Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Testimony on Peace Operations

It is an honor to appear before the committee today to discuss this important topic. Peace operations have the potential to save many lives at modest cost, if conducted wisely and judiciously.

That is not the only benefit of peace operations. To the extent the United States supports and in some cases participates in them, they also lend a moral character to U.S. foreign policy that helps legitimize this country's leadership role in the world. U.S. foreign policy has never been strictly realist, in the sense of only protecting the country's core military and economic interests; it has usually been influenced by American values and principles as well, including the notion that innocent people, wherever they live, should not be wantonly killed or otherwise severely oppressed. This is an element of U.S. foreign policy for which the party of Lincoln and Reagan, as well as the party of Roosevelt and Truman, can both take credit and be proud.

Traditional great powers, focused only on advancing their own interests, generally have bred resentment and competition. By contrast, the United States, while not universally popular around the world, continues to lead a western alliance system accounting for at least 75 percent of world GDP and military spending that shows no signs of dissolving. U.S. willingness to support peace operations and protect innocent lives around the world is not, of course, the main reason for this desirable geopolitical state of affairs. But it is a contributing element.

If conducted well, peace operations are worth doing. But it is admittedly hard to do them well. Different types of missions have different difficulties, costs, and limitations, and these must always be kept in mind.

In the rest of this testimony, I offer a number of observations on several broad issues. First, why conduct peace operations? Second, what are the main attributes of U.N. peacekeeping missions, and of U.S. contributions to them? Finally, what effects do peace operations and humanitarian interventions tend to have on U.S. military forces?

Why Conduct Peace Operations?

  • Nearly half a million people a year die in civil conflicts around the world, a figure that is relatively unchanged since the end of the Cold War.


  • Humanitarian missions and peace operations have saved an uncertain number of people over this period, but possibly as many as several hundred thousand.


  • There are dozens of conflicts in the world at a time, but only a few are truly serious. In fact, about 10 conflicts in the 1990s accounted for ¾ of the decade's entire conflict-related deaths.


  • By focusing on acute conflicts, the international community can thus help make a meaningful difference in reducing the overall scale of global violence.


  • The majority of severe conflicts in the 1990s were in Africa; specifically, civil wars in Somalia, Sudan, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Congo have been extremely bloody (the first five have been the worst, to date at least). So has the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, though in a small mercy it has involved a lower percentage of civilian deaths.


  • For a country like the United States that bases much of its role in the world on its support for democracy and human rights, these facts simply cannot and should not be ignored, even if they admittedly must be secondary missions for U.S. armed forces.


  • In some cases, peacekeeping missions can help along peace processes in these types of conflicts-though there is admittedly no guarantee of peace, unless a coalition led by the United States or one of a small number of capable countries is willing to use combat force to sustain or impose a peace.

What are the Main Attributes of U.N. Peacekeeping Missions?

  • In most such cases, U.S. troop contributions are very small.


  • For example, since 1995 U.S. participation globally in U.N. peacekeeping missions has generally numbered 500 to 1,000 troops, less than 5% of the total, and the today's total includes primarily U.S. civilians (not soldiers) at that.


  • U.S. financial contributions are considerable; they have generally ranged between $250 million and $1 billion a year in the last decade.


  • Given all the United States does around the world militarily, benefiting not only itself but allies and indeed the international system as a whole, the Congress's belief that U.S. assessments for U.N. peacekeeping should be reduced to 25% of the world total seems quite reasonable.


  • However, given the stakes, and the lives involved, these costs are not egregious, and the United States should certainly not resist paying its fair share. After all, the United States gives $5 billion in foreign aid per year (ten times as much, roughly) simply to foster and sustain the Mideast peace process, and it spends anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion a year by my estimates to defend an ally, South Korea, that is of limited economic importance to the United States (there are admittedly other reasons for that military commitment, but there is still some value to the comparison).


  • As the Clinton Administration rightly argues, the United Nations cannot generally conduct peace enforcement. Regional organizations, or coalitions led by one of the world's strongest military powers, are needed for that purpose now, and will be for the foreseeable future. The U.N. can monitor peace accords and ceasefire lines, protect citizens from bands of criminals or small, outlying militia elements, and carry out similar functions. It should not generally be asked to fight the main parties to a peace accord who might later violate that accord, however.


  • That means U.N. peacekeeping missions can fail. Running the risk they will do so is generally acceptable, given that the alternative is often to tolerate ongoing and very lethal violence.


  • However, there are other costs to failure: the prestige of the United Nations, the lives of peacekeepers, and in an extreme case demands on U.S. military forces who might be needed to extricate peacekeepers. U.N. peacekeeping missions that are highly likely to fail catastrophically should probably not be undertaken.


  • But there is a dilemma: it is usually quite hard to assess the risks of failure.


  • Sierra Leone and Congo are difficult cases, but in my judgment they both merit a U.N.-assisted attempt at peace at this point. (By way of comparison, it may be worth noting that Angola, alas, may not—given what we now know about Savimbi.)

