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U.N. Peacekeeping from an Economic Perspective

Updated on October 8, 2011
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Scott is a graduate student and historian who is interested in politics, social movements, education, and religion

The Economics of U.N. Peacekeeping Through the 1990’s

Below, I have attempted to outline an extremely brief and narrow look at the evolution of U.N. peacekeeping operations, and the financial burden they have created. It is not my intention to rally any sympathy for the burden placed on wealthy nations, or to suggest that preventing genocide and war is not worth my tax dollars. However, the United States currently pays over 22% of the U.N.'s general budget, and over 25% of its peacekeeping budget! It is my contention that a system which is funded with such extreme disparity, yet claimed to be universally desired, must be reformed, lest we Americans who may support the concept of peace keeping, be entirely turned off to the possibility that it can realistically be done in an equitable fashion. It is not right that nations such as Pakistan and India get to use the U.N.'s reimbursement system as a subsidy for use of their poorly trained soldiers, while 1st world nations pay through the roof for an ideal we should ALL share and pay for.

A Background on Peacekeeping

The term ‘peacekeeping’ is one which is fairly new to modern military and international relations. The United Nations, in its effort to provide world wide security, has often had to launch missions under the uniform pretense of peacekeeping, though each endeavor differed in its purpose and nature. So what is ‘peacekeeping,’ and who pays for it?

It is very difficult to define peacekeeping, because it has come to be used in such a variety of mission contexts, ranging from merely observing to forcibly ending, conflicts; it may mean humanitarian operations, or police actions, or simply training local forces to fight on their own. What is certain, is that no mission is free of cost. Over the course of the U.N.’s existence its role has changed greatly and so too has its peacekeeping. As the role of U.N. military forces has changed, so too has the burden of funding those operations changed. Through analysis of statistics and case study, one will find that funding to peacekeeping operations is highly disproportional with the wealthiest nations suffering the most. There are numerous factors for this, and evidence that it may only get worse.

Articles forty-two and forty-three of the U.N. charter give the U.N. Security Council the authority to deploy peacekeepers to hostile areas. It is important to note however, that the consent of the parties involved is to be obtained before peacekeepers deploy. To begin to understand modern peacekeeping, one must look to where it began, and how it evolved from there. For this reason, peacekeeping operations have been broken down into various time periods, each unique from the others.

Era Number One: Passive Peacekeeping

The first era of U.N. peacekeeping ranges from 1947 to 1956. During this time there were only four missions launched with the modest goal of observing. These missions have come to be known as “traditional peacekeeping.” Their purpose was not to actively end hostilities or to oversee a government transition to democracy. They did not involve large numbers of soldiers or funding. All the peacekeepers had to do was observe that U.N. policy was being carried out. These missions were successful although that is not much of an achievement, as their purpose was so modest. The most important consequence of these missions was that they infused people with the belief that future missions would run along similar lines and be just as simple to administer.

Era Number Two: Troubles begin

The next era of U.N. peacekeeping was from 1957 to 1974. This era was mostly similar to the first but with a few key differences. In this period there were nine missions launched, eight of which can be considered “traditional missions.” These traditional operations did not differ greatly from the first decade’s. However in 1960 operation ONUC in the Congo would forever mark a turning point in peacekeeping. The operation was unlike anything the U.N. had previously seen before, and had permanent repercussions. For four years, 1960-1964, the U.N. found itself embroiled in actual fighting and financial crisis. The mission began as most others had, with the modest goal of observing and separating warring parties. However, for the first time the mission took place in a country whose institutions were collapsing. This meant that civilians were a huge concern. Without a stable government to support U.N. staff, it was extremely difficult to maintain order. Quickly it became apparent that this mission would require the use of aggressive force on a large scale by ‘peacekeepers.’

This also marked the first time that U.N. soldiers were to be used in this sort of offensive campaign. While the mission ultimately succeeded in its goals, it is often considered a failure. Over 250 peacekeepers were killed, exposing poor leadership, training, and organization by U.N. officials. Furthermore no one expected the huge expenditures that the fighting required, leaving the men on the ground with far fewer resources than they needed. Largely due to this operation, the way in which peacekeeping was funded and viewed by nations changed, as peacekeeping was no longer considered a relatively safe venture for ground personnel. This forced the U.N. to change its recruitment and financing.

