Global Policy Forum

Rising US Debt to UN Spurs Fight Over Funds


Colum Lynch

Washington Post
August 8, 2000

The United States is falling further in debt to the United Nations because of the cost of peacekeeping missions, setting the stage for a battle between the White House and Republican legislators when Congress returns from its recess after Labor Day.

In the past month, the Clinton administration has supported UN plans to send thousands of additional peacekeepers to Sierra Leone, southern Lebanon and the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. But it has no assurance that Congress will foot the bill.So far this year, Republican leaders have refused to approve new requests for peacekeeping money. Even by the administration's conservative calculation, the nation's share of UN peacekeeping costs for this year is expected to be about $250 million more than the $498 million Congress has appropriated."We didn't ask for enough money," Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, conceded in an interview. "If the final amount of money for peacekeeping that is agreed upon is not substantially higher than the current level, the next president, no matter who it is, will have no choice but to ask for a supplemental [budget] early in his administration."

Over the past year, the number of U.N. peacekeepers has nearly tripled, from 13,000 to 35,000. The cost of deploying them has risen proportionately, from $1 billion in 1999 to about $2.7 billion in 2000, said Joseph Connor, head of the UN's department of management. Under a UN formula that many in Congress believe is unfair, the United States is billed for 30.2 percent of peacekeeping expenses, far more than any other country. Congress passed legislation in 1995 that bars the US government from paying more than 25 percent. The difference has added to Washington's debt to the United Nations, more than $900 million by the U.S. count and $1.6 billion by UN calculations.

Congress also wants to lower the U.S. share of the UN's administrative budget from 25 percent to 22 percent. Under a bipartisan compromise fashioned by Sens. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), America's repayment of $926 million in arrears is conditioned on the UN's willingness to reduce Washington's obligations.

Moreover, the United States makes many of its payments at the end of each year, months later than the United Nations would like. Already, the financial crunch has jeopardized one UN organ, the International Atomic Energy Agency.Congressional leaders turned down a request in July for a supplemental expenditure of $107 million for U.N. missions in Kosovo and East Timor. They also told administration officials to plan on getting by in 2001 with the same amount--$498 million--appropriated for peacekeeping this year. But next year's US obligation, combined with this year's $250 million shortfall, could top $1 billion.

Holbrooke and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright will advise President Clinton to veto any bill that caps spending on peacekeeping at $498 million, senior officials said. But Clinton has not decided what sum to request for next year.

Back in February, administration forecasters picked a figure of $739 million. While that appears low, the administration is reluctant to request $1 billion. "If they go to congressional leaders and say they are revising the number upward to $1 billion, they will be laughed out of the room," said Stephen Dimoff, an analyst for the United Nations Association.

Republican budget experts say they are trying to impose fiscal discipline. They note that Congress already approved a doubling of peacekeeping expenses, from about $250 million in 1999 to nearly $500 million this year. "The UN keeps billing us and billing us," complained a congressional aide. "It's a bottomless gas tank." Administration officials insist that they, too, favor budgetary restraint. Holbrooke has urged the world body to trim its mission in East Timor. He also has opposed the creation of a full-fledged war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone, in part because of its expense."We are not pushing missions that are not supported on the Hill," said a US official.

More Articles on Peacekeeping Finance
More Articles on the UN Financial Crisis
More Information on UN Financial Crisis


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.