Administration Proposes Steep Cuts to Account That Funds U.N. Regular Budget

Patrick Goodenough | May 24, 2017 | 4:18am EDT
Font Size
Flags of member states fly in front of the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. (U.N. Photo by J.C. McIlwaine, File)

( – The U.S. is the largest contributor by far to the United Nations and many other international organizations, and cuts in the administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget are designed to prod other nations to pay a bigger share, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

The administration is requesting $996.4 million for the account from which the U.N. regular budget is funded – a more than 30 percent drop from the $1.444 billion FY 2017 level.

That “contributions to international organizations” (CIO) account also covers a raft of other U.N. agencies such as the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization; as well as non-U.N. organizations including NATO and the Organization of American States (OAS).

The completed budget proposal released Tuesday does not break down how the envisaged reductions will affect each individual agency, but says that in order to implement the reductions, the State Department is looking at three options:

--reduce the levels of international organizations’ budgets;

--reduce U.S. assessment rates for each organization;

--unilaterally decline to pay U.S. assessments in full.

The first two options, it notes, will both require the agreement of other bodies, such as the U.N. General Assembly, and will need stepped-up U.S. efforts to win support from other member-states to work on reducing budgets.

The proposal says a strategic review will determine “where reductions can be achieved while maintaining U.S. national interests,” with priority given to “organizations that most directly support U.S. national security interests.”

Indian U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2012. The U.S. contributes more than 28 percent of the U.N.'s overall peacekeeping budget. (UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti)

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.

U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget in “assessed contributions” and provide billions of dollars more each year in “voluntary contributions.” Together the contributions amount to $7-8 billion a year.

In the latest assessments, the next biggest contributors are Japan (10.8 percent), Germany (7.1 percent) and France (5.59 percent).  At the other end of the scale, dozens of member-states contribute 0.001 percent.

In a teleconference briefing, State Department budget and planning director Doug Pitkin noted that the U.S. provides 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and even higher rates to the likes of NATO and the OAS.

“I think there’s a recognition that these rates of assessment are often determined by these organizations, despite the fact that the U.S., in many cases, believes that other nations should be paying a larger, more equitable share consistent with either their economic status or the benefits that they accrue from those organizations,” he said.

Pitkin said the U.S. was looking to other nations to pay a larger share of those assessed contributions.

In addition, President Trump has called for reforms to make the U.N. more effective, he added.

“So we’re also looking to these organizations to implement reforms, to lower costs, and deliver greater results.”

Some agencies could lose funding altogether

The billions of dollars in U.S. “voluntary contributions” to U.N. agencies have been funded in previous years through another account, International Organizations and Programs, but this year the administration has requested zero funding for IOP.

Instead, a limited number of U.N. agencies identified as important to U.S. strategic objectives would be funded through other accounts. Overall, however, the proposed budget will seek to “reduce or end direct funding to international organizations whose missions do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests, are duplicative, or are not well-managed.”

In addition to the above, the U.S. currently contributes almost 28.5 percent of the separate U.N. peacekeeping budget.

The next biggest contributors in 2016 were China (10.29 percent), Japan (9.68 percent) and Germany (6.39 percent), and again, some 70 nations pay less than 0.001 percent.

“Both Congress and now this administration have expressed strong concern that that rate is excessive in light of the other responsibilities and economic capabilities of other permanent representatives and other member-states in the U.N.,” Pitkin said.

The administration’s proposed FY 2018 budget therefore includes steep reductions for the peacekeeping account: The requested $1.196 billion is a 52 percent drop from the FY 2017 estimate of $2.45 billion.

The cut will require reductions in overall peacekeeping budget levels – including through the scaling down or elimination of some mission mandates – and the U.S. share of the burden dropping to 25 percent or below, again requiring others to pay more.

The overall proposed budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) marks a 32 percent decrease – $37.6 billion, down from some $54.9 billion in FY 2017.

In line with priorities outlined by President Trump, the proposal ends funding for two major global warming programs, the Green Climate Fund and the Global Climate Change Initiative.

President Obama unilaterally pledged $3 billion to the GCF over four years, and provided one-third of the amount by the time he left office. He also requested $1.3 billion for the GCCI for FY 2017.

As always, Congress has the final say on executive branch budget requests, and some senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed concern Tuesday about some of the proposals.

The Better World Campaign, which advocates strong U.S. engagement with the U.N., also voiced dismay about the proposed cuts, but was hopeful congressional appropriators would make what it considers necessary amendments.

Campaign president Peter Yeo said the proposed cuts to the U.N., if implemented, would “greatly undermine a range of peacekeeping operations and global health and humanitarian assistance programs that save lives and further U.S. interests.”

mrc merch