U.S. Pays $3B for UN--More Than 185 Other Countries Combined

By Patrick Goodenough | May 7, 2015 | 4:23 AM EDT

(CNSNews.com) – American taxpayers will pony up around $3.024 billion this year towards the United Nations’ regular and peacekeeping budgets, more than what 185 other countries combined are paying, an expert on the international body told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday.

While the U.S. contribution in 2015 to the U.N. regular budget is $621.9 million, the 35 countries contributing the least will pay just $28,269 each, Heritage Foundation scholar Brett Schaefer told the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee responsible for multilateral institutions.

And where the U.S. will pay $2.402 billion towards the separate peacekeeping budget, the 20 countries contributing the least will pay just $8,470 each.

Putting those together, “the United States will be assessed approximately $3 billion this year, based on the projected budgets for the regular and peacekeeping budgets, while the 20 least-assessed countries will be assessed less than $37,000 [each] this year for both of those budgets,” he said.

“For the regular budget, the U.S. is assessed more than 176 other U.N. member-states combined,” Schaefer said. “For the peacekeeping budget, the U.S. is assessed more than 185 other U.N. member-states, combined.”

In oral and written testimony, Schaefer provided the panel with other “stark” comparisons highlighting the disproportionate contributions provided by the U.S. in 2015, including:

--More than half the U.N.’s membership will be assessed less than $1 million each for both budgets (compared to $3.024 billion for the U.S. alone).

--The 119 members of the Non-Aligned Movement together will account for around $490 million (compared to $3.024 billion for the U.S. alone).

--The 56 countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – which include 10 of the world’s 20 top oil-producing nations – will together contribute around $360 million (compared to $3.024 billion for the U.S. alone).

--The other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Russia, China, Britain and France – will together account for around $2.523 billion (compared to $3.024 billion for the U.S. alone).

Schaefer told the committee he believed it was in the interests of the U.S. to have an effective United Nations, but to be useful the U.N. must be competent, efficient, transparent, accountable, and must hold employees to the highest standards of conduct.

“Unfortunately, the current organization falls short.”

 

In recent years, he continued, the methodology used for the U.N. “scale of assessments” – the formula determining how much each member-state pays – has “increasingly shifted costs of the organization away from the bulk of the membership onto a relative handful of high-income nations, particularly the United States.”

Schaefer said the effect of this situation was that countries paying very little had no qualms with voting for budget increases, since an increase on their small contributions was “relatively minor, and in some cases insignificant.”

“Other U.N. states have very little incentive to go along with changes to the scales of assessment to lower the U.S. assessment down, because that would of course lead them to pay higher costs.”

When budgetary decisions are made, every member-state has the same single vote. In practice, this means that 129 member-states (two-third of the overall membership) can pass a budget over the objections of the top 17 contributors which together account for more than 81 percent of the budget – even though those 129 members contribute just 1.5 percent.

Schaefer recommended that the U.S. seek to change the institution’s rules to give greater say to bigger contributors.

“The U.S. should demand that U.N. budgetary decisions, in addition to approval by two-thirds of the member states, must also be approved by member states collectively paying two-thirds of the regular budget assessments,” he said.

Legislative cap ignored

The 193 U.N. member-states’ contributions are assessed according to their relative “capacity to pay,” based on factors including population size and gross national income. Many countries also receive discounts for factors such as being below a certain income threshold.

The ceiling for the regular budget is 22 percent while the bottom level is 0.001 percent.

The U.S. currently accounts for more than one-fifth (22 percent) of the regular U.N. budget. The next biggest contributors are Japan (10.8), Germany (7.1), France (5.59), Britain (5.17), China (5.14) and Italy (4.4). Russia’s contribution is 2.4 percent.

The U.S. contribution to the separate, and much larger, peacekeeping budget is 28.36 percent this year – despite that fact that U.S. law (1999 Helms-Biden legislation) set a 25 percent cap on the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping.

Schaefer said the U.S. assessment did decline slowly over the ensuing years, but once it reached under 26 percent in 2009 it began to increase again over the years since.

He predicted that when the next scale of assessments is set – the three-yearly exercise is scheduled for later this year – the U.S. peacekeeping assessment will top 29 percent, “with very important implications for the U.S. taxpayer.”

Schaefer said congressional withholding of funds had in past years prompted other countries to agree to changes. He suggested the U.S. do the same thing with regard to the 25 percent peacekeeping cap.

On the question of evaluating the cost-effectiveness of various U.N. agencies, Schaefer recalled that the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s withdrew from the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), “because it wasn’t providing any value that they could determine.”

“I think similar evaluations should be done across the U.N. system on a periodic basis to evaluate and determine whether we should or should not continue to participate and support it the way we have.”

In response to questions by subcommittee chairman Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Isobel Coleman, U.S. representative to the U.N. for management and reform, said she would “be working extremely” hard at this year’s U.N. budget assessment talks “to make sure that countries pay their fair share.”

--The actual amount the U.S. contributes to the range of U.N. agencies each year goes way beyond the contributions to the regular and peacekeeping budgets.

From FY2006 to FY2010 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was required by law to report contributions to the U.N. each year from every federal agency. The requirement was not made permanent and expired in 2011; some senators want it reinstated.

The last OMB report to Congress under that mandate showed that the State Department and 16 other government agencies contributed a total of $7.69 billion to the U.N. system in FY2010.

Assistant Secretary Bathsheba Nell Crocker from the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs told Wednesday’s hearing that the equivalent amount for 2013 was $6.6 billion.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow