State Department Defends U.N. Peacekeeping

The White House and Foggy Bottom are at odds over the value of blue helmets.

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House budget office, has been keen to cut U.S. contributions to the United Nations’ multibillion-dollar peacekeeping budget ever since President Donald Trump’s first year in office. He has encountered resistance from the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who during her time in the role sought savings in U.N. peacekeeping while preventing the most draconian cuts favored by the White House.

Earlier this week, Trump reportedly killed a proposal by Mulvaney to slash more funding for foreign aid, including U.N. peacekeeping. Nevertheless, the White House has succeeded in depriving U.N. blue helmets of hundreds of millions of dollars each year by declining to invoke a waiver, which was used by previous Republican and Democratic administrations, to bypass a decades-old 25 percent congressional cap on U.S. dues to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The U.N. bills the United States annually for around 28 percent of the overall peacekeeping budget. That 3-percentage-point gap is worth some $200 million. As of Jan. 1, the United States owed the U.N. $776.2 million in back dues for peacekeeping, a figure that is likely to surpass $1 billion in January 2020. Approximately $330 million of these U.S. arrears predate 2001, and this generally reflects the costs of programs that Democratic and Republican administrations have indicated will not be paid. But the rest results from the peacekeeping cap.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the White House budget office, has been keen to cut U.S. contributions to the United Nations’ multibillion-dollar peacekeeping budget ever since President Donald Trump’s first year in office. He has encountered resistance from the U.S. Congress, the State Department, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who during her time in the role sought savings in U.N. peacekeeping while preventing the most draconian cuts favored by the White House.

Earlier this week, Trump reportedly killed a proposal by Mulvaney to slash more funding for foreign aid, including U.N. peacekeeping. Nevertheless, the White House has succeeded in depriving U.N. blue helmets of hundreds of millions of dollars each year by declining to invoke a waiver, which was used by previous Republican and Democratic administrations, to bypass a decades-old 25 percent congressional cap on U.S. dues to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The U.N. bills the United States annually for around 28 percent of the overall peacekeeping budget. That 3-percentage-point gap is worth some $200 million. As of Jan. 1, the United States owed the U.N. $776.2 million in back dues for peacekeeping, a figure that is likely to surpass $1 billion in January 2020. Approximately $330 million of these U.S. arrears predate 2001, and this generally reflects the costs of programs that Democratic and Republican administrations have indicated will not be paid. But the rest results from the peacekeeping cap.

Each week, Foreign Policy features its Document of the Week, which sheds light on a current or historical diplomatic development. This week, we are posting a June copy of a State Department report explaining why U.S. financial contributions serve U.S. interests and analyzing the political costs of not paying them. The report—which tracks the period from Oct. 1, 2018, through March 31—warns that the “Accumulation of new UN peacekeeping arrears due to application of the 25 percent cap on U.S. peacekeeping contributions could impact U.S. influence and credibility at the UN, and further strain UN peacekeeping capacity at a time when the UN is engaged in a number of critical missions.

“The United States,” the report adds, “has a compelling national interest in preventing the outbreak, escalation, and spread of conflicts that threaten international peace and security.”

The State Department outlined five areas where the consequences of U.S. nonpayment could harm U.S. interests:

  1. Sanctions, such as the loss of the U.S. right to vote in the U.N. General Assembly. (Article 19 of the U.N. Charter stipulates that a member state will lose its voting right if its arrears “equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”)
  2. Diminished U.S. standing and ability to pursue U.S. interests. (U.S. efforts to block the appointment of foreign nationals to important U.N. posts, for example the U.S. campaign to prevent Michelle Bachelet from being named U.N. high commissioner for human rights, have foundered.)
  3. Weakened U.S. capacity to promote oversight, accountability, and cost-saving initiatives. (A U.S. diplomatic campaign last year to reduce the U.S. share of peacekeeping dues failed—U.S. allies considered the campaign lackluster.)
  4. Less leverage when promoting U.S. candidates for top international jobs. (The United States already lost its bid for an American to run the International Organization for Migration.)
  5. Impairment of U.N. peacekeeping missions that “directly impact the national security of the United States.” (Poor countries that supply most of the U.N.’s peacekeepers are routinely paid late for the costs of salaries and equipment, leaving them with less cash to properly equip their blue helmets for missions.)

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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