The UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Fifth Committee (5C) concluded its annual session on peacekeeping budgets on July 3rd, missing the fiscal-year deadline by three days. This blog post provides an overview of the key outcomes from the 5C session, such as: the overall peacekeeping budget for 2019-2020; staffing positions; the financial situation facing UN peacekeeping; and negotiations on recommendations by an independent Board of Auditors.

Peacekeeping Budgets: The 5C agreed to an overall UN peacekeeping budget of $6.51 billion for the July 2019-June 2020 budget year. The approved figure is approximately $119 million less than what the UN Secretary-General requested in his initial proposal.

How did the 5C reach this figure?

The Secretary-General requested $6.6B for the global peacekeeping budget for 2019-2020. The Advisory Committee for Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), a body of 15 independent experts that provide recommendations to the 5C, recommended a reduction of $54M to the Secretary-General’s request. The 5C then trimmed an additional $65M in its negotiations, resulting in the final approved figure of $6.51B – or about 1.8% less than the Secretary-General’s initial request.

How does the 2019-2020 figure compare to last year?

The peacekeeping budget for 2019-2020 is $510M less than the $7.02B approved for 2018-2019. The decrease in the overall budget for this year is in part due to a slimmed-down request for MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and budget requests made for a six-month period by MINUJUSTH in Haiti and UNAMID in Sudan.

How did the overall budget figure fall across the larger peacekeeping missions?

Despite the downward trend in the overall peacekeeping budget, individual missions were impacted differently by the 5C’s decisions:

  • The approved budgets for MINUSMA in Mali and UNMISS in South Sudan were both lower than the initial requests by the Secretary-General for 2019-2020. However, the budgets of both missions increased when compared to last year: MINUSMA’s budget increased by $63.7M to $1.13B, while the UNMISS budget increased by $58.4M to $1.18B.
  • MONUSCO’s budget proposal was $91M less than last year’s approved figure, and the mission had an additional $11M cut imposed by the 5C, resulting in a budget of $1.01B.
  • MINUSCA, the UN mission in the Central African Republic, had its budget reduced by $20M compared to last year. MINUSCA also took the biggest cut of any peacekeeping mission – $15.4M – to its proposed budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Staffing Positions: The 5C and ACABQ notoriously micromanage peacekeeping budgets, including by scrutinizing individual posts, particularly those that focus on issues like gender and human rights. The micromanaging of posts by the 5C appeared to be relatively restrained during the 2019 session.

Last year, China and Russia proposed sweeping cuts to human rights posts in the Committee. These cuts to existing positions were ultimately avoided last year, although no new ones were approved. This year, these usual suspects may not have introduced proposals of similar scale, but ultimately the 5C cut three vacant human rights posts (two in MINUSMA and one in MINUSCA), and blocked the redeployment of a training officer in MONUSCO’s human rights office. These measures illustrate the continued difficulties facing human rights positions in peacekeeping operations in the Committee.

In a positive step, the 5C decided to establish the post of Strategic Planner in MINUSMA, against the recommendation of the ACABQ not to do so. We explain in a previous blog post why these positions and others are important to peacekeeping operations.

The Financial Situation of UN Peacekeeping: The General Assembly approved two measures to mitigate the unprecedented cash crisis facing UN peacekeeping operations in response to alarms raised by the Secretary-General:

First, the Committee approved the ability for peacekeeping missions to cross-borrow between accounts of missions on a trial basis (while requesting the Secretary-General ensure that lending the funds does not negatively impact budgets). Prior to this, peacekeeping missions were unable to lend money to each other to address liquidity issues. 

Second, assessment letters to Member States – essentially the “bill” for a given mission – can now be issued for the full budget period of that mission. This is intended to allow for better predictability in payments and easing financial planning for Member States and peacekeeping missions.  

The approved mitigating measures may provide short-term relief, but the UN’s problems with liquidity are likely to remain. Ultimately, Member States must pay their dues to peacekeeping in full and on time.

The Board of Auditors Report: The Board of Auditors, an independent body of three Auditor-Generals tasked with auditing the UN and its programs and funds, issued a report ahead of the session with recommendations, including on peacekeeping performance. The recommendations called the Secretary-General to implement reforms regarding, among other issues, force generation, caveats, linking reimbursements of troop- and police-contributing countries to performance, authority, and coordination of strategic air assets, and procurement of air assets.

The Group of 77 called for a vote on a resolution (unusual in the Fifth Committee, which usually operates by consensus) on the report, which requested the Secretary-General not to implement these recommendations. This resolution was adopted by the General Assembly, with the vote largely splitting western countries against the G77, which contains some of the largest troop and police-contributors to UN peacekeeping operations.

The request for the Secretary-General to not implement the Board’s recommendations, especially those focusing on performance, came as a disappointment. Indeed, some of the Board’s recommendations are similar to those that 152 Member States have endorsed in the Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping Operations as part of recent peacekeeping reform efforts under the Action for Peacekeeping initiative.   

The Bottom Line: The outcomes at the 5C in 2019 further illustrate the challenges ahead in delivering on peacekeeping reform. There are considerable steps that need to be taken by Member States and the Secretariat to address the gap between mandates and resources, and resolve outstanding divisions on matters of peacekeeping policy.

CORRECTION: The G77 did not request the vote on the BoA resolution, as helpfully pointed out to us on Twitter. The G77 tabled an L-document, which led to the United States to propose an oral amendment and call for a vote on the resolution after the proposal for the amendment failed. See: https://undocs.org/A/73/671/Add.1

Image courtesy of UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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