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UN: Member States Call For Peacekeeping Reform

Some of the most influential UN member states, including the U.S., have called for major reforms to the way UN peacekeeping is funded and operated. But member states have voiced new criticism of the United States' failure to pay its sizeable portion of the budget for peacekeeping. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 17 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Some of the most influential UN member states, led by the United States, are urging sweeping reforms to the way peacekeeping operations are handled and financed.

But member states disagree over the question of revising the amounts that each country contributes to peacekeeping, to correspond better to the contributors' economic health.

A debate over the financing of peacekeeping operations began on Tuesday before a budget committee of the General Assembly. But the issue quickly turned into a discussion of the viability of UN peacekeeping in general in light of the crisis in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. The peacekeeping mission there -- one of the world's largest -- has been floundering, and critics say that is partly because peacekeepers were poorly equipped and poorly trained.

Ambassador Antonio Monteiro of Portugal was among a number of speakers who supported Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal for a rapid reaction force that could better respond to crises. He noted that there is a growing demand in peacekeeping operations for civilian police in places like Kosovo and East Timor.

Monteiro spoke on behalf of the European Union and its candidate countries, primarily in Eastern Europe. Altogether those countries had 6,000 peacekeeping troops and police deployed in UN missions last year.

He said that EU countries for the most part are fully paid up in their peacekeeping dues and charged that the United States was threatening missions by its non-payment of nearly $1 billion.

"Those member states that do not live up to their obligations under the charter jeopardize the financial and operational capabilities of UN peacekeeping and add to difficulties with regard to timely reimbursement of troop-contributing countries. This, in our view, is unacceptable."

The United States, the largest contributor to the UN budget, has run up a steep debt, part of which stems from the U.S. Congress' refusal to pay for some peacekeeping operations. Congress has limited the U.S. contribution to 25 percent of UN peacekeeping costs, rather than the 31 percent contribution that the U.S. was assessed to owe. This leaves the United Nations unable to pay hundreds of thousands of troops from contributing nations, many of them in the developing world. Congress has said it will not pay until the UN shows progress on reform, including peacekeeping reform.

The Nigerian ambassador to the United Nations, Arthur Mbanefo, spoke on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China. He said the group rejects the attaching of conditions to U.S. payment of dues. And he said the group does not believe any of its members should pay more.

"These financial difficulties can be resolved if member states, in particular the main contributor, take concrete actions in settling their arrears and honor their charter obligations by paying their contributions in full, on time, and without conditions."

But U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and others who spoke on Tuesday said there is a clear need to change the way the contributions for peacekeeping are calculated. They noted that the current peacekeeping allocations were set on an ad hoc basis to fund a Middle East mission in 1973. And they said peacekeeping structures that were designed to supervise truces and patrol borders are now required to meet much tougher demands, such as securing territory and creating civilian administrations.

The U.S. proposes the creation of a new tax bracket to ensure that middle-income countries pay their share. There are also proposals, Holbrooke said, to reduce the dependence of peacekeeping on the United States and to set up a system that allow rates to change as states' economic circumstances change.

Holbrooke says the United Nations needs to move quickly to make sure that current and prospective missions are not undermined.

"Peacekeeping must be fixed in order to be saved. Unless we move decisively, those that threaten peacekeepers in Africa and elsewhere may draw the conclusion that the UN lacks the will, the cohesion, and the resources to challenge them."

Since 1948, there have been more than 50 UN peacekeeping operations. Forty of them were created by the Security Council in the last 12 years. Currently, the United Nations is involved in peacekeeping operations involving more than 30,000 personnel.

An independent panel appointed by the secretary-general earlier this year to review peacekeeping operations is expected to recommend changes in the way the Security Council issues peacekeeping mandates.