March 15, 2011 | WebMemo on United Nations
The United States is facing a budgetary crisis. In the coming months and years, Congress and the Administration will grapple with tough decisions on where to reduce spending and by how much. Although U.S. contributions to the U.N. system are not a large part of the budget, there is no reason to exclude these contributions from budgetary scrutiny. Indeed, even U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged the need for the U.N. to cut its budget during these fiscally difficult times.
On March 16, Congress will hold hearings focusing on the U.N. budget. Members should press the Administration for details on its objectives and goals for cutting the U.N. budget.
U.S. Contributions to the U.N. Are at an All-Time High
America’s recent contributions to the U.N. dwarf those from 10 years ago. According to the Office of Management and Budget, total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system were more than $6.347 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2009; they were just $3.183 billion in FY 2001. Increases have occurred throughout the U.N. system, but the increase in the U.N. regular budget—of which the U.S. is charged 22 percent—should receive particular attention from Congress.
The U.N. regular budget has more than doubled from $2.49 billion for the 2000–2001 two-year (biennial) budget to the $5.16 billion under the 2010–2011 biennial budget approved by the General Assembly on December 23, 2009.
This level of growth is extraordinary. The U.N. regular budget has increased even faster than the U.S. budget, which grew by 97 percent between 2000 and 2010 (in nominal terms). Unlike the U.N. peacekeeping budget, which also increased dramatically over the past decade, the increase in the U.N. regular budget is more attributable to the organization’s unwillingness to reform and prioritize expenditures than it is a representation of an expansion of U.N. efforts to help nations or people in times of crisis.
A Very Modest Proposal
In December 2009, the U.N. Secretary-General proposed increasing the 2012–2013 biennial budget by more than $300 million to $5.456 billion. He affirmed this proposal in November 2010. Since then, however, the Secretary-General has had a change of heart, stating, “We must be realistic about the current economic climate. Even the wealthiest nations are tightening their belts and cutting budgets. The United Nations must be no less disciplined. We cannot go about business as usual.”
Ban is asking his “senior managers to prepare a budget with a 3% reduction as compared with the previous budget.” Of course, as has been typical of the U.N. regular budget over the past decade, the current budget has grown substantially since first being approved and now stands at $5.37 billion. Thus, in reality, the Secretary-General is calling for a 2012–2013 biennial budget that is roughly $50 million more than the budget originally approved for 2009–2010. This is hardly an austere proposal, particularly when juxtaposed with the enormous budgetary increases over the past decade.
Congressional Hearings Present an Opportunity
On March 16, the House Committee on Appropriations is holding a budget hearing featuring U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. That same day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a confirmation hearing for Joseph Torsella to be Representative to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform. Committee members should use these hearings to press the Administration for details about its objectives and priorities for reducing the U.N. regular budget, seeking reimbursement of funds owed to the U.S. by the U.N., and progress made toward U.N. reform. Specifically, Congress should:
Reining in the U.N. Budget
The power of the purse places clear responsibility on Congress to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are used prudently. That responsibility is not limited to funds expended by the U.S. government; it also extends to U.S. funds provided to international organizations like the U.N. Congress should use the hearing process to press the Administration on its efforts to reduce wasteful or unnecessary spending at the U.N. and improve oversight and accountability for those funds.
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 and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).
Brett D. Schaefer, “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3064, November 18, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/11/a-short-united-nations-to-do-list-for-the-new-congress.
Brett D. Schaefer, “Time to Rein in the U.N.’s Budget,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2368, February 3, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/02/time-to-rein-in-the-uns-budget.
U.S. Department of State, “Congressional Budget Justification, Volume 1: Department of State Operations Fiscal Year 2012,” p. 544.
United Nations, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, “Proposed Programme Budget Outline for the Biennium 2012–2013,” A/65/611, December 9, 2010.
United Nations, Office of the Secretary-General, “Proposed Programme Budget Outline for the Biennium 2012–2013,” A/65/560, November 5, 2010.
For background and a list of specific questions, see Brett D. Schaefer, “Congress Should Investigate Administration’s $100 Million Gift to U.N. from Tax Equalization Fund,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3155, February 15, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/02/congress-should-investigate-administrations-$100-million-gift-to-un-from-tax-equalization-fund.
The latest progress in actually eliminating mandates is from 2006: “To date, out of the 399 non-renewed mandates older than five years to be examined, only 69 have been agreed by all Member States to be completed and put aside.” See Irene Martinetti, “Sluggish Progress on UN Mandate Review,” Center for UN Reform Education, August 16, 2006, at http://www.centerforunreform.org/node/62 (March 15, 2011).