This is the fourth piece in a series that CIVIC is publishing throughout 2019 to mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council taking up the protection of civilians on its agenda. Follow along here, on Facebook, and on Twitter as we mark this important anniversary year.


UN Member States are fast approaching the annual deadline of June 30 to conclude negotiations of UN peacekeeping budgets. An effective budgeting process determined on time is critical to the success of the multibillion-dollar enterprise of peacekeeping. However, there are a number of flaws in the budgeting process that detract from the imperative of providing peacekeeping operations with the resources and capabilities needed to perform and implement their mandates to protect civilians. Reforms are needed in at least six areas to enable decision-making that focuses on delivering the capabilities and resources required to improve peacekeeping operation performance.

First, Member States need to align their peacekeeping policies and priorities across UN bodies to ensure that peacekeeping operation mandates are matched with the means needed for implementation. As CIVIC noted during last year’s budget negotiations, the UN Security Council, composed of five permanent members and 10 elected members, authorizes peacekeeping missions and determines their mandated objectives and tasks. However, the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, composed of representatives of all Member States, determine whether peacekeeping operations have the financial resources to implement those mandates. The Fifth Committee negotiations are not transparent, well understood, or monitored closely by media and advocacy organizations. The obscure process gives cover to Member States, including Security Council Members, to cut budget lines critical to mandate implementation and effective peacekeeping that they may oppose for ideological or other political reasons.

Second, the budget process must be revamped to enable peacekeeping missions, the Secretariat, Member States, and other stakeholders to monitor and evaluate whether mission activities are contributing to impact and what capabilities are needed to carry out those activities. Member State, Secretariat, and peacekeeping mission personnel have all commented to CIVIC that the current UN peacekeeping results-based budgeting process focuses too heavily on activities and outputs, such as the number of patrols completed or flights flown, instead of impact. As a result, when Member States want to cut mission budgets, it can be difficult to understand the potential negative impact on priority mandated tasks. Better data on the impact of patrols or flights to implementation of protection of civilians mandates of peacekeeping missions might persuade Member States to provide adequate funding for these activities.

Third, Member States need to link their decisions on whether and when to downsize missions to the crisis context. Member States, in particular the United States, have been taking steps to downsize and transition or withdraw peacekeeping missions in some contexts by cutting personnel and mission budgets. Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. government has pushed for cuts to UN peacekeeping budgets in part to try to force greater efficiency and effectiveness and in part because most administrations and members of the U.S. Congress feel the United States assessed dues for UN peacekeeping are too high.

Fourth, UN peacekeeping missions should build budgets based on what they need to implement their mandates. The restrictive budgetary environment has not only impacted the Fifth Committee negotiations, it has impacted how UN peacekeeping missions develop their budgets. Keenly aware of the tight budgetary environment, some peacekeeping missions have forgone requesting needed assets and capabilities in their budget proposals.

Fifth, expert bodies advising Member States and the Member States should stop micro-managing mission budgets. Before reaching the Fifth Committee, all the proposed peacekeeping budgets are reviewed by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) – a body of 15 elected individuals with the responsibility of acting in an expert capacity to advise the Fifth Committee. When reviewing and making recommendations to Member States, the ACABQ focuses too much on individual civilian staff posts and annual variations in spending across budget lines, instead of performance and capabilities needed to achieve results. Moreover, positions of some ACABQ members can often be colored by the political, financial, and ideological agendas of the countries they are affiliated with, most notably with respect to human rights and gender advisors, posts that are crucial for effective protection of civilians. Many Member States find it difficult to go against the advice of the ACABQ and/or they take advantage of the body’s recommendations to further their own political, financial, and ideological agendas.

The ACABQ’s scrutiny of one post is illustrative of the disconnect between the budgeting process and peacekeeping performance. In the landmark resolution 2436, the Security Council called for all stakeholders to support efforts of the Secretary-General to develop a comprehensive performance assessment system (CPAS). Tools like CPAS have the potential to contribute to more data-driven decision-making, including the ability to allocate resources based on performance, but these tools cannot be deployed without resources. However, the ACABQ recommended against the addition of a strategic planner intended to support the roll out of CPAS in their report on the budget proposal of the peacekeeping operation in Mali (MINUSMA). Missions have very small strategic planning units, often consisting of one to three individuals that have to dedicate much of their time to developing and reporting on the current, inadequate, results-based budget materials. Yet, the ACABQ recommended against the position citing that existing capacities in the mission were sufficient.

Finally, Member States should allocate resources across missions based on the capacity requirements of each mission. Micromanaging staffing and individual budget lines are not the only problems: the process of budget negotiations can be arbitrary at the macro-level as well. The Fifth Committee has to agree on one combined budget figure out of which all peacekeeping operations will be funded. This figure is essentially dictated by the biggest financial contributors and is usually less than the overall budget proposed by the Secretary-General. After this figure is established, the resulting cuts have to be distributed across missions, which turns the negotiation process into a political zero-sum game with Member States fighting to allocate scarce financial resources to their favored missions. As a result, UN peacekeeping operations with fewer Member State constituents, such as the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) which is already operating under capacity, may end up taking the brunt of the cuts.

The net effect of all the aforementioned shortcomings is an overly politicized process that is unmoored from determining and providing what UN peacekeeping operations need to effectively protect civilians in conflict zones. The recommendation that budgeting processes should focus more on mission needs and performance is not new. The 2015 High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) recommended that the ACABQ, Fifth Committee, and the UN Secretariat should focus more on results instead of incremental costs, while the same report acknowledged that improving the budgeting methodology is required to enable more strategic discussions. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council’s first explicit authorization of a UN Peacekeeping operation to protect civilians. Member States and the Secretariat should use this anniversary as a jumping off point to accelerate efforts to address these significant barriers to effective budgeting and peacekeeping performance. In the meantime, as the negotiations at the Fifth Committee approach their June deadline, Member States should avoid cuts that impair protection of civilians mandates.

Image courtesy of UN Photo/Gema Cortes