Who Will Pay for Peace? Many Nations Find It Hard to Afford Their Payments for UN Peacekeeping; Perhaps a 'Peace Tax' on the Arms Trade Would Help Make Up the Deficit

By Mark Sommer. Mark Sommer is a research associate in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, University of California, Berkeley, and the of several books on new approaches to global security. | The Christian Science Monitor, February 19, 1992 | Go to article overview

Who Will Pay for Peace? Many Nations Find It Hard to Afford Their Payments for UN Peacekeeping; Perhaps a 'Peace Tax' on the Arms Trade Would Help Make Up the Deficit


Mark Sommer. Mark Sommer is a research associate in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, University of California, Berkeley, and the of several books on new approaches to global security., The Christian Science Monitor


GATHERING at the end of January for a historic Security Council summit, world leaders came closer than ever before to establishing a permanent United Nations peacekeeping force. The UN is increasingly being assigned those tasks that the great powers have traditionally claimed as their sole prerogative. The shift results in part from the resolution of longstanding cold-war tensions that routinely hamstrung Security Council action, and in part from the realization among the great powers that none can afford anymore to become involved on their own in intractable regional conflicts.

In many parts of the world, peacekeeping is beginning to supplant unilateral military action as the chief means of settling disputes between nations. Eight missions have been established in the past three years, while just 13 were mounted during the previous 43 years. Up to 10,000 UN peacekeepers and civilian personnel will soon be sent to Cambodia, and 10,000 more are slated to serve in Croatia.

But while world leaders have gratefully delegated these problematic tasks to the international body, they have failed to appropriate the funds essential to its work. Member nations currently owe the UN $377 million in back peacekeeping dues, and have committed the UN - but not their own budgets - to peacekeeping obligations totaling an additional $1 billion in the coming year.

The chief debtor is the United States, which (assessed according to its relative wealth) owes $141 million, while Russia, having assumed the debts of the former Soviet Union, owes $127 million, and Germany $17 million. In addition to unpaid peacekeeping dues, member nations owe the organization $439 million in general funds (with the US again the chief debtor), thus exacerbating the UN's deepening financial peril.

The world spends three times as much in a day preparing for war as it does in a year protecting the peace. The annual ratio is close to 1,000 to 1. For half the price of an aircraft carrier, the UN will patrol the peace for a year in Yugoslavia, Cambodia, El Salvador, and a dozen other hot spots that have themselves cost billions and have taken innumerable lives.

Few dilemmas demonstrate so well the stark contradiction between the professed aims and actual thrust of the great powers' policies. As long as peacekeeping operations depend on voluntary pledges that land at the bottom of every nation's list of budget priorities, the UN will continue to be shortchanged.

But perhaps there is a way to harness the arms trade to pull peacekeeping out of its financial dilemma. Just as polluters are increasingly taxed to pay for cleaning up the messes their activities create, arms dealers, manufacturers, and purchasers should be required to contribute to preventing and terminating the wars their weapons make possible. …

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