It is well established that the vast majority of United Nations member states pay far less in dues than the United States pays, but the disparity is greater than most realize. Taking U.N. travel subsidies into account, two dozen countries pay roughly $1,000 or less in net contributions to the U.N. regular budget each year while enjoying the same voting privileges as the U.S., which pays nearly $567 million.
No sovereign nation, no matter how poor, should pay so little. Worse, it undermines the incentives for these nations to oversee the U.N. budget properly. The U.S. should call for the elimination of the travel subsidy and for more equitable allocation of U.N. expenses among member states.
Massive Funding Disparities
There are 193 member states in the United Nations. Article 17 of the U.N. Charter states that the “expenses of the Organization shall be borne by the Members as apportioned by the General Assembly.” Since the U.N.’s establishment in 1945, these expenses have been apportioned “broadly according to capacity to pay.” This means that wealthier nations, based principally on per capita income and adjusted by other factors, are asked to pay larger shares of the budget than poorer nations.
Over the past six decades, the contributions, or “assessments,” provided by poor or small U.N. member states have steadily ratcheted downward. Currently, the minimum assessment is 0.001 percent of the regular budget. The 39 countries paying the minimum assessment will pay only $25,852 in gross contributions in 2012, based on the 2012–2013 biennial U.N. regular budget of $5.152 billion.
By contrast, the U.S. is assessed 22 percent of the regular budget, which is nearly $567 million in gross contributions for 2012. The U.S. is assessed more than 180 other U.N. member states combined and 22,000 times more than the least assessed countries. Together, the top 15 contributors pay over 81.4 percent of the U.N. regular budget. Moreover, under U.N. rules, the 129 member states that contribute less than 1.3 percent can pass the budget over the objections of the countries paying over 98 percent.
This explains why so many member states are blasé about increases in the U.N. budget: The financial impact on them is miniscule and undermines incentives for them to fulfill their oversight role. This divorce of financial responsibilities from voting privileges is perhaps the greatest cause of the decades-long intransigence on U.N. reform.
Greater Disparity Than Generally Understood
As large as these differences are, they are understated. Although the gross contribution is the number generally highlighted in discussions about member state assessments, the U.S. is the only member state that actually pays contributions based on this figure. Member states actually pay net contributions, which are their gross contributions less their credit from the staff assessment.