UN approves $800 million budget cut to peacekeeping

UN peacekeepers stand guard in the war-torn town of Golo, in central Darfur, June 19, 2017.
UN peacekeepers stand guard in the war-torn town of Golo, in central Darfur, June 19, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) – The United Nations on Friday (June 30) approved a nearly US$600 million (S$800 million) cut to its peacekeeping budget following pressure from the United States to reduce funding to the world body.

The General Assembly approved by consensus the annual budget expected to total US$7.3 billion, down from the current US$7.87 billion spent on peace missions worldwide.

UN member-states agreed to US$6.8 billion to finance 14 missions, but an additional US$500 million earmarked for peacekeeping in Haiti and in Sudan’s Darfur region will get final approval in December.

The United States, the biggest financial contributor to peacekeeping, had sought a nearly US$1 billion cut to the bill and the European Union had also pushed for savings to bring costs down to US$7.3 billion.

The budget, however, fell short of what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had sought from member-states.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the financing is “meaningfully smaller than what we had last year” but that the world body will “make every effort to ensure that the mandates are implemented.”

“We cannot overstate the value of peacekeeping,” said Dujarric. “It remains the most cost-effective instrument at the disposal of the international community to prevent conflicts and foster conditions for lasting peace.”

UN officials have repeatedly argued that the cost of peacekeeping is a fraction of military expenditures worldwide.

Most of the budget cuts will come from the closure of the mission in Haiti, a sharp drawdown of peacekeepers in Darfur along with some downsizing to the large peace operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

ONLY GETTING STARTED

After the budget deal was reached in a General Assembly committee on Wednesday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed victory and vowed there would be deeper cuts in the future.

“Just five months into our time here, we’ve already been able to cut over half a billion dollars from the UN peacekeeping budget and we’re only getting started,” Haley said.

Washington pays 28.5 per cent of the peacekeeping budget and 22 per cent of the UN’s core budget of US$5.4 billion.

While the United States pushed for the biggest cut, European countries and Japan also wanted to rein in the budget while Russia and China did not put up opposition to moves to streamline missions, diplomats said.

China, Japan, Germany, France along with the United States are the five top financial contributors to peacekeeping.

Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, whose country is among the top 10 peacekeeping financiers, said that while the cuts were “substantial,” the “operational activities in all locations have been protected and preserved.”

Ambassador Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay, whose troops serve in Haiti and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said better management of the missions could help cushion the blow from the budget cuts.

“It’s going to hurt,” Rosselli told reporters, but “there are problems in peacekeeping that are not exclusively related to funding.”

The Security Council on Thursday approved a major drawdown of peacekeepers from the UNAMID mission in Darfur but kept the force levels for the MINUSMA operation in Mali unchanged.

On Friday, the United Nations officially closed its mission in Ivory Coast, ending its 13-year presence in the West African country.

The United Nations has about 95,000 peacekeepers serving in its missions worldwide.