Despite organised crime being recognised as a serious threat to international peace and security, UN missions still lack clear mandates to tackle the problem.
Several studies and UN reports over the past two decades have demonstrated how armed groups — including extremist movements — resort to illicit trafficking to finance their activities and detailed how organised crime can be an important driver of conflict and instability, particularly when it penetrates and/or co-opts States institutions at the local and national levels. Organised crime, then, is recognised as a serious threat to international peace and security.
As the prospect of United States funding cuts hangs over the United Nations and its flagship peacekeeping operations like the sword of Damocles, many are asking whether the threat might in fact provide the impetus for necessary reforms. The picture will become clearer at the April 6 Security Council thematic debate on peacekeeping, which the US is organizing. If UN member states remain focused on reform and reinvest in political strategies, and if the bureaucracy helps itself by initiating real rather than merely rhetorical change, a positive outcome is possible.
Reports of proposed US cuts have generated much panic around Turtle Bay for the past couple of months. This started with a January draft US presidential executive order—never signed into action—recommending “eliminating wasteful and counterproductive giving” to the world body. It culminated in March with the release of the US federal budget blueprint for 2018, which confirmed the White House’s intention to cut 40% of the State Department’s $2.2 billion annual contribution to the UN’s overall peacekeeping budget, which comes to just under $8 billion.
There was little media coverage of last month’s United Nations ministerial meeting on Mali—opened by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—held on the sidelines of the General Assembly in New York. This was in stark contrast to four years ago, when United States presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned the conflict in northern Mali during a debate with Barack Obama. Does this mean that Mali is falling off a busy multilateral agenda dominated by the refugee crisis, Syria, and the transition to a new UN secretary-general?
The optimists would see it as a sign that the situation is not as bad as it once seemed, and that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), deployed in July 2013, is—alongside French counterterrorist force Barkhane—helping to prevent terrorist groups reoccupying northern Mali. Yet this goes against observations of “a doubling in the number of attacks perpetrated by violent extremist groups in northern Mali” and the fact that “attacks have spread to the center of the country” as Ban noted in his most recent Mali report to the Security Council.