It appears that the UN is facing even more financial austerity after member states failed to pay their expected contributions to the largest intergovernmental organization in the world. In a speech to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Budget Committee on the 8th of October, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the UN is short on funding and will not have enough money to pay staff their salaries in the coming November. He also said that the organization had already spent 2019 cutting costs to fund even the most basic of functions, like keeping the General Assembly running. According to a spokesperson for the UN, in 2019 only 129 countries out of the 193 member states had paid their anticipated contributions. The US, which is the largest contributor and responsible for 22% of the budget, is claimed to owe $1.055 billion USD for 2019 and for shortfalls from previous years. This accounts for 75% of total member state dues to the UN.
In the same statement, Guterres claimed that the UN was reaching the “deepest deficit of the decade” and that “our work and our reforms are at risk” with further austerity measures. In response, the US Mission to the UN reiterated the status of the US as the largest contributor to the organization and said that the US “will be providing the vast majority of what we owe to the regular budget this fall, as we have in past years”. In an internally distributed UN memo sent to staff, “starting on Monday, 14 October 2019”, interpretation and transcript records are to be restricted and even the ‘provision of individual water pitchers for each Council member would be curtailed’.
As the world becomes increasingly unstable amid proxy wars and American reluctance to intervene on issues of human rights, the responsibility of the UN to promote peace and stability has only been enhanced. Elected on a populist mandate of isolationism and anti-multilateralism, the Trump administration throughout its tenure has sought to publicly and practicably undermine international agreements and defund the UN. This concurrent theme has only made the world more dangerous especially as the US has failed to pay $2.4 billion into the separate UN peacekeeping budget. This shortfall affected missions in war-torn Mali and South Sudan and risked further civilian casualties as a result. To the world’s peril, the election of Trump has seen an ideological preference for bilateral diplomacy over multilateral diplomacy, in stark contrast to the foreign policy under Obama.
In 1994, the US passed legislation which sought to cap funding for UN peacekeeping at 25%, below it’s expected contribution of 28%. While this limit has been overwritten through special measures over time, the Trump administration halted these measures in 2017 and the debt has subsequently accumulated. While UN peacekeeping efforts have been criticized especially for their inaction during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre, by-and-large it has been evaluated as relatively successful. Commonly mentioned successes include missions in Liberia, Timor-Leste, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Burundi and Ivory Coast. Symbolic of this, in 1988 the UN Peacekeeping Forces won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The prospect of the UN’s financial crisis worsening represents a clear and present danger to both its reputation and its effectiveness at mediating peace and de-escalating conflict around the globe. Without an immediate cash injection, the harmful austerity measures already in place are likely to be ratcheted up as planned, directly hindering the positive initiatives of the UN which including peacekeeping. It appears that the US, under the Trump administration is the chief culprit for the budgetary shortfalls. Without a reversal of its anti-globalist and anti-establishment ideology, it seems likely that the current crisis will only continue.
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