Why the Security Council Won’t Authorize a Peacekeeping Mission for CAR

Things are bad in the Central African Republic. But will the UN Security Council approve a peacekeeping mission to help transform the conflict?

On the surface, it seems like a situation ripe for a UN peacekeeping mission. A fragile government is welcoming international intervention to help keep a lid on an civil conflict that could spiral out of control. But right now, UN peacekeeping is not a player in CAR. Rather, it’s a contingent of a few thousand African Union “green helmets” backed by a French combat force that are bringing a modicum of stability to the country.

The difference between and African Union-led peacekeeping force and a UN peacekeeping force is more than the color of the helmet. UN Peacekeepers are generally better resourced, and are deployed as part of a comprehensive political plan to help build the institutions of the state so that the peacekeepers can hand off their duties to local authorities. This can take a long time, but there are many examples of UN peacekeepers coming into a volatile situation and handing things off to competent local authorities when things stabilize. There are no such examples of African Union peacekeepers doing so (though it’s admittedly a much newer institution.)

So will UN Peacekeeping take over in the CAR? Probably not anytime soon. The Security Council is meeting today to approve a new resolution on CAR that threatens sanctions on individuals who impede the peace process and authorizes a new European Union intervention force of about 1,000 that will help keep order around the airport in Bangui, which has turned into an IDP camp of about 100,000 people.  Transitioning the current AU mission to a UN Peacekeeping mission is off the table for now.

Why? Probably the biggest obstacle is the question of funding. Specifically, the United States, which is UN Peacekeepings biggest funder, has shown an extreme reluctance to increase spending on UN peacekeeping. This is largely due to budget constaints in Washington, DC. The recently-passed federal omnibus budget for FY14 underfunds US contributions to UN Peacekeeping by about 12% and shamefully provides no funds whatsoever for the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali.

Since the single largest contributor to UN peacekeeping cannot even pay for current missions, it is hard to see how the USA can consent to a new mission in the Central African Republic. For now, the next best option is for the USA to let Europe take the lead, both in terms of boots on the ground and funding.

UN Peacekeeping may be what is needed in the Central African Republic, but it is not what is currently politically or financially possible right now.