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The Security Council Agrees to Consider Funding AU Peace Operations

What happened?

On 21 December 2023, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution that creates a framework for the global body to fund peace operations led by the African Union (AU). Ghana, one the Council’s three African members (A3) in 2023, spearheaded the initiative, working with the other two, Gabon and Mozambique, to broker the agreement with diplomats in New York and at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. It was the culmination of more than fifteen years of debate about whether and how to use the UN’s peacekeeping budget to fund African missions.

The framework rests upon a few tentpoles. It delineates a process for the AU and UN to jointly plan and authorise any new mission that aspires to receive UN funding. It sets a ceiling for the UN’s financial contributions at 75 per cent of each mission’s annual budget and commits the UN and AU to jointly raise the remaining 25 per cent from other sources. It requires these missions to comply with all UN financial regulations, along with a range of policies on human rights, troop discipline, protection of civilians and inclusion of women. It also states that all AU missions receiving funds must be part of a political strategy involving the continental body, the UN and other partners.

The resolution meets a demand – for sustainable, predictable financing – that the AU has been pressing urgently upon the UN for years. African operations may now have access to a large pool of money for missions that have perpetually faced financial shortfalls. But the resolution is neither an automatic lifeline for current operations on the continent nor a blank check for future ones. The framework requires the Security Council’s explicit authorisation of any mission receiving UN funding, meaning that it, and not the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), the AU’s main member state body for peace and security, will have the final say about every operation’s mandate and strategy. Each request will be decided on a “case-by-case” basis. Moreover, only missions directly led and operated by the AU will be eligible for UN funding, leaving the bulk of the active operations in Africa, led by regional blocs with little input from the AU, out in the cold. 

Why has the AU been pushing to get access to UN money?

The AU plays an important role in shaping collective responses to the continent’s security challenges. But it lacks the finances to launch or sustain all the peace operations Africa needs, as Crisis Group has previously reported. Past AU missions have mostly been short-lived, passing quickly into the UN’s hands, such as rapid deployments in Burundi (2003), Sudan (2004), Mali (2012) and the Central African Republic (2013). Alternatively, they have been subject to unpredictable donor support, like the European Union funding for the two missions in Somalia since 2007. 

Relations between the AU and UN have become more important as armed conflicts, insurgencies and jihadist threats swept across the African continent over the past decade. As Crisis Group argued before the Security Council in November 2022, UN peacekeeping operations – the international system’s standard response to Africa’s security challenges since the late 1990s – have proven ill-suited to the task. African states argue that they can deploy troops more quickly and cheaply than their UN counterparts – and engage more readily in more offensive operations. 

African countries, however, could not always rely on the AU to send and sustain such missions because it does not have enough dedicated funds. A cobbled together patchwork of sub-regional operations, coalitions of the willing and private military companies has filled the void. Each of these alternative models of security is governed by its own political interests and operational logic, with varying degrees of AU influence and oversight. In parallel, some African governments have in recent years begun squeezing out longstanding UN missions that were struggling to make political or military headway and came with strings attached, such as scrutiny of leaders’ human rights records. The resulting landscape falls short of the AU’s aspiration to maintain collective continental security.

African countries provide considerable numbers of troops for UN peacekeeping operations in Africa as well as to all the continent’s own operations.

Beyond the question of effectiveness, African diplomats framed the funding issue as a moral question. African countries provide considerable numbers of troops for UN peacekeeping operations in Africa as well as to all the continent’s own operations. African diplomats and AU officials were quick to point out that thousands of African troops have died fighting insurgencies that Western counterparts view as direct or indirect threats to international peace and security. They argued that the UN, which oversees international peace and security, should backstop these efforts. 

The AU’s direct appeals for UN funding began in 2007, when the continental body faced severe financial constraints in deploying simultaneous military operations to Somalia and Darfur. High-level reports commissioned by both organisations in 2008 and 2015 supported the notion of enhanced cooperation, including through using UN funding for AU missions. The Security Council adopted separate resolutions in 2016 and 2017 endorsing negotiations over how to translate this funding model into practice. Diplomats on the Security Council last attempted to negotiate a resolution in December 2018. But discord among the Council’s African members, the PSC, the U.S. and the UK over the financial split and Security Council oversight of AU operations scuttled months of talks. South Africa’s efforts to revive negotiations during the summer of 2019 short-circuited for the same reasons.

