The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #3131 on United Nations

August 3, 2016

August 3, 2016 | Backgrounder on United Nations

United Nations Peacekeeping Flaws and Abuses: The U.S. Must Demand Reform

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and the largest contributor to the U.N. peacekeeping budget, the U.S. has extraordinary authority over the approval and parameters of those operations—and a responsibility to ensure that the missions are effective, and that peacekeepers uphold the highest standards of conduct. The unprecedented scope of U.N. peacekeeping operations of the past decade has revealed serious flaws and weaknesses. The most disturbing problem has been the frequency of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel and peacekeepers, and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the U.N. to prevent such misconduct and hold perpetrators accountable. U.N. peacekeeping operations can be useful if conducted with an awareness of their inherent limitations—but widespread mismanagement, corruption, and misconduct cry out for fundamental reform. The U.S. must use its diplomatic and financial leverage to press for solutions to serious problems with U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Key Points

  1. The unprecedented scope of U.N. peacekeeping operations of the past decade has revealed serious flaws and weaknesses, including the disturbing frequency of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel.
  2. The cost of failing to reform U.N. peacekeeping is high not just for the U.N., which risks being sidelined, but also for America, which could be forced to expend yet greater resources to resolve problems that U.N. peacekeeping fails to resolve.
  3. As a permanent Security Council member and the largest contributor to the U.N. peacekeeping budget, the U.S. has extraordinary authority over the approval and parameters of those operations—and a responsibility to ensure that the missions are effective and that peacekeepers uphold the highest standards of conduct.
  4. The U.S. should use all available tools to gain support from other member states and not shy away from using financial carrots and sticks that have been effective in the past in spurring U.N. reform.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and the largest contributor to the U.N. peacekeeping budget, the United States has extraordinary authority over the approval and parameters of those operations, and a responsibility to ensure that the missions are effective, and that peacekeepers uphold the highest standards of conduct. The unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition of U.N. peacekeeping operations over the past decade have revealed serious flaws, limitations, and weaknesses that need to be addressed. The most disturbing problem has been the frequency of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. personnel and peacekeepers and the apparent inability or unwillingness of the U.N. to prevent such misconduct and hold those responsible to account.

U.N. peacekeeping operations can be useful if conducted with an awareness of their limitations and weaknesses. Even then, they are not always the best option and require careful scrutiny to ensure that they are achieving their objectives. Moreover, well-documented problems of mismanagement, corruption, and misconduct cry out for fundamental reform to improve accountability and transparency. Addressing these matters is critical since there is little indication that the demand for U.N. peacekeeping will decline in the foreseeable future. This requires the U.S. to use its diplomatic and financial leverage to press for changes to address serious problems with U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The U.N. and International Peace and Security

Within the U.N. system, the 1945 U.N. Charter places the principal responsibility for maintaining international peace and security on the Security Council. The charter gives the Security Council extensive powers to investigate disputes in order to determine whether they endanger international peace and security; to call on participants in a dispute to settle the conflict through peaceful negotiation; to impose economic, travel, and diplomatic sanctions; and, ultimately, to authorize the use of military force.

For better or worse, this robust vision of the U.N. as a key vehicle for maintaining international peace and security did not materialize after the U.N. was established. The entire premise of collective security through the U.N. depends on agreement and cooperation in the Security Council, especially among the veto-wielding permanent members. This theoretical agreement has rarely materialized in reality, and collective action by the permanent members proved to be an unrealistic option for addressing many conflicts during the Cold War. Even in the rare instances when the Security Council agreed on resolutions to address emerging conflicts, the resulting actions fell far short of the charter’s lofty rhetoric.[1]

Instead, when the permanent members could agree, the U.N. began approving modest operations—later called peacekeeping operations—involving unarmed or lightly armed military observers voluntarily provided by the member states to fulfill limited missions, such as maintaining cease-fires and supporting efforts to resolve conflicts, with little expectation that they would be required to use force. The earliest operations—the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) established in 1948 and the U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) established in 1949—involved relatively small contingents and modest costs funded through the U.N. regular budget.

The first two major U.N. peacekeeping operations—the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) established in 1956 to monitor the cease-fire between Israel and Egypt and the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) established in 1960 to oversee the withdrawal of Belgian forces, maintain order, and preserve the territorial integrity and independence of the Congo—were also funded through the regular budget through special, or ad hoc, accounts. However, political tensions led many member states, including permanent Security Council members France and the Soviet Union, to withhold their share of the expenses of these missions, precipitating the U.N.’s first major financial crisis.[2] In addition, ONUC proved to be far more complicated and challenging than originally anticipated. As summarized in a 2005 RAND report:

UN achievements in the Congo came at considerable cost in men lost, money spent, and controversy raised. For many people, the United Nations’ apparent complicity in the apprehension and later execution of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba overshadowed its considerable accomplishments. As a result of these costs and controversies, neither the United Nations’ leadership nor its member nations were eager to repeat the experience. For the next 25 years the United Nations restricted its military interventions to interpositional peacekeeping, policing ceasefires, and patrolling disengagement zones in circumstances where all parties invited its presence and armed force was to be used by UN troops only in self-defense.[3]

Differing interests among the permanent members of the Security Council, potential financial costs, and hard-earned lessons about the complications of peacekeeping led to great caution in establishing peacekeeping operations during the Cold War. The United Nations established only 18 peacekeeping operations between 1945 and 1990, despite a multitude of conflicts that threatened international peace and security to varying degrees. The bulk of these operations were fact-finding missions, observer missions, and other roles in assisting peace processes in which the parties had agreed to cease hostilities.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.N. Security Council has been far more active and has established more than 50 peacekeeping operations since 1990.[4]

In the early 1990s, humanitarian crises, such as those in the Balkans, Somalia, and Cambodia, also led to a dramatic increase in the size of U.N. peace operations missions and a renewed willingness to deploy U.N. peacekeepers to address more difficult situations. Ineffectiveness and defeats in Somalia and the failure of U.N. peacekeepers to intervene and prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and to stop the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, rekindled skepticism about robust U.N. peacekeeping and led to a short-lived decline in the breadth and frequency of U.N. peacekeeping in the mid and late 1990s.

However, with a number of troubling situations, many of them in Africa, receiving increasing attention from the media, the Security Council has found itself under pressure to respond and “do something” even when the circumstances do not match those where U.N. peacekeeping operations have had the most success. The Security Council has responded by establishing additional peacekeeping operations with unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition. As summarized in the 2015 U.N.-commissioned High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations:

Today, many contemporary United Nations missions are struggling in more complex political contexts and difficult operating environments. A decade ago, many peace operations were deployed following the end of hostilities and the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement. Today, a growing number of missions operate in remote and austere environments where no political agreement exists, or where efforts to establish or re-establish one have faltered. They face ongoing hostilities and parties who are unwilling to negotiate or otherwise undermine the presence of a mission by condoning or inflicting restrictions on its ability to operate….
Expectations have only grown, particularly with respect to the capacity of United Nations missions to protect civilians across vast areas of operations. Although United Nations peace operations have at times responded with conviction to prevent such threats from materializing or worsening, and to provide safety to civilians, at other times they have failed to show sufficient resolve and action in the face of threats to civilians.
In addition to the political, operational and security challenges confronting its missions, the cases of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by some United Nations personnel, despite new conduct and discipline systems and a zero-tolerance policy, continue to cause great harm to victims as well as to the enterprise of United Nations peace operations and the United Nations itself.[5]

At the end of April 2016, 121,780 personnel (including 103,510 uniformed personnel, 16,471 civilian personnel, and 1,799 volunteers) were involved in 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations overseen by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations.[6] These activities have grown increasingly expensive over the past 30 years, with the current annual peacekeeping budget estimated at $8.28 billion.[7]

As illustrated in Map 1, the U.N. has spent over $108.8 billion on 70 past and current peacekeeping operations dating back to 1948. Historically, the U.S. taxpayer has paid between a quarter and a third of these expenses.[8]

A look back over the past seven decades provides insight into where peacekeeping efforts have been focused and how resources have been allocated. Of the 70 past and current operations, 33 were located in Africa, and their total cost represents over 65 percent of the $108.8 billion spent on U.N. peacekeeping since 1948. Currently, nine of the 16 active peacekeeping operations are located in Africa. Those missions also tend to be the largest and most expensive of the current operations, with African missions comprising 85 percent of the amounts directly budgeted for peacekeeping operations for the current U.N. peacekeeping budget period of July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016.

