(CNSNews.com) - One key way to reform the United Nations would be to change the way the world body is funded, shifting away from the current system -- under which the U.S. pays more than one-fifth of the total budget -- to one of voluntary contributions, a former U.S. envoy to the U.N. said Thursday.
"Very little" progress has been made to date in reforming the U.N., but changing the way it is funded would help to drive reform in other areas, John Bolton told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C.
Moving away from the current system of "assessed contributions" would spur greater accountability, said Bolton, who stepped down as Washington's envoy to the U.N. in December after failing to win congressional support.
The financial arrangement now in place asks countries to contribute to the U.N. operating costs in line with their capacity to contribute, based on factors such as national income and gross domestic product.
The U.S. assumes a large percentage of the burden, Bolton said, but does not have enough say in how the funds are used.
"It's fun to spend other people's money -- especially our money," he said.
Bolton observed that some of the countries with relatively small contributions were among those most critical of the U.S.
The U.N. funding structure allows such countries to use U.S. taxpayers' dollars to attack U.S. interests, sovereignty and independence, while at the same time embracing policies that are harmful to American interests, he said.
Bolton didn't identify the countries he was referring to, but China and Russia clearly fit the category.
For the period 2007-2009, the United States will once again pay the top, ceiling rate of 22 percent of the total U.N. expenses, followed by Japan (16.6 percent), Germany (8.5), Britain (6.6) and France (6.3). The bulk of the 192 member states contribute well below one percent each.
Among the most glaring anomalies, critics note that China and Russia, although permanent Security Council members, are assessed at only 2.6 and 1.2 percent, respectively, while Japan and Germany pay considerably more yet have been denied Security Council seats. (In Japan's case, China has spearheaded the opposition to council membership.)
When the scale of assessments for 2007-2009 was being negotiated a year ago, Japan called for each of the permanent five (P5) -- the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- to give a minimum of 3-5 percent of the total budget, saying contributions should reflect member states' status and level of responsibility at the world body.
The Japanese proposal would have meant a drop in Japan's contribution and an increase in those paid by China and Russia, both of which strongly opposed the recommendation.
At the time, Bolton -- then ambassador -- also called for a change in the way the scale of assessments is calculated, saying the formula should rely on purchasing power parity (PPP) data rather than GDP.
PPP is a measure used by economists to compare living conditions across countries, by comparing how much is needed to buy the same basket of goods and services.
China's proportion of world GDP in U.S. dollar terms last year was 4.03 percent, but when measured by PPP was 12.73 percent.
If PPP was taken into account, the U.S., Britain, France as well as non-P5 members Germany, Italy, Canada and Spain would all be over-assessed for U.N. contributions, while Russia would be under-assessed, according to figures provided last year by the Heritage Foundation.
An even greater disparity was evident when comparing China and Japan, however: On PPP data, Japan was paying almost three times too much to the U.N., while China was paying about six times too little, the Heritage figures showed.
(CNSNews.com Managing Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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