strong support for the United Nations, its campaign to gain a
permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council is in doubt.
For one thing, China is adamantly opposed. Yet, this setback has
not deterred Japan from continuing to look for meaningful ways to
reform the UN. This week, the Japanese government launched a
campaign to establish a minimum level of contributions to the UN
regular budget for the five permanent members of the Security
Council. This is a good idea and one the United States should
This change would
mean little for the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.
Each already pays more than the 3 percent or 5 percent that Japan
proposes as a minimum. Either amount, however, would mean a
significant increase in dues for China and Russia, veto-wielding
members that now pay only 2.053 percent and 1.1 percent of the
regular budget, respectively.
frustration in not getting support for its permanent membership on
the Security Council from countries besides the U.S. is
understandable. It is the second largest contributor to the UN
regular budget; its 19.468 percent contribution is far above what
it would pay based on the current UN formula for calculating
country assessments-some nine times that of China, 18 times that of
Russia, and nearly 20,000 times that of the countries that pay the
lowest assessment level (0.001 percent).
Japan is right to
suggest that the permanent veto-wielding members of the Security
Council should make a financial commitment to the UN commensurate
with their privileged status. The United States should join forces
with Japan in this effort, which provides an opening for even more
Of all the
countries seeking permanent membership on the Security Council,
Japan is the strongest candidate. It is a recognized economic power
and a responsible actor on the global stage. Its commitments
include support for the peacekeeping mission in Iraq, and its
regular budget assessment is well above the 15.3 percent
combined total that four of the five permanent members of
the Council-the UK, France, China, and Russia-contribute. Indeed,
projected annual contributions from Russia and China under the
2006/2007 UN regular budget are only $20.9 million and $39 million,
respectively, versus $417.9 million for the U.S. and $369.8 million
Japan was stymied
in its effort for a permanent Council seat because it unwisely tied
its bid to those of other countries.
It has made clear that it would try to reduce its hefty
contributions to the UN regular budget if it failed to gain a
permanent seat. Still, Japan realizes that reducing its
contribution will be difficult because other member states would
have to pay more to make up the difference.
So Japan has come
up with another plan: Enshrine the principle that "you have to pay
the costs to be the boss." In other words, make those members that
have decision-making power on the Council pay at least 3 percent,
and preferably 5 percent, of the biennial UN regular budget, which
now stands at $3.8 billion for 2006/2007.
Under this proposal, China and Russia would see their annual dues
increase to $57 million (3 percent) or $95 million (5 percent),
while Japan and many other countries would see their assessments
makes sense. Member states that wield a veto in the Security
Council, and therefore great influence, should meet a minimum
standard of financial responsibility-one that Japan was willing to
assume in hopes of earning a seat itself. That three of the five
permanent members already meet this standard strengthens Japan's
argument that China and Russia should step forward and assume a
greater share of the UN budget's burden.
Every nation that
aspires to a seat on the Security Council-where the rubber meets
the road for international peace and security, Chapter VII
interventions, and international sanctions-should be willing to
accept a greater financial commitment to the UN than those not on
the Council. Given the importance of even a rotating seat on the
Security Council, perhaps there also should be a surcharge on
peacekeeping budget assessments for the 10 rotating members of the
Council, as is already the case for the permanent members.
With any luck,
Japan's effort to rectify the lopsided assessment scales will spark
a broader and long-overdue debate about the budget itself. The
General Assembly, which establishes budget and policy priorities
for the UN, operates on an egalitarian one-country, one-vote basis.
In the vast majority of cases, decisions by the General Assembly
are adopted by consensus. When votes are held, most decisions are
made by a majority of member states. However, decisions on
important matters such as the budget require approval by a
two-thirds majority, or 128 of the 191 members, even if those 128
member states contribute little to the UN budget.
This is akin to a company's employees having complete control over
their salaries: of course the beneficiaries of programming
increases want UN budgets to increase.
Look at the actual
numbers and the lopsided relationship between those making
budgetary decisions and those footing the bill becomes clear:
The top 8
contributors pay over 72 percent of the UN regular budget. (The
U.S. and Japan alone pay nearly 41.5 percent.)
the over 130 members of the hugely powerful Group of 77-which under
Charter rules can ram through any budgetary decision and block any
meaningful reforms-altogether pay a mere 9.641 percent of the
lowest-paying countries-two-thirds of General Assembly members-pay
less than 1 percent of the UN budget, even though that group alone
can, according to UN rules, pass the budget.
This system can
lead to perverse outcomes. Consider that the United States will pay
22 percent of the $3.8 billion 2006/2007 biennial regular budget,
or about $418 million per year excluding the 27 percent of
peacekeeping costs it also pays and its sizeable voluntary
contributions to UN technical and specialized agencies. Yet the 48
countries that have the lowest UN assessment-a meager 0.001 percent
of the UN regular budget apiece-pay just $18,995 each per year. As
a prominent UN expert once said, "Surely it should not cost a
nation less to belong to the UN than an individual to go to college
or to buy a car."
