As Congress works in conference to resolve the
differences between the House and Senate versions of the Foreign
Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003 (S. 1401
and H.R. 1646) and the respective versions of the Departments of
Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies
Appropriations Act, 2002 (H.R. 2500), it has an opportunity to
buttress its relationship with the United Nations by returning to
the practice of authorizing and appropriating America's United
Nations assessment before the year it is due. Such a policy would
bear little cost but could prove helpful in garnering support from
the U.N. and its member countries for the U.S.-led war on
The Shift to Delayed Payments
Each year, the United Nations approves a budget that is
paid for by the member states according to a scale of assessments.
The U.S. assessment for 2002, for example, will be 22 percent of
the U.N. regular budget. Assessments of U.N. members are due in
full 30 days after the billing date of January 1, although payments
are not technically considered to be in arrears if they are made
within the calendar year in which they are due.
Before FY 1981, the United States
habitually authorized and appropriated its U.N. assessment in the
October before the year for which they were assessed and paid its
assessment in four quarterly payments. Between 1981 and 1983,
however, the United States began shifting the timing of its U.N.
payments to the last quarter of the year in which the assessment
According to the U.S. General Accounting
Office, this was done for three reasons: (1) to register U.S.
concern over the large, repeated increases in the budgets of the
U.N. and other international organizations and encourage them to
curb their budgets; (2) to realize a one-time budgetary savings (at
least on paper) of more than $400 million; and (3) to estimate the
U.S. portion of the budgets of the international organizations more
accurately to avoid supplemental appropriations.
Costs and Benefits of the Payment
In moving payment of its U.N. assessment to the fourth
quarter, the United States in effect skipped one year's payment and
realized a budgetary saving, at least on paper, of $433 million.
The savings accomplished through this budgetary gimmick were
helpful in the high deficit years of the 1980s. In truth, however,
they were no more than a postponement of payment obligations. As a
result of the delayed payment, the U.S. debt to the U.N. is
artificially high for the first nine months of every year, when the
outstanding balance is
temporarily added to U.N. estimates of America's debt to the
Shifting the payment schedule did little
to accomplish the primary goal and justification for this
policy--curbing the U.N.'s large and repeated annual budget
increases. In fact, the U.N. budget increased 14.7 percent from
1982 to 1983. It was not until a decade later--in the mid-1990s,
when the United States made the payment of its arrears contingent
on a zero-growth budget at the U.N.--that the U.N.'s annual
increases were held in check.
While the United States' deferred payments
of its assessment accomplished financial savings on paper, they
resulted in losses in terms of U.S. relations with the United
Nations. Although the status of the United States as a U.N. member
is not affected as long as payments are made within the year the
assessment is due, delayed payments have fueled resentment among
members who feel that they are footing the bill and have provided
fodder for critics who would portray the United States as a
is time for the United States to return to advance payment of its
U.N. assessment. The Senate language (S. 1401 and H.R. 2500)
clearly would make this practice contingent on the U.N.'s continued
adherence to the United Nations Reform Act of 1999 (P.L. 106-113),
which requires the U.N. to maintain a zero-growth budget and
thereby establishes an enforcement mechanism to prevent unchecked
growth in the U.N. budget. Returning to the previous schedule for
appropriating and authorizing U.S. contributions to the U.N. would
require doubling one year's assessment, but the cost would be
largely semantic, as it would simply be reversing the on-the-books
savings of the early 1980s when a year's payment was skipped.
the past few months, America's relationship with the United Nations
has deteriorated as Washington deemed it necessary to reject a
number of treaties that other U.N. members supported. Although the
U.N. initially responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks with
declarations of support for the United States and a Security
Council resolution to cut financing for terrorism, America may meet
with some resistance as the war on terror gains momentum. Returning
to the practice of paying America's U.N. assessments in advance
would engender significant goodwill among other U.N. members, and
this could be helpful as the United States conducts its war on
terrorism. While U.N. approval is not necessary for this campaign,
a sympathetic U.N. could be helpful.
Currently in conference, the Senate version of the Foreign
Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2002 and 2003 states
that "the United States should begin the process of resuming
payment of its assessed contribution prior to February 1 of that
year and each following year" provided the U.N. meets all of the
conditions established in the United Nations Reform Act of 1999.
The Senate version of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and
State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act,
2002, has similar language including the appropriation for next
year's U.N. assessment.
Congress and the Administration should
return to the normal authorization and appropriation process for
paying America's U.N. assessment. This would not result in
expenditures that are more than the United States has already
agreed to contribute, and it could do much to increase support for
critical U.S. objectives in the war on terrorism.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham
Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Center for
International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.