American taxpayers contributed a staggering $7.7 billion to the United Nations system in 2010, including 22 percent of the world bodys regular budget. In fact, the United States pays more than all the permanent members of the Security Council combined, 13 times more than Russia and seven times more than China. It is natural therefore that Washington should expect value in return for the hard-earned tax dollars of U.S. citizens.
Yet the U.N. remains a massive disappointment, a bloated unaccountable bureaucracy rife with mismanagement, corruption and inefficiency. Indeed, if it were a business, it would have been forced to close its doors decades ago.
The U.N. continues to be a playground for despots and dictators, deep-seated anti-Americanism and a forum for anti-Semitic hatred. At the U.N. Human Rights Council, no less than 49 percent of the 78 country-specific resolutions adopted in its first 16 sessions were targeted against Israel. The recent U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York descended into farce when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad railed against the “imperialistic” United States and its supposed “slave masters and colonial masters,” prompting a walkout by the U.S. delegation.
U.N. peacekeeping operations, funded by the United States to the tune of roughly $2 billion a year (27 percent of the budget), also remain mired in controversy. Most recently, U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal are being blamed for a cholera epidemic in Haiti that claimed more than 5,000 lives. Following the Congo debacle of 2004 and 2005 when peacekeepers raped and abused hundreds of refugees, this scandal was yet another damning blow to the U.N.s image.
And while the United States and key allies such as Great Britain are implementing spending cuts and austerity measures at home to tackle budget deficits, the U.N. is actively increasing its already vast budget.
Last week, Ambassador Joseph Torsella, the U.S. representative for management and reform to the United Nations, confronted the organization over the fact that the U.N. regular budget “has grown dramatically, relentlessly, and exponentially from $2.6 billion in 2001-2002, to $5.4 billion in 2010-2011,” significantly outpacing growth in most member states. Incredibly, the average total compensation for a U.N. staffer is now $238,000 biannually. To add insult to injury, the U.N. is reportedly planning to build a second skyscraper in Manhattan at a cost of at least $400 million, a figure that could easily rise to three or four times that amount.
This state of affairs is simply unacceptable, and Congress has called for widespread U.N. reforms and budget cuts. Rep. Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, recently unveiled the most comprehensive reform legislation in more than a decade, outlining a series of measures to enhance accountability. Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been instrumental in driving the U.N. reform agenda on Capitol Hill, as well as pressuring the Obama administration to wake up from its slumber over the issue and demand greater action by the U.N.s leadership in Turtle Bay.
Reform of the international body is likely to become a priority foreign affairs issue for Congress in the coming months, and will undoubtedly feature in next years presidential race as well. For far too long, the United Nations has been able to act with impunity, thumbing its nose at the American taxpayer, in spite of a series of major scandals.
Congress must threaten to withhold a large portion of U.S. funding unless the United Nations implements key reforms, including significant budget cuts and reductions in staffing, far greater transparency and oversight of its programs and accounts, a shift from mandatory to voluntary funding, and dramatic improvements in holding peacekeepers to account for misconduct and criminality. Both the executive and legislative branches should adopt a zero tolerance approach toward the myriad failures of the U.N., and demand that its officials are held to account for both their actions and their budgets.
Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared in the Washington Times