As of December 2018, the United Nations (UN) had 14 ongoing peacekeeping operations with approximately 103,000 personnel. The United States is the single largest financial contributor to these operations, assessed by the UN to contribute an estimated $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2018, according to the Department of State (State). It is also a member of the Security Council, the UN body tasked with maintaining international peace and security.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to review UN peacekeeping operations. In its March 19 report, GAO examines the UN’s process to establish and renew peacekeeping operations, including the tasks these operations perform; State’s assessment of the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations; how the United States works within the UN to adjust peacekeeping mandates and associated resources; and member states’ concerns regarding the UN’s performance information.
To address these objectives, GAO analyzed UN and U.S. documents and interviewed UN and U.S. officials. GAO also interviewed officials at peacekeeping operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kosovo, and Lebanon. GAO selected these operations because they represent those that perform a variety of tasks and are located in diverse regions.
GAO’s review of State’s assessments as of December 2018 and discussions with State officials found that UN peacekeeping operations generally do not fully meet U.S. principles for effective peacekeeping, which include host country consent and an exit strategy, among others. GAO’s review of 11 operations found that all 11 met or partially met the principle of host country consent, while five included or partially included an exit strategy.
The United States works with the UN Security Council and member states to adjust peacekeeping mandates, but it lacks sufficient information to determine if associated resources accurately reflect these adjustments. State officials noted that they do not have this information because UN peacekeeping budgets do not estimate costs by mandated task. UN peacekeeping guidance states that when the UN changes a peacekeeping mandate, it should make commensurate changes to that operation’s resources. Without information on estimated costs by task, member states have difficulty determining that resources for UN peacekeeping operations accurately reflect mandate changes.
The UN has taken steps to improve peacekeeping performance data, but member states including the U.S. have raised concerns about that information’s quality, including its completeness and timeliness. Among other concerns, member states note that the UN does not have complete information to assess the performance of civilians, who comprised about 14 percent of peacekeeping personnel, as of December 2018.
In March 2018 the UN began peacekeeping reforms, including those to improve performance data. However, according to State officials, these efforts are in the early stages and more work is needed. Without fully addressing member states’ concerns about the quality of information, the UN is limited in its ability to improve the performance of peacekeeping operations.
GAO is recommending that the Secretary of State should continue to work with the Permanent Representative to the United Nations to ensure that UN peacekeeping operations fully meet principles of effective peacekeeping. The Secretary of State should also ensure that the UN provides information to member states on the estimated costs of mandated peacekeeping tasks to provide better cost information when the Security Council adjusts peacekeeping mandates. Finally, GAO recommends that the Secretary of State should continue to work with the Permanent Representative to the United Nations to ensure that the UN takes additional steps to address member states’ concerns about complete and timely information on the performance of UN peacekeeping operations. State concurs with the recommendations.
The GAO report included case studies on peacekeeping operations. In Haiti, for example, The UN established a Mission for Justice Support (MINUJUSTH) in 2017 to assist the government of Haiti in strengthening rule-of-law institutions, further support and develop the Haitian National Police, and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting, and analysis.
In the resolution establishing MINUJUSTH, the Security Council called on the Secretary-General to develop a two-year exit strategy with clear benchmarks. The Security Council resolution extending the MINUJUSTH mandate to April 2019 calls on the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic assessment of the operation by early 2019 and present recommendations on the UN’s future role in Haiti. To facilitate the transition, the UN has created a joint UN Development Program and MINUJUSTH rule-of-law program to continue its work in this area after the peacekeeping operation ends.
According to U.S. and UN officials, Haiti continues to struggle with weak institutions and high levels of government corruption. Moreover, according to MINUJUSTH officials, the process of transitioning from the previous peacekeeping operation in Haiti to MINUJUSTH was challenging because of the level of effort involved in liquidating assets, among other things. These officials said that similar issues will make the MINUJUSTH transition to a non-peacekeeping UN presence equally challenging.