At a time of rapid globalisation, solutions to a great many
problems bedeviling developing as well as developed countries cannot be found exclusively
within individual nations. Human rights issues such as freedom from poverty, starvation
and disease as well as environmental preservation and conflict resolution must be tackled
at the global level. Thus the United Nations is needed now more than ever. To strangle it
of funds would be to ruin the hopes of future generations.
Indeed, money shortages are nothing new to the United Nations which relies exclusively on its member countries for funding. The problem has plagued the organisation since its inception in 1945. Many member states have failed to pay their dues on time and in full for a variety of reasons, ranging from budgetary technicalities to simple poverty. Others withhold payments as a pressure tactic or to make a political point.
The UN';s continuing financial crisis includes all these elements but alarmingly it has reached unprecedented levels. So much so that it threatens not only the UN';s ability to fulfil the mandates given to it by member countries but also the organisation';s very existence.
As of September 30,1998 Member States owe the United Nations over $2.5 billion for current and past assessments - $1.8 billion for peacekeeping, $683 million for the regular UN budget and $22 million for international tribunals (see "Setting the Record Straight," United Nations Department of Public Information, DPI/1815/Rev.14, October 1998 at http://www.un.org/News/facts/finance.htm). This is way too much debt for the organisation to carry and must therefore be cleared quickly.
Since the UN is prohibited by its Charter from borrowing from commercial institutions, it has no choice but to rely on contributions from member countries calculated according to a formula approved by all member states - a formula which reflects a member';s economic status and its ability to pay.
However, this arrangement can only work if member states honour their treaty obligations to pay their membership dues in full and on time (on January 1st, each year), and without conditions. And unfortunately, only 100 of 185 Member States have paid in full what they owe.
In particular, the United States owes the UN $1.6 billion for past and current assessments, two-thirds of the total due. This debt - which persists despite the fact that the US has paid $228 million this year - includes $563 million for the regular budget and $1.04 billion for peacekeeping.
As a consequence, in order to cover its regular budget expenses, the UN has had to borrow periodically from peacekeeping funds. This impedes the organisation';s ability to reimburse those countries that provide peacekeeping troops and equipment promptly which could in turn threaten future peacekeeping missions.
The UN';s commitment to essential operations regarding basic human rights such as food security and health as well as peace and disarmament have also been compromised because a major debtor nation like the United States continues to withhold payment of their dues.
As it is, the UN';s current two-year budget is a tough, zero-growth plan that requires the Secretary General to carry on the work of the UN with only $2.5 bn which is over $100 million less than what the UN had to work with for the previous two-year period. Yet, the US and other countries that have pushed hard for these cuts have not duly paid their share of the very austere budget they approved in full.
"The United States'; delinquency is worsened by its demands that certain conditions be met before it pays its regular dues or its arrears," argues James A. Paul, Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum. "In 1998, the US is seeking a record number of conditions on the UN, to force the UN to adopt policies that are contrary to decisions of the majority of members, threatening to wreck the process of multilateral decision making."
Conservative leaders in the US Congress are the most visible parties responsible for the UN';s crisis. However, the Clinton administration must share important responsibility for refusing to take leadership on this issue. Other governments must also accept responsibility for failing to work effectively for a solution.
"Multinational corporations are also responsible parties because many of them have financed negative campaigns about the UN (one of them being the myth of the UN';s "vast, bloated bureaucracy") and fought UN efforts to establish sensible global regulation of the environment, labour practices and other matters," argues Paul further (see J. A. Paul, "Talking Points on the UN Financial Crisis," at http://www.globalpolicy.org/vigil/talkpoi.htm).
That is why ordinary citizens must now play a major role in forging a transnational citizens'; movement that would expose the lawless activity of governments and transnational corporations alike in undermining the UN. And through it, the ordinary people of the world would be able to ensure that the call for a strong and well-funded UN would not go unheeded.
Ahmad Faiz bin Abdul Rahman
4 December 1998.
[[Currently, he is the Assistant Director of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). He was also a Researcher for the Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia (IKIM)].]