On December 11, Ambassador Mark Wallace of the United States
Mission to the United Nations challenged the Fifth Committee
(Administrative and Budgetary) of the U.N. General Assembly over
the unprecedented growth in the U.N. regular budget. After
illustrating how the 2008/2009 biennial budget would result in the
largest increase in the history of the organization, Ambassador
Wallace firmly stated, "The United States must strongly advocate
against such a large wholesale increase in the UN budget without
even an effort to find substantive offsets or to set priorities
among the programs and activities."
To protect taxpayers and to encourage positive reforms at the
United Nations, the United States should firmly declare its
opposition to the largest budget increase in U.N. history.
Obstacles to Reform
Ambassador Wallace's statement is consistent with the U.S.
policy of supporting reforms that reduce waste, prevent corruption,
and increase efficiency at the U.N. A critical part of the reform
process that would directly affect the budget process is the
mandate review effort--proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and
endorsed by the General Assembly--designed to examine all
activities of the organization for relevance, effectiveness, and
duplication. Review of U.N. mandates is necessary for ensuring that
the organization's financial resources are allocated in the most
effective and efficient manner. Moreover, eliminating low-priority,
outdated, and duplicative mandates would free up resources for
higher priority activities. Unfortunately, opposition by a number
of member states has stalled the mandate review along with other
key reforms aimed at increasing transparency, accountability, and
Details of the U.N. Regular Budget
The stalled mandate review effort has not stopped member states
from proposing and endorsing an enormous increase in the U.N.
regular budget for the upcoming 2008/2009 biennium. The
secretary-general has proposed an initial budget of $4.19 billion
for core U.N. operations funded by the regular budget. It does not
include the budgets of U.N. funds and programs like UNICEF and the
World Health Organization. Nor does it include the cost of U.N.
peacekeeping, which is projected to see a sharp increase from $5
billion in 2007 to $7 billion in 2008.
At first blush, the $4.19 billion budget seems to be a modest
increase of $20 million over the final, revised 2006/2007 biennial
budget of $4.17 billion. A more appropriate comparison would be
with the $3.8 billion budget initially approved for the 2006/2007
biennium, which translates to a 10.3 percent increase. In fact, the
U.N. regular budget has increased by an average of 17 percent
annually over the past five years and has increased by 193 percent
since the 1998/1999 biennial budget, according to data provided by
the U.S. Mission to the U.N..
By comparison, the U.S. budget has grown by an average of only 7
percent annually over that period, despite conducting two major
military operations as part of the war on terror. In fact, the
growth of the U.N. budget in recent years has greatly outstripped
budget increases for all of its major contributors. Therefore, the
growth of the U.N. regular budget is clearly not a reflection of
budget growth among its member states.
Nor is this expansive increase typical of international
organizations in general. On the contrary, growth in the U.N.
regular budget has dwarfed the budget increases of other notable
international organizations including the World Trade Organization,
the Organization of American States, the Asian Development Bank,
and even the European Union.
Even though it represents a 10 percent increase in the budget,
the initial budget request is deceptively low. As noted in Chart 4,
the 2006/2007 biennium increased by $371 million from the initial
budget request to the final budget appropriation. The 2008/2009
budget will no doubt see a similar increase due to new mandates
adopted by the General Assembly, adjustments for inflation and
currency valuation, or unbudgeted expenditures.
The initial 2008/2009 budget request is doubly deceiving because
of the fractured nature of the U.N. budgeting process this year.
Even as the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly has been
considering the initial $4.19 billion biennial budget proposed by
the secretary-general, the secretary-general has identified a
number of additional budget items that would be tacked on to the
The total cost of these additional budget expenditures is
projected to increase the 2008/2009 budget to $4.8 billion--an
increase of 14.5 percent over the initial budget level even before
that budget is passed. Additional proposals identified by the
secretary-general but not yet submitted to the General Assembly are
projected by the U.S. Mission to the U.N. to increase the budget to
more than $5.2 billion--representing a 25 percent increase over the
final 2006/2007 biennial budget.
In dollar terms, this represents the largest increase in the
regular budget in the history of the United Nations. It could also
be the largest percentage increase in the history of the U.N.; it
is certainly the largest in decades. For U.S. taxpayers, this
translates to an increase of more than $100 million per year for
the annual U.N. regular budget (from $459 million per year under
the $4.17 billion final 2006/2007 biennial budget to $572 million
per year under the projected $5.2 billion 2008/2009 biennial
What the U.S. Should Do
The United States has justifiably objected to the rampant growth
in the U.N. regular budget. America has long advocated a policy of
zero nominal growth in the U.N. budget as a way to encourage fiscal
restraint by the U.N. U.S. leaders would be more open to budget
increases if they had confidence that the U.N. has rules,
regulations, and procedures in place to ensure that budget
resources will be used in a transparent, accountable, and effective
manner. However, opposition by the member states--particularly the
G-77--to key reforms that would address these weaknesses has
justifiably reinforced U.S. concerns that an increased budget will
be subject to the problems that have plagued the U.N. in recent
Ambassador Wallace should be applauded for questioning a budget
that continues to grow despite the absence of reforms and efforts
to offset that growth by ending less effective or outdated
activities. Although such action does not endear them to the U.N.
secretariat or to most member states, the U.S. cannot depend on
other nations to stand firm against unwise and unjustified
expansion of the U.N. budget.
Although it will almost certainly be outvoted, the U.S. should
oppose any budget increase for the U.N. until it implements the
reforms necessary to ensure that increased resources would be used
to best effect. The U.S. should not be satisfied with
disassociating from consensus--a position more akin to
abstaining--but should firmly declare its opposition to the budget
on the basis of excessive growth and failure to reform.
Opposing the budget increase would help to protect U.S.
taxpayers and would be in the best interests of the nation, which
is served by a U.N. that is less vulnerable to corruption,
prioritizes its resources to meet current organizational priorities
rather than those of the past, and can effectively meet the
responsibilities placed upon it by the U.S. and other member
Moreover, if the other member states approve a budget over the
strong opposition of its largest contributor, it will provide a
strong signal to Congress and the American public that the U.N. and
the member states are not interested in addressing the
organization's many problems. This will strengthen the hand of
those who already understand that U.N. reform is unlikely without
financial withholding or similar incentives.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay
Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs for the Margaret
Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, "Statement by
Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, U.S. Representative for UN Management
and Reform, on the 2008/2009 U.N. Budget, in the Fifth Committee of
the General Assembly, December 11, 2007," USUN Press Release No.
367(07), Office of Press and Public Diplomacy, United States
Mission to the United Nations, December 11, 2007, at www.un.int/usa/press_releases/20071211_367.html.
These annualized figures differ from annual
U.S. appropriations because the U.N. regular budget is adjusted
during the biennium. This means that the U.S. assessment in the
first year of the biennium is generally smaller than that in the
second year of the biennium. The figure cited here is the
annualized U.S. assessment (22 percent of the budget) based on the
finalized 2006/2007 budget and the estimated 2008/2009 budget as
projected by the U.S. Mission.