Without Reforms, U.S. Funding for U.N. ‘Will Be in Jeopardy,’ Republicans Warn Obama

By Patrick Goodenough | April 7, 2011 | 4:38 AM EDT

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The battle over funding for the United Nations is heating up in Congress, as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon each visited Capitol Hill this week, pressing the U.N.’s biggest contributor to pay up, in full and on time.

Ambassador Rice testified Wednesday before a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending on diplomacy. On Thursday, she will face the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ban, meanwhile, is due to hold closed meetings Thursday with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his spokesman told reporters.

The flurry of activity comes amid congressional initiatives aimed at withholding or cutting back on funding for the U.N.

H.R.1, a House-passed appropriations bill for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, includes significant cuts to international affairs spending. The Senate has not taken up that Republican-authored bill, however.

In the meantime, a short-term funding bill (called a continuing resolution or CR), introduced by House Appropriations Committee chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) on Monday as a means to prevent a government shutdown for an additional week, includes $237 million in cuts to spending for the U.N. and peacekeeping activities. Rogers says those spending cuts can be offset through existing credits at the U.N. and by scaling back voluntary contributions.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is due to introduce a bill within days that ties funding for the U.N. to wide-ranging reforms.

“Its fundamental principle will be ‘reform first, pay later,’” she said in a recent statement about the measure, which among other things calls for the U.S. to withdraw from the U.N.’s Human Rights Council (HRC).

The U.S. currently pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget and 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget – these are “assessed contributions,” calculated on a scale that takes into account member states’ national economic output.

Ros-Lehtinen and others want U.S. funding to move from an assessed basis to a voluntary one.

“That way, Americans, not U.N. bureaucrats or other countries, will determine how much taxpayer dollars are spent on the U.N., and where they go,” she said. “We should only pay for UN programs and activities that advance our interests and our values. If other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves.”

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s state, foreign operations and related programs subcommittee. (Photo: Granger Web site/Flickr)

Chairing Wednesday’s Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) told Rice lawmakers were serious in their intent.

“Madam Ambassador, as you know, in addition to H.R. 1, there have already been bills introduced in the House to either withhold or reduce funds to the U.N,” she said.

“In the past, strong U.S. actions have pressured the U.N. to take on reforms. I can assure you that if members of the House don’t see changes, legislative steps will continue and funds will be in jeopardy.”

In her testimony, Rice urged the committee to support President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget request for more than $3.5 billion for the U.N. ($1.62 billion for “contributions for international organizations” and $1.92 billion for “contributions for international peacekeeping activities”).

“The U.N. can’t deliver the results we want if we starve it of the resources it needs,” she said. “If we treat our financial obligations under the U.N. Charter as optional, others will too – and we could end up paying far more than we do today.”

Rice said while the Obama administration agreed with Congress on the need for reform, it differed on tactics.

“Failing to pay our dues to the U.N. undermines our credibility and influence – not just on reform, but on a range of U.S. national security priorities. When we choose to isolate ourselves by failing to meet our commitments and sticking others with the bill, we alienate allies and partners.”

Rice argued that the administration’s engagement has made a difference, citing its efforts at the HRC, which she said the U.S. has taken “in a better direction” since joining the Geneva-based body in 2009.

“We have no illusions about the Human Rights Council,” she said. “But the results there were worse when America sat on the sidelines. Dictators frequently weren’t called to account; abused citizens couldn’t count on their voices being heard; and Israel was relentlessly bashed.”

Rice said U.S. leadership was making a difference “as we press for significant change session by session,” but acknowledged that “much more needs to be done.”

Even as congressional critics want the U.S. to withdraw from and stop funding the HRC, the administration announced recently that it intends to stand for a second three-year term in 2012.

As CNSNews.com recently reported, the HRC’s two major flaws remain unaddressed despite the U.S. engagement: it continues to target Israel for disproportionate attention and recurrent condemnation, and regimes with poor human rights records remain members of the council.

Currently they include China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Pakistan, and Syria is in line to join them if elected next month. Libya was voted onto the council by a large majority in 2010, but is now suspended.

One country, one vote

After the U.S. (22 percent), the next biggest contributor to the regular U.N. budget, Japan, is assessed at 16 percent, but no other country comes close, including the other four permanent Security Council members – Britain 6.6 percent, France 6.3 percent, China 2.6 percent and Russia 1.2 percent.

Most countries pay well under one percent, but budgetary decisions are made by the General Assembly, where the vote of the U.S. holds no more weight than those of countries like Syria (0.016 percent) or Zimbabwe (0.008 percent).

Testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Terry Miller, a former member of the U.S. Foreign Service and now director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation, homed in on this issue.

“Some countries pay as little as $35,000 per year in support of the United Nations regular budget and peacekeeping operations,” he said. “They probably pay more than that in office rent in Manhattan.”

“Yet they have the same vote in U.N. budget discussions as the United States, whose assessed dues just to those two U.N. budgets amount to some $2.5 billion per year.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow