U.S. Slashes Africa Peacekeeping Funds

Proposed Cuts Expected to Be as Deep as 25 Percent, According to Officials and Budget Documents


May 20, 2008—

The Bush administration will request no more funding for United Nations peacekeeping efforts, leaving in place proposed cuts expected to be as deep as 25 percent, according to officials and budget documents. Among the programs facing sharpest cuts are efforts to quell violence in Africa.

When ABC News first reported the proposed cuts in February, the administration contended that it might seek additional funding later in the year. But officials confirmed last week that they requested no additional funding in their supplemental budget recently submitted to Congress.

"Unless you are expecting the emergence of peace worldwide," the cuts are hard to understand, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., told a State Department official at a hearing last month on the topic. Lowey chairs the House appropriations panel which oversees peacekeeping funds.

"We can agree that U.N. peacekeeping operations should be closed down as soon as it makes sense to do so, but do you really expect the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Liberia and Lebanon to be so dramatically better nine months from now as to justify budget reductions for these missions of 25 to 30 percent? I find this hard to believe," she said.

"It's a very tight budget year," conceded Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, acknowledging that neither she nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thought the funding request made for "an ideal situation."

The administration released its proposed peacekeeping cuts days before President Bush was scheduled to make what one paper termed his "victory lap" through the African continent. White House officials talked up the trip and Bush's commitment to the continent, telling reporters how the president "really cares about Africa."

In her testimony, Silverberg said U.S. funding for U.S. peacekeeping operations this year could reach $2.1 billion, but the administration had requested less than $1.5 billion to cover its share of the costs of U.N. peacekeeping efforts for 2009.

"[P]eacekeeping budgeting is inherently unpredictable," she told House appropriators. "We've never gotten it perfectly right in our request to Congress, and we won't this year, I expect."

When contacted last week, the State Department would make no comments for the record on the proposed cuts other than to confirm them. They referred the Blotter's inquiries to Silverberg's testimony the month before.

In back-to-back testimony before House panels in early April, Silverberg assured lawmakers that while the amount requested was not enough to meet what the United States was likely to be assessed for its share of peacekeeping costs next year, it would at least keep the operations from going broke.

"It would be much better, from our perspective, if the budget situation allowed for something other" than what she termed a "cash-flow management approach," Silverberg told lawmakers. But, she said, "This year we think that's the best we can do."

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