US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

First Phase Digital

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

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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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As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

Sept. 14, 1015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.

Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.

In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.

Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.

The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.

The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations (click to enlarge)

While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

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As Obama Heads to UN, US Yet to Pay 2014 Dues

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Sept. 10, 2014 – The United States owes the United Nations almost $1 billion in dues for 2013 and 2014 and is one of only two current Security Council members not to have paid in full this year.

The US is the biggest contributor to the UN’s regular budget and was assessed dues of $621 million for 2014, or 22 percent of the overall regular budget. The UN maintains a separate peacekeeping budget.

So far this year, the US has paid $83.8 million and its overall outstanding contributions (prior year and current year) for the regular budget is $921.3 million, according to information provided to UN Tribune by the United Nations Committee on Contributions.

While 115 of the 193 UN member states have paid their dues in full for 2014, the US is the only permanent member of the Council not to have done so and among all current 15 Council members, Chad is the only other member not to have paid in full, according to the Committee on Contributions Roll of Honor.

The United States government’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1st and the US typically makes substantial payments to the UN in the fourth-quarter, though not nearly enough to clear its debt, but enough to prevent its inclusion on the Article 19 list which would result in losing its General Assembly vote.

Among the top five contributors to the UN budget, the US is also the only one not yet to have paid in full with Japan ($276 mln), Germany ($182 mln), France ($142 mln), and the UK ($132 mln) all paid up-to-date.

The US currently holds the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council and President Obama has called a high-level Security Council meeting for Sept. 24th on threats to international peace and security from foreign terrorist fighters. So far, 13 heads of state or government from the 15 Security Council member states are slated to participate with China and Russia yet to confirm who will represent them at the meeting.

The last time Obama chaired a Security Council meeting was in Sept. 2009, then the meeting was on nuclear non-proliferation. China was represented by then president Hu Jintao while Russia’s PM Dimitry Medvedev represented Moscow. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was the only leader of a then Council member not to attend.

Obama is also participating in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit on Sept. 23rd.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia Commons

50 Member States Still to Pay 2012 UN Dues, Including US

Jan. 2, 2013 – Fifty UN member states have yet to pay their dues to the organization’s Regular Budget for 2012, including the United States – the largest contributor by some distance, assessed to pay 22 percent of the $2.5bln budgeted for last year.

A tally, or “honour roll” as it’s called by the UN, shows that 143 countries have paid their dues to the Regular Budget – which pays staff wages and related costs in eight headquarter locations in the US, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Regular Budget also covers international conferences, public information work, human rights promotion, and special UN missions to conflict areas.

Nine countries contribute about 70 percent of the total budget: US – $568mln; Japan – $296mln; Germany – $189mln; UK – $156mln; France – $144mln; Italy – $118mln; Canada – $75mln; Spain – $75mln; and China – $75mln. The US is the only one of the nine not to have paid its dues by Dec 31, 2012.

Among the countries that also have not yet paid are Comoros, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mali, Sudan, *South Sudan, and Venezuela.

The two countries with the lowest assessments – Central African Republic and the Solomon Islands – have both paid their $23,000 share.

Republican lawmakers are quick to pour scorn on the UN but a closer look at what the US gains from the organization – strictly in economic terms – paints a different picture.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

(Separate to economic benefits, the US – as well as holding a veto in the Security Council – is also allocated the key top political post in the UN – Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, currently Jeffrey Feltman. It also gets to nominate the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, currently Anthony Lake; and the World Food Program, currently, Ertharin Cousin.)

* South Sudan was admitted to the UN in July 2011, after the Budget Committee met in June and thus was not assessed.