The deadline for Member States to approve the budgets of UN peacekeeping operations is this Sunday, June 30. For the second year in a row, the UN’s Fifth Committee, responsible for administrative and budgetary matters, may not reach agreement on peacekeeping budgets before the end of the financial year. The delay puts peacekeeping operations – and the civilians they are mandated to protect – at risk.
Why it matters: Peacekeeping operations will not have the legal authority to spend money or incur expenses if the Fifth Committee misses the Sunday deadline. The Committee missed the deadline last year, approving peacekeeping budgets on July 4, 2018. Legislative maneuvering allowed budgets to be back-dated, which provided retroactive authority for each mission to spend money. But the ability of peacekeeping operations to cope during this uncertain period depended in part on the availability of cash. The situation is even more problematic this year because the UN and its peacekeeping operations are facing an unprecedented cash crisis. (The situation is so bad that the Secretary-General looked into selling his residence to provide liquidity.) This makes the Fifth Committee meeting the June 30 deadline this year all the more essential.
Where is the process at now? Bloomberg reports that the US, China, and Russia have agreed to a reduction of approximately $80 million USD to the global peacekeeping budget. This figure is in addition to the more than $54 million USD in cuts recommended by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the UN Secretary-General’s overall request for $6.6B USD for peacekeeping budget. These cuts may seem modest compared to cuts proposed in previous years. However, after years of progressively steep reductions, and amid political pressure to transition, drawdown, or exit, UN peacekeeping operations are already struggling with scarce resources. Further cuts risk putting peacekeeping missions deployed in complex conflicts like the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and South Sudan in even more precarious positions.
What happens next? Once a global budget figure is agreed upon, a lot more will need to be decided that could entail serious risk to the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations. First, Member States will need to determine how to distribute the cuts across peacekeeping operations and decisions may not be sufficiently connected to peacekeeping mission mandates or needs. Peacekeeping operations with fewer regional and global Member State champions are at risk of bearing the burden of deeper cuts regardless of the context where the peacekeeping operation is deployed, the number of objectives and tasks in the mandate, and the threats facing civilians in the country.
Second, Member States will need to determine whether to allow the UN Secretariat to decide how to distribute the agreed cuts within each mission or to take it upon themselves to conduct micro-surgery on mission budgets. For example, in past years, Member States have chosen to negotiate whether or not individual peacekeeping mission posts will be approved and at what level. These negotiations put positions that are critical to the effective protection of civilians at risk, especially posts that are not well understood or posts that some Member States oppose for political or ideological reasons. For example, last year, China and Russia pushed for massive cuts to peacekeeping staff working on human rights, countering sexual exploitation and abuse, and gender. While China and Russia have not targeted these posts to a similar extent this year, any Member State or regional negotiating bloc could try to advance a similar agenda during rushed last-minute negotiations.
The bottom line: Member States have until Sunday to find compromise and approve the budgets for peacekeeping operations. They should do everything in their power to stick to the June 30 deadline, while also avoiding any cuts that would undermine the ability of peacekeeping operations to implement their mandates and protect civilians. Overall, the whole process is in need of reforms in at least six key areas, which cannot come soon enough.