Over at the Huffington Post, I interview Chris Coyne, professor of economics at George Mason University and author of the recent book Doing Bad By Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails, on the humanitarian interventions in Central African Republic.
Here’s an excerpt:
Q: What was your reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to increase support to French and African troops in CAR?
Chris Coyne: Given what I know, it is very predictable. For the past several months the U.S. has been pushing back on UN intervention because of the cost of UN peacekeeping missions. I believe the U.S. would have to pay somewhere in the range of 27 percent of the costs of the peacekeeping mission based on the formula the UN uses. This push back occurred despite the fact that violence was already in full effect and well known. So one way to read the U.S. commitment of resources is as a relatively cheap way to placate the growing push for the UN to intervene. Making a lump sum payment to “support” French and African troops is cheaper than paying a percentage of a very costly peacekeeping mission. People keep pointing out how the U.S. has no strategic or economic interests so that this is purely a morally-based assistance. But in my review the push back by the Obama administration over the past several months shows that it is not about some higher moral principle, but responding to political incentives (cost of UN peacekeeping mission vs. lump-sum payment).
Q: This is an extremely limited intervention compared to other recent actions (Balkans, Libya, etc.). What difference might this make?
CC: Well, the U.S. has limited exposure right now. The worst case scenario is that $100 million is lost or wasted. In the scheme of things this is not much money and U.S. citizens won’t even know about it. Best case some kind of peace is established and then the U.S. government can take partial credit for supporting the effort. More broadly, beyond the U.S., right now the goal of the intervention seems to be to achieve some semblance of peace. But from everything I have read it isn’t that easy. Like most conflicts similar to this this there are no clear “good” or “bad” sides. Further, both sides have weaponry. So there are no clear victims and criminals. In my view, the worst case would be if mission creep sets in and peacekeeping becomes nation building.