Key Issues of U.S. Concern at the United Nations

Testimony Global Politics

Key Issues of U.S. Concern at the United Nations

May 6, 2015 43 min read
Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center
Brett is the Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

Testimony before Subcommittee on Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy in the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate on May 6, 2015

My name is Brett Schaefer. I am the Jay Kingham Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.

I want to thank Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Udall, and the other Members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to discuss key concerns facing the U.S. at the United Nations, including U.N. budgets and the scale of assessments, oversight and accountability, peacekeeping, and transparency and analysis from the U.S. perspective. While I am not able to fully discuss all of these matters in my testimony, I will touch on them and provide footnotes to published papers and articles expanding on specific points.

U.N. Budgets and Scale of Assessments

When discussing the U.N. budget, it is important to clarify what is being discussed. The United Nations is a complex system of organizations, funds, programs, offices, and other bodies. The “core” United Nations is generally considered to be the entities established in the U.N. Charter: the Security Council, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Court of Justice, the largely defunct Trusteeship Council, and the Secretariat. These bodies conduct various activities and oversee a wide array of committees, commissions, and working groups. Although most of these activities are focused on the New York headquarters, the core U.N. budget also funds staff and activities at the various U.N. offices in other countries and affiliated bodies.

Other bodies within the U.N. system have varying degrees of autonomy. Approximately two dozen U.N. funds, programs, and other entities—such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Program—ostensibly “report” to the U.N. General Assembly, but typically act independently and often have separate governing boards. Another 16 specialized U.N. agencies and related organizations are even more autonomous. Some of them, such as the International Telecommunication Union, predate the United Nations. Others, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were established contemporaneously.

Funding of these bodies and their activities is provided through agreed assessments (a percentage of the organization’s budget assigned to individual countries), voluntary contributions, or a combination of both. According to U.N. data, the U.N. system nearly tripled its revenues from 2002 and 2012 from $14.963 billion to $41.504 billion.[1] Over that period, the U.S. share of U.N. revenue has averaged about 19 percent of total assessed and voluntary contributions.[2]

My testimony will focus on the “core” United Nations, which has two main budgets approved by the General Assembly:

  • The regular budget. The U.N. regular budget funds the activities, staff, and basic infrastructure of the Secretariat and most of the activities of the entities established in the U.N. Charter except for U.N. peacekeeping. The regular budget also provides funds (ranging from full funding to token amounts) to support the activities of various U.N. bodies including the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and the United Nations Environment Program. It is a two-year (biennial) budget that is adjusted mid-period to account for new activities approved during the period. For instance, the current 20142015 U.N. regular budget was originally approved by the General Assembly at $5.538 billion, but was increased to $5.654 billion this past December.[3]
  • The peacekeeping budget. The U.N. peacekeeping budget funds most of the peacekeeping missions established by the Security Council. Unlike the regular budget, the peacekeeping budget is an annual budget. It can fluctuate significantly as missions are established, expanded, contracted, or terminated. The originally approved peacekeeping budget from July 2014 to June 2015 was $7.06 billion.[4] The current estimate, as of March 31, 2015, is $8.47 billion.[5]

There are 193 member states in the United Nations. Article 17 of the U.N. Charter states that the “expenses of the Organization shall be borne by the Members as apportioned by the General Assembly.”

The United States has been the U.N.’s largest financial supporter ever since the organization’s founding in 1945. The U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and 28.3626 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget.

Since the U.N.’s establishment in 1945, these expenses have been apportioned “broadly according to capacity to pay.”[6] This means that wealthier nations, based principally on per capita income and adjusted by other factors, are asked to pay larger shares of the budget than poorer nations.

This was done in recognition of fiscal reality. The founders of the U.N. did not wish U.N. membership to cause severe financial hardship. However, as evidenced from their actions in establishing a minimum assessment of 0.04 percent in 1946, they did not believe that membership should be costless or insignificant, either, even though the original member states included very poor countries such as Haiti.

Over the past six decades, the regular budget assessments provided by poor or small U.N. member states have steadily ratcheted downward. Specifically, the minimum assessment for the regular budget fell from 0.04 percent to 0.02 percent in 1974 to 0.01 percent in 1978 to the current minimum assessment of 0.001 percent adopted in 1998. For the peacekeeping budget, the minimum is 0.0001 percent.

Additional discounts have also been adopted to reduce the assessments of most nations, including a debt burden discount for countries under a specified income threshold, a low per capita income discount, and a maximum assessment of 0.01 percent for the nearly 50 least-developed countries.[7] In addition, the vast majority of the U.N. membership receives further discounts ranging from 7.5 percent to 90.0 percent on their peacekeeping assessments (that are based on their adjusted regular budget assessments) which are then added to the assessments of the permanent members of the Security Council.[8]

The primary result of these adjustments is to shift the costs of the organization away from the bulk of the membership onto a relative handful of high-income nations, particularly the U.S. As presented in the accompanying table, for the regular budget, the U.S. is assessed more than 176 other U.N. member states combined and 22,000 times more than the least-assessed countries.

These differences are even starker in dollar terms:

  • The 35 countries charged the minimum assessment in 2015 each will pay only $28,269 based on the current 20142015 regular budget.
  • The 20 countries paying the minimum peacekeeping assessment of 0.0001 percent in 2015 each will be assessed approximately $8,470.
  • By contrast, the U.S. is assessed 22.0 percent of the regular budget (approximately $622 million) and 28.3626 percent of the peacekeeping budget (approximately $2.402 billion).

In other words, the U.S. will be assessed approximately $3 billion this year while the 20 least-assessed countries each will be assessed less than $37,000. Over 40 countries will be assessed less than $100,000 this year. As observed by U.N. expert Edward Luck, “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.”[9]

United Nations Scale of Assessments for 2015

This reality helps explain why so many member states are blasé about increases in the U.N. budget: The financial impact on them is miniscule and undermines incentives for them to fulfill their oversight role and seriously consider budgetary restraint. A long-term means for addressing this problem requires all member states to have financial skin in the game.

Since the first scale of assessments, the U.S. has objected to excessively relying on a single member state for the budget and argued for establishing a maximum assessment level and, subsequently, lowering that maximum. The historical struggle of the U.S. to constrain growth in U.N. budgets and focus resources on high priority, effective activities versus outdated, duplicative, or unproductive activities illustrates the wisdom of this stance. The organization would be healthier and more effective if the costs were more equitably distributed. To address these concerns the U.S. should:

  • Review and seek to adjust the U.N. scale of assessment to more equitably distribute the costs of the regular budget. Unless a stronger relationship between budget decisions and financial contributions is achieved, the U.S. too often will remain a lonely voice calling for budgetary restraint. The U.N. Committee on Contributions meets this June to recommend a new 20162018 scale of assessments for consideration by the General Assembly this fall. The U.S. should propose options for adjusting the scale to ensure that even the lowest assessed countries have a greater stake in financial decisions. An example would be to return the minimum assessment to 0.01 percent as it was before 1998, which would have the effect of increasing the minimum assessment from roughly $28,000 per year to about $280,000 per year. These changes would affect approximately 80 countries, but should be within the means of even the poorest sovereign nations.
  • Review and adjust the U.N. scale of assessment to more equitably distribute the costs of the peacekeeping budget. To address the even greater disparity in the peacekeeping assessment, the U.S. should seek to increase the peacekeeping floor to 0.001 percent. This would have the effect of increasing the minimum assessment from roughly $8,470 per year to about $84,700 per year. In addition, considering that the peacekeeping assessment is based on the regular budget where many countries already receive significant discounts, the extent of additional peacekeeping discounts should be trimmed as should the number of eligible countries, which currently apply to wealthy nations like Saudi Arabia. Finally, the U.S. should also seek a change in the methodology to reflect the prestige of membership on the Security Council by proposing: (1) a new minimum peacekeeping assessment of 0.5 percent for non-permanent members of the Security Council; (2) a new minimum peacekeeping assessment of 5 percent for permanent members of the Security Council; and (3) barring the permanent members from using the debt adjustment, low income adjustment, or other regular budget scale of assessment discounts for the purposes of calculating their peacekeeping assessment.
  • Enforce the 25 percent cap on America’s peacekeeping assessment. Fifteen years ago, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke testified to the Senate that he had secured a deal to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent as required under U.S. law and as a condition for payment of U.S. arrears under the HelmsBiden agreement.[10] By 2009, the U.S. share had fallen to less than 26 percent. In 2010, however, the U.S. assessment rose sharply, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The U.S. share of the peacekeeping budget has risen to 28.3626 percent under the current scale and is likely to rise even further in the next scale of assessments unless changes are made.[11] The U.S. should resume pressure on the U.N. to fulfill its commitment to lower the U.S. peacekeeping assessment to 25 percent by withholding the difference between our peacekeeping assessment and the 25 percent cap until the U.N. implements a maximum peacekeeping assessment of 25 percent.
  • Seek institutional changes to give more influence on U.N. budgetary decisions to major contributors. Together, the top 17 contributors (those assessed more than 1 percent of the budget) are assessed more than 81.6 percent of the U.N. regular budget in 2015, but under U.N. rules, the 129 member states that contribute just over 1.5 percent can pass the budget over their objections. The U.S. should demand that U.N. budgetary decisions, in addition to approval by two-thirds of the member states, must also be approved by member states collectively paying two-thirds of the regular budget assessments.

Another part of this problem is how the U.N. budget is allocated. The failure to arrest growth in U.N. employment, salaries, and benefits is especially problematic because personnel costs account for over 70 percent of U.N. spending according to the U.N.’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).[12] Without a significant reduction in the number of permanent U.N. posts or a significant reduction in staff compensation and related costs, real and lasting reductions in the U.N. regular budget will be difficult. Therefore, the U.S. should:

  • Rein in excessive U.N. salaries and benefits. In order to attract and retain qualified staff, the U.N. has long operated under the Noblemaire principle, which states that professional staff compensation should be determined according to the schedule of the civil service of the member state with the highest national civil service compensation levels. Since the U.N. was founded, this “comparator” has been the U.S. federal civil service. In 2014, the U.N. reported that net remuneration averages 32.2 percent higher than that of their U.S. equivalent in Washington and 17.4 percent higher than their U.S. equivalent in New York.[13] The U.S. should seek to ratchet this down to no more than the same level of equivalent U.S. civil servants.[14] Considering the large portion of the U.N. budget consumed by salaries, this issue is critical to budgetary restraint as evidenced by calls from U.N. organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Maritime Organization to arrest rising staff costs.[15]

Related to this is the failure of the U.N. to regularly evaluate its activities or “mandates” in U.N. terminology. As part of the 2005 reform agenda, the U.N., for the first time, compiled a comprehensive list of the more than 9,000 individual mandates of the General Assembly, Security Council, and Economic and Social Council. Unfortunately, the subsequent review was quickly ended after the first report concluded that a number of mandates should be eliminated. Specifically, the 2008 report from the co-chairmen of the mandate review concluded that only 155 (56 percent) of the 279 mandates in the Humanitarian cluster were “current and relevant” and that only 18 (35 percent) of the 52 mandates in the African Development cluster were current and relevant. There is no evidence that these outdated or irrelevant mandates have been terminated or altered to improve their relevance. The deliberate avoidance of this scrutiny wastes resources and undermines the U.N.’s ability to discharge its responsibilities effectively. To address this, the U.S. should:

  • Seek to revive the mandate review. Lack of progress on reviewing U.N. mandates greatly inhibits the U.N.’s ability to allocate funds according to priorities and eliminate unnecessary tasks, personnel, and functions that drain and divert resources.

Oversight and Accountability

The U.N. and its employees enjoy broad protections and immunities from national and local legal jurisdiction. In practice, U.N. employees cannot be sued in national courts, arrested, or prosecuted for actions related to their official duties unless those immunities are waived. This places an extremely heavy responsibility on the U.N. to scrutinize, self-police, correct, and punish wrongdoing by the organization and its employees.

Unfortunately, oversight and accountability at the U.N. have historically been weak. The U.N. did not have anything even resembling an inspector general until 1994, when the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was created after U.S. demands—backed by the threat of financial withholding—for such an office. Three major scandals, including corruption in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program, sexual abuse committed by U.N. peacekeepers, and corruption and mismanagement in U.N. procurement, spurred calls for stronger oversight and accountability in the mid-2000s and provoked a series of U.N. reports and resolutions identifying the problems and proposing solutions. Unfortunately, current procedures remain unacceptably weak when they have not been eliminated altogether.

A depressing example is the Procurement Task Force (PTF). When the extent of U.N. fraud and mismanagement in the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program became clear, the U.S. was able to convince the U.N. to create the PTF to investigate and pursue allegations of fraud and mismanagement. The PTF began work in January 2006 and over the next three years uncovered fraud, waste, and mismanagement in U.N. procurement and other activities involving contracts valued at more than $630 million. The evidence unearthed by the PTF led to misconduct findings against 17 U.N. officials and the conviction of several senior U.N. officials. In the end, the PTF did its job too well. As punishment for pursuing cases against Singaporean and Russian nationals, those countries led a successful effort to eliminate the PTF in December 2008.[16]

This outcome would not be so serious if the OIOS was willing and able to fill the gap of the eliminated PFT. Unfortunately, it does not. According to a 2014 Associated Press report on a senior OIOS official impeding an investigation and retaliating against two OIOS whistleblowers, it was revealed that a “review of the reports submitted by OIOS to the General Assembly through mid-2013 shows that the U.N.’s oversight functions still have not completed any major corruption cases since the [Procurement Task Force] was disbanded.”[17]

This lack of U.N. internal oversight is exacerbated by the hostility toward U.N. whistleblowers. Whistleblowers should serve a particularly valuable function in the U.N. system because of the broad protections and immunities the organizations and their employees possess. In essence, whistleblowers should serve as a safety valve by alerting the organization to wrongdoing. Unfortunately, whistleblowers are themselves too often punished for coming forward. The Government Accountability Project (GAP), which advocates for whistleblowers, has compiled numerous instances illustrating “the consistent failure of the United Nations and its funds, programs and agencies to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.”[18]

Only a few weeks ago, nine whistleblowers from various U.N. organizations sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General asserting that U.N. whistleblower standards lag behind the modern standards and are poorly implemented affording

little to no measure of real or meaningful protection for whistleblowers.
As our experience shows, retaliation against whistleblowers affects the entire UN system and goes largely unchecked at all levels, including in the Executive suites. Some UN whistleblowers have been fired or demoted; others have been subject to more subtle forms of abuse like non-renewal of contracts or sudden transfer to duty stations on the other side of the globe; many face plain, simple harassment and intimidation.
As a result, fear of reporting wrongdoing is widespread. UN whistleblowers are forced to go through lengthy, and often expensive, internal appeal processes in which the burden of proof, as a practical matter, rests on the whistleblower to demonstrate retaliation (the usual standard in national systems requires the employer to justify their actions were not retaliatory).
Put simply, the UN system of justice fails whistleblowers, and most of us have been forced to leave the UN to save our livelihoods, our health and our reputations.[19]

Statistics compiled by GAP on the performance of the U.N. ethics office, which found that it had denied the whistleblowing allegations of over 96 percent of those who had come forward (more than 447 preliminary inquiries) as of July 2014, support this conclusion.[20] Considering these problems, the U.S. should seek to:

