UNITED NATIONS - As U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the 62nd annual General Assembly here Tuesday morning, the U.S. was on its way to owing nearly two billion dollars to the United Nations, the U.N. Foundation warned.
A principal driver of U.N. peacekeeping, the U.S. has a responsibility to see that peacekeeping missions have the resources they need to succeed. Yet Washington is falling further and further behind in dues payments for U.N. peacekeeping, according to the New York-based U.N. Foundation.
The U.S. has accrued more than one billion dollars in outstanding bills at the U.N. for regular U.N. dues, peacekeeping operations and the capital master plan.
Compounding the problem, the U.S. Fiscal Year 2008 budget request of 1.1 billion dollars falls far short of the estimated 2.26 billion dollars that the U.S. will likely be assessed for peacekeeping in 2008.
The approval of the new hybrid peacekeeping mission for Darfur, Sudan (UNAMID) has expanded U.S. funding requirements. But to date, neither Congress nor the Bush administration has budgeted fully for UNAMID.
Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly on Darfur, Bush called the situation there a genocide and stressed that the 'United Nations must answer this challenge to conscience and live up to its promise to promptly deploy peacekeeping forces to Darfur.'
'President Bush admonished the U.N. to 'live up to its promise to promptly deploy peacekeeping forces to Darfur.' However, the administration has requested funding for only 20 percent of its share of the Darfur mission, and is heading towards a debt of more than one billion dollars for U.N. peacekeeping overall,' Timothy E. Wirth, president of the U.N. Foundation, said following Bush's remarks.
The UNAMID force of 26,000 will be the most complex, difficult, and expensive peacekeeping mission ever conducted by the U.N.
Starting in October, the U.N. is expected to take over and accelerate UNAMID. Including start-up costs and full annual assessments, the new peacekeeping mission is expected to cost more than three billion dollars in 2008, leading to an estimated U.S. contribution of 884 million dollars for fiscal year 2008.
Bush's budget in January allotted 160 million dollars for a peacekeeping in Darfur, leaving a shortfall of 724 million dollars for the Darfur mission.
'The U.S. has worked with other nations to ensure that an international force can stem the horrendous violence in the region,' Wirth stressed. 'The United States should now live up to its own word and fund the Darfur and other U.N. peacekeeping missions.'
'It is impossible for the U.N. to 'live up to its promise' to deploy peacekeepers to Darfur if nations like the United States fail to pay for the peacekeeping missions that they vote for in the Security Council,' Wirth stressed.
U.S. debt to U.N. peacekeeping has been growing even as the U.S. affirmatively votes for more and larger U.N. peacekeeping missions.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the U.S. could have vetoed any of the 18 peacekeeping operations the UN is undertaking. Instead, in the recent past the U.S. has used its seat here to press and vote for: a seven-fold expansion of the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon; the expansion of UNAMID; reauthorization of the peacekeeping mission in Haiti; a renewed peacekeeping mission for East Timor; and new missions in Chad, the Central African Republic, and Nepal.
The U.S. budget request for 2008 includes 169 million dollars for the mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). This assumes a nearly 50 percent cut in the mission from its 2006-2007 budget. Experts familiar with the DRC -- including the U.S. national leading MONUC, Ambassador William Swing -- do not believe this is possible.
At a time when peace is fragile in the DRC following last year's landmark elections, a significant cut in troop strength and resources could destabilise the country and push it back into conflict, according to the U.N. Foundation.
The U.N. mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was shorted nearly 60 million dollars, with a budget request of 110 million dollars. Peacekeeping experts assess that the U.S. share will be closer to 175 million dollars.
As a key U.S. ally and a key example of how African countries can successfully emerge from conflict to peace, Liberia should be assured the resources it needs to continuing training civilian police and security forces, according to the Foundation.
Following the significant expansion of the U.N. mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) last summer, the mission costs increased ten-fold. The 2008 budget request assumes a significant reduction in costs, leaving the request almost 100 million dollars short, according to peacekeeping experts' estimates.
In Haiti, as U.N. forces are continuing to fight violent uprisings, Washington assumed a one-third reduction in the U.N. mission (MINUSTAH) from its current size, leaving the request an estimated 30 million dollars short.
Over the last three years, the Security Council has created nine new peacekeeping missions and U.N. peacekeeping forces have tripled in size.
The U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) now fields over 100,000 active duty personnel, making it the world's second-largest organised military, after only that of the U.S.
Wirth urged the Bush administration and Congress to work towards paying down remaining U.S. arrears so that the U.S. can honour its commitments to the international community.
The U.S. share of U.N. dues is a treaty commitment, negotiated by Washington at the United Nations. In December 2006, the U.S. renegotiated its U.N. dues and agreed to the current level of U.S. assessments.
Furthermore, U.N. peacekeeping does enjoy support at the highest levels of U.S. government. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.N. peacekeeping is eight times less expensive than fielding a comparable U.S. force.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that U.N. peacekeeping, 'is more cost-effective than using American forces. And of course America doesn't have the forces to do all these peacekeeping missions, but somebody has to do them. And the United States has to pay its share.'
The White House Office of Management and Budget gave the U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping its highest-possible rating -- three stars -- judging the spending to be effective, achieving its stated goals, and contributing to U.S. objectives.
In January 2007, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon raised the issue of arrears with Bush and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Following this, the U.S. House and Senate appropriators took action to address a portion of the anticipated shortfalls in U.N. peacekeeping.
Beyond increasing funding for fiscal years 2007 and 2008, Congress passed legislation sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden, to provide a one year lift of the 25 percent 'cap' on U.S. peacekeeping contributions to the U.N.
This allowed the U.S. State Department to pay its peacekeeping bills in full for the first time since 2005.
© 2007 IPS - Inter Press Service