The deadly perils of peace-keeping: Paying the Price

THE WORLD's leading arms exporters are paying the cost of peace-keeping to settle conflicts that their weapons helped to create. The bills for the UN policing operations sometimes exceed the profits made from the arms sales, according to a report published today by Saferworld, a British-based research group.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China - paid just over half the dollars 2.8bn ( pounds 1.85bn) cost of peace-keeping in 1992. The five were responsible for 85 per cent of the arms trade between 1981 and 1991, according to Saferworld.

In Somalia the US paid around dollars 750m for Operation Restore Hope, and is to pay around a third of the estimated dollars 1.5bn cost of the new peace-keeping operation, an amount which far surpasses the dollars 336m it earned from arms sales to the region.

French UN peace-keepers in Iraq were fired on by French-made Mirage fighter jets; Bosnian Serb irregulars threaten British troops in the former Yugoslavia with British-made guns.

The five now balk at the cost of peace-keeping. Last month, the UN started to withdraw from Iraqi Kurdistan because none were prepared to pay for the operation. The UN is owed around pounds 250m by the US, and several other members of the Security Council are in arrears. Britain has refused to increase its commitment to peacekeeping. Last year, it paid around pounds 250m. All five members have, however, made huge profits from exports to regions now policed by the UN.

The report compares the costs of peace-keeping and the volume of arms sales in 22 areas recently or currently policed by the UN. The figures for arms exports represent only sales that were legitimately declared by the governments in question. They do not, for instance, include sales Britain made to Iraq after the embargo was imposed in 1985. In all, Britain - the fourth largest exporter - sold around dollars 3.8bn of weapons to regions now policed by the UN in the decade up to 1991.

John Major called two years ago for a UN register of conventional arms transfers. This is the first year of its operation. But the big arms exporters show little enthusiasm for restricting the flow of arms to areas of tension.