After a few years’ lull, these discussions gradually picked up momentum in early 2021 when the Biden administration entered office in the U.S. and African leaders asked the AU Commission to map a new negotiating position for the continent. 2023 was the year of decision. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who had long advocated for allocating UN assessed contributions for AU peace operations, used the New Agenda for Peace, a policy brief on the future of multilateral cooperation released that July, to offer his unequivocal support for the Council to reach a deal. Ghana led the A3’s public advocacy and behind-the-scenes consultations throughout the summer. The PSC met on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level week in September and gave the A3 a formal mandate to negotiate a new Security Council resolution before year’s end.

How did the negotiations unfold?

Negotiations took place between mid-November and the end of December. Diplomats operated under the assumption that the end of 2023 was their best, and perhaps last, chance to reach an agreement. Ghana was set to conclude its two-year Council term at the end of December and saw the financing issue as integral to its legacy. The Biden administration strongly backed Ghana’s push, in sharp contrast to the Trump administration’s opposition a few years earlier. Washington saw an agreement as worthwhile reinforcement of the continent’s security architecture. It believed the deal could help garner much-needed good-will from African counterparts at a moment of heightened geopolitical contestation, including over Ukraine and Gaza. It also wanted to avoid the negotiations spilling into 2024 to prevent U.S. election-year politics from generating active pushback from a Congress that was only lukewarm about the arrangement. 

Though the A3 began pursuing new resolution in May 2023, they condensed the Council’s negotiations into a short, high-stakes window. Ghana had to simultaneously consult with UN diplomats in New York and AU diplomats in Addis Ababa when preparing the initial draft, complicating the negotiations that followed. The A3’s first proposal (shared with the Council in mid-November) was threadbare, intentionally skirting detail about many technical matters upon which there was disagreement. Diplomats worked through five drafts to narrow these gaps, from hammering out how the two Councils would decide on a new mission to specifying the degree to which AU operations would be subject to UN compliance policies. None of these provisions was as controversial as determining how to apportion the cost of the missions, the issue that had tanked past negotiations. 

The A3 ... asked the UN to cover 100 per cent of any mission’s costs.

Throughout the negotiations, the A3 – following a clear mandate from the PSC – asked the UN to cover 100 per cent of any mission’s costs. The U.S. and UK would not agree to the UN paying more than 75 per cent but were open to discussions about how to apportion the rest of the costs. This stance in and of itself was a significant change from their past position demanding the AU pay the entirety of the remaining 25 per cent (as codified in earlier Council resolutions). Fully aware that the continental body could not cover this percentage on its own, the U.S. and UK considered their flexibility as a sign that they wanted to make a deal. But despite agreeing upon other issues in the draft resolution, the A3 and their counterparts in Addis Ababa did not move off their position on the funding split.

The PSC’s hard line on funding was not just a matter of dollars and cents. Prominent countries on the regional body – including some of the organisation’s top financial and troop contributors –feared that agreeing to a 75 per cent ceiling for UN funding would allow donors to push African member states to send even more personnel or equipment to new missions in exchange for closing financial shortfalls. They saw this as impinging on the AU’s strategic autonomy. Most PSC members therefore refused to budge. A handful of countries on the PSC, including Ghana, acknowledged that the U.S. and UK were not going to soften their own stance. They urged their counterparts to show more flexibility on this issue in exchange for concessions elsewhere. But the PSC appeared to be stuck. 

For these reasons, negotiations on the draft resolution came down to the wire. African leaders, the AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, and senior U.S. officials spoke frequently to try to break the impasse, including a direct call between Faki and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Foreign ministers from the PSC and A3 met on the margins of their annual retreat in Oran, Algeria in mid-December to discuss the funding issue again. Unable to reach a compromise, the PSC urged the A3 to postpone the forthcoming vote and await guidance from the next AU summit in February 2024. But recognising that this vote might be the AU’s best and last chance to secure a deal, the A3 forged ahead in hopes that a compromise would emerge.

