As reported yesterday, while in Washington this week Ban Ki-moon asked Congressional leaders to lift the so-called “peacekeeping cap” that Congress imposed on US contributions to the UN peacekeeping budget back in 2000. Since then, the US has been assessed at a rate higher than what it pays, resulting in constant budget shortfalls at the UN.

This is a long and complicated saga, but here’s the elevator pitch version: In 2000, the United States agreed to an assessment scale for peacekeeping operations in which the United States would pay 27% of the total peacekeeping budget. Congress, however, passed legislation capping United States peacekeeping dues at 25%. The cap has been lifted every two years until 2005. Still, this two percent gap has resulted in the accumulation of significant American arrears in peacekeeping. If US contributions to UN peacekeeping remain static, American backlogs would exceed $515 million by 2007.

These arrears have real consequences. The annual budget for UN peacekeeping is only about $5 billion. This funds 16 peacekeeping missions in the world, fielding over 97,000 troops, police, and military observers and civilian staff. And in recent months, peacekeeping has experienced a new surge, with the Security Council authorizing new missions in Lebanon, East Timor, and Darfur. If implemented in full, peacekeeping costs would jump by about 40%.

Few doubt the importance of these new missions. But they can hardly be sustained (or, in the case of Darfur get off the ground) without the necessary funding. The new Congress would be wise to heed Ban’s plea.

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