  • Encourage stronger whistleblower protections. Congress has expressed great concern over the failure of the U.N. to implement measures to protect whistleblowers. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, requires the U.S. to withhold 15 percent of U.S. contributions unless the Secretary of State certifies that the organization has implemented specified whistleblower protections including the option for external arbitration.[21] Congress should consider expanding its whistleblower protection language to incorporate recommendations from the letter from U.N. whistleblowers, including applying whistleblower protections to U.N. peacekeepers and police.
  • Apply pressure for the implementation of current standards. Although the current protections for whistleblowers in the U.N. system should be improved, the biggest problem is a consistent failure of the U.N. to actually adhere to those standards and apply them. As noted by Beatrice Edwards, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, “[T]he problem is not with the policy. It’s that it’s not implemented, no political will at the top to protect whistleblowers.”[22] History has shown that the U.N. will respond to financial pressure and Congress should take steps to ensure that its efforts are not negated by broad use of the waiver authority granted the Secretary of State.
  • Reconstitute the PTF. The unwillingness of the OIOS to investigate corruption necessitates a supplementary effort that could be addressed by a reconstituted PTF or an equivalent independent entity empowered to investigate any entity or mission that receives funding from the U.N. regular budget or the U.N. peacekeeping budget or reports to the General Assembly.


One of the United Nations’ primary responsibilities is to help to maintain international peace and security. At the end of March 2015, U.N. peacekeeping had more than 125,000 personnel (including 106,595 uniformed personnel, 17,092 civilian personnel, and 1,846 volunteers) involved in U.N. peacekeeping and political missions overseen by the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations. These activities are increasingly expensive with the current annual peacekeeping budget estimated at $8.47 billion.[23]

U.N. peacekeeping is being conducted with unprecedented pace, scope, and ambition. Increasing demands have revealed ongoing, serious flaws.

Fraud and Corruption. Over the years there have been numerous reports, audits, and investigations revealing mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in procurement for U.N. peacekeeping. For instance, in a 2007 OIOS report, an examination of $1.4 billion of peacekeeping contracts turned up “significant” corruption schemes that tainted $619 million (over 40 percent) of the contracts.[24] An audit of the U.N. mission in Sudan revealed tens of millions of dollars lost to mismanagement and waste and exposed substantial indications of fraud and corruption.[25] According to then-head of OIOS Inga-Britt Ahlenius in 2008, “We can say that we found mismanagement and fraud and corruption to an extent we didn’t really expect.”[26]

More recent reports are scarce, most likely due to OIOS disinterest in pursuing investigations as detailed above, but recent news stories on possible corruption in U.N. air charters to favor Russian contractors,[27] allegations of selling U.N. peacekeeping jobs in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,[28] and assertions by independent watchdogs like Transparency International that the U.N. has failed to prioritize fighting corruption in peacekeeping operations[29] indicate that the issue remains problematic.

Unintended Consequences. Ten months after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was ravaged by cholera for the first time in over a century. Over 8,000 Haitians have died and more than 600,000 more have been sickened from cholera. Infections first occurred in the vicinity of an outpost of U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal—where cholera is widespread—and quickly spread across Haiti. A U.N. investigation concluded that the cholera cases involved a single strain of the disease, indicating a single source, and that the strain was closely related to strains contemporaneously circulating in South Asia. Subsequent studies and reports, including one by the scientists that originally conducted the U.N. report, confirmed these conclusions and identified the Nepalese peacekeepers as almost certainly the source of the cholera outbreak. Because of the broad immunities and privileges enjoyed by the U.N., efforts to sue the organization have been unsuccessful. The U.N. has repeatedly refused to admit responsibility or take steps to provide compensation to the victims leaving the victims with little recourse.[30]

Increasing Financial Burden. As the number and scope of peacekeeping operations has risen, so has the cost borne by the member states. As the largest contributor with an assessment of 28.3626 percent of the peacekeeping budget, the U.S. has a special interest in constraining these increasing costs. To this end, the U.S. should more carefully scrutinize long-standing peacekeeping operations. The unfortunate reality is that after billions of dollars in international assistance and decades of U.N. peacekeeping efforts, many long-standing peacekeeping operations have not demonstrably facilitated the resolution of the conflict or situation that the mission was originally deployed to address. For instance, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) have been in place since the 1940s. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) has been in place since 1964, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has been operational since 1974, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) since 1978, and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) since 1991. Peacekeeping should be a temporary endeavor, not a permanent presence. Priority should be given to more urgent crises with older, stagnating missions phased out to provide resources.

