The United States should use U.N. peacekeeping as a more strategic foreign policy tool because instability around the world is detrimental to U.S. security, U.N. peacekeeping takes the pressure off of the United States to be the sole troop and financial contributor, and it provides legitimacy and restores America’s damaged standing in the world.

UN Blue Helmet

(Photo: Brookings)

The United Nations consists of a wide array of missions, including a vast network of peacekeeping operations programs dedicated to making the world more peaceful and secure. There are currently 16 peacekeeping operations with nearly 130,000 personnel engaged in conflict resolution in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of the world. The U.N. recognizes peacekeeping as one of the most effective tools in helping countries move from conflict to peace. The United States, historically, is sometimes reluctant to rely too heavily on the U.N., preferring to take on certain conflicts in a more unilateral manner. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and large contributor to the U.N, the United States should approach U.N. peacekeeping with this same attitude: using this method as a more strategic foreign policy tool would be in the United States’ interests because instability around the world is detrimental to U.S. security, U.N. peacekeeping takes the pressure off of the United States to be the sole troop and financial contributor, and it provides legitimacy and restores America’s damaged standing in the world.

Instability throughout the world is detrimental to the United States’ interests abroad. These unstable areas serve as powerful recruitment tools for extremist groups and can provide safe havens for terrorists as they exploit the lack of authority by the central government to terrorize civilians and plan and launch attacks. This is a threat to U.S. security as these groups often target the United States. These areas of instability often create a ripple effect – violence in one country can cause “national and regional instability; displace millions of people; upend markets; and spillover into neighboring countries.” Further, the instability can prove damaging to any democratic progress made by the host country, subsequently weakening the government and civil society.

In a presidential memorandum following the UN Summit on Peacekeeping Operations, U.S. President Barack Obama stated that “The United States has a compelling national security interest in preventing the outbreak, escalation, and spread of conflicts” in fragile states where global security threats tend to arise and recognized that multilateral peace operations are one of the best tools the world has for addressing conflicts. The U.N. has much deeper experience in peace-building than the United States. Therefore, if the United States were to further implement U.N. peacekeeping efforts as a central foreign policy tool, it would be able to mitigate the threats much quicker than it does when acting alone.

Using U.N. peacekeeping as a chief foreign policy tool takes the pressure off of the United States as it allows other U.N. member countries to shoulder some of the burden. U.N. peacekeeping is an expensive endeavor: the approved budget for U.N. peacekeeping operations for 2016 is $8.27 billion. The United States contributes the most financially to these operations, roughly 28.4 percent, or $23.16 million. Interestingly, while the U.S. is the highest contributor in funds, it provides only 82 peacekeepers to U.N. peacekeeping efforts. Thus, giving more credence to U.N. peacekeeping in U.S. foreign policy is the perfect instrument to soften some of the financial burden. This course of action allows for burden-sharing since other donor countries cover the remaining 72 percent. In this respect, U.N. peacekeeping is a relative bargain as the United States can use the U.N. and its other members to help with the high costs and troop contributions that peacekeeping requires. By working with the United Nations, the United States projects leadership and promotes stability around the world, and does not have to go bankrupt in the process.

U.N. peacekeeping allows the United States to approach these conflicts in a more multilateral manner. This multilateralism, or acting in concert with the United Nations, provides legitimacy to the United States’ actions. This attitude will even assist in restoring the United States’ somewhat injured credibility throughout the world. The United States, while unquestionably the world’s superpower, is often suspected of being in decline or charged with losing its prominence in the international community due to its proclivity to go it alone if the rest of the international community does not agree. Much of this is due to the unilateral policies undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Using U.N. peacekeeping as a more central foreign policy tool will help legitimize the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world, especially in the countries where the U.N. is deploying its peacekeeping missions. The United States will be forced to consult with other countries within the United Nations and it will not be cast in the shadow of imperialism, including accusations that the United Sates is only intervening in order to achieve its own interests. It will also allow the United States to achieve more of its own foreign policy agenda as other nations will be more willing to cooperate with the United Sates through the auspices of the UN. Cooperation, multilateralism, and legitimacy are the keys to restoring the United States’ global standing. The United States, according to Foreign Policy magazine, would be wise to treat U.N. peacekeeping as a sort of force multiplier in its foreign policy endeavors.

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