Recently, the newly inaugurated Trump administration posed a series of questions to the State Department concerning the United States foreign aid and assistance policies in Africa. The document, as reported by The New York Times, contained questions such as, “with so much corruption in Africa, how much of our funding is stolen?” and, “why should we spend these funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?” While this document is specifically dealing with Africa, it gives further support of new administration’s skeptical views towards foreign aid, assistance programs, and foreign intervention at large. These questions, taken with the President’s remarks about NATO, The United Nations (UN), and our military relationship with Japan, make it clear that Donald Trump sees foreign aid, collective security, and foreign intervention as an easy target for trimming the national budget. While foreign aid comprises only one percent of the national budget, questioning where the United States’ assistance money goes, and how it is used, is not an inherently bad thing. Only by continuing to question the effectiveness and practicality of different policies can better policies emerge. By looking at one aspect of the United State’s foreign policy, namely peacekeeping, a trend may exist that shows whether missions of this kind are effective or not.
So, does peacekeeping work? The question seems simple enough, but there is hardly any consensus on how to answer it. Peacekeeping is one of the primary functions undertaken by the UN in order to help states, usually in the throes of a civil war, transition from a state of violent conflict into stable peace. The origins of peacekeeping can be traced to the UNOSOM I mission in Somalia in the early 1990’s. Since then the UN, other collective security organizations, and some countries acting unilaterally, have found themselves involved in peacekeeping missions across the globe. Places like Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan are merely a few of the quagmires that detractors reference when making their case for isolation, but are these arguments valid, and do these sentiments actually tell the truth about peacekeeping in todays world?
Since the first peacekeeping missions and interventions into civil wars in the 1990’s, the global community’s knowledge about these subjects has increased dramatically. In a seminal piece on conflict and civil war, Oxford professor Paul Collier contributed one of the important discoveries to the field by claiming that the single biggest predictor of a civil war within a state was whether or not that state had experienced a civil war in the past. This was monumental because it meant that instead of running from brushfire to brushfire, the international community could now begin to isolate and prepare for conflict in places where it was likely to take place. Digging deeper into this phenomenon, researcher Charles Call also found something unique about civil war resurgence. His research uncovered that the factors responsible for causing a civil war in the first place were distinctly different than those that led to its resurgence later on down the road. This research is critical to understand, because, by isolating and addressing the causes of a resurgent civil war, theoretically, peacekeeping should become that much more effective at establishing stable peace within a war torn state.
But even with all these new findings and strategies, is peacekeeping actually effective at generating peace? Researchers like Virginia Fortna, professor at Columbia University, argue that peacekeeping missions and the presence of peacekeepers absolutely produce peace. Fortna identifies an array of causal mechanisms that peacekeepers use in order to induce peace in the area they are working. These mechanisms include things such as raising the costs of war or benefits of peace for the parties responsible for and involved in the conflict and preventing political parties from reneging on political deals and excluding certain parties from power. The biggest benefits from using these mechanisms is the increased aid that flows into an area once peacekeepers arrive, as well as the improved security situation for both the conflicting parties and civilians. Once peacekeepers arrive, the increased international attention almost always produces an influx of foreign assistance from various aid agencies. This not only helps remedy certain problems such as lack of food or subpar health conditions, but it also gives the international community a bargaining chip when attempting to coerce belligerents into agreeing to a peace deal. The increased security offered by peacekeepers also helps keep belligerent groups in check, while similarly preventing government institutions, like police and security forces, from becoming predatory towards civilians.
One critique of this view however is the lack of attention paid to global, political externalities that play a role in establishing peace within a country. A peacekeeping success story that is often cited by the international community is the United Nations Mission in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) in 1992 after a civil war between the RENAMO and FRELIMO political parties had ravaged the country. One of the largest reasons peace was established was the extraordinary commitment each side had to making the mission successful.
This commitment to peace is unique among peacekeeping missions, so why was it the case in Mozambique? Some historians and regional experts actually attribute the success of UNOMOZ to the lack of patrons for the belligerents involved in the Mozambican conflict. Prior to the UNOMOZ mission, the Frelimo government in Mozambique was supported and funded by the Soviet Union, and the Renamo Rebel faction was financed by South Africa in order to promote instability in the region. However, in 1992 both of these parties’ financiers had backed out. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Frelimo government lost a key revenue source and was struggling to hold onto its previous legitimacy. South Africa on the other hand was forced to pull back its support of Renamo because it had to deal with the issues of apartheid politics back home. This situation led both parties to understand that, without their external support, their timeline for international legitimacy was quickly expiring. Additionally, UNMOZ’s military mandate was expanded after learning from the peacekeeping mission in Angola. These factors caused both sides to realize that a commitment to the peace process was the only viable option for solving their grievances and surviving politically. Thus, the argument can be made that the mission in Mozambique was less a product of peacekeepers being present, and more a result of global and regional developments of the time.
Even in this success, peace has been difficult to secure. Within the past six months, violence between Renamo and Frelimo military and militia contingents has caused the international community to establish peace talks between the two groups for fear of Mozambique potentially backsliding into more violence.
However, even though peace is challenging commodity to obtain, the data still shows that in the vast majority of cases, peacekeeping missions and foreign assistance help immensely in securing peace. The real dividends from this activity are seen after the fact though. Peaceful environments within developed and developing states allows for the development of things like adequate access to healthcare to prevent massive epidemics, better infrastructure like plumbing and access to clean water that prevents the spread of disease and increases life expectancy, roads and electricity that allow for greater economic prosperity for not only that nation, but the world at large.
The fact of the matter is that peace is pre-requisite for the solution of so many of the other problems that exist in the world today. What peacekeeping does is it allows the United States, and the global community, to pay a penny to solve a problem up front instead of a dollar for a bigger issue later on down the road. If anyone needs examples just look at the Zika and Ebola epidemics, the global war on terror, and the famine in South Sudan. While Donald Trump may think that the UN “only causes problems,” the research and data available on the matter presents a different narrative. So, does peacekeeping work? The research says yes. Should the United States continue to engage in this activity? This author believes so, but whether or not the new administration agrees is another story.
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