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U.S. and China Quietly Agree on UN Cuts as They Feud Over Trade

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/28/2019 David Wainer
a person wearing a uniform: GAO, MALI - MARCH 07: A Bangladeshi United Nations soldier walks by a car during the weekly cattle market on March 7, 2017 in Gao, Mali. Each week locals and Touareg nomads gather at the market to trade their cattle including Camels, Cows, Sheep and clothing. U.N.-led MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) troops are assisting the Malian government in its struggle against rebels that include a Tuareg movement (MNLA) and several Islamic armed groups, among them Al-Qaeda, in the north of Mali. Rebels have conducted a series of terror attacks to destabilize the current government in recent years. The Bundeswehr has committed helicopters and 750 soldiers to the MINUSMA mission as well as 147 soldiers to the EUTM mission (European Trainings Mission Mali) to train government troops. In mid-April the Bundeswehr is to deploy four Tigercombat helicopter. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images) © Getty Images GAO, MALI - MARCH 07: A Bangladeshi United Nations soldier walks by a car during the weekly cattle market on March 7, 2017 in Gao, Mali. Each week locals and Touareg nomads gather at the market to trade their cattle including Camels, Cows, Sheep and clothing. U.N.-led MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) troops are assisting the Malian government in its struggle against rebels that include a Tuareg movement (MNLA) and several Islamic armed groups, among them Al-Qaeda, in the north of Mali. Rebels have conducted a series of terror attacks to destabilize the current government in recent years. The Bundeswehr has committed helicopters and 750 soldiers to the MINUSMA mission as well as 147 soldiers to the EUTM mission (European Trainings Mission Mali) to train government troops. In mid-April the Bundeswehr is to deploy four Tigercombat helicopter. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

(Bloomberg) -- While the U.S. feuds with China on trade, the two biggest donors to the United Nations are quietly edging toward an understanding on budget cuts for the world body.

In an unusual move, the U.S. and China, backed by Russia, proposed almost identical cuts to the organization’s proposed peacekeeping budget, according to two diplomats involved in the issue who asked not to be identified discussing the internal deliberations.

As China’s financial responsibilities grow at the UN in tandem with the growth of its own economy, its interest in tightening the fiscal belt is converging with that of the U.S. Pressure to keep UN costs down has been a political priority under President Donald Trump’s administration.

“As the two leading financiers of UN operations, China and the U.S. were bound to realize they have a common interest in keeping costs under control,” said Richard Gowan, the UN director at the International Crisis Group. “This may irritate the Europeans, and especially the French, who have national interests in places like Mali and Lebanon. It will also be of concern to African countries who are major troop contributors to UN operations.”

Africa’s Opposition

The U.S. and China are seeking to cut about $80 million from the peacekeeping budget on top of a $50 million cut recommended by an independent panel, the diplomats said. Peacekeeping has already been under fiscal pressure in recent years, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had asked for $6.64 billion for the budget year beginning in July.

The group of African nations, which is influential at the UN and is where many of the peacekeeping missions are based, has so far resisted the cuts and is asking for a more modest reduction, diplomats said. Negotiators have until the end of the weekend to wrap up talks.

Guterres warned this month that the organization faces a combined shortfall of almost $2 billion for peacekeeping operations and its regular budget, thanks to some member states failing to pay what they owe and byzantine budget rules that constrain the UN’s ability to move its money around efficiently. Diplomats are looking at proposals from Guterres intended to resolve the crisis, though no consensus has yet emerged, the diplomats said.

Damaged Reputation

With more than 78,000 soldiers across 14 countries, UN peacekeepers make up the second-largest military force deployed abroad after the U.S. military, according to Severine Autesserre, a political science professor at Barnard College and author of the book “Peaceland.”

The reputation of the troops, known for their blue helmets, has been tarnished in recent years by sexual abuse and torture scandals, as well as their inability to prevent conflicts from reemerging in war-torn countries.

The peacekeeping budget is already facing a liquidity crunch as many members fail to pay their dues. The U.S., the largest donor, capped contributions at 25% even though the world body says it should pay 28.5%. That’s left a gap that can’t be closed, Guterres says, because of a formula that mandates if he cuts costs all other countries get to reduce their contributions too.

There’s still no clear agreement where reductions will come from, the diplomats said. Cuts last year affected missions in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Mali. China and Russia have repeatedly tried in recent years to cut human rights posts at peacekeeping missions, though the U.S. and Europe have blocked such moves.

Russia and China are once again targeting reductions in personnel working on human rights and gender rights, the diplomats said, though the U.S. has made no indication it will support that.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Wainer in New York at dwainer3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert

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