United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres rightly prioritizes performance by including it as one of the five pillars of his Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) reform initiative. Peacekeeping operations are a principal tool, and one of the most expensive and visible ways, that the UN intervenes to prevent and mitigate conflict. Improving peacekeeping performance is thus essential, but it will not be easy.
The United Nations General Assembly has approved $6.8 billion in peacekeeping expenditures for the 2017/18 budget year. This total will increase, possibly to as much as $7.3 billion, since states only agreed on the first six months of funding for two ongoing operations. Yet even that total would still be some $600 million less than the amount requested by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and $500 million less than the approved resources for the previous year.
United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has celebrated this reduction: “Just five months into our time here, we’ve already been able to cut over half a billion dollars from the U.N. peacekeeping budget and we’re only getting started.” The UN’s Africa Group has warned, however, that excessive budget cuts would “endanger the implementation of [mission] mandates.”
This potentially effective unit is being hamstrung by politics and concerns about using force in peace operations.
The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), the sharp end of MONUSCO – the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – earned its stripes in 2013 when it helped the DRC’s army defeat the powerful Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in the east of the country.
But not a lot has been heard about the FIB since, though it has remained deployed in the eastern part of the country for four years. What has it been doing?
The unit of some 3 000 troops from South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi has a more muscular mission than the rest of MONUSCO to use necessary force to ‘neutralise’ all the ‘negative’ armed rebel groups in eastern DRC. Its second target was supposed to be the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the armed group founded in the mid-1990s by Rwandan Hutus who fled the country after the genocide against the Tutsis.
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 are strong calls to give UN peacekeeping operations more robust mandates to engage in counter-terrorism tasks. But the idea of UN peacekeepers conducting counter-terrorism operations is not without its problems.
Terrorist attacks have been increasing rapidly over the last decade. According to the Global Terrorism Index, 29,376 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2015. This was the second deadliest year after 2014, when 32,765 people were killed. The spike in 2014 and decline in 2015 is largely a result of the rise and subsequent weakening of Boko Haram and the Islamic State (IS).
Fatigue after long engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq and the continued impact of the financial crisis has significantly dampened the interest in new out-of-area operations among Western member states. At the same time, the threats of terrorism and migration remain at the top of the foreign policy agenda. It is in this environment that policy makers are turning to the UN, to see what role it can play in the global security burden-sharing. This means a more transactional relationship with the UN, not necessarily considering the longer-term impact of undermining its impartiality and legitimacy.