March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.
The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).
In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).
As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.
The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.
The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.
If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz