UN Peace-keepers or Collective Coercion

My good friend Glen Kendall writes in a June 23 entry to his blog, Viewpoint from Abroad that America is somehow shirking its responsibilities with respect to its funding of United Nations peace keeping efforts. While I do not disagree, I wonder if the question is properly raised as to what America’s responsibility should be.

In my view the problem with United Nations peace keeping lies not so much in the lack of physical resources, but in the self-evident contradictions of a “world order” in which nations participate “at leisure”. While I agree wholeheartedly that America should assume its responsibilities, I see a couple of problems.

First, there is the matter of accountability. UN peace-keepers act as proxies for a “collective authority”. I wish it were otherwise, but so long as a single nation (Russia, China the United States, South Africa, India, Brazil…) remains “above the law”, the “collective” remains an “authority” in name only. We cannot have an effective peace-keeping force if their authority is the whim of the current consensus.

The second problem is one of credibility. In our lifetimes the international community has acted a dozen times and more to suppress open strife. Almost always these actions have been motived by self-interest (Korea, Dominican Republic, Chile, Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Kuwait…) and much less frequently, as a concerted international effort. Indeed, one of these “concerted efforts” has been the discreditable effort to maintain peace in the Middle East.

Not only might one suspect the International Community’s “motives” for mobilizing a peace-keeping force, but one has to wonder also about such a force’s effectiveness as a force, given the standards of passive-defensive, non-lethal engagement to which they are held.

The UN peace-keeper issue is more than a problem of funding, it is a fundamental political problem and a problem of legitimate authority.