Foreign Policy Blogs

UN Headquarters‚ and Budget‚ Expands

UN Headquarters‚ and Budget‚ ExpandsThese days the United Nations seems to be the wealthiest impoverished international bureaucracy around.

This week the Washington Times’ UN correspondent Betsy Pisik reported that the UN made one final stride toward beginning a $2 billion renovation project of its headquarters in Manhattan.

The organization will shift some 1,800 employees to a Madison Avenue glass tower for up to six years, while the iconic Secretariat Building is stripped down to the concrete slab and rebuilt with modern systems and security.”

Earlier that week Washington Post UN correspondent Colum Lynch reported that: “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.”

But improvements in the UN's physical infrastructure are only a small chunk of what Lynch cites as the cause for the ballooning expenses. Rather, “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.”

The request for new funding is intended to cover the renovation project, in addition to funding war-crimes investigators in Lebanon, a $100 million fortress to serve as a UN headquarters in Baghdad, a $7 million anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa in 2009, among other projects.

The WaPost-produced chart at right shows how the UN budget has expanded.

Lynch explained that: “During the 1990s, congressionally required 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 bulk of the money in the latest U.N. supplemental request would fund missions and initiatives that Washington either approved or helped create… [former US Ambassador to the UN John] Bolton acknowledged that the United States has largely abandoned the key tool it had used to hold down U.N. budgets since the mid-1980s: congressionally driven threats of withholding U.S. dues.”

Lynch's article does an excellent job emphasizing US efforts to shrink the UN's budget, but it fails to point out that the US currently owes about $2 billion in UN dues‚ enough to renovate its headquarters.

A recent OneWorld US article notes that “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.” For more information on US dues shortfall, visit the Better World Campaign's website.