Global Policy Forum

America Fights to Take Charge of UN Peacekeepers


Move Could Help Exit Strategy from Iraq

By James Bone and Richard Beeston

Times, London
November 3, 2006

The United States is lobbying to put an American, possibly a general, in charge of all UN peacekeeping operations in a move that could offer Washington an exit strategy in Iraq. The unprecedented US bid for the top UN peacekeeping post would place an American in command of the 95,000 UN peacekeepers in trouble spots from Lebanon to Sudan.

The American lobbying effort is set to prove hugely controversial. If successful, the change would amount to a radical remaking of the organisation, bringing it closer to its origin in the Second World War as a US-led alliance. It is also stirring memories of the disastrous UN peace operation, led by the US, in Somalia in 1993, which ended in chaos and killing on the streets of the capital, Mogadishu.

Some UN officials also fear that putting an American at the head of peacekeeping potentially could enable the US to use UN operations for covert activities — as it did with the UN weapons inspection teams in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. An American-led UN peacekeeping department could eventually help Washington to replace the US-led coalition in Iraq with a UN-flagged force, diplomats and experts say.

The US is in a strong position to get the top peacekeeping job — currently held by a Frenchman — because of its decisive support in electing Ban Ki Moon, the South Korean Foreign Minister, as the next UN Secretary-General. Mr Ban, who takes over on January 1, is setting up a transition team to select his top officials and is coming under heavy pressure from the big powers to appoint their favourites to key posts.

The Bush Administration is said to want to name a general to the UN post. "What they want is somebody who knows about peacekeeping and who is a good manager, and they think a general is a good manager," one UN source said. A US official confirmed yesterday that the Bush Administration was seeking the UN's top peacekeeping post. The US only has 335 peacekeepers and 330 civilians serving with UN missions around the world, with the largest deployment being 239 police officers in Kosovo and 48 police officers in Haiti.

But Washington pays 26 per cent of the surging UN peacekeeping budget, which could rise from its current $5 billion a year (£2.6 billion) to $6 billion a year. "We pay the most," the US official said. "It almost goes without saying that if the Americans are spending the most money on peacekeeping we should have a say in the management of it. It's about time."

The peacekeeping job is so important to Washington that it is ready to relinquish its traditional control of the UN management department. Christopher Burnham, the American in that post, announced last week that he was leaving for the private sector. The US official denied that there was any long-term plan to transfer responsibility for security in Iraq to the UN. "This has nothing to do with Iraq," he said. "It has much more to do with Cí´te d'Ivoire, Ethiopia-Eritrea. These are the ones we are spending so much money on."

But some diplomats and experts say that putting an American in charge of the peacekeeping department would ease a possible transition in Iraq. "I am sure that the UN at a very senior level is aware that the Iraq portfolio is heading their way and for once is taking pre-emptive action to be ready for it. It is my understanding that active contingency planning has already been undertaken for the UN to be ready to take a central role in Iraq," said Toby Dodge, an expert on Iraq at Queen Mary's College, University of London. The UN backed a contingency planning meeting on a future role in Iraq held in Ottawa by the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs three months ago. Neighbouring Arab countries are urging the UN to play a greater part in the war-torn country.

UN peacekeepers have replaced multinational forces in other theatres. But a well-placed diplomat said that sending UN peacekeepers to Iraq was unimaginable at the moment because it was "too violent".

The rapidly growing department has become the real powerhouse of the UN in recent years — not only managing 18 crises around the world but also nominating UN special envoys. With further operations planned in East Timor and the Sudanese province of Darfur, the UN peacekeeping presence is due to grow to 140,000. The American lobbying effort will be resisted by France, which has held the post traditionally. France is fighting hard to keep it, even signalling that it is willing to replace the current incumbent, Jean-Marie Guehenno, with another French candidate.

Appointing an American as head of peacekeeping would also almost certainly doom Britain's bid to regain the post of under-secretary-general for political affairs because of the UN rule of "equitable geographic representation". One official suggested that any Gordon Brown government may be happy to accept the UN's top humanitarian post — currently held by Norway's Jan Egeland — instead.


• The ten main troop contributors — who provide 67 per cent of the United Nations' peacekeeping personnel — are Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Uruguay and South Africa
• Less than 5.8 per cent come from the European Union and 0.5 per cent from the United States
• Currently there are peacekeepers in Sudan, Burundi, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Western Sahara, Haiti, East Timor, India, Pakistan, Cyprus, Georgia, Kosovo, Golan Heights, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East
• There have been more than 2,300 fatalities among peacekeepers since the force began in 1948
• The US pays about 26 per cent of the cost for UN peacekeeping missions

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on US Housecleaning
More Information on Management Reform
More Information on US Policy on UN Peacekeeping
More Information on the UN Financial Crisis
More Information on the UN Role in Post-War Iraq


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