Ghana and the U.S. reached a last-minute arrangement to save the funding agreement from the fate that doomed its predecessors.

Diplomats tell Crisis Group that Ghana and the U.S. reached a last-minute arrangement to save the funding agreement from the fate that doomed its predecessors. Both countries wanted a deal but needed to overcome major political hurdles: Ghana could not contradict its mandate from the PSC, while the U.S. would be obligated to veto any resolution that did not constrain the UN’s financial obligations (due to the administration’s informal understanding with influential Congressional leaders). The breakthrough came when Ghana and the U.S. reached a tacit understanding on a two-stage vote. The U.S. would first table an amendment to the A3 draft that added compromise language (negotiated by both countries) on the 75 per cent funding ceiling; Ghana agreed to back a modified resolution should the Security Council pass the amendment. While the U.S. used it to lock in the desired funding split, Ghana secured language in the amendment committing the Council to consider “all viable options” should the AU and UN fail to raise enough money, leaving the door open for more funding from the UN.

The outcome was uncertain until the final moments. In the event, nine Council members backed the U.S. amendment while six (the A3, Russia, China and France) abstained, allowing it to squeak through with the minimum votes necessary for a resolution to pass. Then, all fifteen Council members voted to adopt the revised resolution (incorporating the U.S. amendment), including the three African countries, which deviated from the PSC’s guidance to get a deal across the finish line.

What happens next?

With a UN Security Council-endorsed framework now in hand, officials and diplomats from both organisations have started the process of translating this agreement into workable policy. This job could take several months, and will need to be managed carefully and collaboratively by New York and Addis Ababa.

Many of the approaching hurdles are technical in nature. Officials will need to draft a policy for how the two organisations would jointly plan and assess new missions. Though the AU has developed its own policies governing troop deployment, conduct and discipline, and human rights compliance, more work is needed to ensure that these rules align with relevant UN standards. Adapting the AU’s budgetary practices to the UN General Assembly’s financial regulations will be the most arduous of these tasks, requiring considerable attention from AU officials. Diplomats on the UN’s budget committee will need to agree on how to apportion the up to 75 per cent split when preparing and reviewing mission budgets, and which UN entity would collect and distribute the funding raised from non-UN sources, among other outstanding questions. Nearly all of these matters will require additional personnel in New York and Addis Ababa.

Diplomats are far from united on whether, and how, to support Somalia’s plea for a new mission.

Other challenges are more political. Diplomats will need to agree on the first case to test the funding arrangement. An obvious starting point is a possible successor to the African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), slated to leave the country at the end of December. Mogadishu has already expressed its desire for an AU-led follow-on mission. The UN and AU have an extensive history of cooperation in Somalia, dating back to 2009 when the UN created a dedicated logistics support office for AMISOM, the AU’s first operation in the country. Piloting the funding framework amid an established partnership may help reduce the bureaucratic friction likely to accompany such an intricate system. But diplomats are far from united on whether, and how, to support Somalia’s plea for a new mission.

Members of the Security Council and PSC will likely contemplate other settings where they could pilot this framework. These, however, are better viewed as long-term prospects than realistic proposals for the coming months. Operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique led by the Southern African Development Community would need to undergo radical changes to fall under the AU’s leadership and management. Senior officials have in the past viewed UN funding as key to crafting a new counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel. But the military regimes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are unlikely to welcome an AU-backed operation as all three countries are suspended from the continental body following the coups that brought them to power. Some diplomats have suggested using this framework to backstop a ceasefire monitoring force should Sudan’s belligerents stop fighting, though they acknowledge such a mission would be difficult to carry out. Diplomats will need to start the legwork now to build consensus in any of these cases. 

