The United Nations (UN)’s financial crisis does not surprise anyone given that in early 2019, the organization’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that UN member countries owed almost $2 billion in peacekeeping budget (with the US accounting for a third of that amount).
Last Tuesday (October 8), the Portuguese diplomat cautioned that the UN had been suffering the worst deficit in the past decade, fearing that the New York-based body may not have enough cash to pay its staff in November.
“This month, we will reach the deepest deficit of the decade. We risk exhausting the closed peacekeeping cash reserves, and entering November without enough cash to cover payrolls,” Guterres said.
He urged member countries to pay their dues on time. At the end of September 2019, member states only paid 70 per cent of the amount needed to fund the UN operations.
The UN did not disclose countries that have yet to pay their dues. However, a source told AFP that those include the US, Argentina, Mexico, Iran, Israel, South Korea, and Brazil.
A UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that 129 out of 193’s UN members had paid their regular contributions in full for this year, which collectively reached $2 billion. The last country paying its mandatory payment was war-torn Syria.
The cash crisis has forced Guterres to take necessary measures to restrict official travel to ‘essential activities,’ curtail heating, and air-conditioning aimed at saving costs to survive.
Who is the UN top contributor?
The US is the UN main contributor, accounting for 22 per cent of the world body’s regular budget. China comes second (12.4 per cent), followed by Japan (8 per cent).
However, Washington still owes $674 million for the 2019 regular budget and around $381 million for the previous budget, according to Swissinfo.ch.
President Donald Trump has called for a cut in fundings channelled to international organizations. In 2018, the real estate mogul announced the White House would slash all the funds to the UN body assisting Palestinian refugees, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), after doing the same with the UNFPA and UNESCO in 2017.
Speaking of the UN peacekeeping efforts, the number of active UN peacekeepers doubled from 1990 through 2015, Visionofhumanity quoted UN data.
Surprisingly, middle to low-income countries send more UN troops to war-torn areas than the developed ones, accounting for 80 per cent of peacekeepers deployed worldwide. Ethiopia, an African nation once engaged in a civil war, is the top contributor of the UN peacekeepers as of January 2017 (8,326 troops) deployed in neighboring Somalia and South Sudan.
Despite becoming the UN top financial donors, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) face criticism for delaying payment, hampering the UN current peacekeeping efforts. Ironically, most of the peace troops sent by developing nations are less-trained and ill-equipped for long-term missions.
The future of the UN
According to Nitin Desai, Former Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the crisis is usually typical because the US usually pays at the end of October due to its budget year. What makes this problem bigger is that other countries are delaying payments.
Speaking during an interview with The Big Picture, a program aired by an India-based RSTV, delayed payments made by some of the countries such as Brazil and South Korea may reflect either lack of faith in the role of the international organization.
While Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, former Secretary of External Affairs told the program host Frank Pareira that multilateralism has taken a backseat, adding that the “UN is not the preferred forum to solve sort of dispute.”
Chakravarty also elaborated about the US criticism that the UN employs too many people, and many receive higher salaries than they deserve. “There is a feeling, I had to admit that particularly in maybe developing countries, I see UN organizations spending a lot of money in good housing and fancy car,I have a feeling that they are well-paid, more than they deserve,” the former secretary said, adding the US attack on the UN for being bloated.
Both veteran diplomats, along with former Indian ambassador fo the UN Dilip Sinha, agreed that the UNSC needs reform, given that the veto held by the permanent five (the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China) is no longer relevant in such a rapid-changing world.
The hardest thing, perhaps, is to unite a common shared goal As the UN is set up to provide peace and security, member countries unite to combat global illness and tackle emissions, but they will prioritize their interest when they are engaged in a conflict with other countries.
Therefore, the UN will survive and continue its work, as Desai said. However, without the reform and transparency in the budget audit, the UN will likely lose its relevance.