Focusing only on the duration of a particular operation, which is what the U.N. does in its summaries of peacekeeping operations, can conceal the actual extent and cost of the U.N. peacekeeping presence. For instance, in some cases, different titles have been given to peacekeeping operations in the same countries concurrently or sequentially (in which case they are often of similar size, organization, and mandates to the preceding operation). Examples of these practices, illustrated in Figure 1, include five sequential peacekeeping operations in Haiti from the early 1990s through today with only a short hiatus from 2000 to 2004, four sequential missions in Angola from 1989 to 1999, two operations back to back in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1999 to today, and three concurrent operations in Sudan and South Sudan. This current practice of counting back-to-back missions as multiple missions, not as a single continuing engagement, can give a false impression of progress in which operations “end” but are replaced seamlessly by “new” operations often with the same contingents and similar mandates. This Backgrounder breaks down peacekeeping presence and costs by region or country to illustrate the budgetary and time commitments of U.N. peacekeeping in particular countries and regions.

High Costs for the U.S.

According to U.N. data, the U.N. system nearly tripled its revenues from 2003 to 2013, from $17.527 billion to $44.632 billion.[9] About a fifth of this expense goes to U.N. peacekeeping. The U.N. peacekeeping budget funds most of the peacekeeping missions established by the Security Council.[10]

Unlike the regular budget, which is a biennial (two-year) budget, the peacekeeping budget is an annual budget that goes from July to June. The approved peacekeeping budget from July 2015 to June 2016 was $8.28 billion, although the initial approved budget can be adjusted as missions are reduced, expanded, adjusted, closed, or newly established.[11]

There are 193 member states in the United Nations. Article 17 of the U.N. Charter states that the “expenses of the Organization shall be borne by the Members as apportioned by the General Assembly.” Since the U.N.’s establishment, these expenses have been apportioned “broadly according to capacity to pay” and allocated among the U.N. member states in a scale of assessment that assigns each U.N. member state a certain percentage of the expenses that it is expected to provide.[12]

Under the formula used by the U.N. to determine the scale of assessments, wealthier nations, based principally on their share of global gross national income, are asked to pay larger shares of the budget than are poorer nations. This was done in recognition of fiscal reality. The founders of the U.N. did not want U.N. membership to cause severe financial hardship. However, as evidenced from their actions in establishing a minimum assessment of 0.04 percent in 1946, they did not believe that membership should be costless or insignificant either, even though the original member states included very poor countries, such as Haiti.

Over the past 70 years, however, the capacity to pay principle has been used to steadily reduce the share of the expenses of the U.N. borne by poor and developing countries through various discounts for debt, low per capita income, and other modifications. The primary result of these adjustments is to shift the costs of the organization from the bulk of the membership to a relative handful of high-income nations, including the U.S.

The United States has been the U.N.’s largest financial supporter ever since the organization’s founding in 1945. The U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget, and 28.5738 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget.[13] The lowest assessment for the regular budget currently sits at 0.001 percent. Under the current scale of assessments, 32 countries pay this assessment, which equates to an annual payment of approximately $27,000 for the regular budget. America’s regular budget assessment is 22 percent, which equates to an annual payment of about $594 million.

The peacekeeping assessment is based on a country’s regular budget assessment, but the vast majority of the U.N. membership receives discounts ranging from 7.5 percent to 90 percent, which are then added proportionately to the assessments of the permanent members of the Security Council.[14] For the peacekeeping budget, the minimum assessment is 0.0001 percent.


As presented in Table 1, for the peacekeeping budget, the U.S. is assessed more than 185 other U.N. member states combined, and 280,000 times more than the least-assessed countries. These differences are even starker in dollar terms:

  • Under the current peacekeeping scale of assessment adopted this past December and applicable for three calendar years from 2016 to 2018, the 18 countries paying the minimum peacekeeping assessment of 0.0001 percent in 2016 each will be assessed approximately $8,276 based on the approved peacekeeping budget ending June 30, 2016.[15]
  • Nearly 80 countries will be assessed less than $100,000 for peacekeeping.
  • By contrast, the U.S. is assessed 28.5738 percent of the peacekeeping budget, which works out to $2.365 billion based on the approved peacekeeping budget.

The discrepancy between the financial burden shouldered by the U.S. versus most member states has been growing. Fifteen years ago, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke testified to the Senate that he had secured a deal to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent as required under U.S. law and as a condition for payment of U.S. arrears under the HelmsBiden agreement.[16] By 2009, the U.S. share had fallen to 25.9624 percent.[17]

Under the three scales of assessment approved under the Obama Administration—the U.N. adopts a new scale of assessments every three years—the U.S. share of the peacekeeping budget has increased each time[18] and has risen to 28.5738 percent under the current scale for 2016–2018.[19] This increase may seem small, but it costs American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Specifically, if the U.S. were assessed at 25 percent, American taxpayers would be assessed nearly $300 million less for U.N. peacekeeping this year. All told, American taxpayers were billed more than $1.2 billion more for U.N. peacekeeping from 2010 through 2015 than would have been the case if the U.S. assessment were 25 percent.

Serious Flaws, Concerns, and Problems

As noted above, the more recent operations have often involved mandates that go beyond traditional peacekeeping in scope, purpose, and responsibilities. These missions have often focused on quelling civil wars, reflecting a change in the nature of conflict from interstate conflict between nations to intrastate conflict within nations. Increasing demands have revealed ongoing, serious flaws and problems.

