End it, don’t mend it: UN edition

Apparently it’s not enough to send the wild-eyed John Bolton in to undermine the UN. No, our Republican Congress also plans to crack down on the organization’s funding:

The Senate voted yesterday to reduce the U.S. share of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping missions, reflecting congressional criticism of the United Nations after allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the oil-for-food program for Iraq, sexual abuses by peacekeepers and other scandals.

U.S. dues are capped at 27.1 percent of the peacekeeping budget. Under a 1994 law, that cap is to be reduced to 25 percent. The Bush administration — with the support of Democrats — asked that the cap be maintained at 27.1 percent. A Democratic proposal to keep the higher cap was defeated 57 to 40, mostly along party lines.

The United States is expected to spend about $1 billion on U.N. peacekeeping operations this year, with much of the money for activities in Sudan and Haiti. The administration is seeking about the same amount for next year. Reducing the cap could result in a cut of roughly $75 million.

Now here’s the thing. It’s true that UN peacekeeping missions have been the cause of some truly horrific incidents of late—the sex rings in the Congo being the most inexcusable. Nevertheless, many of these incidents stem from the fact that UN peacekeeping missions tend to be underfunded and undermanned, and end up recruiting soldiers from various developing countries who prove to be, shall we say, less than reliable. Sometimes disastrously so. Even the conservative Washington Times recognized that this was a major problem. Clearly the answer here is more support, not less. There are ways to push for accountability without weakening the organization at issue.

In a related vein, I had a chance to read through a new RAND study on peacekeeping operations a while back (er, yes, this is what I do in my spare time, why do you ask?), and the upshot is that UN missions actually have a better track record over the last few decades than do U.S. missions, at least for all but the largest and most demanding tasks. The catch, though, is that UN missions work best when they have full support from the United States, can integrate our troops and capabilities into their operations, and enjoy steady political backing. It shouldn’t be all that hard to draw the right conclusions from these findings, though apparently in the GOP-controlled Senate it is.