Global Policy Forum

US Gets as Much as It Gives to the UN


By Thalif Deen

Inter Press Service
August 10, 2006

The United States, which pays 22 percent of the U.N.'s regular annual budget of 1.8 billion dollars, has arrogantly demanded a dominant voice in management and administration -- primarily because it is the biggest single financial contributor to the world body.

"U.N. member states, and particularly its largest contributors, want to know if they are getting the most value for the dollars they contribute," says Mark P. Lagon, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for international organization affairs. "People who look to the United Nations for help want to know that, too," he told the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives early this year.

But what he failed to tell the committee is what the United States, in turn, extracts from the United Nations -- financially and politically. According to the latest figures released by the U.N., the United States has consistently held the number one spot in grabbing U.N. procurement contracts, averaging over 22.5 percent of all U.N. purchases annually. "On a cost-benefit ratio, the United States gets as much -- or even more -- than what it gives to the United Nations, "says one senior U.N. official who deals with procurement.

In 2002, the United States received 24 percent (194.3 million dollars) of all U.N. contracts, which totaled 812.6 million dollars. In 2003, the corresponding figures were 21.8 percent (194.5 million dollars) out of a total of 891.8 million dollars. In 2004, the United States took in 24.1 percent (315.8 million dollars) of all U.N. contracts, amounting to a total of 1.3 billion dollars. In 2005, the percentage was 20.4 percent (331.0 million dollars) out of total U.N. purchases of 1.6 billion dollars. Trailing far behind in second place is Russia, whose contracts were well below the United States: 13.3 percent in 2002 (108.2 million dollars); 10.1 percent in 2003 (90.3 million dollars); 10.7 percent in 2004 (139.9 million dollars) and 7.7 percent in 2005 (125 million dollars). And Russia pays only 1.1 percent of the U.N.'s regular budget compared with the 22 percent paid by the United States.

The scale of assessments for each of the 192 member states is determined every three years on the basis of "capacity to pay" -- including gross national product. Ranking behind the United States in budgetary payments are Japan (19.5 percent of the U.N.'s regular budget), Germany (8.6 percent), Britain (6.1 percent), France (6.0 percent) and Italy (4.8 percent). The 25-member European Union, on the other hand, claims it is the largest contributor because collectively it accounts for 37 percent of the budget.

The U.N.'s purchases were primarily for peacekeeping activities, including air transportation services, food rations and catering, chemical and petroleum products, freight forwarding and delivery, motor vehicles and transportation equipment and telecommunications equipment and services.

Besides the U.N. Secretariat, New York City also hosts several U.N. agencies, including the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the U.N.'s children agency UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). According to former New York city Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the United Nations and its agencies (along with the huge diplomatic corps) contributed about 3.2 billion dollars annually to the city's economy in the late 1990s. The figure may be considerably higher now. Still, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton says there are U.S. Congressional concerns that "the United States doesn't get value for (its) money."

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, says that it is worse than unseemly for the U.S. government to complain about the number of dollars that it sends to the United Nations in view of the fact that the United States is such a rich country and Washington has been doing so much to undermine the U.N. Charter. The U.S. government's share of the U.N. financial burden is a tiny fraction of Washington's military expenditures -- more than half a trillion dollars per year, he said. "What the United States spent to violate the U.N. Charter with the invasion of Iraq could have funded the entire budget of the United Nations for decades," Solomon told IPS. "When Bolton complains about all that Uncle Sam is doing for the United Nations, he sounds like a lawyer for gangsters who turn streets into horrible scenes of carnage and then quibble over the size of invoices submitted by morticians," said Solomon, author of "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" (John Wiley & Sons, 2005).

Last month, one right-wing New York newspaper made the outrageous comment that "Tinpot rulers milk the U.N.-- which gets 22 percent of its money from America -- which they pocket." The editorial also said that U.N. diplomats pretend to be VIPs, with plum assignments in New York "which they envy and enjoy, even as they bash American capitalism and culture."

James A. Paul, executive director of New York-based Global Policy Forum, said Washington today has a very narrow sense of what value for money means. "To them it evidently means 'agree with us on all things'. It's not about a utilitarian calculus, a cost-benefit analysis, a sense of a fair exchange. It is a despotic calculus based on subservience," he added. "One might also consider the cost to the United States if it had to do some of the things the United Nations does (including peacekeeping). There are so many ways of understanding the economics of the United Nations, and why it is a bargain (for the United States," Paul argued.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy noted that the United States leads the world in the international arms trade, and in the process undermines U.N. efforts to implement programmes for peace, security and public health. This form of global leadership does incalculable damage to the humanitarian mission of the United Nations, he said.

At a political level, Solomon said, the advantages of having the United Nations headquartered in the United States include the fact that this makes it so easy for Washington to eavesdrop on U.N. diplomats in violation of the Headquarters Agreement for the United Nations, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

In early March 2003, journalists at the London-based Observer reported that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was secretly participating in the U.S. government's high-pressure campaign for the U.N. Security Council to approve a resolution in favor of invading Iraq, Solomon said. The newspaper exposed an NSA memo, dated Jan. 31, 2003, that outlined the wide scope of the surveillance activities; the memo said that the NSA was seeking any information useful to push a war resolution through the Security Council -- the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises. For such improper and illegal spying activities directed from Washington, it is very convenient to have the U.N. headquarters located in New York City, he noted. "Perhaps the U.S. government should be assessed a special user fee in recognition of this convenience," Solomon added.

More Information on UN Finance
More General Articles on UN Finance
More Information on Empire?
More General Articles on US, UN and International Law
More Information on UN Reform
More Information on UN Management Reform


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.