How the Sequester Could Affect the United Nations

The United Nations is not immune to the sequester. The USA is the largest funder of the United Nations, paying about 28% of the cost of UN peacekeeping operations around the world; and about 25% of the regular UN budget.

In US budgetary terms, these contributions are modest.  But for the UN, it is a huge part of the operating budget. Take UN peacekeeping, to which the USA contributed about $1.8 billion last year. According to analysis from the Better World Campaign (which supports this blog) the sequester could cut about $100 million in US contributions to peacekeeping.

Those cuts won’t actually end up saving the USA any money in the long term because the USA is treaty-bound to pay its membership dues to the UN. So, rather than cutting UN spending, the real effects of the sequester will be the accrual of American arrears. Eventually, the USA will have to pay off those arrears so there will be no real saving.

While the savings may be illusory, the effects of a $100 million cut to UN peacekeeping would be very real. UN peacekeeping is based on an implicit agreement between wealthier countries who pay for the missions and countries from the developing world who make up the rank and file of Blue Helmets. Countries like Ghana and Bangladesh contribute troops, and are reimbursed by the UN at a rate of over $1,000 per month, per soldier. If that money is not available, the troops cannot be deployed.  This makes planning for missions very difficult, if not impossible.

One place this could have an immediate effect is in Mali, where African countries and the United Nations are working on a plan for a new peacekeeping mission. A $100 million cut to UN peacekeeping could mean that countries that have expressed willingness to contribute troops to an international mission in Mali may not be able to deploy. The preconditions necessary for a peacekeeping mission — food, fuel, equipment —  requires reliable funding.

UN Peacekeeping deploys about 100,000 troops to 14 hotspots around the world. Mali is almost certainly the next place to which UN peacekeepers will be deployed. If nothing else, the sequester will complicate discussions at the United Nations around this complex mission– and not for the better.