Senator Dole and others are right to oppose U.N. taxes on
Americans. They recognize that the problem with the U.N. is not a
lack of funding. Years of U.N. funding by America and its allies
have allowed the organization to become bloated and poorly managed.
The real problem with the U.N. is twofold: its resistance to reform
and its subtle yet growing infringement upon national
The U.N. is in a state of financial crisis. It is owed roughly
$2.5 billion in overdue assessments from its member states. The
U.S., the U.N.'s largest financial supporter (paying 25 percent of
its budget), accounts for some $1 billion of this amount, but
Washington is not alone. Roughly half of the U.N.'s 185 member
states have not paid their full U.N. dues. Under Secretary General
for Administration and Management Joseph Connor admitted a few
weeks ago that the U.N.'s financial situation is "precarious and
headed for the brink."
Boutros-Ghali believes that giving the U.N. taxing power could
eliminate or minimize the problem of overdue bills from member
states. He also thinks it would give the U.N. a greater degree of
financial independence. At Oxford University, the Secretary General
said, "It is time to seriously address the need for a United
Nations that can operate on a secure and steady independent
financial foundation." The Secretary General discussed a range of
international taxes, including taxes on fossil fuels, international
travel, and currency transactions -- for example, a tax of a
British pound on every non-domestic airplane ticket. This is not
the first time the Secretary General has expressed sympathy for a
U.N. tax. In 1992, he suggested that the U.N. tax either
international arms sales or international air travel to pay for its
peacekeeping operations. At Oxford, the Secretary General told the
British Broadcasting Company, "I'm sure we will win in the end and
that we will obtain from the international community [an
understanding] that we need to have our own income."
The Secretary General's proposals were not made off the cuff.
The idea of giving the U.N. financial independence through taxing
power is supported by some member states and the U.N. bureaucracy.
Numerous proposals to tax international goods and services, the use
of the oceans and outer space, and international financial
transactions have been made in the General Assembly. The Human
Development Report, a publication of the United Nations
Development Program, a foreign aid organization, has championed a
global tax to fund the U.N. system. Malaysian Prime Minister
Mahathir bin Mohamad, Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, and
Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto have publicly endorsed
various U.N. tax ideas.
The Secretary General's confidence is in keeping with the
expansive course he has set for the world body. As the first post-
Cold War Secretary General, Boutros-Ghali assumed office at a time
of high expectations for the U.N. This was the era of the "New
World Order," as pronounced by President George Bush in 1991. In
his 1992 report Agenda for Peace, the Secretary General
suggested that national sovereignty was weakening now that the Cold
War had ended. This climate of opinion set the stage for the U.N.
peacekeeping operation in Somalia, which essentially assumed
sovereignty over that war-wracked country. Boutros-Ghali also
supports the creation of a U.N. standing army that would be under
The ability to control territory and command an army, like the
ability to tax, represents the exercise of sovereign power. The
U.N. should never have this power; it would be a usurpation of the
constitutional rights of the American people. These rights are
protected by the U.S. government, not the U.N. The U.N. does not
represent the interests of Americans; it represents the interests
of its 185 member states, many of which are undemocratic and
The Real Problem at the U.N.
The real problem at the U.N. is not a lack of funding. In fact,
U.N. spending has been mushrooming, and that is the real problem.
The U.N. regular budget has increased 20 percent since 1991.
Peacekeeping costs have ballooned to $3.5 billion a year in 1994;
in 1990, peacekeeping cost less than $700 million a year. As might
be expected, such increases in spending have been accompanied by
serious waste. In fact, the U.N. system wastes much of its
approximately $10 billion budget. For example:
- In 1995, the U.N. scrapped a never-used $1 million turnstile
security system at its New York headquarters. The reason: The
turnstile clocks would have tracked the arrival and departures of
- Various agencies of the U.N. spent approximately $1 million a
day at the height of the Somalia peacekeeping operation in 1993.
This included renting hundreds of apartments equipped with air
conditioning. After all this, the Somalia mission was a
- In 1995, the U.N. spent some $500,000 for a two-week conference
on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.
The U.N. spent $15,000 to fly representatives from the Western
Sahara to this conference in Barbados. No one explained how the
Sahara Desert qualified as a "small island developing state."
The U.N.'s problems go beyond waste and corruption. The U.N.
needs a major organizational overhaul, and its bureaucracy needs to
be trimmed. But the Clinton Administration has not been successful
in promoting reform at the U.N. The U.N. Inspector General office
it supported has been limited in scope and characterized as a
"disappointment" by Representative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) and Senator
Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS), two Members of Congress who have long
championed U.N. reform. More telling is the Administration's
admitted failure to keep the U.N. budget in check. In December, a
high-ranking U.S. official at the U.N. noted that the
organization's 1996-1997 budget is "higher than we would have
preferred and recommended."
Even if the Administration did push for fundamental reform,
however, it would not find an ally in the Secretary General.
Boutros-Ghali has not demonstrated any desire for real change. He
ordered that a 1993 report critical of U.N. reform progress,
written by then Under Secretary General for Administration and
Management Richard Thornburgh, be suppressed. If given more
independence from critical review, which Boutros- Ghali's tax
proposal implies, the Secretary General presemably would become
even less interested in reform.
Senator Dole, Senator Helms, and others were right to oppose
the U.N. tax idea. The Clinton Administration also was right to
reject Boutros-Ghali's tax proposal. But U.N. bureaucrats have not
given up hope. In September 1996, the U.N. Working Group on
Finances will submit a report on financing to the U.N. General
Assembly. This report may very well recommend a U.N. tax scheme. If
it does, the proposal may gain support from other countries,
leaving the U.S. once again in the position of being pressured by
other nations to adopt U.N. proposals that harm American interests.
If this happens, the Clinton Administration needs to make clear to
the U.N. and other countries that U.N. taxes are unacceptable. The
last thing the U.N. needs is more money and less
United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wants to
give the U.N. the authority to tax Americans and others around the
world. In expressing frustration over the perilous state of his
organization's finances, the U.N. chief made known his support for
U.N. taxes during a January lecture and follow-up media discussion
at Oxford University. Soon afterwards, several prominent Members of
Congress made clear their opposition to this scheme. In the Senate,
Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-KS), Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), and several other Senators have
sponsored a bill which bars U.S. payments to the U.N. if it
attempts to implement a tax. Similar legislation has been
introduced in the House.