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November 3, 2006
US To Lead UN Peacekeepers?

The US wants to put an American general in charge of United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the Ban Ki Moon administration, the Times of London reports. The French general currently leading the efforts will retire from the position when Kofi Annan steps down, and the Americans want to protect their investment:

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.

It seems a little strange that the US would want to assume responsibility for the disgraced UN peacekeeping missions, although they certainly need new management. Blue-helmeted forces have an atrocious track record in actually maintaining peace, and their exploitation of young girls for sex has been documented in several of their deployments. The management position would have to still work with the sovereign nations that control these troops, and while new leadership could clear out the UN personnel that took part in these embarrassments, it would have little influence over the behavior of the troops themselves.

Yet the US supposedly is so keen to get the position, we're willing to relinquish a key post at Turtle Bay to get it. Christopher Burnham will leave his post at the UN management department, a position that should be key to any future reforms of the organization. The US has apparently offered to trade that spot for command of peacekeeping forces. It means that the US may have given up on reforming the entire organization, or that we may have decided to focus on the part most critically in need of attention, now that Annan has left.

The Times thinks that this may be a way for the US to ease itself out of Iraq. They don't have any evidence or even a compelling argument for that theory, and it's hard to see how one relates to the other. If the UN has a problem with the US gaining control of peacekeeping forces because of Iraq, we'd more likely threaten to stop funding the missions rather than retreat from Iraq, at least for that reason. A more likely objection will be that the US might want to use the post in order to extend our intel capabilities, but that doesn't seem very plausible, either. Our funding alone gives us that kind of access, and we wouldn't have to take on the headaches of management in order to get better penetration. Management might make such an objective more complicated.

It's more likely that the Bush administration wants a higher-profile role at the UN. With the situation in Darfur deteriorating every day and the Annan regime unwilling to use the word "genocide" for fear of having to commit resources to it, the White House might want more leverage in order to get some action. They may also want to limit other activities of UN peacekeepers to free up those resources. Most of all, it would put an American in charge of the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon, a key theater where the US sees Syria and Iran as a major threat. An American general would more likely stiffen UNIFIL's rules of engagement than anyone from Europe. If so, it's not a bad idea, and even the more hard-line disengagement advocates might see some value in this move.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 3, 2006 5:20 AM

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Tracked on November 3, 2006 8:49 PM


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