Despite Inefficiencies, United Nations is Big Contributor to US Economy

January 23, 2017 –  A bill before the US Congress aims to end United States membership in the United Nations and to remove UNHQ from US territory.

Such a move if successful, and the likelihood of that is far from clear, would leave the UN Security Council without one of its permanent members and would deprive the organization of about 25 percent of its funds.

While the motive behind the bill is ideological, its official title is American Sovereignty Restoration Act, its supporters argue that the more than $3 billion in dues paid by US taxpayers is money wasted.

But this is a shortsighted analysis. In fact, the United Nations is a big contributor to the US economy, in particular, to the economy of New York City.

In addition to the 6,700 UN staff working at the Secretariat in New York, there are some 2,000 diplomatic staff working for the 193 member states posted to the city as well as dozens of non-governmental organizations with offices in New York.

A report from the UN Foundation and the City of New York from 2010 estimated that the economic benefit to the city alone was in the region of $3.3 billion while, additionally, the UN procured over $800 million from US companies.

Furthermore, of the 41,000 people working for the UN Secretariat both in New York and in one of the other 24 duty stations, more than 6,500, or 16 percent, are US citizens.

The UN Secretariat is separate to other UN funds, programs and agencies and there are also several hundred US citizens working for UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women and other arms of the United Nations with headquarters in New York. In addition, the head of UNICEF is nominated by the United States – its current executive-director is Tony Lake.

It’s unlikely that Congress will pass the proposed bill – a similar piece of legislation was put forward in 2009 by Ron Paul and was never acted on.

Nevertheless, the election of Donald Trump has caused unease around the UN with his mantra of America First signaling a retreat from global institutions and multilateral diplomacy.

Undoubtedly, there is significant waste in the UN and it is often a place where member states find jobs for former foreign ministers and other politicians so they can be removed from the payroll at home – the top jobs at UN are given as political favors, not on merit.

But for all the waste, it is still good value for money for the US, in strictly economic terms.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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