Beyond agreeing on a first case, diplomats will need to treat the bruises left by the negotiations. AU member states achieved a longstanding policy goal but are now stuck with an agreement that the PSC did not fully back. Influential AU member states will need to reconcile their differences and reach a tacit understanding about next steps for the framework to have any chance of long-term success. The A3 will also need to repair damage to their relationships with those counterparts on the PSC who accused the New York-based diplomats of going against Africa’s interests by voting for the resolution. There is also work to do at Turtle Bay. Though all the Security Council’s permanent five members voted for the resolution, they are far from united on how to take the agreement forward politically and operationally.

For a substantial operation akin to AMISOM at its peak, the bill could be $250 million per year.

The last batch of obstacles are financial. As part of the resolution, Security Council diplomats tasked the AU and UN with jointly mobilising the remaining 25 per cent of costs should they agree to a new operation under this framework. Though some officials in Addis Ababa welcomed the resolution, AU diplomats are concerned about the financial implications. For a substantial operation akin to AMISOM at its peak, the bill could be $250 million per year. In comparison, the AU’s total annual budget is only around $600 million. External fundraising will likely be easier than in years past now that the UN has created a mechanism for paying the biggest part of the bill. But AU and UN officials will need to begin laying the groundwork now to ensure that they can raise the money to fill the gap. The European Union will be an obvious target. Officials will also need to begin the hard process of cultivating other donors, from traditional partners like Japan and Germany to more reluctant ones like China and the Gulf countries.

African member states will face pressure to open the AU Peace Fund’s spigot to help close any funding gaps. An integral part of earlier Security Council negotiations around a financing agreement, the Peace Fund now has approximately $384 million in its coffers. AU officials only recently began using the fund to finance African peace and security activities, albeit on a small scale. They will almost certainly be under pressure from UN member states to tap it for a future mission created under this framework. But the Peace Fund cannot provide sustainable funding for this arrangement, as the AU cannot easily replenish it when spent.

Will this arrangement be a game changer for multilateral peace and security efforts in Africa?

Yes and no. The agreement is a political victory for the AU and the UN. It gives much-needed direction to policy debates about funding for African-led peace operations that were previously unstructured. But diplomats would be wise not to treat this compact as a silver bullet for the continent’s security crises. For as difficult as these negotiations were, they did not address many of the systemic tensions affecting the UN-AU peace and security partnership, particularly longstanding debates over which institution has primacy in responding to threats to international peace and security on the continent. Neither organisation can transform this cooperation overnight. But diplomats in Addis Ababa and New York can leverage the funding agreement in two ways to help the partnership move forward.

The use of force is most effective when incorporated into a wider political strategy.

The first would be to use the framework to springboard fresh discussions about how to end these crises diplomatically. Countries may be tempted to focus narrowly on what new AU-led peace enforcement or stabilisation missions are on the table now that a framework is in place. But the use of force is most effective when incorporated into a wider political strategy. Countries can use their own planning processes and any joint conflict assessments prepared as part of this framework to re-examine their political approaches to ending these wars. They should also be open to debating a wider range of mission models, including operations with ceasefire monitoring mandates or ones with predominantly political mandates. 

A second way to leverage the framework would be to use it as a prompt for improving how the Security Council and the PSC interact. Apart from an annual meeting, diplomats on the two Councils almost never speak to one another, relying on the A3 as a go-between. The framework resolution could help revive discussions about how to improve the quality of their formal interactions and frequency of their informal ones. Regular exchanges built around the framework’s required reporting could be a starting point. Some of the Security Council’s working groups could also invite AU diplomats and officials to participate in discussions about implementing the framework’s technical provisions. The two Councils will need to forge a higher level of trust and understanding in order to make this funding mechanism stick.

Other factors will help determine whether this agreement is a linchpin of the UN-AU partnership for years to come. The two Councils are likely to face competing pressures as they take this arrangement forward: on one hand, they will want to deliver on its potential as quickly as possible, especially since the Security Council will be able to review the agreement in three years’ time. On the other hand, diplomats will want to avoid rushing into decisions that either have limited impact on the ground or overshoot what their wider membership and their bureaucracies are prepared to support. Given the long journey both organisations have taken to reach this moment, few want to see the framework agreement fail. But to see it succeed, both the UN and AU should be prepared to invest even more in their political and operational partnership than they have in the past.