UNITED NATIONS - Further delay in the payment of past U.S. dues to the United Nations could lead to negative consequences for global peacekeeping operations and development programs, independent groups are warning.
"We need to confront the challenges we face together with our friends and allies. We can't do that without the UN," said Scott Paul of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), a Washington, DC-based policy think tank.
Like CGS, many other pressure groups that oppose a unilateralist approach to world affairs are pushing the Democrat-controlled Congress to agree to pay the United States' outstanding debt to the United Nations' regular budget and peacekeeping operations.
"We can restore our standing in the world only by being a good team player," added Paul. "America is not a deadbeat nation; we act responsibly and do our part."
Currently, U.S. past due budgetary obligations to the United Nations amount to $1.5 billion. This debt has been accumulated over the past many years, due to underfunding by the administration and the Congress.
Though the United States is the largest contributor to the UN budget, it has also become the largest debtor to the world body. Each year, Congress is responsible for approving the payments requested by the administration for U.S. assessed contributions to the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets.
The United States is assessed 22 percent of the UN regular budget and 26 percent for its peacekeeping programs.
Assessed contributions are payments made as part of the obligations that countries undertake when signing treaties. These contributions support a variety of UN initiatives, including peacekeeping operations that promote global security.
If the Bush administration's budget passes as is this year, the United States will be another $610 million short of what it owes to UN peacekeeping operations, pushing the U.S. debt to the United Nations above $2 billion.
Analysts say the first and largest source of permanent U.S. arrearages to the United Nations is U.S. government underfunding of UN peacekeeping.
"This is debt that is being absorbed by allies that are providing troops for U.S.-endorsed peacekeeping missions -- countries like India, Kenya, Pakistan, and Bangladesh," according to the Better World Campaign, an international network of antipoverty organizations.
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The debt keeps growing as Washington presses for more, renewed, and expanded peacekeeping missions, most notably the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission to Darfur.
The United States made some increases in budgetary funding for peacekeeping last year, but failed to include $334 million still needed for Darfur. Analysts now expect further cuts in funding for FY 2009.
Noting that the United Nations' total regular and peacekeeping budget is only about $10 billion per year, analysts say these arrears have the potential to destabilize the world body's operations, including already-overstretched peacekeeping operations.
"It threatens the only lifelines available to citizens in some of the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world," says the Better World Campaign.
U.S. dues are obligations undertaken by signing the UN Charter and by voting for peacekeeping missions in the Security Council. The United States, along with the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China, has unique voting and veto rights within the 15-member Council to authorize or suspend any peacekeeping operation.
According to the Better World Campaign, U.S. debt in the regular UN budget has also increased recently; the U.S. now has $291 million in permanent arrears -- an amount that is likely to grow by $60 million this year due to exchange rate losses.
Considering the powerful U.S. role in the Security Council, critics of the current U.S. policy are not only raising legal questions about U.S. obligations, but also moral concerns about its role in the international arena.
"Most Americans would be surprised to learn that of the over 90,000 UN troops and police currently deployed to 20 missions worldwide, only 293 are American," wrote the the UN Foundation's Mark Leon Goldberg recently in the British newspaper The Guardian.
Like other analysts, Goldberg asked why the United States approved mission after mission in the Security Council while not paying its dues fully.
Many believe the current U.S. policy is based on a policy of isolationism that it would be wise to give up.
"UN peacekeeping is effective and efficient -- and far cheaper than acting unilaterally," said CGS's Paul. "Working through institutions like the UN allows us to share the burden of meeting global challenges."
© 2008 One World