A UN Peacekeeping Unit in South Sudan patrols an area where conflict destroyed thousands of acres of cropland
A UN Peacekeeping Unit in South Sudan patrols an area where conflict destroyed thousands of acres of cropland. Credit: UNMISS

UN Peacekeeping Faces Massive Funding Shortfall

In a letter to United Nations Ambassadors, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of an urgent cash crisis facing the UN in general —  and UN peacekeeping in particular.  As of January 11, he says, the United Nations faces a $2 billion shortfall in UN Peacekeeping funding; the cash it has on hand can fund less than two months of UN Peacekeeping operations around the world.

“Active peacekeeping missions are soon expected to face liquidity gaps due to late payments and increasing arrears,” Antonio Guterres wrote in the letter, seen by UN Dispatch. “As of today, arrears are nearing US$2 billion and are likely to keep growing. Current cash balances cover less than two months of operations, compared to four months last year.”

Peacekeeping is funded through dues payments from member states to the United Nations. The problem is that UN member states are not paying their dues on time and in full. If this trend continues much longer, the United Nations will simply run out of money to pay for all the peacekeeping operations it deploys around the world, which includes about 100,000 troops deployed to 14 global hotspots.

The top contributors to UN Peacekeeping include the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Of these, the United States is by far the largest single contributor, and is assessed at nearly 28% of the cost of UN Peacekeeping. The problem is, the Trump administration has not been paying its dues in full and has consequently wracked up arrears to UN Peacekeeping of about $750 million — a significant portion of the $2 billion shortfall.

A persistent budget crisis for UN Peacekeeping could exacerbate conflict around the world.

UN blue helmets mostly come from the developing world. The biggest troop contributing countries include Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Rwanda and Nepal. The UN reimburses these countries for the cost of sending their troops on peacekeeping mission, at a rate of about $1,400 per person, per month.

These peacekeepers are helping to keep a lid on conflict in places like South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Lebanon and elsewhere. If the UN runs out of money to reimburse troop contributing countries for the cost of sending troops to these hotspots, it would not be unreasonable to expect countries to pull their troops from these dangerous places. At that point, these conflicts would be left to fester and perhaps metastasize to spread conflict and instability through these regions. That is the real-world consequence of a budget shortfall at UN headquarters in New York.

“The situation in the first few weeks of 2019 remains precarious and will only improve if your pending contributions from previous years, as well as your 2019 contributions are paid on time and in full,” Guterres writes in his letter to UN ambassadors.

Unless member states heed his call and pay up, we can expect that some of the most volatile places on earth, from the Central African Republic to Southern Lebanon, will grow even more unstable.