- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2000

Holding a debate over the United States' financial contribution to U.N. peacekeeping operations is long overdue. Thanks to years of congressional efforts and more recent lobbying by U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.N. General Assembly has agreed to do just that.

For the first time in 30 years, U.N. diplomats will consider reallocating countries' share of peacekeeping costs. The alarming capture of 500 U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone has made the debate all the more pertinent. The international community should re-evaluate not only the potential for these initiatives to go terribly awry, but also put into perspective their financial cost and the current scheme to share them.

The General Assembly's readiness to open debate on this issue signals a rapprochement in U.S.-U.N. relations, but Americans shouldn't expect to see the U.S. financial burden reduced this year. In a May 16 article in The Washington Times, Betsy Pisik reported that several diplomats expressed doubts that the world body will act this year on drafting a new scale of peacekeeping payments. A reduction in the U.S. allocation would increase the burden of sharing the $2 billion budget for other countries a prospect some diplomats are fighting.

"Just because we are willing to listen, it should not be construed that we, or many others, are willing to pay more," said an envoy from one Asian nation, notwithstanding the country's improved economic situation, reported the article.

The current cost-sharing scheme was drawn up in 1973 and wasn't intended to be permanent. Starting that year, when a mission to monitor the Israel-Egypt truce in the Sinai was being carried out, the costs of peacekeeping began fluctuating too wildly to predict. The United States agreed to pay 31 percent of the Sinai mission, and the rest of the cost was divvied up on the basis of countries' ability to contribute at that time. Ever since, the United States has been stuck with the 31 percent cost burden.

Under the U.S. proposal, most developing countries wouldn't pay more than the token amount they contribute now. Countries enjoying welcome economic prosperity over the the past 30 years, on the other hand, would pay more.

The United States very reasonably wants allocations to reflect countries' current economic situation, taking into consideration per capita income and other economic indicators. In addition, Washington would like countries' cost-sharing burden to be re-evaluated at least every three years.

Fortunately, Congress has put pressure on the international body to make the payment scheme more current and fair. Washington last year agreed to a three-year plan, crafted by Sens. Jesse Helms and Joseph R. Biden Jr., to pay most of the $1.3 billion the United Nations claims the United States owes. The Helms-Biden law will pay out $548 million this year, but only if U.S. dues are capped at 22 percent for the U.N. regular budget and 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget.

U.N. members should move on the U.S. proposal as soon as possible. It's not too soon to reform the antique U.N. formula for sharing the burden of maintaining peace.

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