Deficient Oversight. Over the years, numerous reports, audits, and investigations have revealed mismanagement, fraud, and procurement corruption in U.N. peacekeeping. For instance, in a 2007 U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report, an examination of $1.4 billion of peacekeeping contracts turned up “significant” corruption schemes that tainted $619 million (over 40 percent) of the contracts.[20] An audit of the U.N. mission in Sudan revealed tens of millions of dollars lost to mismanagement and waste and exposed substantial indications of fraud and corruption.[21] According to then-head of OIOS Inga-Britt Ahlenius in 2008, “We can say that we found mismanagement and fraud and corruption to an extent we didn’t really expect.”[22]

Although recent reports are scarce, indications of mismanagement and corruption have reached the public. Among these is a leaked internal memorandum from 2015 on widespread fraud on meal and hotel invoices by U.N. peacekeepers in the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).[23] A 2016 news story reports that U.N. peacekeepers in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are under investigation for illegally reselling food.[24] Other news stories concern possible corruption in U.N. air charters in favor of Russian contractors,[25] allegations of selling U.N. peacekeeping jobs in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,[26] and assertions by independent watchdogs, such as Transparency International, that the U.N. has failed to prioritize fighting corruption in peacekeeping operations.[27]

The relative scarcity of corruption and mismanagement in peacekeeping should not necessarily be interpreted as an indication of progress. On the contrary, the most likely cause is OIOS disinterest in pursuing investigations or failure to publicly release such reports. According to former OIOS investigator Peter Gallo:

OIOS was established by the General Assembly, specifically to be independent. The UN is manifestly unable to police itself, because it is clear that the independence that OIOS once had has been compromised. OIOS has repeatedly been found to be factional, it is riddled with corruption and self interest and is effectively controlled by the same senior management that it is supposed to investigate for wrongdoing.
Beholden to senior management for political patronage and other favours, OIOS management has been able to select which reports should be investigated and which should be referred to another department (and conveniently lost or buried). Potentially embarrassing cases have been closed in the face of evidence of fraud, sexual abuse or other misconduct. There is is [sic] a toxic working environment; some investigators have been harassed, experienced retaliation and encouraged to resign while serious misconduct complaints against some others have been ignored.[28]

As detailed in his testimony, Gallo believes that U.N. actions and practices impede efforts to address sexual exploitation and abuse.

One of the methods by which the number of Sexual Exploitation & Abuse cases in the missions has been kept artificially low involves these reports being filtered by the local Conduct & Discipline Team.
The Conduct & Discipline function in the U.N. has no investigative authority. Their role is basically to act as a postbox and pass these reports on to OIOS for investigation. Their function is prevention; raising awareness of such ‘soft’ issues as codes of conduct. As such, Conduct & Discipline Teams have an incentive to minimise the number of misconduct reports that are deemed ‘credible’.
What often happens in practice is that these ‘assessment’ [sic] simply identify witnesses, who can then be discredited, bribed or intimidated. If the matter is subsequently investigated, by the time investigators arrive; material witnesses have often been paid off, retracted their allegations or otherwise disappeared.[29]

Worse, Gallo details how the U.N. knew about abuses by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, but failed to take action that could have resulted in timely investigation and deterred subsequent abuse. The failings of OIOS and the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit are serious and indicate that the issue should remain a primary focus of reform for the U.S.

Unintended Consequences. Ten months after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was ravaged by cholera for the first time in over a century. Over 9,000 Haitians have died, and more than 800,000 more have been sickened from cholera. Infections first occurred in the vicinity of an outpost of U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal, where cholera was widespread, and quickly spread across Haiti. A U.N. investigation concluded that the cholera cases involved a single strain of the disease, indicating a single source, and that the strain was closely related to strains contemporaneously circulating in South Asia. Subsequent studies and reports, including one by the scientists that originally conducted the U.N. investigation, confirmed these conclusions and identified the Nepalese peacekeepers as almost certainly the source of the cholera outbreak.[30] Because of the broad immunities and privileges enjoyed by the U.N., efforts to sue the organization have been unsuccessful to date.

The U.N. has repeatedly refused to admit responsibility.[31] However, a leaked internal U.N. report indicates that negligence and sanitation problems continued well after the initial cholera outbreak. According to a summary of the report, “a month after the cholera outbreak, more than one in 10 of the UN camps were still disposing of sewage—known as ‘black water’—‘directly into local environment.’ In addition, more than seven in 10 of the camps disposed of their ‘grey water’—that is water from showers and kitchens—into the ‘local environment.’”[32]

According to the leaked report, these sanitation failures could have been fixed for $3.15 million. The current estimate of the cost to eradicate cholera from Haiti is more than $2 billion. There is no evidence that any U.N. official has faced any consequences for the failures in Haiti. As noted by former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support Anthony Banbury, “In the past six years, I am not aware of a single international field staff member’s being fired, or even sanctioned, for poor performance.”[33]

Stasis and Ineffectiveness. The unfortunate reality is that after billions of dollars in international assistance and decades of U.N. peacekeeping efforts, many long-standing peacekeeping operations have not demonstrably facilitated the resolution of the conflicts or situations that they were originally deployed to address or remain in place for transparently political reasons. Specifically:

  • The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization has been operational since 1948. UNTSO was established to “monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating and assist other United Nations peacekeeping operations in the region.”[34] UNTSO did not prevent war in 1956, 1967, or 1973. Nor has it paved the way toward normalized relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. On the contrary, the political situation remains as tense as it was seven decades ago.
  • The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan has been operational since 1949. UNMOGIP is tasked with supervising the cease-fire between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir and reports to the Secretary-General. Hostilities resumed in 1971 and resulted in another cease-fire and the signing of the Simla Agreement (also known as the Line of Control agreement) in 1972.[35] India believes that UNMOGIP’s mandate should have ended with the signing of the Line of Control agreement and restricts the activities of U.N. observers on the Indian side of the borders.[36] Despite the dispute between India and Pakistan over UNMOGIP, and virtually no change in the situation since 1972, the mission continues.
  • The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has been operational since 1964. The purpose of the mission is to “prevent a recurrence of fighting” and “contribute to the maintenance and restoration of law and order and a return to normal conditions.”[37] Hostilities in 1974 resulted in a new cease-fire and UNFICYP was charged with monitoring that agreement and patrolling a buffer zone between opposing forces. Despite ongoing efforts by the U.N., little progress has been made toward a permanent settlement of the dispute.
  • The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been operational since 1974. UNDOF is charged with monitoring the cease-fire between Syria and Israel and the disengagement of their forces. Assaults on and kidnapping of UNDOF troops led some troop-contributing countries to remove their troops, and the U.N. to withdraw UNDOF peacekeepers to camps and outposts in Israel. The U.N. announced earlier this year that it intends to return UNDOF forces to outposts in Syria, but their freedom of movement will likely be constrained by the ongoing conflict and instability in Syria.[38] There has been no progress toward a comprehensive settlement between Syria and Israel.
  • The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been operational since 1978. The mission was established to confirm withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and to restore the authority of the Lebanese government to the border area. Later, the mandate was expanded to monitoring the cessation of hostilities, supporting Lebanese armed forces in deploying to the south of Lebanon, and “taking steps towards the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons, other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL deployed in this area.”[39] The 2006 and 2008 conflicts between Israel and Lebanon were in part a result of the UNIFIL’s failure to enforce its disarmament mandate. Experts estimate that, since 2006, “Hezbollah has massively expanded the size and range of its rocket and missile inventory.”[40] Prospects for renewed conflict are far higher than resolution of the sources of conflict.
  • The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara has been operational since 1991. MINURSO was mandated to monitor the cease-fire, support related objectives, such as the exchange of prisoners, and pave the way toward a referendum.[41] Twenty-five years after MINURSO was established, the political settlement remains distant and may be in retreat following statements by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referring to the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara as an “occupation,” which led Morocco to expel dozens of MINURSO staff.[42]
  • The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo has been operational since 1999. In the words of the U.S. mission to the United Nations, “UNMIK’s mandate has largely been accomplished. The only reason we continue to meet with this regularity has nothing to do with the security situation in Kosovo—it has to do with politics. So let’s be clear: now is the time to seriously reduce the United Nations mission’s footprint. We have some very talented staff in UNMIK whose skills are desperately needed in other missions. There is no need for all of them to remain in Kosovo.”[43] Indeed, UNMIK should be sharply downsized and terminated in the near term to apply resources to more critical matters.

