U.N. Peacekeeping:

Status of Long-standing Operations and U.S. Interests in Supporting Them

NSIAD-97-59: Published: Apr 9, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 9, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) the budgetary and personnel cost of the eight long-standing U.N. peacekeeping operations; (2) whether these operations are carrying out their mandates; (3) the status of efforts to resolve underlying conflicts; and (4) the reasons the executive branch continues to support these operations.

GAO noted that: (1) the eight long-standing operations are deployed in environments where the underlying conflicts have defied diplomatic resolution, sometimes for decades, and have become, essentially, costly and open-ended commitments; (2) only two of these operations had successfully carried out their mandates, while the remaining six either had only partially carried out their mandates or had not carried them out; (3) although all but one of these operations were undertaken to create stable, secure environments to assist diplomatic efforts aimed at settling these underlying conflicts, diplomatic efforts to resolve these conflicts had stalled in all but one case; (4) the eight operations accounted for about $6 billion, over one-third of the $17 billion that the United Nations has spent on peacekeeping operations since 1948, and continue to account for a substantial share of current U.N. peacekeeping budgetary and personnel costs; (5) under current law, the U.S. share of the estimated annual cost of these operations for 1996 was about $148 million; (6) despite repeated calls from the U.N. Security Council for the parties to make progress toward settling the underlying conflicts, as of February 1997, only the conflict in Angola was the subject of ongoing talks between the disputing parties; (7) despite the long-standing operations' cost and mixed performance in carrying out their mandates, U.S. policymakers support continuing these operations because, in their view, they help to stabilize conflicts that could threaten U.S. foreign policy objectives; (8) in their judgment, ending these operations, or even modifying them substantially, would risk renewed conflict and damage future peacemaking efforts; (9) U.S. officials told GAO that some of these operations probably would not have been initially approved under current U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping policies; (10) at this time, however, U.S. officials see no reasonable alternative to continuing these operations indefinitely, given their assessment of the potential harm to U.S. foreign policy objectives if the underlying conflicts resumed, balanced against what they consider to be these operations' moderate cost; and (11) in continuing to support what have become essentially open-ended commitments to peacekeeping, however, the executive branch does not appear to give adequate consideration to other factors articulated by U.S. policy that seeks to ensure that peacekeeping operations are limited in duration, linked to concrete political solutions, and have exit criteria and identified end points for U.N. involvement.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a written statement on action taken on this recommendation, the Department: (1) agreed with the importance of establishing clear exit criteria and strategies for peacekeeping operations; and (2) said that an essential element in its efforts to ensure effective implementation of executive branch peacekeeping reform policy would be to review options to clarify how and when the desired end states for operations can be achieved, what intermediate and final objectives are sought, and what specific roles these operations play in achieving the desired end states.

    Recommendation: In light of U.S. interests in supporting well-defined peacekeeping operations linked to concrete political solutions, the Secretary of State should take the lead in working with the U.N. Security Council to identify specific exit criteria and strategies for these operations. This should be done in a manner consistent with PDD-25, balancing the need to bring closure to these operations with other U.S. interests, such as stabilizing conflicts that pose a threat to U.S. foreign policy objectives. These strategies need not propose immediate ends to these operations, but rather, may focus on how and when the desired end states can be achieved, what intermediate and final objectives are sought, and what specific role these operations play in achieving the sought-after end states.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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