In his September 2009 address to the UN General Assembly President Obama candidly admitted that much international distrust of his country had been created because, among other things, “on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.” He promised to rectify this and declared that “we will strengthen our support for effective peacekeeping, while energizing our efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold.” It was apparent that emphasis was going to be given to international peacekeeping in accordance with the UN Charter.
There are sixteen UN Peacekeeping Operations around the world, from Haiti to Kashmir via South Sudan, and although there has been criticism of some of them, on occasions with justification, it is evident that in general they do an excellent job, especially when we consider the local pressures to which they are subjected. (In Kashmir, for example, the Indian government, contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 91, which has never been repealed, will not permit the Mission’s Observers to monitor the Line of Control that separates the Indian-controlled part of the region from that of Pakistan, which is why exchanges of fire have been taking place there recently.) But, as the UN notes, the soldiers in all these missions “come from nations large and small, rich and poor. They bring different cultures and experience to the job, but are united in their determination to foster peace.”
It is heartening to know there is such dedication to the principles of the United Nations Organization, which was formed with the admirable aim of “maintaining international peace and security, and to that end to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace . . .”
US Vice President Biden echoed Obama’s statement at the 2014 General Assembly by declaring that “We meet at a moment when the demand for international peacekeeping has never been greater. In one generation, UN peacekeeping has grown tenfold, to about 120,000 men and women deployed around the world. As the nature of conflict and combatants has evolved to include sophisticated non-state actors as well as traditional armies, the instruments of peacekeeping have evolved as well.”
Biden overstated the number of peacekeepers by about 15 percent, but at the moment 123 countries have 84,743 troops (plus some 12,000 police and 1,700 observers) in the 16 missions, which is admirable. Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Pakistan contribute around 7,000 each, with South Africa, China and others at 2,000 and even tiny Honduras helping out with 38. And how many armed services’ personnel do you think the United States provides to the United Nations in the cause of international peacekeeping?
Bear in mind that when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, President Obama declared that “we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries.” But what has been the result of all his years of resolve to strengthen international peacekeeping? How many of the 1,369,532 people in America’s armed forces are serving in UN Peacekeeping Operations?
That rounds off the figure nicely, to a remaining 1,369,500 members of the US army, navy, air force and marines who are so many of them spread around the world in the cause of what Mr Obama calls “strengthening international peacekeeping” and making an unholy mess of it. We should remember that three years ago Obama declared “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq,” which nation then collapsed into even further bloodshed and chaos than it had experienced during America’s war. Then Afghanistan, a country under US-NATO occupation for thirteen years, is plunging to disaster while the Taliban and countless warlords run wild in a corrupt and violence-plagued shambles. And when Obama gave his belligerent anti-Russia speech at the General Assembly on September 24, do you know how many times he mentioned ‘peacekeeping’?
He deplored terrorist violence, which is understandable, and told the Assembly that he condemned the firing of rockets “at innocent Israelis” without uttering one word of criticism about the 50 day Israeli blitz on Gaza that killed 1,462 civilians, including 253 women and 495 children. (He made reference to “the lives of so many Palestinian children taken from us in Gaza”— as if the butchery had been caused by some sort of ghostly tsunami of rockets and bombs from an anonymous aerial Zeus, the god of sky and thunder.) Then he went on to chair a meeting of the Security Council at which he didn’t mention UN peacekeeping or Israel’s continuing flagrant disobedience of Security Council Resolutions, although he did declare that “In the face of this [terrorist] threat, many of our nations — working together and through the United Nations — have increased our cooperation.”
But such cooperation depends entirely, from the US point of view, on every other nation following the Washington line. And in the past this state of affairs has not served the cause of world peace in a manner that could be called constructive or fruitful in any way. Attempts to “strengthen” peacekeeping have been and continue to be selective and entirely in accordance with what Mr Obama professed to abhor : the taking of unilateral action “without regard for the interests of others.” There has been no new approach to the cause of international peacekeeping by Obama, and he has if anything degraded world peace by his confrontational stance with Russia and China, two countries whose goodwill and cooperation he would be wise to seek if he sincerely wishes to “prevent conflicts before they take hold”.
If Mr Obama is genuinely in favour of the UN’s determination, “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours,” he would openly support negotiation, mediation and a degree of compromise in international affairs — and especially those having but the vaguest importance for the national interests of the United States. Above all he should have to the forefront of his deliberations on foreign policy the UN edict that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
But in a recent interview with the Economist Obama came into the open and showed that he has no intention whatever of abiding by his virtuous sentiments expressed about international peacekeeping in his UN and Nobel speeches, for he stated bluntly that “there’s no doubt that a robust, interventionist foreign policy on behalf of certain principles, ideals or international rules is not a tradition that most countries embrace. And in the 20th century and in the early stages of the 21st century, the United States continues to be the one indispensable power that is willing to spend blood and treasure on that.”
It could not be plainer that the United States under Obama — and without doubt under his (most likely) Republican successor and a rabidly pro-intervention Republican Congress — will continue to intervene unilaterally and belligerently and spend vast amounts of money and squander the lives of its soldiers “on behalf of certain principles” which, although undefined, most certainly will not include the interests of others except by coincidence.
It is immature and condescending for any country to boast of international supremacy, and it is inadvisable for the US to imagine that Russia and China will continue to bear with the arrogance that is so apparent in Obama’s self-righteous contention that the “indispensable power” has the right to militarily paddle, strut, zoom, spy and strike around their shores and borders in order to further its own interests. Inflexible confrontation continues to be the Washington principle of choice.
Obama’s statements about improving international peacekeeping were unalloyed humbug. Had they been genuine they would have been admirable and most welcome, especially if the Commander-in-Chief had given direct orders that they be acted upon. But there is no intention on the part of the United States to embrace peacekeeping under the UN Charter. If there was, there would be rather more than thirty-two of the US military’s 1,369,532 members serving in UN Peacekeeping Operations.
Brian Cloughley lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.
This piece appeared first in the Asia Times Online on October 14.