US PRESIDENT Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to slash funding to the United Nations, with fears growing that peacekeeeping missions will have to be drastically reduced.
The UN has often faced threats from American politicians, but this time the White House has telegraphed a clear intent to follow through on its promises: Were absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to various foreign aid programmes, said Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director.
Fortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.First, Trump has to get his proposed budget through the US Congress and then, even if he does, where and when to cut the presence of blue helmets around the globe relies on tricky diplomatic manoeuvring and careful navigation of the UN’s bureaucratic roadblocks.
The current UN peacekeeping budget for the year ending 30 June, 2017, is $7.78 billion. The US provides 28.57% of this budget, followed by China and Japan at around 10%, then Germany, France, and the UK.
The UN’s five most expensive missions are MONUSCO, deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; UNMISS, deployed in South Sudan; UNAMID, deployed in Darfur, Sudan; MINUSMA, deployed in Mali; and MINUSCA, deployed in the Central African Republic. Together, the five missions soak up more than $5.2 billion, or 67%of the entire peacekeeping budget.
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In order for significant cuts to be made, you have to see some major changes to existing missions like CAR or Mali or DR Congo, said Peter Yeo of the UN Foundation. If you want to get serious numbers, said Bathsheba Crocker, assistant secretary of international organisation affairs at the State Department during President Barack Obamas administration, its very hard to do without these big missions taking some hits.
MONUSCO The Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN’s mission in the DRC is its most expensive peacekeeping operation, with an approved budget of $1.23 billion. Nearly 19,000 peacekeepers are deployed in the country, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently requested that the Security Council send 320 additional police to handle election-related unrest. The Council meets in March to consider mandate renewal. It could be a first sign of how the US’s mission to the UN, led by Ambassador Nikki Haley, plans to throw its weight around.
But it may also be too soon to gauge, with the ink on the White House budget barely dry, and little sense of how Congress will proceed. Recent violence and the disappearance of two UN experts and their teams have ratcheted concerns.
At the Security Council, France has circulated a draft resolution to renew the mandate. Last week, Frances UN ambassador Francoise Delattre said he was open to negotiations aimed at reforming MONUSCO, as long as they remained focused on protection of civilians and preparing for elections. We should not be playing with fire when it comes to such high stakes, he added.
“What commitments should the Council expect of countries hosting UN peace operations where the UN is helping the government to establish its authority throughout its territory,” asked the US note, specifically referring to MONUSCO, as well as missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Somalia.
Negotiations around MONUSCO are going to be the first evidence of how these battles play out, said Akshaya Kumar, deputy UN director at Human Rights Watch. In many ways you need MONUSCO to do more, not less, in the coming year. Slimming down the mission at the same time as the country is gearing up for elections could be really problematic.
My guess is that the DRC mission will stay in some capacity, although the government pretty much wants it to leave, assessed David Curran, a peacekeeping research fellow at Coventry University.
UNMISS South Sudan
Authorised on 8 July, 2011 one day before South Sudan became independent the missions task changed drastically following the outbreak of civil war in December 2013. Today, the mission protects a quarter of a million displaced South Sudanese civilians at its bases, including more than 120,000 just in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. The mission has been censured for previous failures to intervene in violence against civilians and aid workers.
It would be hard to rationalise shutting down a mission in a country where UN officials have repeatedly highlighted the threat of genocide, and where famine has been declared in some areas. But UNMISS may find its funding at risk simply because of the need to find ways of overall tightening.
With an approved budget of $1.08 billion, UNMISS is the second most expensive UN mission. According to State Department figures, the US financed the mission in 2016 to the tune of $315.47 million. The UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) reports that 12,923 uniformed personnel are currently deployed, along with 1,973 civilians. In December 2016, the missions mandate was renewed and the Security Council reaffirmed the authorisation of a 4,000-member Regional Protection Force. That force has yet to be allowed into the country, underscoring the impasse.
UNAMID Darfur, Sudan
UNAMID is the UN’s *third costliest mission, and its first hybrid deployment. 2017 marks the 10-year anniversary of the joint UN-African Union enterprise, and at an annual price tag of $1.03 billion, it has been one of the most expensive endeavours ever conducted by the organisation. Beset by scandals and an inability some say unwillingness to operate freely, the mission has long been under pressure. UN officials say it is not always easy to quantify the return on investment for UNAMID a metric the US now appears bent on amplifying. In a region historically vulnerable to genocide, it acts as a deterrent (a weak one, critics say) and provides leverage against the government in Khartoum. Several Security Council diplomats told IRIN that UNAMID needs at the very least to be reformed.
The 16,000-strong mission is currently mandated through June 2017. It may be the case that the calls for UNAMID to leave are more open now than ever before, said David Curran, a peacekeeping research fellow at Coventry University.
It is a very troubled mission for sure; it is also a very troubled part of the world, offered Crocker. The Security Council, she said, should make sure that any decisions that are made about downsizing the mission are made on a realistic strategic assessment of the needs on the ground.
Several diplomats suggested that the US may negotiate hard on UNAMID, potentially raising the threat perhaps feigned of vetoing its renewal.
I would imagine Darfur (UNAMID) may receive the most attention as the protection situation there is perhaps less acute than in DRC and South Sudan, said de Coning.
The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali is one of its most expensive and also one of the deadliest. More than 70 peacekeepers have been killed since MINUSMAs deployment in July 2013, following French intervention against extremists and rebel groups. Blue helmets are targeted by and involved in fights with regional al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremists. Currently, more than 13,000 peacekeepers are deployed.
Because of the missions counter-terrorism role, some diplomats consider it better safeguarded from cuts than other deployments. It is also relatively new by UN standards. In February, Canada reportedly delayed deployment of its peacekeepers to the country because it was wary of US plans across all missions. The overall security situation remains worrying, UN peacekeeping chief Herv Ladsous said last week during a visit. MINUSMA will cost $933 million in the fiscal year ending June 2017.
MINUSCA Central African Republic
A mission notorious for rampant sexual abuse among its peacekeepers, some diplomats consider MINUSCA too recently created for large scale retrenchment. Deployed in April 2014, there are currently more than 12,000 peacekeepers in the country. MINUSCA will cost roughly $920 million this year.
On 16 March, Haley met with Faustin-Archange Touadra, president of the Central African Republic. According to a readout, she expressed Americas commitment to both MINUSCA and how to make it as efficient and effective as possible. In a speech before the Security Council on the same day, deputy US representative Michele Sison also largely endorsed the mission; repeating that America wanted to make MINUSCA an even more efficient and more effective peacekeeping mission. She did note the sexual exploitation and abuse tied to the mission, but did not criticise its staffing.
The current mandate expires in November 2017.
-A longer version of this story was first published on IRIN, read it here. The author is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to IRIN.