August 25, 2006

Peacekeeping boom strains U.N.

By Matthew Verrinder

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Plans to greatly expand U.N.
peacekeeping with missions in Sudan and Lebanon are raising
fears the world body may be unable to handle the load as it
tries to regain credibility after a series of scandals.

U.N. peacekeeping troops and spending could reach all-time
highs as the United States and Britain push to send as many as
24,000 troops and police to Sudan's Darfur region, and a force
of 15,000 is now being pieced together to enforce a shaky
cease-fire in southern Lebanon.

More than 110,000 U.N. troops and police could be on the
ground in the coming months, an increase of 50 percent, at a
time the world body already faces serious operational
challenges and spending is tight.

U.N. uniformed peacekeepers now number about 73,000, and
the peacekeeping budget for the current year has mushroomed to
$4.75 billion. This comes at a time the United States, which
funds about a quarter of that budget, faces election-year
pressure to slash deficits.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has a staff of
just 600 to handle planning, logistics, command and control,
legal woes, communications and travel. That is too few people
to support troop numbers in the six figures, said Lee Feinstein
of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"They are simply not equipped to do it," Feinstein said.
"That's not to disparage them. That is the result of the
deliberate choices of the membership."


The U.N. peacekeeping department declined comment, but
other U.N. officials acknowledged it would be difficult for the
current peacekeeping staff to support that many troops.

"We do what we can, but we may need additional resources
down the line," said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq.

Another problem, Feinstein said, is that the United Nations
does "just-in-time" peacekeeping, able to scrape together a
force only after it is approved by the Security Council.

"They have to start from scratch every time," he said.
"You've got to have some kind of standing capability, or we'll
continue to see the situation we're seeing in Lebanon where
there was agreement for the need for a force, and no ability to
deploy one rapidly."

He suggested a standing force of 2,500 or 3,000 troops,
ready for deployment on short notice. The idea has been debated
for decades.

British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry acknowledged rapid
peacekeeping growth required more commitment from the 192 U.N.
member-nations but said the task was achievable.

"If you see that as a percentage of the total forces
available to all the countries of the United Nations, it is
still a very small percentage," he said.

"And in terms of value for money and what it delivers on
the ground for all of us -- which is to avoid conflict and try
and restore order to a country as important as Sudan ... that's
why it matters," Jones Parry said.

U.N. peacekeeping has still not recovered from charges it
was unable to prevent either the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in
Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995 or a 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in
which extremists from the Hutu majority killed some 800,000
Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

More recently, U.N. and U.S. investigators last year began
looking into possible corruption in the purchase of millions of
dollars of goods for peacekeeping missions, after a purchasing
officer pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to charges in
connection with a probe of the U.N.'s now-defunct oil-for-food
program for Iraq.