UNITED NATIONS — The United States and dozens of other countries vowed Friday to speed up and strengthen the U.N.'s overstretched peacekeeping response to crises around the world.
More than 130,000 peacekeeping staffers are now deployed in operations around the world, a record, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special meeting that he and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden hosted on the sidelines of the annual General Assembly of world leaders.
The U.N. doesn't have its own standing army and relies on contributions from its 193 member states. In recent years, stress has soared as peacekeepers have been sent to the front lines of everything from ethnic conflict to Islamic extremism. This month, the U.N. withdrew its peacekeepers from many positions on the Golan Heights after 45 Fijian peacekeepers were held for two weeks by fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.
According to the U.N., 102 peacekeepers died in 2013, 36 from direct attacks and others from accidents and illnesses. The secretary-general on Friday included the Ebola outbreak as a looming security issue.
At the end of the meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said more than 30 countries had stepped up with "concrete commitments" to improving operations that range from South Sudan to the India-Pakistan border.
The speed of U.N. peacekeeping response is crucial. Its operation in the Central African Republic took over from the African Union on Sept. 15, nine months after violence between Christians and Muslims erupted. The force remains only about 65 percent of what the Security Council authorized in April. Timing of deployment of U.N. peacekeepers depends greatly on when member states send money, troops or both.
The budget for U.N. peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, is just over $7 billion. It is separate from the U.N.'s regular operating budget and the U.S. pays the largest share, over 28 percent, followed by Japan at nearly 11 percent. Rwanda is the fifth-largest contributor of troops to U.N. peacekeeping.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and the leader of another major troop contributor, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, all attended Friday's meeting.
Leaders and foreign ministers pledged aid ranging from helicopters to police to intelligence support, but with few specifics. Earlier this week, Mexico said it would return to U.N. peacekeeping after decades, and China said it was sending a 700-member infantry battalion to help the operation in South Sudan, where tens of thousands of people have taken shelter for months in U.N. bases to escape ethnic violence.
The U.S., which says it plans to contribute $1.9 billion to peacekeeping this fiscal year, down from $2.1 billion the previous year, announced it would review its contribution to peacekeeping efforts.
Friday's meeting came as the U.N. is about to begin its first wholesale, high-level review of peacekeeping operations in 15 years. "This will be a particularly exciting year," peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said.