Protection of Civilians. U.N. peacekeeping debacles in the 1990s led to a reevaluation of U.N. peacekeeping. However, as troubling situations have arisen in recent years, many of them in Africa, the Security Council has found itself under pressure to respond and “do something” even though it may violate the central lesson learned in the 1990s that “the United Nations does not wage war.”[31] This does not mean, however, that U.N. peacekeepers are necessarily more capable or willing to act with force to prevent violence. A 2014 study of eight of the nine U.N. peacekeeping operations with a mandate to protect civilians found that of 570 reported instances, peacekeepers “did not report responding to 406 (80 per cent) of incidents where civilians were attacked.”[32]

This also assumes that those reports are accurate or complete. Whistleblower Aicha Elbasri, who served as spokesperson for the African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) between August 2012 and April 2013, provided leaked documentation to Foreign Policy that showed in a series of articles that the mission was deliberately under-reporting and concealing attacks by Sudanese forces on civilians and U.N. peacekeepers.[33]

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. By far the most horrible of the problems facing U.N. peacekeeping is the disturbing frequency of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by troops and civilian personnel participating in those operations. This is not a new problem. There have been numerous reports of U.N. personnel committing serious crimes and sexual misconduct, from rape to the forced prostitution of women and young girls. U.N. personnel have been accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. The U.S. and other member states successfully pressured the U.N. to adopt stricter requirements for peacekeeping troops and their contributing countries and Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon repeatedly announced their commitment to a “zero-tolerance policy” on sexual exploitation and abuse and have commissioned and conducted numerous reports on the matter.[34]

Conduct and discipline teams charged with strengthening accountability and upholding the highest standards of conduct in peacekeeping missions are now present in nearly all U.N. peacekeeping missions and some political missions and troops are required to undergo briefing and training on behavior and conduct.[35] Statistics on the United Nations Conduct and Discipline Unit website chronicle a steep decline in allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Recent leaked reports, however, belie these statistics and indicate that the problem is as bad, if not worse, than it has ever been. A U.N.-commissioned experts report from November 2013, which was never released, was leaked earlier this year.[36] The report directly challenges U.N. claims on sexual exploitation and abuse, stating:

  • “The UN does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA” due to poor record keeping, fear of retribution, a culture of silence, and a sense of futility due to “the rarity of remedial outcomes including rarity of victim assistance.”
  • “Overall, there was noted a culture of enforcement avoidance, with managers feeling powerless to enforce anti-SEA rules, a culture of silence around reporting and discussing cases, and a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”
  • “This impunity has been debilitating for the many UN personnel who believe in, adhere to, and try to promote the zero tolerance policy, and creates unremediated harm to its victims.”

Just last week, another report carried out by UNICEF and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct involving young boys in the Central African Republic between December 2013 and June 2014 was leaked. The confidential investigation reportedly provided strong evidence of repeated rape and sexual abuse of starving boys ages 9 to 15 by French, Chadian, and Equatorial Guinean peacekeepers present in the country before the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was stood up.[37] It is unknown if the abuse continued under MINUSCA or if any of the perpetrators currently serve in MINUSCA. However, the reluctance of the U.N. to pursue the matter is deeply troubling. As stated by Paula Donovan, co-director of the advocacy group Aids Free World, who received the leaked report:

The regular sex abuse by peacekeeping personnel uncovered here and the United Nations’ appalling disregard for victims are stomach-turning, but the awful truth is that this isn’t uncommon. The UN’s instinctive response to sexual violence in its ranks—ignore, deny, cover up, dissemble—must be subjected to a truly independent commission of inquiry with total access, top to bottom, and full subpoena power.[38]

Considering these problems, the U.S. should:

  • Press the U.N. to clarify the steps and circumstances required for the U.N. to waive immunities for employees in order to facilitate claims and efforts to punish serious misconduct. The U.N. and its affiliated organizations are engaged in a multitude of activities that could result in casualties, property damage, or other negative consequences. Elimination of U.N. immunities would likely lead to a reduction in U.N. field activities, which could lead to even broader suffering. Although the U.N. has a mixed record, the U.S. has an interest in preserving the ability of the U.N. to respond to crises where it is unwilling or unable to respond directly. But this interest must not supersede the need of victims of sexual abuse, criminality, or neglect to hold those responsible for their suffering to account. U.N. privileges and immunities are important, but they must not create an unreasonable barrier to accountability.
  • Take steps to hold troop-contributing countries accountable. The standard memorandum of understanding between the U.N. and troop contributors appropriately grants troop-contributing countries jurisdiction over military members who participate in U.N. peace operations, but little is done if these countries fail to investigate or punish those who are guilty of such crimes. The U.N. should demand that troop-contributing countries investigate, try, and punish their personnel in cases of misconduct and publicly release updates and outcomes of their investigations into allegations. U.N. resources should be enhanced to more rapidly investigate potential crimes and all troop contributing countries must be required to grant full cooperation and access to witnesses, records, and sites where crimes allegedly occurred so that evidence is collected in a timely manner and preserved. Equally important, the U.N. must be stricter in holding member countries to these standards. States that fail to fulfill their commitments to discipline their troops should be barred from providing troops for peace operations or receive substantially reduced peacekeeper reimbursements. Likewise, if compensation is deemed appropriate for damages resulting from negligence by the troop-contributing government, extracting penalties from peacekeeping payments to the troop-contributing country should be the first option.[39]
  • Press the U.N. to automatically establish standing claims commissions in peacekeeping missions. The current situation gives the appearance of avenues of redress for damages caused by U.N. action, but the failure of the U.N. to ever establish a standing claims commission indicates that the system is not operating as it should. A key reason for this is likely that a government in a country where the U.N. has a peacekeeping operation is almost always highly dependent on the U.N. for security, resources, and political support. As a result, the government will be reluctant to anger the U.N. by requesting the establishment of a standing claims commission. To avoid this complication, a standing claims commission should automatically be established when a mission stands up, although it would be prudent to tightly define the claims eligible for consideration to avoid frivolous petitions.
  • Evaluate long-running U.N. peacekeeping missions. The U.S. should re-evaluate all U.N. operations that date back to the early 1990s or earlier—some date back to the 1940s—to determine whether each U.N. mission is contributing to resolving the situation or retarding that process. If an operation is not demonstrably facilitating resolution of the situation, the U.S. should use its authority in the Security Council to wind them down. Alternatively, if some concerned countries wish to continue U.N. peacekeeping operations that have not resolved the conflicts despite being in place for decades, they should be asked to assume all or part of the financial burden of the continued operation as is currently done with the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) where Greece and Cyprus pay for a large portion of the mission’s cost.[40] These long-standing missions are generally relatively small and among the least costly, but such a re-evaluation would help to reduce the enormous peacekeeping budget and send a welcome message of accountability and assessment.[41]
  • Be more judicious in authorizing U.N. peacekeeping operations. A U.N. peacekeeping operation may not be the best option for addressing every situation, particularly those where there is no peace to keep. The pressure to “do something” must not trump sensible consideration of whether a U.N. presence will improve or destabilize the situation, which includes clearly establishing the objectives of the operations, ensuring that they are achievable, carefully planning the requirements for achieving them, and securing pledges for providing what is needed to achieve them before authorizing the operation.

