Nikki Haley claims credit for already planned cuts to U.N. peacekeeping budget

Helmet and flack jackets of the members of the 1 parachute battalion of the South African contingent of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Credit: UN Photo/Marie Frechon/flickr)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley declared victory after member nations agreed to a $600 million cut from the annual peacekeeping budget.

“Just 5 months into our time here, we’ve cut over half a billion (dollars) from the UN peacekeeping budget & we’re only getting started,” she declared in a Tweet after the new budget was announced.

It is not a clear victory for Haley and the Trump administration, despite her claim. The budget did decline from $7.87 billion to $7.3 billion and the U.S. will contribute a smaller percentage of the overall total as compared to last year. However, most of the savings come from changes already in motion.

The missions in Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Haiti are winding down due to a return to stability in the countries. The three missions cost $685.9 million last year. The planned closures and reductions for the three will cover the majority of the $600 million in savings for next year’s peacekeeping budget.

Additionally, members of the U.N. Security Council voted yesterday to reduce the peacekeeping unit in the Darfur region of Sudan and cut the size of the unit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in March. Advocacy groups oppose reductions in the two missions, warning that the lack of U.N. presence could make two already unstable regions worse.

Haley was a vocal supporter of reducing the Congolese mission, calling the government “corrupt” while lobbying for a reduced force. Monusco, as the mission is called, was established to combat the M23 rebels, a group that lost significant power in recent years. Supporters want the mission to remain due to an ongoing electoral crisis and continued attacks by small rebel groups in parts of the country.

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“We don’t want to just cut for the sake of cutting,” Haley said, in March. “There are places we can cut. Everybody knows there’s fat at the U.N. Everybody knows there’s fat in the peacekeeping missions. So that’s why we’re taking each one.”

Months later, there are still few details about what aspects of peacekeeping missions she wants to see changed or eliminated. Haley’s public comments remain focused on trimming overall spending. She used the ‘fat trimming’ metaphor again when speaking to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.

“I’ve used that as leverage because now we’re seeing a lot of the other countries come forward and say, ‘Yes, we should do reform.’ When it comes to peacekeeping reform, they have worked with us on every single renewal to change it, to make it smarter, to make it better for the people,” Haley said to Congress.

The Trump administration has sought various ways to cut U.S. contributions to the U.N. The U.S. is responsible for 22 percent of the body’s $5.4 billion core budget. In addition, the U.S. pays for 28.5 percent of the peacekeeping budget, a sum Trump characterized as “unfair.” Haley called for major reforms to peacekeeping soon after assuming the ambassadorship and pledged to continue a review of each of the 16 missions.

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She presented a peacekeeping budget proposal that sought to reduce spending by nearly $1 billion through significant reductions to the U.S. contribution. The White House is also pushing to cap the U.S. contribution to peacekeeping at 25 percent of the budget – a rule that already exists, but is waived each year by Congress. It reflected the federal budget proposal for 2018 published by the Trump administration that cut the peacekeeping contribution from $2.45 billion spent this year to $1.96 billion.

“Our peacekeeping reforms are aimed at producing more effective missions for vulnerable civilians and holding host governments accountable to their responsibility to protect their own citizens while also cutting down on waste and inefficiency,” Haley said.

But there is evidence that the missions already are effective. One study shows that peacekeeping units put in place after civil wars help sustain peace. There is broad agreement that reforms are needed to the peacekeeping system. The U.N. is dealing with a series of scandals regarding its peacekeeping missions. Nepalese peacekeepers brought cholera to Haiti in 2010 and sexually abused children in the Central African Republic.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.