Peacekeeping Finance: What is the price for peace?

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The first article of this season will be about the amount of money that is being spent by the United Nations (U.N) on peacekeeping operations, and how it impacts you. In the midst of a war in Syria and a possible deployment of military forces, I am dubitative when people complain about our involvement in a conflict that does not concern us. As you will soon realize, as much as there is a price for war, there is a price for peace. And everybody ends up sharing the bill!

 What is the U.N. and how does peacekeeping work?

The United Nations was established to replace the League of Nations in 1945 after its failure to prevent World War II. Its mandate is to maintain international peace and solve economic, social, and humanitarian world issues. There are six main bodies in the U.N: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Trusteeship Council.

The U.N. is also comprised of 15 Specialized Agencies (e.g. World Bank, WHO, UNESCO, ILO, IMF…), tens of Programs & Funds (e.g. UNDP, UNICEF), and hundreds of Committees, Boards, Commissions, Working Groups, Panels, Institutes and related Organizations. I would love to break down the billions of dollars spent to run these heavily bureaucratic entities, but today I will only focus on peacekeeping operations. These latter consist of: the maintenance of ceasefires, separation of forces, preventive deployment, humanitarian operations, election monitoring or implementation of a comprehensive peace settlement.

How is peacekeeping financed?

Each 193 Member State is legally obligated to pay its respective share towards peacekeeping. Each contribution is based on the country`s ability to pay, their national income and their debt. The five permanent members of the Security Council are required to pay a larger share because of their ‘special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security’. The 10 biggest contributors to peacekeeping operations in 2013 have been the United States (28.38%), Japan (10.83%), France (7.22%), Germany (7.14%), United Kingdom (6.68%), China (6.64%), Italy (4.45%), Russia (3.15%), Canada (2.98%) and Spain (2.97%)[1].

How much are we talking about?

The peacekeeping budget is set each year from July 1st to June 30th by The Fifth Committee. Since 2001, the peacekeeping annual cost, which represents a large part of the UN budget, has almost tripled (from USD 2.8 billion to USD 7.5 billion[2] in 2013/2014). The seven most expensive missions as of June 30th, 2012 have been UNAMID in Darfur (22.9%), MONUSCO in Congo DRC (20.1%) MINUSTAH in Haiti (10.8%), UNMISS in South Sudan (9.2%), UNOCI in Cote d’Ivoire (8.7%), UNIFIL in Lebanon (7.4%), and UNMIL in Liberia (7.1%)[3].

What is the money used for?

The UN has no military forces of its own, and Member States provide, on a voluntary basis, the military and police personnel required for each peacekeeping operation (in addition to assessed contributions). So the vast majority of expenses goes towards compensating the civilian police, military observers and peacekeeping troops. The rest is used to pay for staff and operational requirements (e.g. facilities and infrastructure, transportation, medical expenses, communications, IT). Since 1948 the U.N has established 65 peacekeeping operations, 15 of which are currently active.

So why should you care?

Peacekeeping is much cheaper than war, which generally costs hundreds of billions in generational debt (read Are you paying for all those wars?). However, the number of peacekeeping operations has escalated since the mid 90s. Despite a disputable U.N. performance, budgets are renewed year after year for non-interventionist peacekeeping operations that may never end, unless the countries directly involved actively solve the root of their problem. So as the number of unresolved conflicts and crises accumulates around the world, so does the bill everybody eventually ends up paying, with very little in return.


So unfortunately nothing is perfect. But I want to hear from you now: where would you want your next tax dollar to go: In an expensive offensive attack to ensure global security or in a cheap non-interventionist strategy to passively encourage peace? 

[1] Source : Wikipedia

[2] Source: Approved resources for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014

[3] Source: Peacekeeping Budgets, United Nations, Department of Management, February 2012

Credits: Photo ID 452381. 24/09/2009. Dili, Timor-Leste. UN Photo/Martine Perret.

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