The UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, the Member State body that negotiates administrative issues and budgets, is getting closer to the June 30th deadline to approve the 2021-2022 peacekeeping budgets. During the final stretch, Member States should recognize that missions continue to provide critical protection to civilians, approve responsible budgets that reflect the security situation in mission contexts, and ensure that the budget process is resulting in adequate resources that match mission mandates.
Numbers Don’t Lie…
The number of peacekeeping missions and their budgets have decreased significantly over the last decade from peak-levels of over $8.5 billion dollars. This is especially apparent once the dollar figures are adjusted for inflation, as illustrated in the table and figure below, which was included in a recent Secretary-General’s overview report to the Fifth Committee. Mission closures in Haiti, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, and the current transition of UNAMID in Darfur, Sudan explain much of the downward trend. However, remaining missions have also felt the pinch, a casualty of a budgeting process that is in desperate need of reform.
Responding to this downward trend in budgets, missions are submitting budget requests that either maintain zero-growth or include cost reductions. Moreover, after missions submit their budgets, the budget negotiations are hardwired to impose cuts after cuts as the process moves forward.
First, an opaque and influential Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which is comprised of 21 members serving in their individual capacity, prepares recommendations on the overall budgets and individual line-items in the requests. The ACABQ’s recommendations almost always recommend cuts to the proposed budgets. Member States use the ACABQ recommendations as a baseline for negotiations. The ACABQ’s recommendations are not binding, but Member States tacitly agree to them to simplify incredibly complicated and detailed budget negotiations. Challenges to the ACABQ recommendations could open up Pandora’s box, giving permission to Member State negotiating blocs to engage in horse-trading with other blocs, which requires significant time and political capital that many Member States don’t have the capacity to commit.
Second, Member States often impose further cuts to the ACABQ’s recommendations. This could be for a range of potential reasons, including that Member States may feel missions fail to present a strong rationale for budget requests; assume that missions pad their budget requests or that imposing cuts will force missions to find efficiencies; and/or have ideological and political positions against peacekeeping writ large, specific missions, or specific mandated tasks. Mission planning and budget development processes need significant reform and efficiencies likely could and should be found, but downsizing budgets isn’t translating into action. Instead, they contradict Member State and Secretary-General commitments to match mandates with resources.
The table below illustrates how some of the big peacekeeping missions continue to submit budget requests that maintain zero-growth or include cost reductions. Missions’ ability to absorb cuts without impacts to mandate delivery have been hampered by the downward pressures of past years. This year, as the table below shows, the ACABQ is recommending steeper cuts than in previous years, despite a conservative approach taken by the missions. By recommending significant cuts, the ACABQ handicaps the negotiations. In response, Member States should push back against the ACABQ where possible.
…But They Don’t Tell the Whole Truth
Member States should tether the budget negotiations on assessments of the security environments in which the missions operate, the threats faced by civilians in these environments, and the requirements for effective mandate implementation, including the protection of civilians where mandated.
This year, MINUSCA’s budget request was supplemented with additional requirements to finance the extra troops and police that the UN Security Council authorized earlier this year. The Mission urgently needs more troops and police. MINUSCA was already overstretched when it had to respond to the violence related to the presidential and legislative elections that took place late last year. MINUSCA has been particularly impacted by downward budget pressures in the past. The Council has added new tasks to the mandate, including to support elections and national security forces, but the Mission hasn’t requested or received the resources needed to match its mandate.
MINUSMA submitted a budget request with zero growth, though some costs, including reimbursements to contingent owned equipment, have increased. At the same time, the need for MINUSMA to protect civilians has never been greater. More civilians were killed in conflict-related violence in Mali in 2020 than in any previous year. In each of the past four years, the number of civilians killed has exceeded the previous year’s death toll. Moreover, security threats are spreading southwards into regions where MINUSMA has virtually no presence and does not currently conduct patrols.
MONUSCO’s budget request already includes a two percent cut to the current budget levels, largely due to closure of field offices in the Tanganyika and Kasai provinces as part of a transition process. Further cuts could hamper effective mandate implementation at a critical moment for MONUSCO. The security situation is deteriorating in many of the DRC’s eastern provinces and many drivers of violence in the Kasais and Tanganyika, from which MONUSCO is due to drawdown and exit, remain unaddressed. In this context, MONUSCO will need adequate resources, including key civilian staff, uniformed staff, and resources for mobility and travel, to maintain flexibility.
UNMISS’s proposed budget includes a four percent reduction, mostly coming from downsizing of the military and police components. This significant reduction is proposed despite concerning conflict trends. Inter-communal violence—much of it politicized—rose a staggering amount during 2020 and ongoing tensions may further rise and lead to violence in anticipation of elections in the coming years. In this context, further disproportionate reductions to UNMISS’s budget could undermine UNMISS’s ability to implement its protection of civilians mandate.
Finally, missions are not requesting many of the critical and often lacking resources that are needed to effectively implement protection of civilians mandates, including strategic planning cells, dedicated personnel to implement the Comprehensive Planning and Performance Assessment System, and field-based analysis, planning, and coordination capabilities. Missions may have become discouraged from requesting the resources they need, including key civilian staff because the ACABQ has recommended against these requests in past years.
What Must be Done?
Member States should be mindful of the steep cuts recommended by the ACABQ and avoid additional ones. More specifically, Member States should insert policy language in mission budget resolutions and in a potential resolution on crosscutting issues to highlight the importance of matching mandates with resources, including in support of the protection of civilians. Progressive language could encourage missions to request what they need in future budgets and help change the trajectory of future peacekeeping budget negotiations. Moving forward, peacekeeping stakeholders from mission planners to the ACABQ, Secretariat, and Member States should consider ways to reform budget negotiations, moving away from a process that is rigged toward downsizing to a more constructive one that matches Security Council mandates with adequate resources.