Albion Monitor /News

U.N. "Near Bankrupt" Over U.S. Failure to Pay Dues

by Thalif Deen

and related article in this topic
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The Clinton Administration, in its battle with the Republican-dominated Congress over money owed to the United Nations, is stressing the point that continued non-payment of its dues could jeopardize national security.

In New York, U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson said on April 2 that the decision by Congress to refuse funding "has, and will bring, grave consequences for America's national security."

Addressing a meeting at Lehman College, the site of the first U.N. meeting in 1946, Richardson emphasized the value of the United Nations and the importance of Congress paying U.S. dues to the world body.

Of the $2.1 billion in outstanding dues, the U.S. alone owes more than $1.3 billion
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a meeting of the American Newspaper Editors Association that Congress was engaged in "legislative blackmail" in tying funds for the United Nations to the abortion issue and population control programs.

"It is hurting America," she said. " Whether the issue is human rights or proliferation or trade, U.S. diplomats argue every day in meetings around the world that nations must live up to their obligations. and every day, our diplomats are asked in response, 'well, if that's true, when is America going to pay its U.N. bills?'

"If we don't pay those bills, under U.N. rules we may even lose the right to vote in the General Assembly."

In his speech, Richardson noted that as Ambassador to the U.N., "I've seen firsthand how the United Nations is continuing to make a difference, and further American interests around the globe."

Citing two examples, Richardson said that while U.N.inspectors were currently trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the World Health Organization (WHO) was protecting Americans from the spread of deadly diseases. The U.N.'s agenda, includes activities ranging from global climate change and empowerment of women to curbing illegal narcotics and promoting sustainable development, he added.

"If the United Nations didn't take responsibility for these issues, the United States would have to, at a much greater financial burden, or they wouldn't get done at all," he said.

The United Nations is currently facing a major financial crisis because of the non-payment of dues by member states. Of the $2.1 billion in outstanding dues, the U.S. alone owes more than $1.3 billion to the world body.

The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress is refusing to approve payments primarily on political grounds, and also in an attempt to embarrass the ruling Democratic Party and the Clinton Administration. Right-wing politicians have also asked the world body to slash spending and convert the world body into a leaner institution.

Richardson described the U.S. as "a debtor nation at the United Nations." Last year, legislation to pay the U.S. debt was held hostage in Congress to an "unrelated domestic political issue," he said, referring to an anti-abortion bill that was linked to U.N. payments.

"Today, we are facing a similar risk and a renewed possibility that for yet another year America's U.N. arrears will go unpaid," he said. Unfortunately, while the effectiveness of the United Nations should be apparent, some in Congress are undercutting America's effectiveness in the organization.

The United Nations is, for all practical purposes, in a state of bankruptcy
Last month Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that the United Nations was for all practical purposes in a state of bankruptcy. "Our doors are kept open only because other countries in essence provide interest-free loans to cover largely American-created shortfalls," he said

The assistance he is now receiving, Annan said, is coming not only from rich countries such as Britain, France, Italy and Canada but also from developing nations such as Pakistan and Fiji.

Annan said that, in response to Congressional demands, the United Nations has eliminated nearly 1,000 posts bringing the staff size to below 9,000, and has also cut administrative expenditures to 25 percent of the $2.5 billion budget -- compared to the previous figure of 38 percent. "There is an American saying that all politics is local but increasingly, all local politics has global consequences. And those global consequences, in turn, affect the quality of local life everywhere," he noted.

Richardson also told his audience that the United Nations is in a unique position to affect global change also because its specialized agencies are performing vital services that directly affect Americans.

"If you've ever traveled on an international airline, placed an overseas phone call, mailed a letter from outside the United States or sought out an accurate weather report, you should thank the United Nations," he said. "Today, we may believe that the Ebola virus or dengue fever or malaria is somebody else's problem.

But tomorrow, when a person infected with any of these diseases can board a plane and be within a few hours touchdown in New York, Detroit or Los Angeles, these seemingly far away problems may quickly and tragically be our own."

Last year, on a number of issues, from the extension of peacekeeping operations to U.N. sanctions, U.S. national interests and objectives were compromised by the failure to pay dues, he said.

Meanwhile, both the European Union and the Group of 77 developing nations have proposed that future U.N. contracts should be given mostly to countries that pay their dues on time.

Currently, the U.S. is the largest single beneficiary accounting for 49 percent of all U.N. contracts, while at the same time, owing money to the world body.

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Albion Monitor April 14, 1998 (

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