United States and Japan-which each pay about 20 times more than all
of the 128 lowest-paying countries combined-can be forced to foot
the costs, despite their objections, when the UN budget is
assessments are tied to a country's ability to pay, which is based
largely on its gross domestic product (GDP) and population.
However, as Table 1 illustrates, this relationship varies
considerably. Among the Permanent Five members of the Security
Council, both China and Russia underpay based on nominal and
purchasing power parity-adjusted GDP data. The United States
underpays based on nominal GDP but overpays based on adjusted GDP
numbers. France and the UK are over-assessed based on both numbers.
Based on either number, Japan is grossly over-assessed. The G-77
and the group of the 128 lowest contributors are under-assessed-a
situation that is preserved by their numerical advantages in the
one-vote structure of the General Assembly, which ignores financial
contributions, creates a free-rider problem wherein countries
paying little drive financial decisions. This divorce between
obligations and decision making is perhaps the greatest cause of
the decades-long intransigence at the UN on real reform. The
situation reached a head with the 1985 Kassebaum-Solomon amendment
to withhold 20 percent of U.S. assessed contributions until the UN
adopted weighted voting, which led to the compromise of
consensus-based budgeting that is still used today.
consensus-based process has been marginally successful in
curtailing large increases in the UN budget-thanks primarily to
hard negotiating by the U.S.-it has been ineffective at encouraging
the UN Secretariat to set budget priorities or to eliminate
obsolete UN mandates and inefficient expenditures. Even in the
current pro-reform environment, trimming the UN budget and
eliminating obsolete mandates are difficult.
In the end, these
problems are unlikely to be solved unless a stronger relationship
between budget decisions and financial contributions can be
achieved. The bipartisan Gingrich-Mitchell United Nations Task
Force was right to call on the United States to work with other
member states "to explore ways of giving larger contributors a
greater say in votes on budgetary matters without disenfranchising
There are several
ways this could be accomplished:
Revise the scale
of assessments to reflect the egalitarian voting system. Establish
equal dues for all member states of slightly more than 0.5 percent
of the regular budget. Each country would provide a bit less than
$10 million per year under the 2006/2007 budget.
contributors a greater say in budgetary matters by creating a
voting system that is at least partially weighted according to
contribution level. This would enhance the influence of large
contributors in budgetary matters and, hopefully, create an
incentive for low-paying countries to contribute more.
Adopt a two-tier
system whereby the budget requires approval by two-thirds of member
states and by states contributing at least 67 percent of the
minimum contribution level from 0.001 percent so that even the
smallest contributors face more of the cost of any budgetary
increase. For instance, raising the minimum contribution to 0.1
percent would increase minimum annual dues to about $1.9 million
under the 2006/2007 budget-not an insignificant sum but certainly
within the capability of countries that value their UN membership.
Setting this contribution floor, combined with increases for China
and Russia, would reduce the burden on Japan and other large
contributors by 15 percentage points, leveling out differences in
Reforming the UN
assessment scale is a controversial topic, and the U.S. faces
significant pressure to avoid it. However, the opportunity for
reform of assessments comes around only every three years, and the
Fifth Committee of the General Assembly (which handles
administrative and budgetary matters) is now working on the
assessments scale for 2007-2009.
reform efforts have been episodic, there might not be another
intersection of the determination to reform and the opportunity to
revise the scale of assessments for some time. The United States
should seize this opening.
support Japan's effort to require the five veto-wielding permanent
members of the Security Council-states that have the heavy
responsibility for UN decision making over peace and security
matters-to pay a minimum of 3 percent and preferably 5 percent of
the UN's regular budget. This step is long overdue. Even though it
will not change the assessment for the United States, it would send
a strong message to those who want to join the Council's ranks.
With the power to make the tough decisions comes the responsibility
to commit enough time, talent, and treasure to make things
This same logic
applies to reform of the UN system as a whole. If the UN is to be a
more effective, efficient, and accountable body, privileges must be
linked to financial responsibilities. While the issue of UN reform
is in the spotlight, now is the time to recognize that the
unbalanced relationship between those making budgetary decisions
and those footing the bill impedes accountability.
that the UN's funding structure is grossly unfair, and this feeds
their increasingly negative opinion of the UN. According to a
Gallup Poll released on Sunday, Americans' opinion of the UN is
among the worst ever, with 64 percent of Americans saying the UN is
doing a poor job.
Americans across the political spectrum want meaningful UN reform.
Certainly, UN member states like Japan and the United States that
foot a significant portion of the UN bill deserve greater influence
over how those funds are spent; if that is not possible, at least
the financial burden should be spread across UN membership more
D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory
Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, and Janice A. Smith is Special Assistant to the Vice
President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, at The Heritage