This piece was first published Centre for European Reform Bulletin, June/July 2009.
The EU likes to highlight its commitment to tackling
failed states, addressing humanitarian disasters and bringing order to unstable
regions. Ten years ago it established the European security and defence policy
(ESDP) to help it fulfil those tasks. The EU has generally left the United
Nations to handle conflicts in the Middle East and Africa,
though it has offered some support to UN missions in those areas. But with
European forces heavily committed in Afghanistan and the Balkans – and
defence budgets being squeezed – there is now a danger that diminishing EU
support will undermine the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping.
UN missions worldwide currently comprise more than
90,000 troops and policemen. The EU has helped: of the 23 ESDP operations to
date, 15 have deployed alongside UN operations, including in Africa.
Last year, for example, an EU peacekeeping mission in Chad assisted UN efforts to help refugees from Darfur.
But recent events have also shown the strains in this
relationship. In 2008, when UN forces were unable to contain rebels in the
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asked for an ESDP mission to help. Some EU
members, including Belgium
and the Nordic countries, were ready to act. But Britain
despite having forces available on stand-by as part of the EU’s ‘battlegroups’,
blocked the proposal. They feared military overstretch in case NATO needed more
soldiers in Afghanistan.
In the same year Italy was
more justified in citing limited resources when it responded coldly to
suggestions from the UN secretariat that it should lead peacekeepers in Somalia. In
early 2009, Poland
announced that it would pull out of some UN operations to save money. At UN
headquarters, European diplomats worry that their governments will call for
cuts to the UN’s $8 billion peacekeeping budget, two-fifths of which is paid by
European troops make up the bulk of UN forces in Lebanon and Chad, but those are the exceptions.
In the rest of the world Europeans account for less than 1 per cent of UN
forces. Yet UN missions in places like Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo
and Côte d’Ivoire
support EU policy objectives. The EU should not disengage from UN peacekeeping.
The recession has put new pressures on fragile states, and blue helmet
operations remain a cost-efficient way of managing the fall-out. “If we push
missions to draw down now,” a European official admits, “we’ll take the blame
when the massacres follow.”
Humanitarianism aside, there are good strategic
reasons for the EU to reinforce its ties to the UN. The Obama administration
cares about peacekeeping. Influential voices in the US
are asking if European forces might be better employed in Africa than Afghanistan. A
thousand more European soldiers can make little difference in Kabul,
but could stiffen UN resolve in Kinshasa.
The EU’s support for UN operations is also important
for its relationship with rising powers like India
(a top supplier of blue helmets) and China (which says that its growing
role in peacekeeping is proof of its responsible approach to global security). India has been
irritated by the EU’s halfhearted approach to the UN, and is talking
increasingly seriously about limiting its own troop contributions. The Chinese
will not be impressed by an EU that lectures them about multilateralism but
fails to support the UN on the ground.
In return for more financial and military support,
the Europeans can and should demand that UN peacekeeping be better managed. The
UN’s management systems are far better than they were in the days of the
UNPROFOR mission to Bosnia
in the 1990s, but remain unwieldy. There are credible reports that some UN
units refused orders during last year’s Congo crisis. France and Britain have launched an initiative
to improve Security Council oversight of UN operations, with modest success.
Rather than turning away in frustration, the Europeans need to work more
closely with the UN and back up reform initiatives with offers of money (for
example, to support reform of the UN’s logistics and procurement systems). The
forthcoming EU presidency of Sweden
– strongly committed to the UN – is well-placed to take such initiatives.
The Europeans should talk to the US about deploying more ESDP missions to support
the UN if and when they pull back from Afghanistan. If the Afghan campaign
has shown the limitations of Europe’s military
clout, working with the UN could give the EU a chance to show that its talk of
‘effective multilateralism’ is backed up by muscle.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.