September 6, 2007 | Executive Summary on International Organizations
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation (S. 392) on June 27, 2007, that would pay the U.N. more for peacekeeping than current U.S. law allows. The legislation would increase the 25 percent cap to 27.1 percent for 2005 through 2008 to enable the U.S. to pay the U.N. an estimated $157 million more than the U.S. would otherwise pay for its share of the U.N.'s peacekeeping budget. The key sponsor of the legislation, Senator Joseph R. Biden (D-DE), justifies the legislation with the assertion that we should not "fail to pay our bills" to the United Nations.
This argument misrepresents the situation and misreads history. The cap on U.S. dues was created to encourage the U.N. to spread the costs of peacekeeping more equitably among member states and to prompt the U.N. to adopt specified reforms. Although roundly criticized by supporters of the U.N., the cap was critical to persuading the U.N. to agree to lower the U.S. regular and peacekeeping budget assessments and to pressing the organization to move forward on management reforms. The core of the Helms-Biden legislation was an agreement to pay arrears, which largely resulted from the cap, in return for lowering the U.S. assessments and adopting other reforms to address management and oversight weaknesses.
The Need for Fundamental Reform. Despite some progress on U.N. reform over the past several years, much remains to be done. Reform is especially critical for U.N. peacekeeping. Numerous scandals in recent years have revealed serious flaws and problems in the management and oversight of U.N. peacekeeping operations and in the accountability and discipline of U.N. peacekeepers. These weaknesses are particularly troubling because the number, size, and cost of peacekeeping operations have increased rapidly, making more resources vulnerable to misuse or corruption.
Even more troubling are the disturbing accounts of U.N. peacekeepers abusing the very people whom they were assigned to protect and the U.N.'s inability to prevent such abuses or punish the perpetrators. Increasing the cap without demanding that the U.N. address these serious problems does a grave injustice to people who were abused by the U.N. peacekeepers that should have protected them.
Without fundamental reform, these problems will likely continue and expand, further undermining the U.N.'s credibility and ability to accomplish one of its primary missions: maintaining international peace and security. Instead of rewarding the U.N. by paying recent peacekeeping arrears and raising the cap on U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, the U.S. should refuse to pay arrears until the organization has implemented the reforms to correct waste and corruption in peacekeeping procurement and to ensure that peacekeepers are held accountable for abuses and criminal acts.
Moreover, raising the cap would surrender the principle that the sovereign member states of the U.N. that enjoy equal privileges should equally bear the responsibilities of the organization, particularly the financial burden of supporting its activities. The current system is decidedly unequal, with a small minority of countries paying the vast bulk of the budget while a large majority of the member states, which make minor budget contributions, drives budgetary and management decisions.
For instance, the U.S. pays 25 percent ($1.311 billion) of the $5.246 billion peacekeeping budget and is assessed 26.0864 percent ($1.368 billion) of peacekeeping costs in 2007. By comparison, the combined assessments for the 128 countries with the lowest assessments-two-thirds of U.N. General Assembly members-represent a minuscule 0.232 percent of the peacekeeping budget, and the 35 countries that are charged the minimum assessment of 0.0001 percent of the budget were charged just over $5,000 from July 2006 to June 2007.
The one-country, one-vote structure of the General Assembly, which ignores financial contributions, creates a free-rider problem in which countries that pay little drive financial decisions. This divorce between obligations and decision making is perhaps the greatest cause of the decades-long intransigence at the U.N. on real reform. Vital U.N. reforms are unlikely to be implemented unless budget decisions are tied more closely to financial contributions.
Nations enjoying equal privileges should bear equal responsibilities. If all nations felt the financial consequences of their decisions, they would be more willing to support reforms that help to ensure that their contributions are used effectively.
The first step in moving toward a more equitable assessment of U.N. member states is to keep the 25 percent cap, which maintains pressure on the U.N. to honor its promise to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment.
Conclusion. Although the Senate has a full calendar after the August recess, it may consider independent legislation or an amendment to raise the 25 percent cap on U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping and to pay arrears resulting from the cap in recent years.
Such action would be a mistake. Raising or eliminating the 25 percent cap would remove the key incentive for the U.N. to honor its promise in 2000 to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent and would throw away an opportunity for the U.S. to use its financial leverage to pressure the U.N. to adopt rules, procedures, and practices that would prevent mismanagement and corruption, discourage peacekeeper misconduct, and require member states to punish sexual abuse and criminal acts by their nationals participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations. Raising the cap would also surrender an important principle that nations possessing equal privileges in the U.N. should assume equal responsibilities, including responsibility for the budget.
Congress should keep the 25 percent cap, both to leverage much-needed reform of peacekeeping rules and practices and to support efforts to assess U.N. member states more equitably for U.N. expenses.
Brett 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, at The Heritage Foundation.