In sum, the circumstances surrounding most of these situations remain virtually identical to what they were when these peacekeeping operations were established or they drag on after they should have been ended for political reasons. There is an argument to be made that stasis is a positive outcome: After all, most of the situations are not deteriorating. But after two, three, four, five, or six decades of stasis, it is beyond time to re-examine these missions to determine if they can resolve their respective situations. Peacekeeping should not be a permanent operation, but a temporary endeavor focused on addressing critical problems, bolstering domestic capacity (not substituting for it), and exiting as soon as practical to allow finite resources to be shifted to more urgent or emerging crises.

Quagmire. The nature of the largest peacekeeping operations, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, arguably goes against the strengths of U.N. peacekeeping. As summarized by one academic:

UN peacekeeping operations are ill-suited to operations requiring the use of offensive force: they lack the personnel, the equipment, and the effective leadership required. Moreover, the tradition that peacekeeping operations may only operate with the consent and cooperation of the government of the host state means that it is extremely difficult for a militarized peacekeeping force to be even-handed in its resort to force: if it were to use force against the host state—even if the government of the host state was acting contrary to the interests of its civilian population—it would lose that government’s good will and its continued operation in the state would be extremely difficult.[44]

Nonetheless, the U.N. Security Council often overrides experience and caution and approves missions even though that may violate the central lesson learned in the 1990s: “[T]he United Nations does not wage war.”[45] But the mere presence of a U.N. operation does not guarantee success. On the contrary, it can lead to quagmire. As noted by Banbury:

Peacekeeping forces often lumber along for years without clear goals or exit plans, crowding out governments, diverting attention from deeper socioeconomic problems and costing billions of dollars. My first peacekeeping mission was in Cambodia in 1992. We left after less than two years. Now it’s a rare exception when a mission lasts fewer than 10.
Look at Haiti: There has been no armed conflict for more than a decade, and yet a United Nations force of more than 4,500 remains. Meanwhile, we are failing at what should be our most important task: assisting in the creation of stable, democratic institutions. Elections have been postponed amid allegations of fraud, and the interim prime minister has said that “the country is facing serious social and economic difficulties.” The military deployment makes no contribution at all to solving these problems.
Our most grievous blunder is in Mali. In early 2013, the United Nations decided to send 10,000 soldiers and police officers to Mali in response to a terrorist takeover of parts of the north. Inexplicably, we sent a force that was unprepared for counterterrorism and explicitly told not to engage in it. More than 80 percent of the force’s resources are spent on logistics and self-protection. Already 56 people in the United Nations contingent have been killed, and more are certain to die. The United Nations in Mali is day by day marching deeper into its first quagmire.[46]

Worse than becoming bogged down in a quagmire, peacekeeping can link the U.N. to the fortunes of abusive regimes. As noted by Richard Gowan:

Some of the largest and highest-profile UN missions, including those in South Sudan and Darfur, are trapped in quagmires of endemic violence and dysfunctional politics. UN contingents are often under-equipped and under-motivated, reducing their tactical impact. Yet the UN’s greatest strategic weakness in these cases is that it has become entangled in fractious and arguably unethical relationships with national leaders who, driven by greed or fear, have little real interest in stable, open and inclusive political systems….
At what point do efforts to maintain relations with abusive leaders and regimes become morally and politically unsustainable? Does such collaboration contribute to protecting civilians over the long term, or does it simply allow abusive rulers to fortify their positions?...
While it may be hard to imagine pulling peacekeepers out of countries where civilians remain at risk, there have to be moral limits to the sort of regimes that peacekeepers are asked to fight and die for. The longer the UN continues to prop up leaders and governments that treat the organization with contempt, the more that contempt will be deserved.[47]

Indeed, the presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and its partnership with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo becomes increasingly complicated as President Joseph Kabila punishes journalists, political opponents, and civil society in a bid to retain power despite constitutional provisions that restrict him to two terms.[48]

Failing to Protect Civilians. U.N. peacekeeping debacles in the 1990s led to a re-evaluation of U.N. peacekeeping. However, as troubling situations have arisen in recent years, many of them in Africa, the Security Council has found itself under pressure to respond even when the circumstances may not be ripe for a political solution, or even where conflict is ongoing and there is no peace to keep. Approving an operation in these instances, however, does not magically make U.N. peacekeepers more capable of acting with force to prevent violence, or more willing to do so.

As noted by the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, “More than 98 per cent of military and police personnel deployed in United Nations peacekeeping missions today have a mandate to protect civilians, as part of integrated mission-wide efforts.”[49] But the panel also notes that “growth in concepts, standards, advocacy and specialized personnel has yet to transform reality on the ground, where it matters.”[ 50] That is an understatement. A 2014 study of eight of the nine U.N. peacekeeping operations with a mandate to protect civilians found that of 570 reported instances of violence, peacekeepers “did not report responding to 406 (80 per cent) of incidents where civilians were attacked.”[51]

This also assumes that those reports are accurate or complete. Whistleblower Aicha Elbasri, who served as spokesperson for the African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) between August 2012 and April 2013, provided leaked documentation to Foreign Policy magazine that showed, in a series of articles, that the mission was deliberately underreporting and concealing attacks by Sudanese forces on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.[52]

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. By far the most horrible of the problems facing U.N. peacekeeping is the frequency of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by troops and civilian personnel participating in those operations. This is not a new problem. There have been numerous reports of U.N. personnel committing serious crimes and sexual misconduct, from rape to the forced prostitution of women, young girls, and young boys. In recent years, U.N. personnel have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The U.S. and other member states successfully pressured the U.N. to adopt stricter requirements for peacekeeping troops and their contributing countries, and Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon have repeatedly announced their commitment to a “zero-tolerance policy” on sexual exploitation and abuse and have commissioned and conducted numerous reports on the matter.[53]

Conduct and Discipline Teams charged with strengthening accountability and upholding the highest standards of conduct in peacekeeping missions are now present in nearly all U.N. peacekeeping and political missions, and troops are required to undergo briefing and training on behavior and conduct.[54] Statistics on the United Nations Conduct and Discipline Unit website have chronicled a decline in allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse over the past decade.[55]

Recent leaked reports, however, belie these statistics and indicate that the problem is as bad as, if not worse than, it has ever been. A U.N.-commissioned experts’ report from November 2013, which was never released, was leaked last year.[56] The report directly challenges U.N. claims on sexual exploitation and abuse:

  • “The UN does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA” due to poor record keeping, fear of retribution, a culture of silence, and a sense of futility due to “the rarity of remedial outcomes including rarity of victim assistance.”
  • “Overall, there was noted a culture of enforcement avoidance, with managers feeling powerless to enforce anti-SEA rules, a culture of silence around reporting and discussing cases, and a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”
  • “This impunity has been debilitating for the many UN personnel who believe in, adhere to, and try to promote the zero tolerance policy, and creates unremediated harm to its victims.”

Last year, another report, based on an investigation by UNICEF and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights into allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct involving young boys in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2014, was leaked. The confidential investigation reportedly provided strong evidence of repeated rape and sexual abuse by French, Chadian, and Equatorial Guinean peacekeepers present in the country before the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was stood up.[57] The reluctance of the U.N. to pursue the matter is deeply troubling. As stated by Paula Donovan, co-director of the advocacy group AIDS-Free World, who received the leaked report:

The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations’ appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn’t uncommon. The UN’s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks—ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble—must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access, top to bottom, and full subpoena power.[58]

This conclusion was echoed by a U.N.-established independent review that concluded:

These repeated failures [by the U.N. and its senior officials] to respond to the Allegations are, in the Panel’s view, indicative of a broader problem of fragmentation of responsibility within the Organization, in which UN staff too often assumed that some other UN agency would take responsibility to address the violations. The end result was a gross institutional failure to respond to the Allegations in a meaningful way.[59]

The review proposed a number of reforms in training, procedures for reporting and investigating sexual exploitation and abuse, and securing commitments by troop-contributing countries to try to minimize repetition of this problem.

