UNITED NATIONS — UN officials have long been trimming their multibillion dollar peacekeeping budget and are poised to close three missions in Africa and the Caribbean over the next year, said the outgoing head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
“Missions are not eternal,” said Herve Ladsous, under secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, who held his last news conference in Manhattan on Friday to close out a nearly six-year term at the helm of one of the UN’s most critical components.
Ladsous used the encounter to tout successes during his tenure at the helm of an organization from which the United States, under President Donald Trump, has threatened to withdraw some funding.
Trump’s recently released budget floats the idea that it would cut its portion of the agency’s more than $7 billion budget from 28.6 percent to 25 percent — as much as $1 billion less. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, has said the UN could be leaner and run more efficiently, including in how and how long it conducts peacekeeping.
The UN is currently reviewing all of its peacekeeping operations.
“I have been working closely with the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council to reform the peacekeeping process and UN management,” she said in a statement last week. “This was a promise made to the American people and a goal to restore trust and value at the UN. In many areas, the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries.”
But Ladsous said the budget, now about $7.2 billion, was at $8.2 billion just two years ago. The DPKO approved budget is $400 million less than the previous year’s figure and, UN officials said, the organization’s budget is less than one half of 1 percent of worldwide military expenditures, which are about $1.7 trillion.
“We have to realize that no other army has done what the UN has done over the last six years,” he said. “We diminished the cost per person of a peacekeeper by 16 percent without any diminution in the level of quality or equipment.”
There are now 16 active peacekeeping missions — but Ladsous said that three missions, Haiti, Ivory Coast and Liberia, will be dissolved in just over a year.
The mission in Ivory Coast will be the first to go. Ladsous said the mission will be closed in June. Haiti is scheduled to wind down by October and Liberia in March 2018.
“That alone will save several hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
The United States is by far the largest contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping budget. China provides 10.3 percent, Japan gives 9.7 percent, Germany contributes 6.4 percent and France kicks in 6.3 percent.
Ladsous also said he was pleased that he increased diversity in countries providing troops and police for peacekeeping missions. He said countries in the “global south,” who tend to have fewer economic resources, have historically provided the personnel for the missions, but he has secured troops and police from European countries.
And peacekeeping, while not perfect, has brought a sense of stability in many places, including those where missions will pull up their tents over the next few months, he said.
Ladsous said countries that were in turmoil in the past three years, such as Central African Republic and Mali, have been restored to a sense of normalcy with functioning governments. In South Sudan, which is still racked by civil strife, he said the UN presence has been the critical difference between life and death for thousands of civilians.
When attacks by government and rebel forces on each other increased, civilians flocked to the UN base in Juba for protection.
“That is probably 220,000 South Sudanese who probably would not be alive if we had not taken them on our sites,” Ladsous said, acknowledging some failures by missions.
Notably, the DPKO has come under fire in recent years for a series of incidents in which mission troops had sexually abused and exploited the people they were charged to protect. The incidents were investigated and former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implemented a more stringent protocol to list the abusers and urge member states to hold them accountable in courts of their home countries.
“I think we have moved ahead,” Ladous said, adding, “certainly not as much, as far, as quickly as some would have liked but we are moving. I think peacekeeping is the most visible and important activity of the UN and one for which I am extremely proud for having been able to serve for the last five and a half years.”