U.S. Transparency and Analysis

Finally, there is also a lack of transparency and analysis on the U.S. side. Because of the complexity of U.S. funding to the U.N., prior to 2006 there was no definitive data on total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system. In 2006, Congress required the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to submit a comprehensive report on total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system for fiscal year (FY) 2001 through FY 2005. Because OMB is in charge of overseeing the preparation of the President’s budget, it was able to require all U.S. agencies to report the requested information.

That 2006 report confirmed that actual U.S. contributions to the U.N. were higher by about 25 percent than previously reported by the State Department. Congress mandated similar reports for FY 2006 through FY 2010 but was inconsistent in assigning authorship. In each instance where the State Department compiled the report, U.S. contributions to the U.N. implausibly fell below the amount reported for previous years by the OMB.

The reporting requirement lapsed in 2011. As a result, a comprehensive accounting of U.S. contributions to the U.N. system after FY 2010 is not available and the last reliable accounting by the OMB was for FY 2010, which reported contributions totaling $7.692 billion.[42] Incomplete data based on State Department reports to Congress indicate that U.S. contributions have not declined, but without the OMB report it is not possible to provide a definitive figure.[43]

In addition, the U.S. lacks a comprehensive analysis of whether these contributions are advancing U.S. interests or being used to maximum effect. An example of what the U.S. should do is the Multilateral Aid Review conducted by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development that assessed the relative value for U.K. aid money disbursed through multilateral organizations. This report identified those U.N. agencies providing poor value for money and led to the decision to zero out funding for four U.N. agencies.[44] The last time the U.S. conducted a similar exercise, albeit in a far less rigorous manner, was under the Clinton Administration in 1995 and directly led to the U.S. decision to withdraw from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).[45] The U.S. should not let two decades lapse before repeating this type of analysis. To address these issues Congress should:

  • Enact a permanent annual reporting requirement on all U.S. contributions to the U.N. system to be conducted by the OMB. Most U.S. contributions to the U.N. system come from the State Department, but millions of dollars also flow from other parts of the federal government. Thus, relying on State Department data, such as that in State’s annual report to Congress on U.S. contributions to international organizations, presents an incomplete picture. Because the OMB is in charge of overseeing the preparation of the President’s budget, it is able to require all U.S. agencies to report the requested information. The first of these reports should require information for FY 2011 through the most recently completed fiscal year to fill in the reporting gap.
  • Require the State Department to conduct a periodic analysis of U.S. participation in all U.N. organizations and submit it as a report to Congress. Although a number of U.N. organizations provide important contributions to U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security interests, not all do. Congress should require the State Department to conduct a detailed review to identify those most and least vital to U.S. interests and providing the most and least value for money. U.S. membership and contributions should be informed by this analysis.
  • Establish a dedicated unit within the State Department Office of Inspector General charged with inspecting and auditing use of U.S. funds by international organizations. This unit would help ensure that U.S. funds are being used appropriately and, hopefully, provide independent oversight to spur better performance within the U.N. system. The size of the unit should be commensurate with the proportion of U.S. contributions to international organizations within the International Affairs budget. To ensure compliance, Congress should make a portion of U.S. contributions to international organizations contingent on cooperation with the unit.


It is in the interests of the U.S. to have an effective United Nations. To be useful, the U.N. must carry out its responsibilities competently. The current organization falls short. The United States should not hesitate to encourage and demand reforms intended to improve the organization. The cost of failing to reform the U.N. is high, not just for the U.N., which risks being sidelined if it cannot be relied upon to address key issues, but also for America, which would be forced to expend greater resources and effort to resolve problems, such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa that was poorly addressed by the World Health Organization,[46] that should normally fall under the responsibility of the U.N.

An Administration focused on advancing its policy priorities in the United Nations can block many counterproductive initiatives put forth in the U.N. Rallying support for positive change is much more difficult. Such efforts require the assistance of other member states or the use of leverage to impose reforms on an unwilling organization.

Congress has a critical role to play in U.N. reform. Congress has played an active role on U.N. reform since the very beginning of the organization and can be a very effective ally in Executive Branch efforts to pressure the organization to adopt targeted reforms.[47] Financial carrots and sticks have been effective in the past in spurring reform, including the establishment of the OIOS in 1994 and the adoption of a maximum assessment for the regular budget.[48] Congress and reform-minded member states should not be reluctant to use such tactics to spur reform.

Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Udall, and the other Members of the Subcommittee thank you for the opportunity to testify today and I look forward to your questions.



[1] This data has not been updated since 2012. Chief Executives Board for Coordination, “United Nations System: Total Revenue by Revenue Type,” (accessed May 4, 2015).

[2] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Should Demand Increased Transparency and Accountability as U.N. Revenues Rise,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4154, February 26, 2014,

[3] United Nations General Assembly, “Programme Budget for the Biennium 2014–2015,” A/RES/69/263 A-C, December 29, 2014, A-C (accessed May 4, 2015).

[4] United Nations General Assembly, “Approved Resources for Peacekeeping Operations for the Period from I July 2014 to 30 June 2015,” A/C.5/69/17, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[5] United Nations, “Peacekeeping Fact Sheet,” as of March 31, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[6] For a detailed history of this practice, see Brett D. Schaefer, “The Window of Opportunity to Overhaul the U.N. Scale of Assessments Is Closing,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2701, June 18, 2012,

[7] Report of the Committee on Contributions, Seventy-second session, June 4–29, 2012, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[8] United Nations General Assembly, “Scale of Assessments for the Apportionment of the Expenses of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” A/RES/55/235, January 30, 2001, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[9] Edward C. Luck, Mixed Messages: American Politics and International Organization, 1919–1999 (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999), p. 253.

[10] Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate, January 9, 2001.

[11] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Must Enforce Peacekeeping Cap to Lower America’s U.N. Assessment,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2762, January 25, 2013,

[12] Joseph M. Torsella, “Remarks on the Proposed UN Program Budget for 2012–13 before the Fifth Committee,” U.N. General Assembly, October 27, 2011, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[13] United Nations, “Report of the International Civil Service Commission for the Year 2014,” Annex VI, p. 67, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[14] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Should Lead Effort to Arrest Excessive U.N. Pay,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4099, November 26, 2013,

[15] Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Should Lead Effort to Arrest Excessive U.N. Pay,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4099, November 26, 2013,

[16] For a fuller account, see Brett D. Schaefer, “The Demise of the U.N. Procurement Task Force Threatens Oversight at the U.N.,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 2272, February 5, 2009,

[17] John Heilprin, “UN Whistle-blower Case Shows Accountability Limits,” Associated Press, January 10, 2014, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[18] Government Accountability Project, “GAP Releases Report on UN Whistleblower Cases,” August 22, 2014, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[19] GAP, “Letter from United Nations Whistleblowers to UN Secretary-General and UN Executive Heads,” April 8, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[20] According to GAP, “From the time the Ethics Office was established through July 31, 2014 it received 447 ‘preliminary inquires.’ The Ethics Office launched preliminary reviews in 140 of these cases. It is unclear from the Ethics Office’s reports exactly how many preliminary reviews were completed, but it was somewhere between 113 and 135. The Ethics Office found 14 prima facie cases of retaliation. If it completed preliminary reviews in 113 cases, then it has found a prima facie case of retaliation in 12 percent of those cases (14 of 113); if it has completed 135 then the number drops to 10 percent. In these 14 cases, the Office ultimately established retaliation and made recommendations to the Secretary-General in 4 cases. An additional case was settled through mediation and another is still pending, reducing the number completed to 12. So the Ethics Office substantiated retaliation in 4 out of 12 cases that proceeded to an investigation, or 33%. If the Ethics Office completed prima facie reviews in 111 cases (subtracting the two that are pending or settled), then it ultimately substantiated retaliation in 3.6% of the cases it reviewed (4 of 111). If the number was 133 then this drops to 3%. So 96% of whistleblowers who filed retaliation complaints with the Ethics Office received no relief. In brief, slightly over 96% of whistleblowers who filed retaliation complaints with the Ethics Office received no relief.” E-mail communication from GAP.

[21] Section 7048, “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015,” P.L. 113–235, December 16, 2014.

[22] Associated Press, “Whistleblowers to UN Chief: World Body Offers Little Protection for Exposing Wrongdoing,” April 9, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[23] United Nations, “Peacekeeping Fact Sheet,” as of March 31, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[24] Office of Internal Oversight Services, “Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the Activities of the Procurement Task Force for the 18-Month Period Ended 30 June 2007,” A/62/272, October 5, 2007, May 4, 2015).

