Cut Short

The latest threat to international peacekeeping is political warfare in Washington.

It was a welcome and rare sight: a rebel army in retreat. Last November, one of the most feared rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the M23, was defeated. After a 20-month insurgency and a fight to quell it, there had come a tipping point: a 3,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping "intervention brigade," sent to support the Congolese military, had been given an unprecedented mandate: to take offensive action.

The brigade represented a radical change in how peacekeepers operate, and it is just one of U.N. peacekeeping's latest reforms. In fact, a month after the defeat of the M23, another unprecedented action took place in DRC, as U.N. forces launched unmanned, unarmed aircrafts to monitor the volatile borders with Rwanda and Uganda. It was the first time U.N. peacekeepers had ever directly deployed surveillance drones, and since then, these aircraft have begun to monitor new threats from armed groups. If proven valuable in DRC, they could be deployed in other parts of the world.

Changes in peacekeeping strategy -- along with a ramped up diplomatic effort -- offer the best chance for stability in DRC in a generation. And they represent U.N. reform in the truest sense: a completely new way of operating.

Yet at the very moment when reforms like these are giving hope to vulnerable people, a different kind of threat to peace in places like the DRC has emerged: Washington's ongoing funding battles. Though many have hailed the recent Fiscal Year 2014 congressional funding bill as a break in political hostilities, the legislation will sink the U.S. into even further financial arrears at the U.N.

The world cannot afford such setbacks -- especially now. Presently, more than 150 million people rely on U.N. peacekeepers for safety and security, and Americans also greatly benefit from their work. Peacekeepers rebuild failing states into potential U.S. partners. They help pave the way for overseas trade and investment. They enable millions of civilians to access the freedom, dignity, and fundamental rights that form the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy. And, according to a Government Accountability Office study, they do all that at one-eighth the cost of deploying American troops overseas.

U.N. peacekeeping is not perfect, of course. For all the recent success in places like the DRC and Timor-Leste, Srebrenica and Rwanda remain painful reminders of tragic failures. Even so, the U.N. has worked diligently -- and with strong U.S. support -- to make peacekeeping more effective and efficient. Additional reforms, coupled with those already outlined here, have the potential to deliver big benefits for international security and American taxpayers, to say nothing of the benefits to the vulnerable mothers, fathers, and children who rely on U.N. protection and assistance.

One key example of critical reform is the Global Field Support Strategy (GFSS), first approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 2010. This strategy was prompted by the realization that far-flung U.N. missions were not being properly serviced or supplied. New missions were created to deal with fast-moving crises, but their roll-out was slowed for months by logistical and budgetary problems. Shipments of rations, communications equipment, and helicopters were delayed, crippling peacekeepers in the field. And while the blame for these delays often rested with troop contributors or host countries, there were occasions when the U.N. bureaucracy was at fault. So, with firm support from the United States, the GFSS streamlined the logistical side of peacekeeping and delivered significant savings. In 2012, by implementing reforms from the Strategy, the U.N. shaved over $400 million from the overall peacekeeping budget, giving peacekeepers the supplies they needed at a lower cost to U.N. member states. As the largest donor to U.N. peacekeeping, the U.S. stands to gain the most from the GFSS's full implementation.  

Then, there are groundbreaking changes in the way U.N. peacekeepers are evaluated and paid. Traditionally, soldiers and police serving with the U.N. have been paid a set rate, regardless of how they perform in the field. However, two key initiatives championed by the U.S. are changing that. In 2011, American diplomats pushed through a new rule at the U.N. prohibiting payments to peacekeepers who commit crimes, including sexual abuse and exploitation. In addition, starting next year, as much as $50 million in annual bonuses will be paid to peacekeepers and U.N. member states that set a positive example -- serving with distinction in risky areas or providing key services such as medical care, engineering, or air support. These are some of the U.N.'s first attempts at pay-for-performance, and they will need strong oversight to be successful. But by rewarding the best peacekeepers and punishing the worst, they could lead to better outcomes for U.N. missions and the people they serve.

With so much on the line, and meaningful progress underway, now is the time to maintain longstanding U.S. commitments to U.N. peacekeeping -- not undermine them. And it is what the U.S. public wants: A recent poll found that more than 70 percent of voters think the United States should pay its peacekeeping dues on time and in full. Certainly, at a time of polarization in Washington and around our nation, such a strong number should stand out as a mandate, plain and simple.

Yet Congress has not always respected this mandate. Recently enacted legislation funding the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2014 fails to provide any funding for the new U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and maintains an arbitrary cap on the percentage of the peacekeeping budget that America can pay. As a result, the U.S. has sunk further into peacekeeping arrears, threatening our vital reform agenda at the U.N.  

In addition to potentially weakening U.S.-led reform efforts, falling into arrears will harm countries that contribute troops to U.N. missions, including U.S. partners like India, Ghana, and Bangladesh. When U.N. peacekeeping faces budgetary shortfalls, these countries aren't adequately reimbursed for their service, and this makes it harder to recruit and retain the best peacekeepers. Financial disputes have hurt participation in U.N. missions before: In 2011, amid a heated funding debate, the U.N. force in DRC faced a crisis when India withdrew four attack helicopters and Uruguay threatened to pull out 1,300 soldiers. A similar run on resources today -- in South Sudan or Mali -- would damage U.S. interests and put innocent civilians at risk.

