UNITED NATIONS – Despite long-standing efforts by successive U.S. administrations to rein in U.N. spending, the United Nations this month presented its top donors with a request for nearly $1.1 billion in additional funds over the next two years – boosting current U.N. expenses by 25 percent and marking the global body’s highest-ever administrative budget, according to internal U.N. memos.
Much of the increased spending flows from Bush administration demands for a more ambitious U.N. role around the world. During President Bush’s tenure, the United States has signed off on billions of dollars for U.N. peacekeeping operations in Sudan and elsewhere, and authorized hundreds of millions for U.N. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.N. officials helped organize elections and draft a new constitution.
U.N. administrative costs have more than doubled, to about $2.5 billion a year, since Bush took office, while peacekeeping expenses have increased threefold, with nearly 110,000 peacekeepers in 20 overseas missions at a 2008 cost of about $7 billion.
“This is a breakdown of a 20-year-long effort to rein in U.N. spending,” said John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations early in Bush’s second term. “What happened in the late part of the Clinton administration, but most spectacularly in the Bush administration, is that the principle of zero nominal growth broke down completely.”
That principle required the United Nations to maintain its administrative budget at the same level each year.
The additional funds in the latest request would be used to renovate the landmark U.N. headquarters in New York, fund war-crimes investigators in Lebanon and pay $100 million to build a reinforced, attack-resistant U.N. headquarters building in Baghdad. But they would also pay nearly $7 million for a 2009 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, which Washington believes would serve as a forum to bash Israel.
The United States pays for 22 percent of the U.N. administrative budget and about 27 percent of peacekeeping costs, and it has vowed to press member states and the U.N. secretariat to seek cost savings. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, insists the organization will have to find savings or live without its new programs. “I want to have a Ferrari, but if I can’t afford it I would have to take something else or defer” additional spending, he said. “There have to be trade-offs; there has to be savings from reforms.”
During the 1990s, congressionally mandated budget caps severely restricted the growth of U.N. expenses, and lawmakers enforced fiscal discipline by withholding more than $1 billion in U.S. dues. But administration officials now concede that they have limited leverage, because the majority of money in the latest U.N. supplemental request would fund missions and initiatives that Washington either approved or helped create.