Of Peace and Politics

UN Funding May Be in Danger

Posted on 01/27/2011 @ 09:30 AM

Tags: Peaceful Prevention

Alex Stark

With the new 112th Congress comes new worries about the deficit cutting federal government spending. Yet not every kind of government spending is on the table for cuts: some members of Congress have argued that military spending should be exempt because of “national security” interests, and many Americans are loathe to see their social security or Medicare benefits be cut. That leaves spending on international programs for diplomacy, development and international cooperation as easy pickings.

Indeed, we are already seeing the beginning of the attacks on United Nations funding here on Capitol Hill. This week, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee’s very first briefing concerned UN funding, or as the committee called it, “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” Witnesses at the briefing attacked the UN for corruption and mismanagement of funds, and many committee members voiced their support for withholding U.S. annual dues to the UN. The committee’s new chair, Representative Ros-Lehtinen (FL) was unable to be present at the briefing, but in a written statement she emphasized her withholding UN funding and “conditioning our contributions on reform.” Although this committee doesn’t control the appropriations for US contributions to the UN (that’s the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to be exact), it does authorize funding levels and guide policy toward the UN. The briefing was a warning about the changed tone in the new House, where we expect UN funding to be threatened for the first time in years.

The United Nations funds all of its activities, from peacekeeping operations, to special programs like UNICEF, through assessed dues from country members as well as voluntary contributions. The United States contributes 22 percent of the entire UN operations budget and 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget, more than any other member country, so it is essential for us to pay our UN dues on time and in full. For years, the U.S. did not pay its UN dues, and was actually in debt to the UN, until all of the debt was paid off in 2009. In 2009 and 2010 there was little worry that the U.S. would pay its dues to the UN, yet it seems that we are now back to the drawing board on defending these funds.

Threatening to withhold UN dues is an easy way for Congress to score political points. But the money that the United States contributes to peacekeeping and other UN functions is vital to global cooperation to prevent conflict, not to mention global health, humanitarian missions, sustainable development, environmental research and protection, and the many, many other functions that the UN completes on behalf of the international community. According to the Better World Campaign, in Fiscal Year 2010, the U.S. sent more than $3 billion to the UN, including $2.125 billion for peacekeeping operations, $669 million for the regular budget, and $389 million for agencies that the U.S. contributes to but is not an assessed contribution. These amounts sound large, yet comparing that to the $663.8 billion that the President requested for military spending in that same year really puts the numbers in perspective.

These funds are even more important because U.S. contributions to the UN are a force multiplier, since every dollar that we channel through the UN accomplishes much more than we could with that amount on our own. It is also an important symbol of the United States’ commitment to working multilaterally with the international community to fix global problems, rather than going it alone. For these reasons, the PPDC team will be carefully watching Congressional funding for the UN. Check FCNL’s action page in a couple of weeks for actions that you can take to support paying UN dues.

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