U.S. Spending on U.N. Peacekeeping More Cost-Effective Than Trump's Blueprint

A United States Army advisor for the Afghan Air Force 777 Special Mission Wing signals the Afghan crew chief during a training mission on September 13, 2017 outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

U.S. taxpayer dollars would be better spent on the United Nation's peacekeeping forces instead of the military when handling humanitarian operations, a congressional watchdog revealed.

It would be eight times more cost-effective for the United States to support a U.N. peacekeeping mission than it would be to send in its Armed Forces, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a recent report. This report follows an expected 2019 federal budget that would earmark $716 billion in defense spending—a 7 percent increase from the previous year.

"The president's budget request, similar to last year's request, is likely to contain severe and disproportionate cuts to American support for the United Nations," Peter Yeo, senior vice president for U.N. Foundation, which builds private-public partnerships for the world body, told Newsweek.

President Donald Trump has made it clear that the "utter weakness and incompetence" of the U.N. has made it a hindrance as a problem-solving tool for the international community. Since taking office, he has pushed for a smaller U.N. budget that has been widely criticized for its Pentagon blueprint in place of diplomacy.

Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis charge that the U.S. has carried a "disproportionate share" of the world's burden, advocating that an increased military budget is key to the military's execution.

In 2016, the army shrank to its lowest numbers of active-duty soldiers since before World War II but the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that the U.S. remains the world's top military spender with a budget larger than the next eight countries combined.

"The GAO demonstrated that cutting UN peacekeeping is not only counterproductive to American national security interests, but unwise from the standpoint of the American taxpayer," Yeo, who is also president of the nonpartisan Better World Campaign.

The U.S. is currently the largest financial contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations and represents a quarter of the U.N.'s 2017 budget. The blue helmets include 95,544 uniformed peacekeepers, 5,004 international civilians,10,149 local civilians and 1,597 UN volunteers, which support operations around the world.

The GAO found that the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) cost the U.N. approximately $2.4 billion for a little over three years, while the U.S. contributed $700 million for the same mission. While sending the U.S. military for a hypothetical mission that followed the MINUSCA operation, it would cost more than $5.7 billion.

The report ties increased U.S. costs to "higher standards" for facilities, intelligence, and medical services, and greater airlifting of supplies and equipment.

Most U.N. peacekeeping missions have taken place in MINUSCA since 2003, while a recent mission was underway in 2014. The area also represents a "typical scope and budget" of other operations in sub-Saharan Africa. The GAO report pulled data from the U.N., departments of Defense and State.

The benefits of using U.N. forces go beyond budget, the report noted. Because the U.N. is a "multilateral organization, U.N. peacekeeping operations have international acceptance and are more likely to be viewed as impartial."

Given international acceptance and its access, the GAO study also highlights "the complex role often assigned to a multi-dimensional U.N. peacekeeping operation," Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, told Newsweek.

"We welcome the findings of the GAO report which demonstrates yet again that U.N. peacekeeping remains one of the most effective and cost-effective tools to respond to peace and security challenges," Khare said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. announced in December they negotiated a reduction of over $285 million off the 2016-2017 budget. They hailed it as "significant cost savings," and singled out slashes to the U.N.'s "bloated management and support functions."

Most recently, the Trump administration cut the funding in half for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), sparking outcry amid the potential it could throw the situation on the ground into instability.

U.N. budget cuts are nothing new, but Trump has taken a much stronger stance. While advocating downgrading the U.S.' soft power role in the U.N., Trump has called for an entire overhaul of the organization and for more support by its world partners.

"The United States supports the United Nations and U.N. peacekeeping, but as the president has said, we support reform in order for the U.N. to reach its potential, and no member state should shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden," a State Department official said in a statement to Newsweek in response to the GAO report.

"Ambassador Haley has affirmed U.S. commitment to ensuring that the U.N.'s resources are employed to achieve lasting, sustainable peace in the most cost-effective manner," the statement adds.

While Trump and Mattis have been pushing Congress to build up the U.S. military, Trump has continued to call the military "depleted."

"The growing economic strength of today's democracies and partners dictates they must now step up and do more," Mattis said last month as he pushed out the National Defense Strategy for the U.S, which focused efforts on Russia and China.

"As hard as the last 16 years have been on our military, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the readiness of the U.S. military than the combined impact of the Budget Control Act's defense spending cuts, worsened," Mattis said.

Lawmakers on Friday signed a two-year federal budget deal–in a bid to thwart more government shutdowns–which called in $700 billion for fiscal 2018 in defense discretionary spending and $716 billion for fiscal 2019. It marks a significant increase from the $634 billion level in fiscal 2017.

Trump tweeted in response, "We were forced to increase spending on things we do not like or want in order to finally, after many years of depletion, take care of our military."

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