U.S. pays soaring amount for U.N. peacekeeping, but it's cheaper than war

April 29, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- The costly Cold War may be over bu Americans are discovering that peace isn't cheap.

Over the past two years, the United States' cost of helping the United Nations keep the peace in areas of ethnic, political and religious turmoil -- from Angola to El Salvador to Kuwait -- has risen by 554 percent, from $115 million to $753 million a year.

And U.S. peacekeeping costs are expected to continue to soar as the United Nations deals with regional conflicts unleashed in the post-Cold War era.

Currently, 55,000 U.N. troops are deployed around the world. By the end of this year -- because of changing needs and increased demands in areas such as Somalia and the former Yugoslavia -- the number is expected to exceed 100,000 troops.

Regardless of the price, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and others argue that peacekeeping is a better investment than war.

Mr. Christopher contrasts the almost $3 billion price tag of U.N. peacekeeping last year with the $60 billion cost of the Persian Gulf War with Iraq.

"Those peacekeeping funds are well spent," he said at a recent Senate appropriations hearing. "They are a very good investment for the American people in avoiding the outbreak of war."

But members of Congress are questioning the almost automatic American funding of the growing U.N. peacekeeping effort. Some lawmakers believe other nations should pay larger shares.

Under the current U.N. formula used to divide the costs of peacekeeping, the United States pays 30.4 percent. By contrast, Japan pays just 12 percent, Germany 9 percent and China only 1 percent.

But the United Nations would like to increase the U.S. share to 31.7 percent because some countries such as Russia, obligated to pay 11 percent of the costs, have no money.

Also annoying to critics is that the U.S. financial commitment to the United Nations is open-ended. Whatever the U.N. decides to spend on peacekeeping, the United States must pay its share.

This automatic billing is particularly controversial following a critical report on "fraud, waste and abuse" at the United Nations issued last month by Dick Thornburgh, outgoing U.N. undersecretary for administration and management in New York.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., warned this week that he might condition approval of future U.S. payments to the United Nations on its adoption of some type of cost control, such as the inspectors general who now act as watchdogs of spending by agencies of the U.S. government.

Otherwise, Mr. Domenici cautioned, Americans will oppose an enhanced role for the United Nations.

"If we don't do that [control spending], it's going to be the next hue and cry for those who do not want to spend any American money on foreign policy," the senator said.

Acknowledging a "confusing structure" of cost-sharing, Mr. Christopher said he intended to propose that the U.S. share drop to 25 percent at a meeting of foreign ministers in New York in May.

"In order to retain the support of the American people, we're going to have to show that . . . [the United Nations] conducts its affairs at least with a minimum of efficiency," he said.

Between 1948 -- when the first U.N. forces were sent to the Middle East -- and 1988, 13 different peacekeeping missions were approved. In the past four years, 14 have been commissioned.

Costs for 1992-1993 are estimated at $3.7 billion but could go higher.

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