The Secretary-General endorsed the measures recommended by the review in a February report that also, for the first time, provided details on sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeeping missions, specifically named the nationality of those accused, and provided the current status of investigations. This transparency is a vast improvement. Similarly, the steps announced in the report should help in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse and addressing them in a timely manner if they occur.

As illustrated by the numerous announcements of reforms and zero tolerance in the past, however, the U.N.’s problem has never been an inability to announce its commitment to stopping sexual exploitation and abuse; it has been a deplorable inability to follow through. With this in mind, it is worth noting that a great many of the reforms involve requesting member states, particularly troop-contributing countries, to commit to and implement various measures, such as stronger investigatory procedures.[60] This formulation is echoed in Security Council Resolution 2272 on measures to address sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, which similarly urges, welcomes, and encourages efforts by member states to take steps recommended by the Secretary-General.[61] Whether these reforms will be implemented or delayed indefinitely in bureaucratic deliberations and efforts to achieve consensus support in the General Assembly is yet to be determined.

There have been some positive signs, including the decision to send home troop contingents from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, and to confine troops from Burundi and Gabon to barracks after they were found to be involved in sexual exploitation and abuse.[62] But new allegations of serious sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers clearly indicate that much remains to be done.[63] Indeed, the U.N. recently confirmed receiving 44 new sexual-abuse allegations involving more than 40 minors in 2016—nearly half the total number of sexual-abuse allegations reported in 2015.[64]

Many Changes Necessary

The high and sustained pace, scope, and ambition of U.N. peacekeeping operations have revealed numerous serious flaws, concerns, and problems that must be addressed. Even longtime employees and strong supporters of the U.N. have realized that the current organization falls short. As noted by former U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support Anthony Banbury:

If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.[65]

To address the myriad problems identified above, the U.S. should:

  • Carefully re-evaluate long-running U.N. peacekeeping missions. The U.S. should re-evaluate long-standing U.N. operations to determine whether each U.N. mission is contributing to resolving the situation or retarding that process. If an operation is not demonstrably facilitating resolution of the situation, the U.S. should use its power in the Security Council to wind it down or refocus it on discrete, manageable goals designed to bolster domestic capacity in order to assume responsibility for peace and security. Alternatively, if some concerned countries want to continue U.N. peacekeeping operations that have not resolved the conflicts despite being in place for extended periods, they should be asked to assume all or a substantial portion of the financial burden of the continued operations.[ ]This is already the case to a limited extent with UNFICYP, where the governments of Cyprus and Greece provide voluntary contributions to cover nearly 45 percent of the total net costs.[66] Other historical examples include Kuwait paying for two-thirds of the costs of the United Nations Iraq–Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM); the governments of Indonesia and the Netherlands paying the full costs of the United Nations Security Force in West New Guinea (UNSF); and the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt paying the full costs of the United Nations Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM).[67] Long-standing missions are generally relatively small and among the least costly, but such a re-evaluation would help to reduce the enormous peacekeeping budget and send a welcome message of accountability and assessment.[68]

  • Be more judicious in authorizing U.N. peacekeeping operations. A U.N. peacekeeping operation may not be the best option for addressing every situation, particularly where there is no peace to keep. The U.N.-commissioned High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations similarly cautioned: “A number of peace operations today are deployed in an environment where there is little or no peace to keep. In many settings today, the strain on their operational capabilities and support systems is showing, and political support is often stretched thin. There is a clear sense of a widening gap between what is being asked of United Nations peace operations today and what they are able to deliver.”[69] Among other recommendations, the panel called for tailoring the mandates of individual operations for the specific situation, rather than using default templates, and closing the gap between what is asked of missions in terms of civilian protection and what they can actually provide. The pressure to “do something” must not trump sensible consideration of whether a U.N. presence will improve or destabilize the situation or align the U.N. with a morally repugnant government. Such consideration includes clearly establishing—and sticking to—the objectives of the operations, ensuring that they are achievable, carefully planning the requirements for achieving them, securing pledges for providing what is needed to achieve them before authorizing the operation, and being willing to acknowledge when the U.N. operation is failing and then adjusting or pulling out as appropriate.

  • Press the U.N. to clarify the steps and circumstances required for the organization to waive immunities for employees in order to facilitate claims and efforts to punish serious misconduct. The U.N. and its affiliated organizations are engaged in a multitude of activities that could result in casualties, property damage, or other negative consequences. Elimination of U.N. immunities would likely lead to a reduction in U.N. field activities, which could lead to even more suffering. Although the U.N. has a mixed record, the U.S. has an interest in preserving the organization’s ability to respond to crises where it is unwilling or unable to respond directly. But this interest must not supersede the need of victims of sexual abuse, criminality, or neglect to hold those responsible for their suffering to account. U.N. privileges and immunities are important, but they must not create an unreasonable barrier to accountability.

  • Hold troop-contributing countries accountable. The standard memorandum of understanding between the U.N. and troop contributors appropriately grants troop-contributing countries jurisdiction over troops and police who participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations. Until recently, little was done if these countries failed to investigate or punish those who are guilty of such crimes. In fact, the U.N. would generally decline to identify the nationality of those who were accused of crimes or sent home. The most recent actions by the U.N. have improved matters by identifying the nationalities of the accused, repatriating units with patterns of misbehavior, and indicating that compensation can be withheld.[70] However, more must be done to prevent, rather than merely react to, these problems. As noted by Banbury:

    When we took over peacekeeping responsibilities from the African Union [in the Central African Republic] in 2014, we had the choice of which troops to accept. Without appropriate debate, and for cynical political reasons, a decision was made to include soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and from the Republic of Congo, despite reports of serious human rights violations by these soldiers. Since then, troops from these countries have engaged in a persistent pattern of rape and abuse of the people—often young girls—the United Nations was sent there to protect.
    Last year, peacekeepers from the Republic of Congo arrested a group of civilians, with no legal basis whatsoever, and beat them so badly that one died in custody and the other shortly after in a hospital. In response there was hardly a murmur, and certainly no outrage, from the responsible officials in New York.
    As the abuse cases piled up, impassioned pleas were made to send the troops home. These were ignored, and more cases of child rape came to light. Last month, we finally kicked out the Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers, but the ones from the Republic of Congo remain.[71]

    The Secretary-General has requested troop-contributing countries to implement measures to track the processes by which they investigate, try, and punish their personnel in cases of misconduct. The Security Council endorsed this report, but failed to mandate that all troop-contributing countries comply. These measures should be a prerequisite for participating in U.N. peacekeeping. States that fail to fulfill their commitments to discipline their troops should be barred from providing troops for peace operations or receive substantially reduced peacekeeper reimbursements—not the negligible withholding of the monthly compensation of the peacekeepers who are directly accused. Likewise, if compensation is deemed appropriate for criminal acts committed by peacekeepers or damages resulting from negligence by the troop-contributing government, extracting penalties from peacekeeping payments to the troop-contributing country should be the first option.[72]

