Global Policy Forum

UN Risks Shutdown over US Budget Cap


By Paul Taylor

June 6, 2006

The United Nations faces a potential shutdown in which the Security Council could not meet and peacekeepers around the world would be left adrift if the United States and Japan carry out a threat to withhold funds, a top U.N. official said on Tuesday.

Shashi Tharoor, undersecretary-general for communication and information, said he hoped the big donors would pull back from the brink and not stop funds from July 1 as they have threatened to do unless stalled management reforms are enacted. "I don't think anyone wants to see the United Nations shut its doors," Tharoor told Reuters in an interview. "I don't think either of these countries, which have been longstanding supporters and pillars of the organisation, would want ... a global crisis where you couldn't convene the Security Council because you couldn't afford to pay the interpreters."

Developing nations last month blocked the centrepiece of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's reform programme, a move western nations said could lead to a drastic funding cutoff this summer. The 191-member General Assembly voted 120-50 to delay or reject key parts of the plan allowing Annan to move staff and programmes without approval by the unwieldy budget committee. Developing nations led by South Africa fear a loss of influence in U.N. administration and suspect its leadership could come more heavily under the sway of major powers.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton voiced willingness to extend the deadline to Sept. 30, but diplomats said developing countries seem intent on adopting their version of the budget and effectively daring Washington to shut the place down. Tharoor, an Indian U.N. official and writer seen as a possible contender to succeed Annan, said he was hopeful a compromise could be reached; but it would be irresponsible not to be concerned at the prospect of a shutdown.


Asked if he would compare the situation to a U.S. government shutdown in 1995 in a standoff between President Bill Clinton and Congress that was a political disaster for the Republicans, he said: "Unfortunately that's exactly the price that is paid. The U.N. isn't a body which can afford not to be available 24/7, because there are peacekeepers who are awaiting instructions from New York. There are humanitarian operations that depend on staff in New York," Tharoor said. "There are ... genuine challenges in the political process in New York that require electricity bills to be paid, phones to be able to ring, interpreters to be able to function."

Tharoor insisted the United Nations had made much more progress in fulfilling the ambitious agenda adopted at a summit last September than the world had acknowledged. A new Human Rights Council was a significant advance on the discredited Human Rights Commission because states elected to it were bound to accept peer review and could not bargain their way onto the panel to evade scrutiny of their own abuses.

U.N. member states had made important promises to boost development aid by 2015, to which they must now be held. And a new democracy fund already had pledges from 17 countries that would enable the world body to do more than in the past in promoting democracy.

Tharoor said it was Asia's turn to provide the next secretary-general after Annan, a Ghanaian, steps down at the end of this year. There are three declared candidates -- South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon; Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan former U.N. undersecretary-general for disarmament, and Thailand's deputy prime minister, Surakiart Sathirathai -- but none has stirred great enthusiasm and more are expected, diplomats said.

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