UN Dispatch has a great post about an article on UN peacekeeping written by (of all people) Peter Beinart in (of all publications) The New Republic. I checked the article out, and, while I may not have a great personal impression of Beinart  (he did something nasty at a function I helped organize in DC this year), he makes excellent points, and emphasizes, as too few American writers do, how much good the UN actually does.

From UN Dispatch:

He hits all the main points. As a result of Iraq, says Beinart, Americans may have a declining appetite for ambitious nation building projects. However, the United Nations is poised to fill that gap. As Beinart notes, the UN has a capacity to oversee complex nation/peace building operations that is unparalleled by any government on its own; long serving expert staff in areas as diverse as justice sector development and election management makes the UN uniquely suited to take on these tasks in societies emerging from conflict.

Peacekeepers are the core of these kinds of operations. And perhaps the one point that Beinart could have emphasized more forcefully is the gap between the demand for peacekeepers worldwide and the financial resources available to the United Nations to oversee their deployment. The Department of Peace Keeping Operations is forced to maintain the current level of peacekeepers around the world and prepare for new
missions without ever experiencing an increase in its budget commensurate to the new operations the Security Council authorizes.

Complicating matters is that the single largest financial donor to peacekeeping operations, the United States, is constantly in arrears. The United States has agreed to pay 27% of the costs of peacekeepers around the globe, but it never makes that amount in full. For FY 2007, it is estimated that the United States will be close to $400 million in arrears.

These backlogs come at a time when the United States is increasingly looking to peacekeeping operations for world conflict zones. For example, just yesterday Ambassador Bolton raised the prospect of a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia. People can debate the merits of sending blue helmets to Somalia (for the record, the prominent NGO The International Crisis Group cautions against this approach) but if

peacekeepers for Somalia are approved, this would be the fourth mission the Security Council will have authorized since August. The Security Council already approved missions for Lebanon, Darfur, and East Timor, which if implemented in full would increase the number of blue helmets across the globe by 50%.

Financially supporting in full peacekeeping operations is critical. It is the only way that major powers, the United States included, can maximize the UN’s share of the burden of maintaining peace and security
throughout the globe.