Congress Forgot About Mali

The United States Congress is poised to pass a $1.012 trillion appropriations bill. It is a massive bill, covering every aspect of federal spending. But one thing it neglects to fund is the US share of the peacekeeping bill for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

The omnibus bill allocates almost $2 billion for UN Peacekeeping. It allocates precisely zero dollars to support the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali. This is bad for Mali, harmful to counter-terrorism efforts in Africa, and undermines UN Peacekeeping missions elsewhere.

Mali fell apart last year and is struggling to get back on its feet. A French military intervention backed by the UN was able to break al Qaeda-aligned rebel groups’ hold on much of the country. In April 2013, the USA backed a Security Council resolution authorizing a peacekeeping force of over 12,000 to help maintain security in territories once controlled by these groups.

This mission has  important counter-terrorism implications. al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is active in Northern Mali and the surrounding area. Its carried out attacks on peacekeepers and journalists, and one year ago tomorrow launched a brazen attack on an oil refinery compound in Algeria. At least 39 foreign oil workers were killed in that attack, including Americans.

AQIM and other al Qaeda backed rebel groups are much diminished thanks to the forceful French intervention, but they have not gone away. The MINUSMA mission provides security for beleaguered populations to prevent a return of these groups and is helping to rebuild local Mali security forces. This is long-term state institution building that provides a bulwark against the kind of lawlessness that lets al Qaeda operate with impunity.

Alas, MINUSMA is undertaking this critical task with one hand tied behind its back.  So far, only about 6,000 peacekeepers have been deployed. The delay is largely due to a lack of funding for the mission. The United States is assessed 28% of the cost of each peacekeeping mission and it is unable to pay that share of the Mali mission, which amounts to roughly $350 million.

The mission in Mali will suffer for this lack of resources. But the consequence beyond Mali could be profound. For example, the Security Council is contemplating a peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic to forestall a potential genocide-situation there. But if the USA won’t even pay for already-existing missions, it is hard to see how it will pay for any new ones.

“As crisis escalates in the Central African Republic, how can we, in good faith, urge the Security Council to weigh further action if the U.S. won’t share the burden for these missions?” Peter Yeo, Better World Campaign executive director said in a statement. “What signal does that send to the countries providing troops, particularly in an era where peacekeeping has gotten more dangerous and deadly?”

Unfortunately, the chances of corrective action are minimal. The omnibus bill will almost certainly pass as is, and Congress is almost certainly not going to pass any new appropriations this year.

The Mali mission will suffer. Counter-terrorism will suffer. UN Peacekeeping will suffer.  And the USA will go into arrears as the peacekeeping bills pile up.  Bad move all around.