Much more needs to be done to strengthen and reform U.N. peacekeeping, and Americans should not be satisfied until all of the U.N.'s 15 missions are performing at the highest level. But as the need for peacekeepers continues to grow, starving the U.N. of resources will only make matters worse.  The United States can lead the way to a stronger, more effective system of international peacekeeping, but it must start by honoring its financial commitments.



Iraq's Oil War

By lashing out at Turkey and Kurdistan, Baghdad could make a tense situation worse.

A long-simmering controversy over control of Iraq's massive oil reserves flared into the open Friday as one of the country's most powerful ministers threatened to take legal action against Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey and any foreign companies that helped the Kurds export oil without permission from Baghdad.

Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi told reporters that Baghdad considered the Kurds to be trying to sell "smuggled" Iraqi oil and would sue both the Kurdish and Turkish governments if any planned export deals moved forward. Luaibi also threatened to blacklist Turkish companies from doing business in Iraq if they helped the Kurds move the oil out of their semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq.

"If Turkey allows the export of oil from the region, it is meddling in the division of Iraq, and this is a red line," Luaibi told reporters in Baghdad.

The harsh words from Luaibi come as the security environment in Iraq deteriorates, raising questions about the country's ability to meet its own long-term oil-production goals just as the relatively peaceful north looks more appealing to foreign companies by comparison.

His threats also highlight Baghdad's growing unease about the Kurds' ability to finally export oil through their own pipeline to Turkey, cutting the Iraqi central government out of the loop. That could allow Kurdistan to export as much as 400,000 barrels a day of oil to Turkey, rather than relying on smaller amounts of oil shipped across the border by truck.

Officials at oil companies operating in Kurdistan said the new pipeline is a "game changer" because it will allow larger volumes of crude to leave the country, and will make that crude more valuable by easing part of the price discount that truck-borne crude carries.

On January 14, Genel Energy PLC, an Anglo-Turkish oil and gas firm which is the biggest independent operator in Kurdistan, said it expects the pipeline exports to be up to speed by the second quarter of the year, fueled by two big oil fields Genel operates in northern Kurdistan.

"The energy agreement between the Kurdish Regional Government and Turkey and the completion of the KRI independent pipeline infrastructure has paved the way for steadily rising oil export volumes from Taq Taq and Tawke over the course of 2014," Genel chief executive Tony Hayward said in a statement.

Genel also signed a gas-export deal with Turkey that could eventually move large volumes of Kurdish gas north to its gas-hungry neighbor.

The new oil fight capped an acrimonious week. Kurdish politicians earlier protested Baghdad's draft budget, which would essentially cut the northern region off from billions of dollars in oil-revenue that the central government distributes. Under the constitution, Kurdistan receives about 17% of federal revenues, though in practice that is closer to 12%. The draft budget would have effectively trimmed Kurdish receipts even more.

Some observers see the threats, from the budget dispute to lawsuits, as nothing more than political skirmishing ahead of April elections. But the completion of the Kurdish pipeline, which should be operational by the end of the month, appears to have pushed the oil dispute over the tipping point - and has embroiled Turkey in the spat as well.

"The breach is real," said Steven Cook, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said that growing distrust between Ankara and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reinforced Turkey's decision to seek energy resources from Kurdistan.

The Turkish and Iraqi embassies in Washington did not respond to requests for comment by late Friday afternoon. Neither did the U.S. office of the Kurdistan Regional Government or the State Department.

For years, Iraq has been trying to finalize a national hydrocarbons law that would determine once and for all how to share oil revenues across the different regions and clarify legal issues regarding ownership and exports of natural resources. Baghdad says that under the constitution, the Iraqi central government has the sole right to export oil and distribute revenues. Kurds believe that under the constitution, they have the right to develop their natural resources, too.

As a result, the Kurds have for years been signing attractive contracts with foreign oil companies in the hope that, by tapping their underground riches, they can jumpstart economic development in their semi-state - and, they say, in the rest of the country.

Baghdad's push back against Kurdistan's energy-development plans date back years, and has included threats against foreign companies doing business with the regional government. The Kurds offer a different kind of oil contract, which gives foreign firms an equity stake in the resources, rather than paying a flat fee for each barrel produced. But the lingering uncertainty over the constitutionality of oil deals with the Kurdistan government has also slowed development of the region's oil and gas resources.

ExxonMobil, for instance, had a big stake in a massive oil field in southern Iraq, and was threatened by Baghdad when it inked deals for oil exploration in Kurdistan. Exxon continued in Kurdistan anyway. Chevron, Total, and a host of smaller oil companies have also poured into Kurdistan due to the better security environment, more appealing contracts, and potentially lucrative underground resources.

At the same time, some foreign oil majors, such as BP PLC, have preferred the security of stable, long-term oil contracts in the oil-rich southern part of Iraq, which involve less capital expenditure and a quicker payoff than looking for oil in the north.

Baghdad's latest counter-offensive, including threats of legal action against Turkey and threats to abrogate contracts with Turkish firms inside Iraq, could well backfire, said CFR's Cook.

"Threatening the Turks - especially (prime minister Recip Tayyip) Erdogan - usually produces the opposite of the desired result.  I'd say that Erdogan was wavering, but now that Maliki is going after Turkey, we might very well see Ankara move forward," he said. 

Emrah Yorulmaz - Anadolu Agency - Getty