U.S. House of Representative Foreign Relations Committee chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL18), introduced a bill in the last session of Congress, H.R. 557, and reintroduced this session as H.R. 2829. The bill calls on the United States to consider its U.N. assessments voluntary, rather than required as it has always been. There is concern that she may introduce similar legislation this session of Congress.
Currently the United States is assessed 22% of the $1.5 billion U.N. operating budget and 27% of the $5 billion U.N. peace keeping operations budget. Nations, individuals, and organizations also contribute voluntarily to programs such as UNICEF, the U.N. Development Programme, and the World Health Organization. The total budget for the U.N. system is only about $15 billion. In contrast, Wall Street bonuses for 2010 were about $21 billion, and the U.S. military budget is about $698 billion, not counting the hidden military costs such as the VA Hospitals, Social Security payments for war related deaths and injuries, etc.
This means that the U.S. contributes about $330 million a year for the U.N. operating budget and about $1.35 billion for peace keeping operations.
If legislation such as last years H.R. 2829 becomes law, it would have set a dangerous precedent that would allow all nations of the world to only contribute amounts that they want to, or to select programs that they choose.
Imagine if states within the U.S. could decide whether they wanted their citizens to pay taxes or not. Imagine the states could also decide which federal Federal programs they wanted to pay for. Imagine what that would do to the effectiveness of the Federal Government, how difficult it would be to budget for anything, and how much danger it would put our nation at risk with national security, operation of long standing successful federal programs, and our nation’s social safety net. H.R. 557 could have the same impact on the U.N., as well.
The U.N. provides major benefits to the U.S. for business, enhances U.S. national security, and provides the U.S. diplomatic and other benefits that provide a forum and structure for solving global problems.
Business is often global and depends on many U.N. programs to provide economic growth. Some of the key benefits of the U.N. for business include:
- The business community and the UN share common interests in promoting economic growth and stability, creating employment and stimulating investment. UN work - such as electoral assistance, the promotion of literacy and the eradication of disease - helps to build stable, functioning, democratic societies. It provides the "soft investment" without which private investment could not reap a return.
- UN initiatives to promote exports, remove trade barriers, promote uniform trade laws and protect copyrights benefit businesses everywhere.
- The UN system defines technical standards in telecommunication, aviation, shipping and postal services, which make international transactions possible.
- UN efforts to advance market-oriented reforms, facilitate business transactions and develop business-friendly legislation help stimulate direct foreign investment in developing countries, which amounted to $233 billion in 2004, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
- The UN system is a major purchaser of goods and services, totaling over $6.4 billion a year. UNICEF buys half the vaccines produced worldwide, while the UN Population Fund is the world's largest purchaser of contraceptives.
- U.S. companies are consistently the largest sellers of goods and services to the UN. In 2004, companies from the United States earned nearly $316 million through procurement done by UN Headquarters in New York - more than 24 per cent of total procurement.
- The UN system increasingly engages in joint ventures with the private sector and intergovernmental organizations for various projects, including the provision of web-accessed satellite imagery, maps and other geographic information for areas where UN agencies and non-governmental organizations are providing humanitarian assistance or carrying out post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction. See:www.un.org/geninfo/ir/index.asp?id=150
Peace Keeping Operations
The U.S. benefits greatly from U.S. Peace Keeping Operations from both politically and finacially.
Consider the value to the United States when military action is sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council rather than a “go it alone” approach that makes the U.S. much more vulnerable to global criticism, loss of respect, and more likely to become a terrorist target.
This alone is good reason for the U.S. to work within the U.N. structure when possible for military and peacekeeping operations.
There are other benefits from U.S. Peace Keeping Operations including the large procurement of communications equipment and other supplies from U.S. Business that amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
There are currently 15 U.N. peacekeeping operations in four continents Including:
- UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO)
- African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID)
- UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS)
- UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI)
- UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)
- UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)
- UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)
Asia and the Pacific
- UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)
- UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP)
- UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)*
- UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)
- United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)
- UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO)
Many of these peacekeeping operations such as Afghanistan, India/Pakistan, Haiti, Lebanon, Sudan, and Liberia, the U.S. has strong interests.
In each of these operations with the U.S. only paying 27% instead of 100% of the costs, it is both a political and economic benefit to the United States.
A good example of how the U.N. has benefited the United States is illustrated in the example of the Persian Gulf War.
This war was a U.S. led coalition of forces authorized by the United Nations against Iraq.
President George H. W. Bush, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, clearly understood the benefit of making this a U.N. action rather than a solo U.S. action.
34 nations joined the U.S. led coalition and the nations of Germany and Japan contributed about $10 billion to the effort.
The total cost of the war was about $61.1 billion of which $54 billion was offset by contributions from other nations.
Had a voluntary contribution system, as proposed by H.R 557, been in place, the U.S. would have been vulnerable to pay $54 billion more than it did. This amount represents. This economic benefit to the U.S. represents over 150 years of U.S. assessments for operating costs for the U.N.
This one incident shows that the economic value of the U.N. far exceeds the economic costs. This benefit comes without even considering all the of the other political and diplomatic benefits of the U.N. in various peacekeeping missions and operations around the world.
Diplomatic & Other Benefits
The U.S. and its citizens receive many diplomatic benefits through U.N. membership. Some of the key benefits include:
- Opportunity to reduce nuclear proliferation, a key U.S. diplomatic goal.
- Global cooperation in addressing illegal narcotics trafficking.
- International standards to assure safe air travel standards for civil aviation. This is particularly important to Americans who make up 40% of the world’s air travel.
- Protection of health through global cooperation in health programs.
- Protection of international foods that must meet U.N. FAO standards, and U.N. WHO standards for manufacture and trade of foods.
- The World Meteorological Association which provides weather data benefitting american farmers, shipping, and aviation.
- The World Intellectual Property Rights protection provided by the U.N. WIPO that helps protect U.S. Intellectual Property Rights for movies, music, books, and software which is worth billions per year.
- Improving communication systems through the U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU), that plays a key role in setting international standards, allocates radio frequencies, and coordinates orbits for international satellites.
- Protection of environmental resources through global scientific study, development of international policy and programmes, and development of international conventions for issues needing global attention. These include but are not limited to preservation of biodiversity, ozone depletion, climate change, ocean acidification, fisheries management, chemical pollution, and hazardous waste management.
In summary, the benefits to the U.S. from the United Nations far outweigh the costs which amount to the equivalent of about 6 hours of the total yearly U.S. budget.
This six hours of expenditures provide critical benefits for the U.S. for business and commerce, national security, diplomatic goals and objectives, and health and safety of U.S. citizens.
Without a United Nations, costs we be far more than our small U.S. assessment to the U.N. and would lead to far more costly alternatives the U.S. would be forced to incur.
Dr. David Randle is President & CEO of the WHALE Center, Director of Advocacy for the Tampa Bay Chapter UNA USA, Board Member of Friends of the U.N., Manageing Director of the Waves of Change campaign, co-facilitator of the Global Healing Initiative, and Advocacy Coordinator for the UNA USA FL Division.