.

(Side note: one country in this region that is already accepting large number of refugees from these conflicts is Uganda. Should peacekeeping missions be significantly reduced, Uganda could expect millions more refugees. Uganda, meanwhile, sends thousands of troops to Somalia as part of UN-backed mission to fight terrorist groups there. If Uganda destabilizes and those troops are pulled from Somalia, will the USA let Somalia fall to Al Shebaab? Will it once again send American troops to Mogadishu?)

The point is, UN Peacekeeping is not some charity.  It’s a system that advances US national security interests at relatively little cost to American taxpayers. For the $2 billion the US contributes to the peacekeeping, the US gets to deploy foreign troops to places that it — as a veto wielding member of the Security Council — decides is a worthy place to send foreign troops to protect American and global interests.  Viewing peacekeeping as a charity the US confers to the rest of the world, rather than a tool to protect America and Americans from global threats is profoundly dangerous.