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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Trump Could Chair UN Security Council Meeting in April

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January 4, 2017 –  Donald Trump will have the opportunity to chair a UN Security Council meeting as early as April this year when Washington takes the reins of the 15-nation body.

The Council’s presidency rotates alphabetically among its 15 members and the U.S. did not preside over the Council at all during 2016, having last held the gavel in Dec. 2015.

During each country’s presidency, a high-level meeting is held which is typically chaired by the country’s foreign minister or president.

Barack Obama twice presided over the Security Council, in Sept. 2009 when he chaired a meeting on nuclear disarmament, becoming the first U.S. president to chair a Council meeting, and in Sept. 2014, when the Council passed a resolution on foreign terrorist fighters.

Trump berated the UN last week, calling it “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

“There is such tremendous potential, but it is not living up,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “When do you see the United Nations solving problems? They don’t. They cause problems.”

“So, if it lives up to the potential, it’s a great thing,” Trump added. “And if it doesn’t, it’s a waste of time and money.”

Of course, Trump may decide to send a signal to the UN by either not attending the high-level meeting in April or by not sending his secretary of state – Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is the nominee.

During George W. Bush’s presidency, Bush himself never presided over a Council meeting when the US was chair, nor did he ever send his secretary of state. The only time a secretary of state attended during Bush’s presidency was when Colin Powell addressed the 15-nation body in Feb. 2003 to deliver what turned out to be faulty evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Trump’s nominee for UN ambassador, NIkki Haley, is expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks and will assume duties after Jan. 20.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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