UN Emergency Peace Service: An Idea Whose Time Has Come


I mentioned in a post last week that I’ve been pushing an exciting proposal to make the U.N.’s peacekeeping and disaster relief capacity far more responsive and effective than it is now. It’s time to tip my hand.
For the past four weeks or so I’ve been meeting extensively with Congressional staff about a proposed UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS).
Even without any changes, the UN is very effective at disaster relief and peacekeeping. The RAND Corporation reports that the UN is far more successful at nation-building and peacekeeping than any international institution or country in the world. And the U.S. Government Accountability Office has shown that UN peacekeeping is as cost-effective as it is successful.
But here’s the problem: building peacekeeping missions and relief efforts right now is like building a fire station for every new fire. For each new mission, the UN needs to raise funds, recruit personnel, and train them to work together despite differences in equipment, weapons systems, and languages. It’s a slow, arduous, and difficult process. Since the early stages of conflicts and disasters are often the most deadly, this is a serious problem.
Right now, the UN defines rapid deployment as thirty days for a simple peacekeeping mission and ninety days for a complex contingency, a situation that involves spoilers or antagonists. The UN has a lot of trouble meeting even this low bar. For civilians caught in the crosshairs of conflict or disaster, “rapid deployment” can seem like a cruel joke.
The UN Emergency Peace Service would consist of 12,000-18,000 civilian police, military, judicial, and relief professionals that could deploy within 48 hours of a Security Council authorization. Envisioned as a 9-1-1 style first responders unit, it could hold down the fort while the international community cobbles together the resources, personnel, and plans for a long-term, sustained mission.
Had UNEPS existed during crises in Rwanda, Haiti, Liberia, or Somalia, hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars might have been saved.
Regarding Darfur, today’s best-publicized humanitarian crisis, President Bashir has alternately accepted and rejected UN intervention, manipulating the UN’s slow ramp-up to derail momentum towards peace. Were UNEPS a viable option, this kind of posturing would not be possible.
Not only is UNEPS a common sense way to save lives and money, it would also be an important step for UN reform. Since the force would be permanent and voluntary, its participants could be trained together in the same language and with a clear chain of command, use the same weapons and communications equipment for greater interoperability, and have a greater level of commitment to the success of their missions.
And since its members would be employed by or seconded to the UN, any abuses like those alleged in Congo and Sierra Leone would be could be quickly investigated and punished as necessary under the UN’s strict code of conduct.
Most Democrats and a good number of Republicans should support UNEPS. Granted, black helicopter conservatives will be startled by the idea, but most of my meetings with Republican staff on Capitol Hill have been very positive. It turns out that the potential to save lives is remarkably compelling, not to mention the compelling national interest in greater accountability, interoperability, and financial savings in Security Council-authorized and UN-run peace operations.
Given the current state of America’s image in the world and the more permanent dynamics of the UN General Assembly, any such proposal would be doomed to fail if it were submitted by the United States. But moving the idea forward in the U.S. is still important, since other countries that have shown interest in UNEPS will look to the U.S. before stepping forward. Right now, there is a widespread perception that Congress won’t go for it.
That’s why Reps. Al Wynn (D-MD) and Jim Walsh (R-NY) have introduced a resolution expressing Congressional support for UNEPS. With more and more organizations and Members of Congress jumping onto this bandwagon, I’m hopeful that, when their resolution passes, they get the recognition they deserve.
Obviously, I can’t explore every detail of the proposal in a short blog post, and many of the details still need to be ironed out. But the fact remains that the time for a UN emergency capacity has come. Three months is far too long to wait for help in a disaster or conflict zone.
Hopefully I’ll have more to report on this soon.
— Scott Paul


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