Will the USA Support Peacekeepers for CAR?

No American official has been more outspoken on the need for a coherent international response to unfolding crisis in the Central African Republic than Ambassador Samantha Power. But soon, Ambassador Power could be in the unfortunate position of having to explain to other UN member states that the USA will not be able to support a desperately needed UN Peacekeeping mission to CAR.

As the crisis escalated in the late fall, Power led the US government’s response, helping to pass a Security Council resolution that gave a French supported African Union force wide mandate to protect civilians in CAR. She also helped marshall American resources to transport and equip the African troops so they could quickly deploy.

These troops, which number about 6,000, initially made a difference. But in recent weeks it has become clear that the force size and structure is inadequate. Ethnic cleansing is almost certainly underway in CAR;  the capitol city has been nearly emptied of its Muslim population as they are forced to flee for their lives. The humanitarian response has been undermined by rampant insecurity, putting millions at risk of hunger and disease and compounding the crisis.

Something more is needed. And yesterday, Ban Ki Moon recommended a large UN peacekeeping mission, numbering about 13,000 troops. But now the USA is going to be put in a very awkward spot: the US Ambassador to the UN has articulated an urgent need to break the cycle of violence in CAR, but the USA may not have the funds to contribute to a UN Peacekeeping mission there.

The US pays about 28% of the cost of UN Peacekeeping. Ban Ki Moon’s proposed mission for the Central African Republic would total about $800 million, putting the USA on the hook for about $230 million.

In its FY 2014 budget, Congress cut US contributions to UN Peacekeeping by 12%, and appropriated no funding the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali. The Obama Administration is about to release its 2015 budget. If funding for a potential peacekeeping mission in CAR is excluded from the White House request, Congress may decide not to pony up the money. If that money is not secured, a UN mission to stem ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic would barely be able to get off the ground.

$250 million is a lot of money, but it’s not an immense expenditure in US budgetary terms. The consequence of withholding this funding, however, would be profoundly negative for international community’s response to ethnic cleansing in CAR.

Image credit.  Brazilian peacekeepers with MINUSTAH patrolling the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: UN/MINUSTAH/Jesús Serrano Redondo