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President's Message (Astrid Monson)
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Human Resources Project Progress Report (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Excerpts from "Financing the United Nations" (Donald S. Grubbs Jr.)
Transportation (Arlene Ellis)
Board Summary
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Saunders Endowment to Support Lifelong Learning
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Excerpts from "Financing the United Nations"

Presented before the International Relations Committee
of the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia
December 13, 1995

"One may almost say that there is no such thing as an exclusively fiscal question ... virtually all questions of finance are discussed and voted on as political questions only thinly disguised as fiscal." This statement by John Stroessinger certainly applies to the problem of financing the United Nations. We may discuss allocation formulas and other technical matters and we can come up with the most-logical and rational solution possible, but if our solution is not accepted by the U.S. Government and by the majority of the rest of the world, our efforts will accomplish nothing.

The UN system had a combined budget of a little over $12 billion in 1995. That is less than one percent of the national budget of the U.S. The U.S. share of the UN budget varies from year to year, but it generally has been a little over $2 billion, only a quarter percent of the total U.S. budget. Thus, when we look at the U.S. payments to the UN in the context of the total U.S. budget, it is a relatively small item – about $7 per person per year.

UN expenses have three parts. The first part is the regular budget, which pays for expenses of the Secretariat, the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council and the International Court of Justice. The regular budget is apportioned among member nations through assessments made by the General Assembly, in accordance with the UN Charter.

The second part of UN expenses is for peacekeeping operations. These expenses are apportioned through separate assessments by the General Assembly, in accordance with the Charter.

The third part of UN expenses is for many specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations Development Program, and many others. This third part, which constitutes the majority of all UN system expenses, is financed primarily by voluntary contributions from the member nations.

The UN is on the brink of bankruptcy because most nations simply do not pay in a timely fashion. The regular assessments are due on January 30, but countries tend to pay them much later. This creates serious cash problems affecting the UN's ability to pay its bills. In addition to those who pay late, there are some countries that don't fully pay their bills at all. Some of these are very poor countries that have problems scraping together the money. Many other countries, however, could afford to pay their assessments but do not do so because they object to something the UN is doing or they have philosophical or political reasons for not paying.

The payment of assessments is clearly a treaty obligation. Member nations agreed to the Charter, which specifies that the General Assembly will determine assessments and that member nations will pay them.

What is the practical solution to the problem of nations not paying their assessment in full and on time? This is a difficult problem to solve. To solve its cash flow problems the UN has been juggling how it pays its bills. First it uses up its reserves. Next it borrows from contributions for peacekeeping to pay bills under the regular budget, while delaying the payment of reimbursement of expenses to member nations for peacekeeping operations.

Much of the opposition to financing the UN is really political opposition to some of the things that the UN does. Rising peacekeeping costs expanded everyone's share in recent years and increased the resistance to paying. Fortunately peacekeeping costs are now projected to decrease unless some new crisis arises.

The UN is important not only to peacekeeping, but also to solving the problems of poverty, hunger, disease, the environment, overpopulation and a host of other problems facing our world. Unless the financial problems of the UN are solved, it will not be able to carry out its responsibilities. We must solve these problems.

Donald S. Grubbs Jr.

Published with the cooperation of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area and with the Assistance of the Washington Post Company. Individual copies of the full text are available without charge by calling the D. C. League of Women Voters (202) 331-4122

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