In 1973 the U.N. finally adjusted its budget to reflect the more active role it sought to take by passing Resolution 1310. Before then, each member nation was given an annual assessment, which was then divided up into a budget to which peacekeeping was only one small part. The new system added a new assessment solely devoted to peacekeeping. It was to be paid along with the normal budget. The amount each country had to pay was considered by their standing in the world. The highest assessed class included the five permanent members of the Security Council, often the nations who were voting to send troops in the first place. The second highest class included over twenty of the worlds wealthiest nations not in the first class. The third class was wealthy but underdeveloped countries, while the last included all other members.

As a result of this system, class “A” and “B” nations end up paying over 95% of all expenditures for peacekeeping. In fact, in 1994 theU.S.solely paid over 991 million dollars to peacekeeping. To put that in perspective, the next highest amount was the 372 million paid by Japan. The U.N. also began a policy of reimbursing nations for sending soldiers to fight in peacekeeping operations. $1000 would be paid for every soldier sent to the U.N. per month, regardless of rank or capability. This was a flat rate reimbursable.

If one considers what it costs to provide training, benefits, and supplies to a well trained soldier from the U.K. or France for instance, one would find that it cost over $4,500 per month to the soldier’s home government, to have them deployed abroad. This means that in addition to the assessments already paid, the governments of wealthy nations additionally have to pay to send soldiers to the U.N. Now if one considers what it costs to train and supply a poorly trained soldier from a less capable nation, one would find that the reimbursable actually may be as high as two to three and a half times the cost of training. Remember also that the U.N. does not pay for the logistical costs of transporting soldiers to and from areas of operation, further contributing to the cost of sending soldiers to fight.

The end result is that the act of sending soldiers to fight in many of the highest troop donating nations, actually acts as a subsidy rather than a burden. These disparities took decades to fully develop and were not nearly as big of a problem in the 1970s and 1980s when the third era of peacekeeping was happing.

Other than the administrative consequences of the Congo operation, the most important consequence may have been on its effect upon the U.N’s decisions to send troops on missions. The period ranging from 1975 to 1987 may best be defined as an era of dormancy. As a result of the deaths of so many troops and the financial burden on the wealthy, only one single mission was launched. This massive decline in activity is a direct result of the newly perceived dangers and costs of fighting in an ever changing world. It may also be important to note that during the Cold War years, represented by all three of the first eras in peacekeeping, only eleven of the fourteen missions launched were done so by the Security Council. In the other three instances, it was up to the General Assembly to deploy troops due to the lack of action or desire by the Security Council.

Era Number Three: Interventions Galore

The next era in peacekeeping saw a massive boom and shift in policy from the previous. From 1988 to 2000 over forty two missions were launched, and over twice as many peacekeepers were deployed as in the first three decades combined. In this time, peacekeeping expenditures increased on a magnitude of less than $300 million to over $300 billion, with NATO members shouldering over 70.6% of the cost. And yet, even with this massive increase of funds, many nations including theU.S.,did not live up to their full assessment. In fact, with Presidential Decision Directive 25, in May of 1994, President Clinton warned the U.N. that theU.S.was no longer capable of acting as the world’s “sole policemen.” Of course in this one year, theU.S.still paid more than most nations have ever paid in every year of U.N. membership combined.

Peacekeeping, and a war-free-world, creates a global benefit that all nations can enjoy, but which few nations pay for. Over the early years of the new century and continuing into the future, it is predicted that the disproportional funding will only get worse. The consequences are hard to predict, but one may find the U.N. less likely to send soldiers abroad until the hostilities in the target region have already boiled down. This will be due to the unwillingness of wealthy nations to continue to pay the vast burden of global peacekeeping. If the U.N. does send troops, one will expect the quality of the soldier and the effectiveness of the campaign to be severely short of what the U.N. has been capable of. Of course, all of this could change with a new more reformed financial system. Only time will tell.


Goulding, Marrack. The Evolution of United Nations Peacekeeping. International Affairs (The Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 69, No. 3. (Jul., 1993), pp. 451-464.

Khanna, Jyoti and Todd Sandler and Hirofumi Shimizu. Sharing the Financial Burden for NATO and U.N. Peacekeeping, 1976-1996. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 42, No. 2. (Apr., 1998), pp. 176-195.

Sandler, Todd and Hirofumi Shimizu. Peacekeeping and Burden Sharing, 1994-2000. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 39, No. 6. (Nov., 2002) pp. 651-668.


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      7 years ago

      Interesting topic and well presented. Voted up and Interesting


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