IN an era dominated by superpower rivalry, the quiet work of United Nations peacekeeping forces went largely unheralded. In an era of greater collective security, the blue-helmeted UN troops offer the most effective, cost-efficient means of defusing local conflicts, says a study issued today.
"The UN is our cheapest alternative for containing and resolving conflict," says the study, entitled "Keeping the Peace: The United Nations and the Emerging World Order."
How cheap? UN peacekeeping operations cost just one-third of 1 percent of combined national defense budgets. "Each day the Gulf war cost twice what the UN spent in a whole year of peacekeeping worldwide," says the report, issued by the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington-based defense and foreign policy research institute.
The study will provide welcome support for the Bush administration, which is pressing Congress to come up with $810 million to support UN peacekeeping operations this year and next.
The figure represents a quantum increase over past years.
"We have spent trillions of dollars to win the cold war, and we ought to be willing to spend millions of dollars to secure the peace," Secretary of State James Baker III told a House subcommittee recently. "Relative to the alternatives of conflict and war, United Nations peacekeeping is a pretty good buy, I would say."
But with hard times and high unemployment at home, even sympathetic lawmakers have been hard to convince. What rankles most on Capitol Hill is a UN budget formula that requires the United States to pick up 30 percent of the peacekeeping tab, more than the entire European Community and more than twice Japan's share.
"Paying a grossly disproportionate share of peacemaking in the 1950s was one thing," says US Rep. Joseph Early (D) of Massachusetts. "Doing it today, given our budget realties, is out of the question."
Since last fall the UN has launched or planned major peacekeeping operations in El Salvador, Yugoslavia, and the Western Sahara. The most extensive deployment is in Cambodia, where 22,000 blue-helmeted soldiers are mobilizing to prevent renewed bloodshed.
Such recent missions illustrate the growing size and complexity of peacekeeping operations which, once confined to mere conflict containment, now encompasses conflict resolution, election monitoring, and even the promotion of human rights.
"As the international community becomes more involved in what used to be considered the purely internal affairs of states, what once seemed a clear line between domestic and international has become blurred," says the 100-page report.
But the UN is not good at everything, according to the study, which traces the 40-year history of the organization's peacekeeping activities.
It has done well at separating conflicting armies, monitoring elections, and overseeing political transitions. But it has not functioned well at restoring authority when a government faces civil unrest or in monitoring borders to detect the infiltration of people or weapons.
The study says that more money and technical training, plus an ambitious restructuring of the UN, will be required to sharpen the UN's peacekeeping skills.
UN peacekeepers won a Nobel peace prize in 1988.
Without such reforms the UN will be unable to keep up with the increasing demand for their services, the report concludes.