U.S. Takes Aim At U.N. Peacekeeping

Australian soldier takes position, Batugade, East Timor, UN peacekeeper
The U.N. peacekeeping system is on the brink of collapse and the world body urgently needs to reform its organization and financing, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday.

"Unless we act together, peacekeeping will fail, crippled by an organizational and financial system that cannot support the increasing demands now being put on it by the member states," Holbrooke told the General Assembly committee, which controls the peacekeeping budget.

Holbrooke said the United Nations had to learn from its errors, including in the current operation in Sierra Leone, where fighting has resumed and rebels hold at least 100 U.N. peacekeepers hostage. The United Nations has been criticized for sending poorly equipped and badly trained soldiers to the West African nation.

"Failures in Sierra Leone or elsewhere will inevitably cast a shadow over the U.N.'s successes," Holbrooke said. "Unless we move decisively, those who threaten peacekeepers in Africa and elsewhere may draw the conclusion that—rhetoric and resolutions aside—the U.N. lacks the will, the cohesion and the resources to challenge them."

Although most countries agreed that reform was needed to render U.N. peacekeeping more effective, there was widespread disagreement on how to go about it—and most of all on how to reform the financing.

Facts and Figures
Current peacekeeping missions and the year they started:

Dem. Rep. of the Congo
East Timor
Sierra Leone
Western Sahara
Syria-Israel Border
India and Pakistan
Israel/Palestinian Areas

For a complete list of UN actions since 1948, click here.size>

(Source: UN)size>

Many developing countries said peacekeeping operations did not have the necessary funds because the United States was not paying its dues.

Nigerian Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo, speaking on behalf of the G-77, a U.N. lobbying group of developing countries and China that now includes 133 nations, said the U.S. had to pay up its arrears on time and without conditions.

The United Sates has made U.N. reform a condition of paying its arrears, which the United Nations say now total $1.8 billion. Holbrooke said it was high time for other countries to finance peace missions.

The funding of peacekeeping operations is based on a scale agreed to in 1973 for a peace operation in the Sinai. The United States, which according to the scale must pay 31 percent of all peacekeeping operations, says the agreement was not supposed to be used as a precedent.

Since 1973, Holbrooke said, "54 countries have joined the U.N. Some have grown richer, some poorer; some more and some less active on the world stage. Yet the peacekeeping assessment system has remained the same."

The United States suggested a new assessment bracket for some countries and a minimum assessment rate for the five permanent Security Council members.

Holbrooke praised Cyprus for announcing Tuesday that it was voluntarily contributing more to peacekeeping. Another Western diplomat said Israel, Hungary, Estonia and the Philippines had also agreed to increase their contributions.

But Mbanefo said the G-77 opposed any unilateral change in assessments and said any discussion must take into account the economic conditions of developing countries and must not be conducted "under pressure of time."

According to the United Nations, peacekeeping missions involve troops and equipment donated by member states. Peacekeepers, usually lightly armed and sometimes unarmed, are "dispatched by the Security Council to help implement peace agreements, monitor cease-fires, patrol demilitarized zones, create buffer zones between opposing forces, and put fighting on hold while negotiators seek peaceful solutions to disputes," according to the UN.

From 1948 to 1998, the UN conducted 49 peacekeeping missions, in which 1,580 peacekeepers died.