By Shanta Rao
NEW YORK (IDN) – The UN’s 16 peacekeeping operations (PKOs), funded by a hefty $7.9 billion budget for the current 2016-2017 biennium, are in jeopardy facing threats of drastic cuts – and in some cases, even extinction.
The United States, the largest single contributor accounting for about 28% of that budget, has not only threatened to reduce funding, possibly down to 25%, but is also calling for a downgrading – or even the total elimination– of some of the ongoing missions.
Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in March, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley gave an advance warning when she challenged the current state of peacekeeping operations.
“We will lay out a comprehensive vision for how peacekeeping missions should be reviewed moving forward. We will go back to first principles and ask the hard questions: what was the original intent of the mission? Is the mission achieving its objective? Are we lifting up the people in the region towards independence? What are the mission countries doing to help themselves? Do we have an exit plan? And is there accountability?” she asked.
Currently, there are over 98,200 uniformed personnel, including about 85,408 troops and 12,786 police, serving under the UN flag in some of the world’s political hotspots, mostly in Africa.
On the initiative of the Security Council, the United Nations has already decided to close down three of its peacekeeping missions – in Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire and Haiti – which will soon reduce the number of missions to 13. And some others may follow.
The administration of President Donald Trump, which has already eliminated funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), after wrongly accusing the agency of promoting abortions, is most likely to enforce further cuts, including reductions in U.S. voluntary funding for development and humanitarian causes. (Read U.S. Reasoning Behind Cutting Funds to UNFPA Challenged.)
At present, the U.S. is also the largest single contributor to the UN’s regular budget contributing 22 percent of the $5.4 billion budget for the current biennium. The balance is paid by the remaining 192 member states.
The Trump administration has also cut about 28 percent of the State Department budget for 2018 which will have a spill over negative impact on the United Nations because some of the payments to the UN are drawn from sections of that budget.
But the axe is not likely to fall immediately – largely for administrative reasons.
George A. Lopez, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh Professor Emeritus of Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, told IDN peacekeeping rates and discounts may be re-calculated and changed only every three years by the General Assembly, based on advice from the UN Committee on Contributions.
The next major review, he said, takes place in December 2018. Until then, annual “technical” reviews are held. The 2017 session for this year’s review is in June.
“The U.S. government will have to adhere to these timetables and work with the UN in New York throughout the coming months. But as the rules stand now, no major changes can be made on rates until the next three-year review,” said Lopez, who served on the UN Panel of Experts for monitoring and implementing UN Sanctions on North Korea.
Asked at a press conference April 24 whether UN Secretary-General António Guterres had discussed proposed budget cuts when he briefly met with Trump at the White House on April 21, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “I think the funding and the budgetary process of the U.S. is still ongoing. As we know, there are negotiations and discussions going on in the U.S. Congress according to the constitutional issues in this country.”
Dujarric also said Guterres was “very pleased” with the brief 20-minute discussion he had with Trump. And, he very much looks forward to seeing him again in the near future.
Meanwhile, UN peacekeeping missions have also come under heavy fire following reports of large-scale sexual abuses, including of minors, by peacekeeping troops, at least involving eight incidents under investigation.
Asked about these charges, including statutory rape by some troops, Dujarric told reporters April 21 that out of the eight cases, one is closed, where paternity has been established and an ex gratia payment has been made for child support to the mother by the Member State.
“We are following up the other seven cases with the concerned Member States,” he added.
In some cases, he said, “paternity has been established through DNA testing that the mission has facilitated between the victim and the Member State and in others, we are in touch with the Member State to facilitate the DNA testing and process the claim.”
“We have requested the ministry to encourage the lawyer to provide credentials of one of the victims whose name does not appear in our records. So as far as I understand, the cases are being followed up on, and it’s clear that the Member States of the peacekeepers who are being accused have a responsibility to cooperate and to pay ex gratia, to pay the mothers of the victims and if there was a crime that those people be prosecuted,” he noted
After more than six years of denials, the UN was also forced to admit last year that UN peacekeepers were responsible for the spread of cholera in Haiti which killed over 10,000, and sickened thousands more.
At the political level, Lopez told IDN that many senior U.S. senators are quite upset about Trump’s slashing of the State Department budget and a number of other items that portray the U.S. as isolating itself from the world and U.S. leadership in it.
So, quite ironically, although Republican conservative presidents and even more conservative members of the House and Senate traditionally badmouth the United Nations and have, in fact, cut its funding at various levels in the past, “we might see under Mr. Trump a backlash against this cut in order for those senators to be politically consistent rejecting his approach”.
But as they say “a lot of water must go under the bridge” before we know what will remain in Trump’s budget.
“That being said, I believe the more relevant question is what’s happening at the UN regarding peacekeeping that either might position it to absorb the 3% loss without compromising peacekeeping, and/or what reforms are already underway in UN peacekeeping that might actually please a large and broad group of American leaders because the UN is showing it is trying to be more efficient and accountable”.
These latter concerns are the mantra of U.S. politicians who traditionally attack the UN and talk about budget cutbacks or withdrawal, said Lopez, who once served as the Vice President of the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, as part of the Secretariat’s ongoing review of costs and the use of resources provided by the Member States, on April 20, Guterres launched an initiative to reduce costs by increasing the efficiency in the use of air assets in peacekeeping missions.
The UN currently deploys 58 fixed-wing and 157 rotary-wing aircraft in 12 of the 16 peacekeeping missions and 6 special political missions. The annual cost of these aircraft was close to $750 million in 2015-2016.
While these assets provide essential logistics and military-enabling capabilities, given their significant cost implications, the Secretary-General has asked the heads of field missions to systematically analyse and adjust the composition and utilisation of their air fleet and to seek alternative solutions that may be more cost-effective. This is also an opportunity for missions to innovate, said Dujarric.
According to the United Nations, the first peacekeeping mission was set up in 1948 to monitor the Armistice Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbours – an operation which became known as the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).
Since then, 69 peacekeeping missions have been deployed, and more than 3,326 UN peacekeepers from some 120 countries have died while serving under the UN flag. In 1988, peacekeeping operations received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Lopez said that looking exclusively at the situation from a UN vantage point, there could be not a better time for the UN to show it’s cleaning up its act on inefficiencies, errors and lack of accountability in UN peacekeeping.
He said there are still a number of reforms yet to be implemented from the high-level review panel’s recommendations for peacekeeping that reported in the final days of former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Many of these will result in serious improvements in both efficiency and budget. Moreover, the new Secretary-General has shown a smart approach to UN reform in ways that clearly will revamp and make cost-efficient changes to UN peacekeeping.
“So in some respects, the UN is already cleaning its house without being intimidated or bankrupted to do so. If this proceeds, then both the UN and the U.S. can declare a kind of victory and live with the three-year allocation that comes out somewhere between 25 and 28%”, said Lopez, who was a onetime senior research associate at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York City.
Referring to the closing down of three peacekeeping missions, he said: “A number of us would believe that Ivory Coast and Liberia are long overdue, as UN sanctions and other big programs have come to a close there as well. Each nation’s stability is a triumph of UN work.”
Meanwhile, “the public relations nightmare and humanitarian tragedy related to the Haiti mission means we probably need a greater multilateral focus on how to improve human security in Haiti, but it certainly cannot flow from multilateral peacekeepers under UN auspices.”
These three cases of changes might provide the impression of increased efficiencies and accountability, Lopez declared. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 April 2017]
Photo: UN Secretary-General António Guterres (left) swears in Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. 12 April 2017. United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.
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