  • Press the U.N. to automatically establish standing claims commissions in peacekeeping missions. The U.N. currently gives the appearance of avenues of redress for damages caused by U.N. action or inaction via claims in a standing claims commission, which are included as an option for redress in U.N. peacekeeping status of forces agreements with host nations. However, the failure of the U.N. to establish such commissions indicates that the system is not operating as it should. A key reason for this is likely that a government in a country where the U.N. has a peacekeeping operation is almost always highly dependent on the U.N. for security, resources, and political support. As a result, the government will be reluctant to anger the U.N. by requesting the establishment of a standing claims commission. To avoid this complication, a standing claims commission should automatically be established when a mission stands up, although it would be prudent to tightly define the claims eligible for consideration to avoid frivolous petitions. If the damages do not occur in the performance of legitimate peacekeeping activities or are the result of negligence, and compensation is deemed appropriate, the person or the troop-contributing country should be responsible for that compensation.[73]

  • Seek to review and adjust the U.N. scale of assessment to distribute the costs of the peacekeeping budget more equitably. To address the even greater disparity in the peacekeeping assessment, the U.S. should seek to increase the peacekeeping floor to 0.001 percent, which was the case prior to 1998. This would have the effect of increasing the minimum assessment from roughly $8,276 per year to about $82,755 per year, which is well within the capacity of any sovereign nation to pay. In addition, considering that the peacekeeping assessment is based on the regular budget, where many countries already receive significant discounts, the extent of additional peacekeeping discounts should be trimmed, as should the number of eligible countries, which currently include wealthy or developed nations, such as Brunei, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. Finally, the U.S. should also seek a change in the methodology to reflect the prestige of membership on the Security Council by proposing (1) a new minimum peacekeeping assessment of 0.5 percent for non-permanent members of the Security Council; (2) a new minimum peacekeeping assessment of 5 percent for permanent members of the Security Council; and (3) barring the permanent members from using the debt adjustment, low-income adjustment, or other regular budget scale of assessment discounts for the purposes of calculating their peacekeeping assessment.

  • Enforce the 25 percent cap on America’s peacekeeping assessment. The U.S. should resume pressure on the U.N. to fulfill its commitment to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent by withholding the difference between the U.S. peacekeeping assessment and the 25 percent cap, until the U.N. implements a maximum peacekeeping assessment of 25 percent.

  • Establish a dedicated unit for international organizations in the Office of Inspector General for the Department of State. The U.S. remains dependent on the internal U.N. oversight mechanisms, many of which lack independence, have inadequate resources, or are incompetent, corrupt, or biased. The value of having a separate U.S. inspector general unit that can investigate the activities funded in substantial part by U.S. taxpayers is illustrated by reports of the U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which has identified numerous management and oversight failings of U.N. Development Programme projects in Afghanistan.[74]

  • Press to make the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) truly independent, or establish an independent unit, such as the defunct Procurement Task Force (PTF) to provide independent oversight. The OIOS is not a truly independent inspector general like the inspectors general in the U.S. government, and it has been subject to politicization. According to a 2014 Associated Press report on a senior OIOS official impeding an investigation and retaliating against two OIOS whistleblowers, a “review of the reports submitted by OIOS to the General Assembly through mid-2013 shows that the U.N.’s oversight functions still have not completed any major corruption cases since the [PTF] was disbanded.”[75] The PTF was established after the oil-for-food scandal and was very successful in unearthing numerous instances of fraud and mismanagement. In the end, however, the PTF did its job too well. As punishment for its pursuit of cases against Singaporean and Russian nationals, those countries led a successful effort to eliminate the PTF in December 2008.[76] The U.N. needs independent oversight, and Congress should work with the Administration to address this problem.

  • Demand that the U.N. enforce whistle-blower-protection standards. Weak U.N. internal oversight is exacerbated by the hostility toward U.N. whistle-blowers. Whistle-blowers serve a particularly valuable function in the U.N. system because of the broad protections and immunities the organizations and their employees possess. In essence, whistle-blowers should serve as a safety valve by alerting the organization to wrongdoing. Unfortunately, whistle-blowers are themselves too often punished for coming forward. The Government Accountability Project (GAP), which advocates for whistle-blowers, has compiled numerous instances illustrating “the consistent failure of the United Nations and its funds, programs and agencies to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.”[77] Congress has expressed great concern over the failure of the U.N. to implement measures to protect whistle-blowers. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 required the U.S. to withhold 15 percent of U.S. contributions unless the Secretary of State certifies that the organization has implemented specified whistle-blower protections, including the option for external arbitration. This whistle-blower language was also included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. Despite ample evidence of sub-standard observance of whistle-blower protections and evidence of retaliation in several U.N. organizations, the U.S. has applied this law only to the World Intellectual Property Organization.[78] An honest assessment would apply this withholding far more widely among U.N. organizations.


U.N. peacekeeping operations can be useful and successful if entered into with an awareness of their limitations and weaknesses, but they can also fail or serve as an excuse to refuse to resolve an ongoing dispute. Moreover, pressures to address various troubling situations have led the Security Council to establish peacekeeping operations where there is no peace to keep, that by default support governments that do not respect human rights and are themselves contributing to instability or suffering, or have objectives that exceed what peacekeepers and troop-contributing countries are willing to provide.

The unprecedented scope of U.N. peacekeeping operations of the past decade has revealed serious flaws and weaknesses. The United States should not hesitate to encourage and demand reforms to address these flaws. The cost of failing to reform the U.N. is high not just for the U.N., which risks being sidelined if it cannot be relied upon to address key issues, but also for America, which pays the largest share of the U.N. peacekeeping budget and could be forced to expend yet greater resources and effort to resolve problems that U.N. peacekeeping fails to resolve.

An Administration focused on advancing its policy priorities in the United Nations can block many counterproductive initiatives put forth at the U.N. Rallying support for positive change is much more difficult. Such efforts require the assistance of other member states or the use of leverage to impose reforms on an unwilling organization. Congress has played an active role in U.N. reform since the very beginning of the organization and can be a very effective ally in executive branch efforts to pressure the organization to adopt targeted reforms.[79] Fortunately, some of the recommendations in this Backgrounder are addressed in the respective State Department authorization bills that have passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Administration and Congress should work closely to advance and expand on these reforms. This effort should include financial carrots and sticks that have been effective in the past in spurring reform, including the establishment of the OIOS in 1994 and the adoption of a maximum assessment for the regular budget.[80] The U.S. should use the available tools to gain support from other member states and use its financial leverage to spur reform.

—Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.


Sources for Map 1

Financial data includes approved resources through June 30, 2016, for active peacekeeping operations. For UNTSO and UNMOGIP, financial data includes one-quarter of the approved regular budget resources for the 2016–2017 biennium. Information about active operations is from the websites of individual peacekeeping operations: United Nations Peacekeeping, “Current Peacekeeping Operations,” (accessed June 2, 2016).

Financial data for active peacekeeping operations between July 1, 1996, and June 30, 2016: United Nations General Assembly, “Approved Resources for Peacekeeping Operations,” and “Proposed Budgetary Requirements of Each Peacekeeping Operation,” 1996–1997 through 2015–2016, (accessed May 20, 2016).

Financial data for MINURSO, UNDOF, UNFICYP, UNMOGIP, and UNTSO from establishment through December 1996: U.S. General Accounting Office, “U.N. Peacekeeping: Status of Long-standing Operations and U.S. Interests in Supporting Them,” NSIAD–97–59, April 9, 1997, (accessed June 2, 2016).

