Published in 9 May, 2019

A report by United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has sounded alarm bells for UN’s peacekeeping work, owing to shrinking budgets available to the organisation. As of March 2019, countries contributing troops and police for peacekeeping are owed $265 million in unpaid dues.

The UN owes India $38 million, the largest amount owed to any country for peacekeeping, followed by Rwanda ($31 million), Pakistan ($28 million), Bangladesh ($25 million), Nepal ($23 million) and others.

Guterres’s report warned that the UN is facing deepening liquidity problems and its “deepest deficit in a decade.” The failure of many member countries to pay their dues in full, and on time, to the UN, resulted in arrears worth $529 million at the end of 2018.

India has provided more than 200,000 military and police officers to UN peacekeeping over the last 70 years. As on February 2018, India had deployed 6,712 peacekeeping personnel for nine UN peacekeeping missions deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Lebanon, Haiti, Golan Heights (Syria), Cyprus, Abyei (Sudan), Western Sahara and West Asia.

This has forced the UN to withhold payments to troop and police-contributing countries. The report also said: “The United Nations is now effectively borrowing for prolonged periods from troop and police-contributing countries. Many of them are low-income countries which imposes a significant financial burden. At the same time, the Organisation is asking those same countries to do more to train their personnel and improve the quality of their equipment, all while operating in increasingly challenging environments.”

The financial woes of the UN have caused severe liquidity problems for peacekeeping missions as well. Of 13 active peacekeeping missions, only 2 missions had cash reserves for three months of operating costs, while 5 missions had cash for one month or less. Total outstanding contributions for peacekeeping operations amounted to almost $2 billion for 2017-18.

A report by PassBlue, a news site covering the UN, noted that US President Donald Trump’s decision, in particular, to stop paying its UN peacekeeping bills in full has seriously affected the organisation’s work, with the Trump administration deciding to contribute 3% lesser than the rate applicable to it.

This has created difficulties for the countries that contribute boots on the ground. Currently, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Rwanda, India and Nepal are the top contributors of troops and police. With a contribution of 6,449 personnel, India’s contributions were the fourth largest as of March 2019.

At the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly last year, the Indian government pointed out that India is among 76 countries which are owed significant sums towards troop and contingent owned equipment (COE) reimbursements from active peacekeeping missions, plus dues from closed peacekeeping operations. India has also registered 165 fatalities in peacekeeping missions, the highest for any country since 1948.

If the largest contributors of troops on the ground are developing countries, the top financial contributors are from the developed world. The largest financial contributions in 2018 were from United States, China, Japan, Germany and France.  None of these countries are major contributors of peacekeepers on the ground.

Troop contributing countries are affected, not just by the funding crunch, but by what they see as inequity in how peacekeeping missions are conducted, through the imposing of caveats. Countries like India and Nepal have repeatedly spoken up against excessive caveats - terms and conditions laid down by countries in order to deploy their troops in peacekeeping missions.

Addressing the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations in February 2019, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, labelled the insistence by some countries on caveats as unfair. “It leads to peacekeepers in the same peacekeeping operation being placed at different levels, being treated differently, and assessed differently,” he said.

Arguing that caveats violate the basic principle of equality, Akbaruddin called for doing away with caveats altogether. “Caveats place an additional burden on those peacekeepers who do not have any caveats. They also impact the fulfilment of missions’ mandate. It is time to do away with all caveats. We need to develop a culture of no national caveats in the service of the United Nations,” he said.

Not being consulted enough in the decision making process is another concern of troop contributing countries.  At the Leader’s Summit on Peacekeeping in 2015, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi argued that troop contributing countries do not have a role in the decision-making process, and lacked adequate representation in senior management and as Force Commanders.

Similarly, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said in September 2018 that troop and police contributing countries should be taken into confidence by the Security Council and the Secretariat.

In a 2017 statement to the UN Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Reforms, India’s military advisor to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, Sandeep Kapoor observed that it is a ‘great irony’ that troop/police contributing countries which deploy troops on the ground have no say in the process of formulation of the mandate. He called for political consensus among Security Council members, troop contributors and Secretariat on the cost, limits and dangers of peacekeeping operations in high-risk environments.

Kapoor cited at least two instances where the personnel contributing country (India) was not consulted in changes to mission mandate. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was revised in August 2016 with “no inputs, feedback or consultation…with the troop and police contributing countries, who were in the knowhow of the actual ground situation”.

Similarly, the MONUSCO (UN Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) mandate was extended by the Security Council, along with a drastic reduction of 3,600 troops, which Kapoor said was incompatible with prevailing political and security challenges.

The demand for broader peacekeeping reforms was reflected in the declaration of shared commitments in the Action for Peacekeeping initiative launched last year. The initiative recognises the various challenges that confront peacekeeping, such as the changing nature of armed conflict, targeting of peacekeepers, increased hurdles in political solutions to conflicts, insufficient numbers of women in peacekeeping, and misconduct including sexual exploitation and abuse.

While the UN takes pride in successful peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia, other missions such as in Rwanda, Bosnia, South Sudan and Congo have been mired in deep controversies.

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