Under US pressure, UN agrees deep cuts to peacekeeping

UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on June 22, 2017.
UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on June 22, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) – A tentative deal to cut nearly US$600 million (S$800 million) from the UN peacekeeping budget was reached on Wednesday (June 28), capping weeks of tough negotiations over US demands for a sharp reduction in costs, UN diplomats said.

Under the deal agreed by a budget committee of the General Assembly, the United Nations will spend US$7.3 billion on peacekeeping in the coming year, down from the current US$7.87 billion – roughly a 7 per cent cut – according to diplomats familiar with the negotiations.

The United States, the biggest financial contributor to UN 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.

Hardest hit by the cuts will be the UN missions in Sudan’s troubled region of Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the two costliest operations with budgets that run over US$1 billion.

The closure of the UN mission in Haiti in October will also generate savings.

A Security Council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said however there will be “cuts across the board” in the 13 missions as a result of US pressure.

But French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the cuts will allow the missions to continue their peacekeeping work “while being more efficient.”

“The savings proposed in the budget have been carefully targeted,” Delattre told AFP.

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.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley wants to bring the US share of the peacekeeping budget down to 25 per cent. China, Japan, Germany and France are the four biggest peacekeeping financial backers after the United States.

The budget deal falls short of what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was seeking. He had put forward a budget of US$7.97 billion for the year which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2018.

It also drops below the budget proposal of African countries which had sought US$7.7 billion.

The deal is expected to be approved by the UN General Assembly on Friday.

BIG CUTS TO DARFUR MISSION

The Security Council is expected to vote as early as Thursday on significant cuts to the 17,000-strong joint African Union-UN mission in Darfur known as UNAMID.

Britain on Wednesday circulated a draft resolution that provides for a two-stage drawdown over the next 12 months, in line with the recommendations of a joint AU-UN report released last month.

The measure would cut UNAMID force levels to reach 8,735 troops and 2,500 police by June 2018, a 44 per cent cut in military personnel and nearly 30 per cent in police, according to the draft text obtained by AFP.

The drawdown, however, could be reviewed if the Sudanese government fails to ensure protection in those areas from where the peacekeepers will withdraw.

Under the proposed measure, Guterres will report to the council after six months on whether “conditions on the ground remain conducive to further reductions.” The draft resolution welcomes a “reduction in military confrontations between government forces and rebel groups,” but rights groups maintain that the conflict in Darfur is far from over.

Human Rights Watch has criticised the proposed cuts as “misguided,” saying civilians in Darfur still need protection.

Darfur has been engulfed in conflict since 2003, when ethnic minority insurgents mounted a rebellion against President Omar al-Bashir, complaining that his Arab-dominated government was marginalising the region.

The council is expected to vote this week on the UN mission in Mali, but that peace operation is not expected to face drastic cuts.