Global Policy Forum

US-UN Funding Updates


October 1, 2009


"We' the United Nations. We have paid our bills." Due to a landmark handover of overdue UN assessments this summer, President Obama was able to make this basic yet momentous declaration to world leaders gathered at last week's opening of the 64th General Assembly. This was a pivotal event because the United States began to fall behind in its mandatory dues payments just a few years after the historic Helms-Biden agreement provided a total of $926 million to pay arrears owed to the United Nations and UN specialized agencies. This new accumulation of arrears in recent years has threatened to undermine the goodwill engendered by the Helms-Biden payments and erode the financial stability of the United Nations.

FY 2009 Supplemental

This spring, the Obama administration sent Congress an FY 2009 supplemental spending request that included funding to pay UN peacekeeping arrears accumulated between fiscal years 2005-2008 and to cover underfunding of current year UN peacekeeping assessments that threatened to add hundreds of millions of dollars in new UN arrears. In June, Congress sent the President a spending bill with $836.9 million for UN peacekeeping, the full amount requested by the Administration, to enable the United States to pay off all new UN arrears.

This funding nearly equaled the Helms-Biden agreement and, unlike the 1999 legislation, it came with no conditions and was not divided among different organizations. UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy said he was "thrilled" by the decision, which was also welcomed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

During a press conference last month, UN Ambassador Susan E. Rice explained the importance of this development. "As we call on others to help reform and strengthen the United Nations, the United States has to do its part as well," Rice said. "And we are. We're paying our bills. We've worked with Congress to pay our dues in full and on time. And thanks to the strong support of Congress, we've been able to clear U.S. arrears.... We'll meet our 2009 obligations on the peacekeeping budget in full."

FY 2010 Budget

In her remarks last month, Rice also looked forward to the fiscal year 2010 budget, which began yesterday. Rice pointed out that the United States would be able to pay its dues in full and "keep current" for the UN's peacekeeping and regular budgets if the Administration's FY 2010 budget request is funded in full. The Administration's request is currently working its way through Congress. In July, the full House passed its version of the State Department-Foreign Operations appropriations bill (H.R. 3081), which provides U.S. assessed and voluntary contributions to the UN system. Also in July, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted its version of the spending bill (S. 1434), but it has yet to be taken up on the Senate floor.

UN Peacekeeping

Both the House and Senate versions of the State-Foreign Operations bill provide up to $2.18 billion for UN peacekeeping dues, a reduction of $80 million from the Administration's request. In its report (H. Rept. 111-187), the House Appropriations Committee noted "the importance of UN peacekeeping missions, which preserve peace and stability in troubled regions of the world for a fraction of what it would cost the United States Armed Forces to undertake." The Senate Appropriations Committee included similar language in its report (S. Rept. 111-44), recognizing the "indispensable contribution" of UN peacekeeping to international peace and stability, "without the participation of United States troops."

As requested by the Administration, the Senate's version of the bill modifies the statutory cap on UN peacekeeping payments for calendar years 2010 and 2011 to allow the United States to pay its peacekeeping dues in full. The House bill lifts the cap for 2010 only and encourages the State Department to negotiate a lower UN peacekeeping assessment for the United States.

In addition, the House committee report expresses support for the UN's efforts to identify and eliminate waste, fraud, and sexual abuse in peacekeeping operations, and directs the State Department to support the UN's work in the area. The report states that, despite the "Secretary-General's considerable efforts," to implement a zero tolerance policy, "cases of UN peacekeepers abusing the people they have been sent to protect are an ongoing concern."

Assessed Contributions to International Organizations

The House and Senate bills both include a total of $1.697 billion for dues payments to 45 international organizations, including the United Nations and UN specialized agencies. This amount is $100 million below the Administration's request. Neither bill fully funds the Administration's request for $175 million to enable the United States to pay its dues to international organizations, including the UN, on time. Currently, U.S. dues are provided 8 to 11 months late on a routine basis. Both committee reports include language indicating a preference for the Administration to prioritize its on-time payment efforts on organizations that are critical to American national security interests, specifically naming NATO, the IAEA, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the House report also cites the Pan American Health Organization).

In its report, the House Appropriations Committee encouraged the Administration to "keep all aspects of UN reform high on the agenda, and to work...with other UN member states to achieve the most effective and efficient UN possible." In particular, the Committee stated that it continues "to monitor closely the management reform efforts initiated by the Secretary-General to identify overlapping and outdated mandates" and commends his policy of posting financial disclosure information for senior UN officials on the UN's website. Lastly, the Committee strongly encouraged continued U.S. support for enhancing the independence of the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services.

Voluntary Contributions to International Organizations

Both the House and Senate versions of the State-Foreign Operations bill provide slight increases over the Administration's $356.55 million request for voluntary contributions to UN funds and programs and other international organizations. The House-passed bill includes a total of $395.09 million, while the Senate's committee-adopted version recommends $393 million.

For the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the House bill requires the U.S. contribution to be reduced by the amount which the agency plans to spend on programs in China for that year. The House bill provides $60 million for UNFPA, while the Senate version recommends $50 million, the same amount as the President's request. The House bill also includes a new provision requiring the Administration to submit an accountability report to Congress to help ensure that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is operating in a transparent manner and is taking steps to prevent U.S. assistance from supporting terrorists.

Concerning UN management reform, the Senate bill authorizes the Administration to withhold U.S. voluntary contributions that have been appropriated for any UN organization or agency that it determines "is not adequately implementing reforms to increase transparency and accountability."

Next Steps

At this point, it remains uncertain whether Congress will try to pass the FY 2010 State-Foreign Operations bill as a stand-alone measure, which would require it to be adopted by the full Senate, followed by a House-Senate conference to reconcile differences between the two versions of the bill. Alternatively, the bill may be incorporated with other appropriations bills into an omnibus spending package.


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