[25] Colum Lynch, “Audit of UN’s Sudan Mission Finds Tens of Millions in Waste,” The Washington Post, February 10, 2008, p. A16, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[26] Louis Charbonneau, “UN Probes Allegations of Corruption, Fraud,” Reuters, January 10, 2008, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[27] George Russell, “UN Paid Russian Air Charters Hundreds of Millions While Putin Invaded Ukraine,” Fox News, April 9, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[28] Matthew Russell Lee, “On Selling of UN Jobs in DRC & Haiti UN Says It’s Up to Cote d’Ivoire: Cover Up?” Beacon Reader, February 11, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[29] Transparency International, “Corruption & Peacekeeping: Strengthening Peacekeeping and the United Nations,” October 2013, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[30] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “Haiti Cholera Lawsuit Against the U.N.: Recommendations for U.S. Policy,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2859, November 12, 2013,

[31] Commonly known as the Brahimi Report after Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations. United Nations, “Comprehensive Review of the Whole Question of Peacekeeping Operations in All Their Aspects,” A/55/305–S/2000/809, August 21, 2000, p. 10, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[32] Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, “Evaluation of the Implementation and Results of Protection of Civilians Mandates in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations,” A/68/787, March 7, 2014, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[33] Colum Lynch, “They Just Stood Watching,” Foreign Policy, April 7, 2014, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[34] For instance, the 2002 Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises, the 2003 Special Measures for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse Bulletin, the 2005 Comprehensive Strategy to Eliminate Future Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, and the annual report of the Secretary-General on special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.

[35] United Nations Conduct and Discipline Unit, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[36] Dr. Thelma Awori, Dr. Catherine Lutz, and General Paban J. Thapa, “Expert Mission to Evaluate Risks to SEA Prevention Efforts in MINUSTAH, UNMIL, MONUSCO, and UNMISS,” November 3, 2013, May 4, 2015).

[37] Sandra Laville, “UN Aid Worker Suspended for Leaking Report on Child Abuse by French Troops,” The Guardian, April 29, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015); Sandra Laville and Angelique Chrisafis, “UN Accused of ‘Reckless Disregard’ for Allegations of Peacekeeper Child Abuse,” The Guardian, April 30, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015); and George Russell, “African Troops Involved with French in UN Rape Report Scandal,” Fox News, May 1, 2015, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[38] Laville, “UN Aid Worker Suspended for Leaking Report on Child Abuse by French Troops.”

[39] This policy is consistent with the position laid out in the 1997 Report of the Secretary-General, endorsed in Resolution 52/247, which states, “If such claims [arising as a result of gross negligence or willful misconduct] are established, the Organization would assume liability to compensate a third party, retaining the right to seek recovery from the individual or the troop-contributing State concerned.”

[40] While UNFICYP is the only current example of this practice, there are other precedents. The U.N. Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM), which was established by the Security Council in 1963 to observe and certify the withdrawal of Saudi Arabian and Egyptian forces from Yemen, was funded entirely by Saudi and Egyptian contributions. Similarly, the Netherlands and Indonesia evenly divided the costs of the U.N. Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA), which was established in 1962 to administer the territory of West New Guinea until it was transferred to Indonesia in 1963, and the U.N. Security Force in West New Guinea (UNSF), which was established to monitor the cease-fire and maintain law and order during the transition. See United Nations, “Yemen—UNYOM,” (accessed May 4, 2015); United Nations, “West New Guinea—UNSF,” (accessed May 4, 2015); and United Nations, “UNFICYP Background,” (accessed May 4, 2015).

[41] For instance, together, five of the older U.N. missions (MINURSO, UNFICYP, UNDOF, UNMOGIP, and UNTSO) cost approximately $273 million. If the U.S. could shift these missions to voluntary funding, the U.S. could save tens of millions of dollars per year and perhaps focus the most affected parties on resolving these outstanding disputes.

[42] Office of Management and Budget, “Annual Report on United States Contributions to the United Nations,” June 6, 2011, May 4, 2015).

[43] For a fuller discussion, see Brett D. Schaefer, “U.S. Should Demand Increased Transparency and Accountability as U.N. Revenues Rise,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4154, February 26, 2014,

[44] The United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

[45] The assessment concluded that “UNIDO has not been able to define its purpose and function very well, much less become effective in its programmatic activities,” and urged member states to consider phasing the organization out. Brett D. Schaefer, “The U.S. Should Not Rejoin the United Nations Industrial Development Organization,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4291, October 29, 2014,

[46] Abhik Chanda, “WHO Pledges Reforms as It Admits Ebola Mistakes,” AFP, January 25, 2015,;_ylt=A0LEVj2rFElVdSgA3wAPxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTEzdjltYjBkBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMzBHZ0aWQDRkZVSUMwXzEEc2VjA3Ny(accessed May 4, 2015).

[47] Only two years after the U.N. was created, Congress issued a report calling for sweeping reform of the U.N. system. A September 1947 study by the Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments found “serious problems of overlap, duplication of effort, weak coordination, proliferating mandates and programs, and overly generous compensation of staff within the infant, but rapidly growing, UN system.” Edward C. Luck, “Reforming the United Nations: Lessons from a History in Progress,” Academic Council on the United Nations System Occasional Paper No. 1, 2003, (accessed May 4, 2015).

[48] Brett D. Schaefer, “A Progress Report on U.N. Reform,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1937, May 19, 2006,


Brett Schaefer

Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center