UN Peacekeeping Shortchanged

Yes, the world is in a financial crisis, and yes, valuable projects are losing funding the world over. Some priorities, though, aren’t going to diminish in urgency even if it’s hard to find the money to pay for them. Fighting is going to continue in Congo, Haiti is going to continue to build its nascent government, and Lebanon is going to continue to try to ward off destabilization, no matter how far the markets plummet. And UN peacekeepers, in these countries and a dozen others, are still going to be trying to do their jobs, in some of the hardest hit areas of the world, even if donor nations don’t scrounge up the money to pay them.

That’s why it is discouraging that the United States, by far the wealthiest country in the world, and the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping, is again going to fall behind in paying its dues. It’s extra frustrating because the Obama Administration, and its UN ambassador, Susan Rice, have stressed at great lengths the importance of supporting UN peacekeeping, of re-engaging with the rest of the world, and of ending conflicts in places like Congo and Sudan, where blue helmets are the only ones working to hold tenuous peace. Hell, the United States has even made noise (ill-advisedly) about creating new UN peacekeeping missions. If it’s going to vote for these missions in the Security Council, it’s going to get billed for them, plain and simple.

Despite this rhetorical support and the fact that the bills are going to come, even if the government keeps deferring payment, the U.S.’s 2009 budget request will shortchange UN peacekeeping by $669 million. That may seem like small potatoes in these days of $800 billion legislation, but when you’re talking about the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which runs on a shoestring yearly budget of just $7 billion, those missing U.S. funds will hit hard, in places that need them the most, to protect the people that most need protection.

Congress will have a chance to make up this funding gap later, through what’s called a supplemental funding bill, but it’s disheartening to see the U.S.’s long-standing policy of paying its UN dues late continue, with an administration so committed to improving America’s image and taking up a strong leadership position in the world. For the sake of peacekeeping missions everywhere, struggling with the rest of the world in this economic downturn, and to live up to the administration’s own commitments, the United States will have to provide this crucial funding as soon as possible.