The Onerous Answer To Ileana’s “Umbrage”

March 13, 2009

This tells us that U.N. Secretary Ban Ki Moon referred to the U.S. as a “deadbeat” donor to that world body; here’s the reason why…

Ban said he had wanted to draw attention to the fact that the U.S. agrees to pay 22 percent of the U.N.’s $4.86 billion operating budget, but is perennially late with its dues — and now is about $1 billion behind on its payments.

That figure is “soon to be $1.6 billion,” Ban emphasized. Asked if he’d used the word “deadbeat” during the meeting, he replied, “Yes, I did — I did,” then laughed mischievously.

Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said: “The U.S. is the largest contributor to the United Nations and while we are behind in some of our payments, those are not the words we would have chosen to encourage Congress to address this problem.”

Apparently concerned about his choice of words, Ban an issued a statement Wednesday night saying the U.S. “generously supports the work of the U.N., both in assessed and voluntary contributions” and that he “enjoys an excellent working relationship with the United States and appreciates the many ways that it supports the United Nations.”

And of course, this led to the predictable right-wing outcry…

“He used the word ‘deadbeat’ when it came to characterizing the United States. I take great umbrage (over) that,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the panel’s senior Republican, said after an hour-long, closed-door meeting. “We certainly contribute a whole lot of U.S. taxpayer dollars to that organization. We do not deserve such a phrase.”

Oh no?

This tells us how in 1997, with Bill Clinton as president and the odious Jesse Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we used our late UN dues payments as a cudgel of sorts for reform to ultimately oust then-Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in favor of Kofi Annan (the former was charged with “dragging his feet” on reform by our government).

(Oh, and by the way, the ’97 transcript of “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer” features moderator Charlayne Hunter-Gault interviewing a guy from the American Enterprise Institute who was still relatively unknown – would that he had stayed that way – named John Bolton who said that there was no financial crisis, but only a crisis of U.N. “legitimacy”…typical).

The following should also be noted also from here…

…the US did not pay its UN dues for decades. When it finally agreed to pay past dues in return for a reduction in its assessments, it refused to fulfill (sp) the promise. The resentment against the US at typical UN meetings is so intense that it can be felt in the air. It was this resentment that led the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to oust the US from the 53-member Human Rights Commission (HRC) in May 2001. […] It was the vote of a number of European and ‘friendly nations’ that eventually ousted America. The US suffered a similar defeat in 1998 when it was ejected from, but later reinstated to, the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), a key committee that deals with funding in the whole body.”

“In 1993 […] only eighteen countries (accounting for 16 percent of the budget of the UN) paid in full by the January 31 deadline. And by 31 October 1994, governments owed the UN a total of $2,100,000,000. […] The United States owed the most ($687,000,000), followed by Russia ($597,000,000)”

…The 1985 Palme initiative was presented to cap the maximum contribution by any member state, in particular this would have curbed the amount that the USA can contribute, especially in light on its failure to actually pay. “We believe that this was an eminently sound suggestion. The high US share, though justified by that country’s wealth, has been exploited by elements hostile to the U.N.”

But this proposal was opposed the USA itself! It was rejected by “the Reagan administration, anxious to maintain the leverage that its level of contribution seemed to buy”. In short, the USA wanted to keep its high formal contribution levels in order to buy maximum influence (bribe the UN), and yet didn’t want to actually pay any of the money it owed, either! This type of abuse leads…to contempt of the USA and the dropping of the USA from major bodies of the UN.

And as noted here (references are a bit dated now, I realize, but this shows where a lot of the money goes)…

Of course, the U.S. is not the only debtor. Only 50 percent of the U.N.’s membership had paid their 2003 assessments in full by the end of September, and $693 million remained unpaid. Of the fifteen biggest contributors, the U.S., Brazil and Japan had not paid their annual dues by the end of August.”

This unpredictability, combined with the large amount of money owed, is having serious repercussions for the U.N. Payments for the international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are so far in arrears –there is a $96 million shortfall for 2003 alone – that officials were forced to borrow $41 million from the U.N. peacekeeping accounts. This borrowing came despite the fact that the U.N.’s peacekeeping fund was already more than $1.1 billion in the red.

In late October, the “Group of 77” developing nations warned that the UN was taking too long to reimburse contributors to peacekeeping missions and complained about the practice of dipping into other funds. But Under-Secretary-General Bertini told them that if all countries paid their assessments in full, it wouldn’t happen.

It seems such a simple solution: all governments, particularly wealthy and powerful ones, should make sure that they pay their U.N. dues in full and on time. To do otherwise puts the U.N.’s future in jeopardy. U.S. payments have been out of sync for so long that they’re now a habit, and it has encouraged other countries like Japan to adopt the practice of late payment. The U.S. Congress has already voiced its concern; the Fiscal Year 2003 State Department Authorization Bill stated that “late payment of U.S. dues forces the United Nations and other international organizations to engage in budgetary practices that are neither sound nor responsible.” The House of Representatives recently called for a report on the ramifications of late payment, and directed the President to create a plan to resume paying U.N. dues at the beginning of each calendar year.”

Given all of this, I have to admit that I’m surprised also over the characterization of the U.S. as “deadbeats” when it comes to our U.N. payments.

What surprises me is that we didn’t hear such a characterization long before now.

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