Financial data for UNMOGIP and UNTSO from 1996 through 2016, which are funded through the regular budget unlike other active peacekeeping operations: United Nations General Assembly, “Programme Budget for the Biennium: Section 5 Peacekeeping Operations,” 1996–1997 through 2016–2017, (accessed May 20, 2016).

Financial data and other information for most closed peacekeeping operations is from the websites of individual peacekeeping operations: United Nations Peacekeeping, “Past Peacekeeping Operations,” (accessed June 2, 2016).

Financial data for the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH) and United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Sirmium (UNTAES) were not available on the individual peacekeeping operation websites for those missions, and were based instead on data reported in: United Nations General Assembly, “Approved Resources for Peacekeeping Operations” and “Proposed Budgetary Requirements of Each Peacekeeping Operation,” 1996–1997 through 2002–2003, (accessed May 20, 2016).

Sources for Figure 1

Information for current operations is from the websites of individual peacekeeping operations: United Nations Peacekeeping, “Current Peacekeeping operations,” (accessed June 2, 2016).

Information for closed peacekeeping operations is from the websites of individual peacekeeping operations: United Nations Peacekeeping, “Past Peacekeeping Operations,” (accessed May 20, 2016).

About the Author

Brett D. Schaefer Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Show references in this report

[1] A notable exception was Security Council Resolution 83, which recommended that “the Members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore international peace and security in the area.” This resolution passed while the Soviet Union was boycotting U.N. meetings and led to them ending that absence to prevent similar actions against their interests.

[2] Arrears for UNEF and ONUC remain unpaid by over 50 governments according to the U.N. Board of Auditors. For a detailed discussion see Brett D. Schaefer, “The Window of Opportunity to Overhaul the U.N. Scale of Assessments Is Closing,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2701, June 18, 2012,

[3] James Dobbins et al., “The UN’s Role in Nation-Building: From the Congo to Iraq,” RAND, 2005, p. xvi, (accessed May 18, 2016).

[4] United Nations, “History of Peacekeeping,” (accessed May 18, 2016).

[5] Paragraph numbers omitted. High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, “Uniting Our Strengths for Peace–Politics, Partnership and People,” United Nations Document A/70/95–S/2015/446, June 16, 2015, p. 21, (accessed May 31, 2016). Available in original format at (accessed May 31, 2016).

[6] United Nations, “Peacekeeping Fact Sheet,” as of April 30, 2016, (accessed May 31, 2016).

[7] United Nations General Assembly, “Approved Resources for Peacekeeping Operations for the Period from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016,” No. A/C.5/69/24, June 26, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[8] The U.S. assessment for peacekeeping operations has varied over the years. The U.S. regular budget assessment was nearly 40 percent in the 1940s (when UNTSO and UNMOGIP were established) and early 1950s. Prior to the establishment of a formal peacekeeping budget in 2001 in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/55/235, missions after UNTSO and UNMOGIP were funded through “ad hoc accounts” or “special accounts” under which permanent members of the Security Council and developed countries were assessed at rates higher than their regular budget assessments to offset discounts for developing countries. The U.S. assessment under these ad hoc arrangements was over 30 percent. The U.S. assessment has fluctuated between 26 percent and 28.5 percent over the past 15 years, when the U.N. peacekeeping budget has reached extraordinary levels. At times, the U.S. has withheld portions of its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping that resulted in payments below assessed levels. See Schaefer, “The Window of Opportunity to Overhaul the U.N. Scale of Assessments Is Closing,” and Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Must Enforce Peacekeeping Cap to Lower America’s U.N. Assessment,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2762, January 25, 2013,

[9] United Nations General Assembly, “Budgetary and Financial Situation of the Organizations of the United Nations System,” Table 1: Approved regular budgets, and Table 2: Extrabudgetary resources, No. A/61/203, July 28, 2006, (accessed May 19, 2016), and United Nations General Assembly, “Budgetary and Financial Situation of the Organizations of the United Nations System,” Table 2: Total Revenue by organization, A/69/305, August 12, 2014, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[10] The earliest operations (UNTSO established in 1948 and UNMOGIP established in 1949) continue to be funded through the regular budget under the normal scale of assessments.

[11] United Nations General Assembly, “Approved Resources for Peacekeeping Operations for the Period from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016.”

[12] For a detailed history of this practice, see Schaefer, “The Window of Opportunity to Overhaul the U.N. Scale of Assessments Is Closing.”

[13] United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General, “Implementation of General Assembly resolutions 55/235 and 55/236,” Annex III, A/70/331, August 19, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[14] United Nations General Assembly, “Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly: Scale of Assessments for the Apportionment of the Expenses of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” No. A/RES/55/235, January 30, 2001, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[15] United Nations General Assembly, “Approved Resources for Peacekeeping Operations for the Period from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016.”

[16] Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, January 9, 2001.

[17] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Must Enforce Peacekeeping Cap to Lower America’s U.N. Assessment,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2762, January 25, 2013,

[18] For a fuller discussion, see ibid.

[19] United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General, “Scale of Assessments for the Apportionment of the Expenses of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Implementation of General Assembly Resolutions 55/235 and 55/236,” No. A/70/331/Add.1, December 28, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[20] United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, “Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the Activities of the Procurement Task Force for the 18-Month Period Ended 30 June 2007,” No. A/62/272, October 5, 2007, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[21] Colum Lynch, “Audit of UN’s Sudan Mission Finds Tens of Millions in Waste,” The Washington Post, February 10, 2008, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[22] Louis Charbonneau, “UN Probes Allegations of Corruption, Fraud,” Reuters, January 10, 2008, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[23] MINURSO, “Fact Finding Exercise Regarding Allegations of Misuse or Meals Provided by Local Authorities at Authorized Hotels,” Interoffice Memorandum, April 8, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[24] “Lebanon: El Pais, UN Peacekeepers Illegally Resold Food,” ANSAmed, May 25, 2015, (accessed May 31, 2016).

[25] George Russell, “UN Paid Russian Air Charters Hundreds of Millions While Putin Invaded Ukraine,” Fox News, April 9, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[26] Matthew Russell Lee, “On Selling of UN Jobs in DRC & Haiti UN Says It’s Up to Cote d’Ivoire: Cover Up?” Beacon Reader, February 11, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[27] Transparency International, “Corruption & Peacekeeping: Strengthening Peacekeeping and the United Nations,” October 2013, (accessed May 19. 2016).

[28] Hearing, UN Peacekeepers: Abuse and Accountability, statement by Peter Anthony Gallo before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC, April 13, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[29] Ibid.

[30] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “Haiti Cholera Lawsuit Against the U.N.: Recommendations for U.S. Policy,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2859, November 12, 2013,

[31] As documented by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, “[T]he former head of MINUSTAH repeatedly denied any link between peacekeeping troops and the cholera outbreak, accusing Haitians who pointed the finger at the UN of ‘wasting time and costing lives.’ As recently as 2014, Mr. Mulet told an interviewer that the peacekeepers did not bring cholera to Haiti, that ‘all those precautions had been taken and had been taken all along’ to prevent cholera, and that all the peacekeepers at the base had been tested for cholera.” News release, “Leaked Report Highlights UN Recklessness and Cover Up on Haiti Cholera,” Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, April 6, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[32] Joe Sandler Clarke and Ed Pilkington, “Leaked UN Report Faults Sanitation at Haiti Bases at Time of Cholera Outbreak,” The Guardian, April 5, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[33] Anthony Banbury, “I Love the U.N., But It Is Failing,” The New York Times, March 18, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[34] United Nations, “UNTSO Mandate,” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[35] United Nations, “UNMOGIP Mandate,” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[36] United Nations, “UNMOGIP Background,” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[37] United Nations, “UNFICYP Mandate,” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[38] Alex Fishman, “UN Forces Return to the Syrian Border,”, March 22, 2016,,7340,L-4781790,00.html (accessed May 19, 2016).

