We like to ask the United Nations to do the impossible – then kick it when it fails. The Security Council gives U.N. troops missions that the five permanent members don’t want, and then it deploys them slowly, without adequate arms, hampered by rules of engagement that impede success.
Nineteen years ago, this cynical system led to a massacre. This week, it fell to a Dutch judge to provide accountability. His careful ruling held Dutch peacekeepers accountable for the 300 deaths attributable to their failure of leadership.
The verdict is apt but its side effects may further harm U.N. mission effectiveness.
If military leaders lack control over their troops' role in U.N. missions, but can be held legally responsible for their troops’ actions, then troop contributions from richer states with better courts may be less forthcoming.
Meanwhile, U.N. missions from poorer countries that earn money from them will continue. This is unlikely to increase efficacy: many of these countries send troops so poorly trained and equipped that the United Nations must supply boots as well as arms.
In a world in which tens of thousands of U.N. blue helmets are deployed right now, this is no way to create stability.
The world needs the United Nations. Like democracy, it is the worst system save for all the others. If we are going to keep asking the U.N. to serve in places where the U.S. doesn’t want to go, we should help it do a better job.
First, the Security Council must provide rules of engagement that allow force, which is increasingly needed.
Second, we need a standing fund for peacekeeping. Right now, the United Nations must go begging for funds and troops only after the Security Council authorizes a mission. Months pass and war zones worsen before they can be deployed.
Finally, the United Nations increasingly needs forces that are trained, vetted and can work together, especially since so many come from poor countries. Creating training academies whose graduates are first in line for deployment would help. And it would be a good use of some of the billions President Obama just authorized for foreign military training, in his bid to keep the United States out of future wars.