Isabelle Schindler: The need for UN funding

Thursday, October 31, 2019 - 6:09pm

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From preserving peace in war-torn countries to providing a forum for diplomacy and helping to build a more sustainable future, the United Nations is a critically important organization. However, the U.N.’s ability to do this work is threatened because the United States is refusing to pay its share of the U.N. budget.   

The secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, announced that the U.N. is facing a severe budget shortfall that will impact it in a many ways. He warned that the U.N. might not be able to continue to pay its staff members and will have to cut back on many important programs and services. 

The U.N.’s annual budget is supposed to be funded by the 193 member states. Unfortunately, many members have not paid their annual dues and are pushing the U.N. toward financial crisis. The United States owes about $1.055 billion in past and present dues. 

The Trump administration has been a major factor in the accumulation of these debts. President Trump has repeatedly targeted the U.N. budget and has tried to cut funding in the past. One of his main complaints is that the United States pays too high a percentage of the U.N. budget. The real contribution to the U.N. of each country depends on GDP, population and other factors. As the nation with the highest GDP in the world, it is only reasonable that the United States is asked to supply the largest share of the U.N. budget. 

Additionally, the argument that the United States pays too much for the U.N. is undercut when looking at how much money the U.S. government spends on other things. The roughly $1 billion that the United States owes the U.N. is 0.1355 percent of the U.S. military's $738 billion fiscal year 2020 budget. If we can commit so much money to our military, there is no excuse for not committing such a proportionately small amount to foster peace and prosperity around the world. 

One of the most costly and disruptive cuts the U.N. is facing is the slashing of the hours when meetings can be held. International crises do not run on a 9-to-5 schedule. If committees needed to meet after hours, they would have to do so without the necessary support staff, as there would be no money to pay for overtime. 

One of the key global issues the U.N. works on is the fight against climate change. They have done everything from promoting sustainable development goals to hosting a youth climate summit with youth activist Greta Thunberg. The U.N. also runs other important programs, such as the World Health Organization, which helps fight the spread of disease. The ability to run these important programs is severely threatened by the U.N.’s budget crisis. 

In addition to withholding funds for the U.N. general budget, the U.S. is also withholding some funds for the U.N. peacekeeping program. The peacekeeping program is one of the most important U.N. initiatives, sending experts to promote peace in some of the world's most volatile regions. The United States is supposed to provide over 28 percent of the annual peacekeeping budget. However, the United States is now only paying 25 percent. While this 3 percent difference may not seem like much, 3 percent can translate to a significant amount of money. 

Moreover, even though the United States is asked to give the largest amount to the peacekeeping budget, other countries pay by contributing peacekeepers. In 2019, only 35 peacekeepers came from the United States. This is a minimal amount compared to many other nations, such as the 7,052 from Ethiopia and the 5,668 from Nepal. These peacekeepers put themselves in harm's way, and at least 3,866 peacekeepers have been killed since the founding of the program in 1948. 

As students, there are many things that we can do to try to push the United States to meet its full funding commitment to the U.N. You can call your congressional representative and ask them to commit to advocating for U.N. funding. You also can also join the University of Michigan UNAUSA club, which works to promote the work of the U.N. on campus. 

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.