[39] United Nations, “UNIFIL Mandate,” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[40] Jeffrey White, “A War Like No Other: Israel vs. Hezbollah in 2015,” The Washington Institute, January 29, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[41] United Nations, “MINURSO Mandate,” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[42] Louis Charbonneau, “U.N. Warns of Western Sahara War if Peacekeeping Mission Ends,” Reuters, April 19, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[43] Ambassador David Pressman, “Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK),” U.S. Mission to the United Nations, May 16, 2016, (accessed May 31, 2016).

[44] James Sloan, “UN Peacekeeping in Darfur: A ‘Quagmire’ that We Cannot Accept,” E-International Relations, June 3, 2014, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[45] Commonly known as the Brahimi Report after Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. United Nations, “Comprehensive Review of the Whole Question of Peacekeeping Operations in All Their Aspects,” No. A/55/305–S/2000/809, August 21, 2000, p. 10, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[46] Banbury, “I Love the U.N., But It Is Failing.”

[47] Richard Gowan, “The Peacekeeping Quagmire,” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (Summer/Fall 2015), (accessed May 19, 2016).

[48] Mark C. Toner, “Diminishing Political Space in the D.R.C.,” U.S. Department of State, May 20, 2016, (accessed May 31, 2016).

[49] High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, “Uniting Our Strengths for Peace–Politics, Partnership and People,” p. 38.

[50] Ibid, p. 37.

[51] United Nations General Assembly, “Evaluation of the Implementation and Results of Protection of Civilians Mandates in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” No. A/68/787, March 7, 2014, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[52] Colum Lynch, “They Just Stood Watching,” Foreign Policy, April 7, 2014, (accessed May 19 2016).

[53] For instance, the 2002 Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises, the 2003 Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse Bulletin, the 2005 Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, and the annual report of the Secretary-General on special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.

[54] United Nations, “Conduct and Discipline Unit,” (accessed My 19, 2016).

[55] United Nations, “Conduct and Discipline Unit: Statistics–Allegations for All Categories of Personnel per Year (Sexual Exploitation and Abuse),” (accessed May 19, 2016).

[56] Thelma Awori, Catherine Lutz, and General Paban J. Thapa, “Final Report: Expert Mission to Evaluate Risks to SEA Prevention Efforts in MINUSTAH, UNMIL, MONUSCO, and UNMISS,” November 3, 2013, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[57] Sandra Laville, “UN Aid Worker Suspended for Leaking Report on Child Abuse by French Troops,” The Guardian, April 29, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015); Sandra Laville and Angelique Chrisafis, “UN Accused of ‘Reckless Disregard’ for Allegations of Peacekeeper Child Abuse,” The Guardian, April 30, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015); and George Russell, “African Troops Involved with French in UN Rape Report Scandal,” Fox News, May 1, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[58] Laville, “UN Aid Worker Suspended for Leaking Report on Child Abuse by French Troops.”

[59] Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic, “Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers,” December 17, 2015, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[60] United Nations, “Report of the Secretary-General: Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse,” No. A/70/729, February 16, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[61] United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2272 (2016),” No. S/RES/2272 (2016), March 11, 2016, (accessed May 19, 2016).

[62] George Russell, “UN Sexual Abuse: More Allegations, More Bureaucratic Process in Ban’s Latest Report,” Fox News, March 4, 2016, (accessed May 20, 2016); “U.N. Mission Sends Burundi Officers Home over Unrest,” Reuters, February 12, 2016, (accessed May 20, 2016); and “United Nations Widens Sex Abuse Inquiry into Peacekeepers in CAR,” The Guardian, March 31, 2016, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[63] George Russell, “UN Sex-Abuse Scandal: Officials Scramble Amid Claims of Many More Sordid Incidents,” Fox News, March 31, 2016, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[64] “United Nations Says It Has Received 44 New Sex Abuse Allegations in 2016,” Reuters, May 18, 2016, (accessed May 31, 2016).

[65] Banbury, “I Love the U.N., But It Is Failing.”

[66] Specifically, the government of Cyprus provided one-third of the net cost and the government of Greece provided $6.5 million toward the net cost of UNFICYP for the period of July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. See United Nations Security Council, “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations operation in Cyprus,” No. S/2015/17, p. 6, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[67] See United Nations, “Yemen—UNYOM,” (accessed May 20, 2016); United Nations, “West New Guinea—UNSF,” (accessed May 20, 2016); and United Nations, “United Nations Iraq–Kuwait Observation Mission—UNIKOM,” (accessed May 20, 2016).

[68] For instance, together, five of the older U.N. missions (MINURSO, UNFICYP, UNDOF, UNMOGIP, and UNTSO) cost approximately $204 million this year. If the U.S. could shift these missions to voluntary funding, it would save tens of millions of dollars per year and perhaps focus the most affected parties on resolving these outstanding disputes.

[69] High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, “Uniting Our Strengths for Peace–Politics, Partnership and People,” p. 9.

[70] For a summary, see United Nations Conduct and Discipline Unit, “Combatting Sexual Exploitation and Abuse,” March 18, 2016, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[71] Banbury, “I Love the U.N., But It Is Failing.”

[72] This policy is consistent with the position laid out in the 1997 Report of the Secretary-General, endorsed in Resolution 52/247, which states: “If such claims [arising as a result of gross negligence or willful misconduct] are established, the Organization would assume liability to compensate a third party, retaining the right to seek recovery from the individual or the troop-contributing State concerned.”

[73] Ibid.

[74] See, for instance, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “2011 SIGAR Review of the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan,” Fox News, April 25, 2011, (accessed May 20, 2016), and Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, “Afghan National Police: More than $300 Million in Annual, U.S.-Funded Salary Payments Is Based on Partially Verified or Reconciled Data,” SIGAR 15-26 Audit Report, January 2015, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[75] John Heilprin, “UN Whistle-Blower Case Shows Accountability Limits,” Associated Press, January 10, 2014, (accessed may 20, 2016).

[76] For a fuller account, see Brett D. Schaefer, “The Demise of the U.N. Procurement Task Force Threatens Oversight at the U.N.,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2272, February 5, 2009,

[77] Shelley Walden, “GAP Releases Report on UN Whistleblower Cases,” Government Accountability Project, August 22, 2014, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[78] George Russell, “US Sanctions UN Agency Under Whistleblower Law in Unprecedented Move,” Fox News, September 17, 2015, (accessed May 20, 2016).

[79] Only two years after the U.N. was created, Congress issued a report calling for sweeping reform of the U.N. system. A September 1947 study by the Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments found “serious problems of overlap, duplication of effort, weak coordination, proliferating mandates and programs, and overly generous compensation of staff within the infant, but rapidly growing, UN system.” Edward C. Luck, “Reforming the United Nations: Lessons from a History in Progress,” Academic Council on the United Nations System Occasional Paper No. 1, 2003, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[80] Brett D. Schaefer, “A Progress Report on U.N. Reform,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1937, May 19, 2006,