UN Africa peacekeeping missions threatened by withdrawal of US funding

IOA analysis in brief | America wants to spend less on UN military missions in Africa to free up more money to spend on the US military. However, this is a false savings, particularly if a continent destabilised by the loss of UN peacekeeping requires future and more costly US military interventions.

Picture of boy running after United Nations (UN) truck in Goma
A MONUSCO tank on patrol in Goma, eastern DRC. Photo courtesy MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti/Wikimedia Commons

Key points:

  • The Trump doctrine on foreign policy is interested in Africa only as a source of terrorists who may threaten America
  • Washington only wishes to support efforts in Africa that fight specific terrorists that pose a threat to the US, not other conflicts or actions against local terror groups
  • As financer of one-quarter of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, the US’s will for a review of peacekeeping missions Washington finds irrelevant will be followed

War is expensive, and the UN has some of its most expensive peacekeeping missions in Africa. The US government wants a price review of operations, signalling a possible security crisis on the continent.

According to Washington’s new foreign affairs strategy, the US intends to “reduce or end funding for international organisations whose missions do not substantially advance US foreign policy interests,” according to a White House statement. As far as the Trump administration is concerned, the US has only one interest in Africa: as a venue to eliminate foreign terrorists before they come to America and cause harm to Americans. As simplistic as this view happens to be, even more simple-minded is the means to achieve this, solely through military action.

In terms of US support for UN missions in Africa, that support will be withdrawn from any conflict area that does not involve terror groups that threaten US interests. Civil wars, genocide and totalitarian regimes that bloodily repress their peoples are the principal causes of conflict in Africa. However, militia incursions into vulnerable areas are widespread, such as by Boko Haram in western Nigeria and Cameroon, ISIS in Libya, Egypt’s Sinai insurgency and al-Shabaab in Somalia. Under Washington’s narrow foreign policy, funding would be available for counter-insurgencies against only some African terror groups.

The US gives the UN US$ 10 billion a year, which pays for 22% of the UN’s budget. As the UN’s principal financial backer, the US has the greatest influence over the international body than any country. The UN has no choice but to review the costs of its African missions, as the US has ordered, and may have to cut back or curtail operations that are no longer affordable as the UN shifts its funding to bolstering its own military. Washington is serious about disengaging from Africa, as evidenced by the slashing of the USAID budget. UN Secretary-General António Guterres can only remind Washington of the humanitarian and peace-building purpose of the UN, but against a new insular US foreign policy, his spokesman sounded almost melancholy when he stated, “The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism but believes that it requires more than military spending.”

Against the reality of US financial disengagement from the world, the UN is reviewing its operations in Africa. As the world observes this process, there is a renewed appreciation of just how vital to the security of the African people these missions happen to be and how dangerous their curtailment would be. The UN currently has nine missions in Africa, ranging in size from 472 personnel stationed in Western Sahara to 22,468 peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The US contributes one-quarter, or US$ 2 billion, of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of US$ 8 billion. Mission strength will be hit and possibly missions truncated entirely.


Central Africa: UN missions keep a lid on bloodshed

The most expensive UN mission anywhere in the world does its best to keep the DRC together, a country divided by political turmoil, militant groups raiding mineral resources and tribal armies fighting ethnic battles. The UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has suffered 107 fatalities since it was established in 2010. Altogether, 22,468 personnel carry out pacification missions. Their role is vital to preventing the DRC from devolving into a failed state, without any semblance of security for the long-suffering Congolese. However, the fate of the Congolese is of no concern to the Trump administration because the DRC is not confronted by an international terror group that also threatens America. MONUSCO’s 2016-2017 budget of US$ 1.2 billion is certain to be trimmed by UN cost cutters under pressure from Washington.

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central Africa Republic (MINUSCA) has suffered 32 casualties among the 13,249 personnel who are policing the Central Africa Republic (CAR). Although the country remains volatile from militia aggressions, the mission’s US$ 920,727,900 budget is likely to be slashed and, along with it, the protection the CAR people have against their wanton aggressors. The disadvantage of MINUSCA for Washington is that it required nearly a billion dollars spent to combat antagonists that do not threaten American interests.


Horn of Africa stability has long required UN missions

In East Africa, the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) has been around as long as the country itself, since 2011. The second most expensive UN mission in Africa, budgeted at US$ 1.1 billion, has suffered 48 fatalities amongst its force of 15,777 personnel. South Sudan’s civil war has degenerated to the point of genocide being carried out in some areas. However, UNMISS may enjoy a budgetary pass from Washington because of widespread terrorism in the region and the likelihood that ISIS, which the US sees as a direct threat, will find a foothold in South Sahara if that country disintegrates further. Dozens of US troops were sent to Somalia on the Horn of Africa in April 2017 to advise the Somali military on its counter-insurgency against al-Shabaab. Somalia’s indigenous terror group, al-Shabaab, is aligned with al-Qaeda, which conducted the World Trade Centre bombings and has been attacking US interests since the 1990s.

The same US tolerance will not be found for the people of Darfur, the oppressed region of Sudan. There, mass murder by Sudan’s dictator and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir is prohibited only by the joint efforts of the African Union and the UN in the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). This is the UN’s oldest and deadliest African mission, dating from 2007, accounting for 244 fatalities among its 20,067 personnel. However, the fate of the Darfur people is tangential to the Trump presidency’s ‘America First’ imperative, and UNAMID is expensive. UNAMID’s 2017 operating budget is US$ 1.1 billion.


West Africa’s UN missions are indispensable

Three of the UN’s four missions in West Africa are small, although they have incurred high casualties. The fourth, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is large, consisting of 13,817 personnel, and expensive, at about US$ 1 billion. Altogether, 116 peacekeepers have died battling tribal militias in Mali. Because some of the antagonists are the ‘Islamic extremists’ that are Trump’s bête noir, there is a chance that money will continue to flow to this mission.

The same guarantee cannot be assured for the small UN Mission for the Referendum of Western Sahara (MINURSO), which is staffed by 472 personnel and, since its beginnings in 1991, has suffered 15 fatalities keeping Moroccan troops from committing abuses in a territory that Rabat claims as its own. MINURSO’s budget is US$ 57 million. Côte d’Ivoire also has no strategic importance to the US. The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has a budget of US$ 153 million that provides for its 737 personnel, who since 2004, have suffered 144 fatalities. Since its establishment in 2003, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been hit by 199 casualties. UNMIL’s 1,650 personnel operate with US$ 187 million budget. Liberia is also of no consequence to the US. To Western Africans, these peacekeeping missions are essential.


Investing in peace has long-term dividends

The US Congress must approve Trump’s budget. Some legislatures realise that a stable, peaceful Africa is in the national security interest of the US. The threat of those terror groups that must be weakened before they attack America must be coupled with the threat of countries abandoned by the US, whose government will turn to China and Russia for support, and in turn will vote against US interests in the UN, particularly if the UN peacekeeping missions in Africa are curtailed at the US’s behest. If bloodshed and mayhem result in the loss of these missions, the pushback against America will certainly not be in the US’s best interest.