Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

A U.S. Finger in the Dike

Saturday, December 31, 2005

The UN budget for the biennium 2006-2007 was adopted by the General Assembly at the 11th hour by consensus. The total price tag was $3,799,000,000, 22% of which comes from American taxpayers. For the first time, the resolution adopting the budget attempts to tie dollars to UN reform: "the Secretary-General, while adhering to the existing procedures regarding the annual assessment of Member States, is authorized to enter into expenditure of a first tranche, limited to 950 million dollars, as an exceptional measure."

But the following phrase adds: "The General Assembly, in order to ensure the availability of resources for programme delivery, will act in response to a request from the Secretary-General, at an appropriate time, for expenditure of the remaining funds." The Secretary-General, therefore, will soon ask for the rest, and the General Assembly "will act in response." Any idea of a second short-term tranche or installment, meant to keep the UN on a short-leash, has been forestalled by characterizing this first move as "exceptional."

Try any checklist of UN reforms from American policy-makers -- the Hyde United Nations Reform Act 2005; the Coleman/Lugar draft United Nations Management, Personnel, and Policy Reform Act of 2005; the bi-partisan November 22, 2005 letter of Congressmen Ackerman, Ros-Lehtinen, Lantos and Wexler; the December 21, 2005 letters from members of the Senate and the House; the statements of US UN representatives. The vast majority of requirements have not been met. Same old UN Commission on Human Rights. No action on any review of the mandates of UN bodies. No definition or comprehensive convention against terrorism. No abolition of the decades-old anti-Israel UN apparatus. No progress on key management reform issues. And so on.

The ball is back in a U.S. court. U.S. UN Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff, told the General Assembly on December 23, 2005 that the United States has "the refrain from joining consensus on the next budget decision. We earnestly hope, of course, that progress on reform measures will be more than sufficient to support a continuation of the budget for the remainder of 2006." This is a deadly serious game of chicken. Either the United States has red lines for measuring UN performance or not.

The 950 million dollar "exceptional measure" is a finger in the dike. The pressure to pay, regardless of the inability of UN foxes to repair the holes in the chicken coop, is enormous and growing larger. There will soon be intensive negotiations over the appointment of a new UN Secretary-General, who may well make unfaltering US contributions to the UN budget a condition of taking the job. It is time to bring the Coleman/Lugar bill forward, arrive at a coherent and firm stand on US-UN funding, and send an unambiguous signal to UN members that the finger in the dike is not disembodied.