U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is asking for a budget increase of at least $1 billion a year for peacekeeping operations. Peacekeeping forces and budgets are stretched thin as the world body expands its role in conflict resolution.

The outlay for U.N. peacekeeping operations is expected to grow at an unprecedented rate this year. In addition to the 14 operations already under way, three others - Haiti, Burundi and Sudan - are in the planning stages.

What's more, the mission in Ivory Coast is likely to be expanded, and hopes for closing down the Sierra Leone and East Timor missions have been put on hold.

Adding to all this is the uncertainty over whether blue-helmeted U.N. troops might be called upon to intervene in Iraq.

With this in mind, Secretary General Kofi Annan went to the Security Council Monday to plead for more cash, as well as greater troop contributions from donor countries. "By the end of this year, to absorb the new and enhanced missions, we may need an extra $1 billion for the U.N. peacekeeping budget, which is currently $2.82 billion," he said.

Mr. Annan argued that peacekeeping operations are cost-effective. He said even the proposed $4 billion a year investment compares favorably to the $128 billion a year economic loss caused worldwide by civil wars.

The secretary-general did not specifically mention Iraq, but he spoke about the need to give U.N. peacekeepers authority to robustly defend themselves as they embark new and more dangerous missions. "Especially as the U.N. moves into non-traditional aspects of peacekeeping, our peacekeepers become targets for people who seek to disrupt the political process, in the hope that further violence will enable them to achieve their aims. It is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that those who serve the U.N. Charter in peacekeeping missions are protected," he said.

The most expensive peacekeeping mission currently under way is in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This year's bill is $640 million. Two others, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, each cost more than $500 million a year.

Planned missions in Haiti and Sudan are also expected to be among the most costly.

The United States and Japan together pay nearly 50 percent of the bill for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The world body's peacekeeping command comprises more than 50,000 military and civilian personnel drawn from almost 100 of the 191 U.N. member states. Pakistan, the current Security Council president, is the largest troop contributor, with more than 7,500. Bangladesh is second, with 6,300 peacekeepers deployed.