Reversing the trend: UN Peacekeeping in 2017

Members of the Nigerian Formed Police Unit (FPU) deployed with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) line up prior to leaving their the base in Monrovia, Liberia, to travel to the airport.

Ryan Rappa

This Wednesday, March 28, 2018, the Security Council is holding an open debate on “Collective Action to Improve UN Peacekeeping Operations,” with the participation of the Secretary-General. In honor of the debate, CIC is publishing three posts this week cut from an advance version of its 2017 Annual Global Peace Operations Review. In these posts, CIC data specialist Ryan Rappa assesses the trends we observed in data on peace operations for 2017—a pivotal year for the international system, as the U.S. and the UN both saw leadership changes. The first article looks at trends in peacekeeping, the second  at trends in special political missions, and the third and final article on the trends in the gender of UN senior staff, including field staff—all in light of the larger geopolitical context.

Trends in UN peacekeeping

Over the last two decades, the number of UN peacekeepers stationed around the world climbed steadily with few interruptions. Total military and police personnel peaked around 107,000 in 2015, up from about 12,000 in 1999. Annual peacekeeping budgets grew in tandem, rising from about $2.8 billion in 2001 to almost $8 billion from 2009 onward.[1]

Sources: United Nations; Center on International Cooperation

Recently, however, this trend has reversed. Peacekeeping forces are down to about 92,000 as of January 2018. While certain countries like China have continued to step up the number of peacekeepers and dollars they contribute, the overall trend has been downsizing, which started in 2015 and accelerated in 2016 and 2017.

This is in part due to pressure from the U.S. and other member states to reduce the scope of UN activities and budgets, but the main driver in 2017 and early 2018 appears to be the natural winding down of several longstanding peacekeeping missions, including UNMIL in Liberia, MINUSTAH in Haiti, and UNOCI in Côte d’Ivoire. A few missions saw reductions in authorized troop levels as well, notably UNAMID in Darfur and MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After the closure of UNMIL on March 30, 2018, there will be 14 ongoing peacekeeping missions, down from 16 in 2016.

The recent downtrend in UN peacekeeping is clearly reflected in annual peacekeeping budget expenditures over the last few years, with declining spending in absolute terms and per capita on military and police personnel, civilian personnel, and operational costs across all DPKO-led peacekeeping operations. It is worth noting that the vast majority of these expenditures, detailed in the below graph, are on field-based activities and missions, rather than spending on personnel and operations in New York. “Operational costs” (green line) includes electoral observers, government-provided personnel, consultants, travel and transportation, facilities and infrastructure, communications and IT, medical needs, equipment, general temporary assistance (GTA) and quick impact projects (QIPs).

Sources: United Nations; Center on International Cooperation

Since 2015, all major categories of spending – operational costs, military and police personnel and civilian personnel – have declined by 15 to 25 percent. One possible consequence of this reduced spending is shortfalls in the troop and police strength of ongoing missions. By our estimate, there is a personnel gap of more than 8,000 between the number of troops/police authorized to be deployed on DPKO-led missions and those who are actually on the ground. The shortfalls are most pronounced on UNMISS in South Sudan (which is short roughly 3,500 uniformed personnel out of an authorized ceiling of 19,100) and MINUSMA in Mali (which as of December 2017 had about 13,400 troops and police deployed against an authorized ceiling of 15,200). While a number of factors can result in gaps like these, ranging from logistical challenges to member states’ willingness to contribute troops, tightening purse strings likely plays a part.

A recent analysis[2] of MONUSCO details how budget cuts in 2017-18, at least in the context of that mission, have explicitly reduced troop deployments and will likely have a negative impact on essential operational activities such as security and support for elections. Furthermore, an analysis we conducted of multidimensional peacekeeping missions (i.e. large-scale missions authorized to conduct political as well as military activities in support of peacebuilding and political transitions) over the last several years shows that the average gap between authorized and deployed personnel has widened: in 2015 the average mission was short about 1,000 troops and police, while at the end of 2017 the average shortfall was almost 1,500. Although we cannot say definitively that budget cuts have been the cause, there has certainly been a correlation between falling peacekeeping expenditures and widening deployment gaps.

In tomorrow’s post, we will compare the decreasing we are seeing in peacekeeping with the trends we are observing in special political missions.