Global Policy Forum

Peacekeeping Saves Cents, Makes Sense


By George C Wilson

National Journal
March 30, 2002

President Bush risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by refusing to deploy U.S. peacekeepers in Afghanistan. He should do so at least until the fledgling Afghan army is strong enough to keep the warlords from killing the wounded country. Bush, as commander in chief, has ordered the Pentagon to train the Afghan army but not get into anything Clintonesque such as long-term peacekeeping. The idea is to teach the Afghans to fish, not do the fishing for them.

Although this is consistent with Bush's campaign rhetoric and sounds good, especially to the quagmire-around-every-corner crowd, the record shows that peacekeeping has provided far more positives than negatives in other polarized hot spots, with Bosnia and Kosovo as Exhibits A and B. Peacekeeping in the Balkans has deterred the bad guys; has required only handfuls of troops compared to the 300,000 the United States kept in Europe for decades after World War II; has cost relatively little; and has provided American troopers with a sense of mission while giving them the kind of training they will need to succeed in the conflicts of the 21st century.

On top of that, experts who have lived the problem in the region, as distinguished from theorizing about it in Washington, see the need for American peacekeepers to patrol all of Afghanistan-not just Kabul-to keep the lid on violence. The experts warn that it will take time to form an effective Afghan army and, in the meantime, the country could implode if the United States restricts itself to a limited military presence. The captains, majors, and colonels now sitting in Pentagon cubicles putting together the plan for training the new Afghan army should heed these warnings and read up on Sir John Bagot Glubb, the British army officer who turned Jordan's army into the best one in the Arab world. It was called the Arab Legion.

A number of myths about U.S. peacekeeping operations need to be exploded, including the following:

Myth: Peacekeeping puts too much strain on the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Reality: The U.S. portion of the highly successful allied peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of 3,116 men and women, according to Pentagon figures. Of the Bosnia total, 3,100 are U.S. Army. This is only about six-tenths of 1 percent of the Army's current active duty strength of 481,000. True, other U.S. forces are standing by in firehouses ashore and afloat waiting to answer 911 calls from Bosnia, but they would be there anyway.

U.S. peacekeepers in Kosovo total 5,679, with all but four of them Army. These soldiers in Kosovo represent just a little more than I percent of the service's active duty force.

Adding together the U.S. peacekeeping contingents in Bosnia and Kosovo gives a total of 8,795. This is only 24 percent of the 37,605 U.S. troops who have been sitting in South Korea for decades despite the fact that North Korea has been steadily weakening. Why not do something bold by pulling 10,000 troops out of Korea at long last if the Army needs more troopers for peacekeeping in Afghanistan?

Myth: Peacekeeping costs too much.

Reality: The Pentagon calculates peacekeeping operations in "incremental" costs-the extra money it spends on a trooper patrolling neighborhoods in Bosnia and Kosovo over the amount it would normally spend on that trooper at his or her home base. Pentagon figures show these incremental peacekeeping costs for fiscal 2000 in fiscal 2002 dollars: Bosnia and related Balkan operations, including expenses incurred while operating with NATO and United Nations forces, $2.4 billion; Kosovo, $1.9 billion. Those annual peacekeeping costs approximate the price of one $2 billion B-2 bomber.

Myth: Troopers lose their fighting skills when turned into peacekeepers.

Reality: Keeping neighbors and tribes from killing each other before, during, and after regional conflicts is a major part of 21st-century warfare. It requires intense training in skills such as how to handle mobs without shooting them and how to pacify areas of tribal and ethnic strife. What better way for U.S. forces to become good at these duties than by actually performing them? Yes, there are risks. But there are risks to soldiers when they roam around Fayetteville, N.C., or Seoul, South Korea, too.

The discipline U.S. soldiers have displayed in Bosnia and Kosovo has been nothing short of awesome. They have held their fire even when provoked. There have been no My Lais (the massacre of civilians by American troops during the Vietnam War). Soldiers can indeed be effective policemen in bad neighborhoods.

I went on patrol with Army troops and Green Berets for two weeks in Bosnia. Housewives frequently came out to the troopers bearing fruit, cakes, and cookies. They told me, and the soldiers, that they would not feel safe without the presence of American soldiers; that they would not even dare to draw water from the community pump if it were not for the peacekeepers.

As for the peacekeepers themselves: "It's better than being back in Fort Polk," said an Army soldier in Bosnia. "We're doing something worthwhile, and the food's better."

Bush and company should stop thinking about peacekeeping as a bad word just because President Clinton did it. It can be good for us and for the rest of the world.


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