How Do Peace Operations and Related Missions Affect the U.S. Armed Forces?

  • It is true that U.S. forces sometimes "backstop" U.N. peacekeeping missions, representing in effect the 911 rescue squad in case peacekeepers get into trouble. However, this is not always the case by any means.


  • It is also true that U.S. military forces and those of allies have run a number of humanitarian missions authorized by the United Nations in the 1990s.


  • All told, these efforts have cost about $3 billion a year in the 1990s, about 1% of U.S. defense spending.


  • They have also placed serious strains on the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, on American military equipment, and on policymakers.


  • Specifically, the United States military has spent about $10 billion in Bosnia, $8 billion in Iraq, $5 billion in Kosovo, $2 billion in Somalia, $1 billion in Central Africa, and $1 billion in Haiti, according to CBO and Pentagon data. It has also spent money on unanticipated deployments to Korea, Taiwan, and elsewhere.


  • About one-third of these costs, most notably most of those for Iraq as well as those for Korea and Taiwan, were not for humanitarian missions as the term is generally used. They were for traditional military missions such as deterrence or containing Saddam Hussein. They may have had some humanitarian benefits (e.g., no-fly-zones may have reduced Saddam's ability to suppress indigenous populations somewhat), but they were not principally humanitarian or peace operations.


  • It is also worth noting that, on the ground at least, our allies have contributed substantially to peace operations. Attached is recent data from NATO headquarters showing that the United States is providing about 13 percent of all troops, and 16 percent of all NATO troops, to the KFOR operation in Kosovo today. Likewise it is providing just under 25 percent of all troops, and 27 percent of all NATO troops, in Bosnia. This is as it should be, given our contribution during the Kosovo war, and given U.S. military commitments from the Persian Gulf to Korea. But it is still worth noting. Our allies do not yet do their fair share, but they do contribute substantially. And Australia did much more than its fair share in East Timor last year.


  • The allies' sacrifices are also measured in blood. For example, Britain lost as many troops killed in Bosnia during the misguided UNPROFOR operation there (prior to the NATO-led mission beginning in late 1995) as the United States lost in the fateful Mogadishu firefight of 1993 in Somalia. Since World War II, more than 1,000 U.N. peacekeepers have died during their service.


  • Peace operations are hard on the U.S. military, but not beyond its capacities. Despite the strains from peace operations and other missions, today's U.S. military readiness remains good, even if it is admittedly no longer excellent. In particular, education and experience levels for troops, training hours, proficiency at test ranges, and mission capable rates for most equipment are comparable to typical 1980s levels (if not as good as early 1990s levels); safety metrics are the best they have ever been; and the performance of troops in missions remains outstanding.


  • This is not an argument for complacency about readiness, and it is true that high operations tempo in the 1990s has degraded military readiness to some extent. But the claim that it has led to a "hollowing out" of the force, or returned U.S. military preparedness to the mediocre levels of the 1970s, is not substantiated by the evidence.


  • Although retention and recruitment are problems for the military, and are exacerbated in many cases by high operations tempo, it is also true some units deployed to places such as the Balkans have enjoyed reenlistment rates greater than those for the force as a whole. In addition, many retention and recruitment trends have started to recover.


  • The strain of peace operations can be mitigated by the Pentagon through wise policy moves. Recently, the Pentagon has made some such moves-reducing some training demands of marginal utility, so that people can spend more time at home base and with their families; making deployments more predictable; increasing certain types of specialized military units that have received particularly heavy use; and so on.


  • More can and should be done in these regards. For example, the Army might consider reducing the size of its main combat units somewhat further, so that it can man them at 100% strength. That way, deploying units would not need to rob personnel from other units to be at full strength.


  • In short, while peace operations and related missions have been tough on the U.S. armed forces, they are not beyond its capacities, particularly if missions do not grow further in number.


KFOR Troops by Country as of April 1, 2000 [Back]
NATO Members   Non-NATO
Belgium 1,170   Argentina 110
Canada 1,370   Austria 420
Czech Republic 180   Azerbaijan 34
Denmark 850   Bulgaria 40
France 5,300   Estonia 10
Germany 5,650   Finland 800
Greece 1,180   Georgia 40
Hungary 300   Ireland 100
Iceland 1   Jordan 100
Italy 6,550   Latvia 10
Luxembourg 2   Lithuania 30
Netherlands 1,550   Morocco 340
Norway 1,240   Russia 3,200
Poland 750   Slovakia 70
Portugal 340   Slovenia 6
Spain 1,230   Sweden 840
Turkey 1,130   Switzerland 150
United Kingdom 3,420   Ukraine 250
United States 6,150   United Arab Emirates 1,060
NATO Total 38,363   Non-NATO Total 7,610
 
KFOR Headquarters (including rear elements in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in Albania, and Greece)
 
1,160
KFOR Total 47,133