At the United Nations, questions about who is going to keep
the peace resurface. As coffers dry up due to non-payment of dues by at least
one-third of its member states, the UN’s ability to maintain its workforce and help
keep world peace is at risk.
The other day, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned
that the United Nations “is facing its ‘worst cash crisis’ in nearly a
decade because 64 of its 193 members have not paid their annual dues–including
the United States, its largest contributor.” The US funds 22 percent of
the total UN’s General Assembly budget and 28 percent for peacekeeping.
The US owes the international organization $674 million for
the 2019 regular budget and $381 million for previous regular budgets, UN
sources say. “It is also in arrears in payments for the separate budget
for the U.N.’s far-flung peacekeeping operations. It owes $255 million for
peacekeeping missions that have been closed and $2 billion for active
peacekeeping missions.” Israel, Brazil, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, Saudi
Arabia, Uruguay, among others, are also in arrears.
The immediate impact, unless the defaulting members pay up,
is that funds for payment of salaries for UN Secretariat personnel, numbering
around 37,000 worldwide, will be unavailable by next month. UN further said
that conferences and meetings may have to be either postponed or cancelled.
But probably of greater concern is how the UN can keep
maintaining its peacekeeping operations. Countries like the Philippines that
send peacekeeping troops to troubled areas are supposed to be reimbursed by the
UN for their expenses, but lately these payments have become problematic.
This is not the first time that contentious issues had
marred UN’s budgeting process, especially where the US is concerned. US
President Donald Trump complains that the US pays an unfairly large amount of
dues, in relation to other countries, that is. Many Americans, then and now,
share his views.
In the 1980s, the Clinton administration enacted a law that
capped US share on UN peacekeeping budget at 25 percent. Because the assessed
rate for the US was higher than the unilaterally-set limit, arrears in hundreds
of millions of dollars accumulated. The cap was eventually raised by the Bush
and Obama administrations.
Even then, in 2006, the US demanded a vote on the approval
of the UN budget. Up to that point, this has not happened at the General
Assembly. Approval of the budget used to go through a more diplomatic process
Trump’s position reverts to the Clinton formula. He told the
General Assembly in 2018: “The United States is committed to making the United
Nations more effective and accountable. As part of our reform effort, I have
told our negotiators that the United States will not pay more than 25 percent
of the UN peacekeeping budget.”
While the UN charter has sufficient devices by which
grievances of member states can be addressed, the stand-off appears to rationalize
non-payment, or at least delays in payment, of dues altogether. It may not only
be about assessment of dues, however. The likes of Trump have questioned the
mandate of the world body and the way it is carrying out that mandate. He has
withdrawn from the UN Arms Treaty and UN Human Rights Council over resolutions
antagozing Israel. Irked by threats of investigation over allegations of human
rights violations in his government’s deadly drug war, Philippine president
Rodrigo Duterte has responded by withdrawing from the UN International Criminal
As disputes reach to a point where life depends on cash,
people have come forward to express their views with their wallets.
This gives us occasion to reflect on how the UN came into
being in the first place. In 1939, world leaders lost their collective wits,
driving their respective countries to a global conflict (yet again)—known as
World War 2—that claimed the lives of an estimated 85 million combatants and
civilians. Indirect casualties from ensuing genocides and various diseases of
pandemic proportions numbered up to 100 million more.
In 1942, and the world still reeling from the devastation
brought about by the war, the “victorious” countries led by the Big
Four (United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China),
established the UN. Their aim was, primarily, to arrest madness—endemic among
humans—and prevent another global war.
In a way, this was a replay of what happened in 1919. The
victorious Big Four (Britain, France, the United States, and Italy),
established the League of Nations (LoN), aiming to prevent the recurrence of
World War 1. Invasion of Machuria
(China) by Japan in 1931 and of Ethiopia by Italy in 1935, exposed LoN’s impotence.
Another global war, ignited by Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia 1939,
killed the League for good.
In a world where another war may leave nothing to kill or
die for, one hopes the peacekeeping efforts of the UN will grind it out,
imperfect its steps may be. The moral suasion of peace may not move sovereign
states and principalities, but individuals with the means can step in when
their governments are unwilling to foot the bill.