Guy W. Farmer: The United Nations – Who pays the bills? |

Guy W. Farmer: The United Nations – Who pays the bills?

Guy W. Farmer
For the Nevada Appeal

President Obama and the United Nations Security Council dithered for nearly a month before imposing a no-fly zone to prevent Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from slaughtering thousands of his fellow countrymen. What took so long?

The U.N.’s failure to take timely, effective action in Libya is just the latest reason why the Obama administration should follow the lead of our British allies by taking a hard look at how the United Nations spends billions (with a “b”) of our tax dollars during a worldwide recession. The Brits are currently reassessing their U.N. contributions to determine whether they’re getting their money’s worth from the New York-based international bureaucracy.

Frankly, it’s difficult to track the money because of the U.N.’s convoluted and misleading accounting system. We know for sure, however, that the United States pays 22 percent of the organization’s “regular” budget and 27 percent of peacekeeping costs in addition to millions of dollars worth of “voluntary” contributions to UN-affiliated agencies. Overall, only five nations – the U.S., Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France – finance more than 50 percent of the total U.N. budget.

By contrast, “developing” nations with booming economies like Brazil, China and India pay much less. For example, China, which has become our banker, pays a whopping two percent of the U.N. budget – less than 10 percent of the U.S. contribution. Go figure!

After careful study, Great Britain decided to pull the financial plug on four U.N. agencies by the end of next year, and put three others on notice that they could face the same fate. Meanwhile our U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice, made an extended cross-country tour designed to drum up public support for the organization, which faces severe congressional budget cuts later this year, as well it should.

A 2010 Heritage Foundation study revealed that U.S. contributions to the U.N. totaled more than $6.34 billion in fiscal 2009 and that the U.N. budget has expanded by an average of 17 percent per year since 2002 as the world economy has contracted. Meanwhile, U.N. bureaucrats live the good life in New York, Paris and Geneva while most of their real work supposedly takes place in the downtrodden Third World. The U.N. bureaucrats I met overseas made more money than I did and worked shorter hours, but they did throw lavish cocktail parties. I’ll give them that.

The aforementioned Heritage study asserted that “trust in the capability and willingness of the U.N. to monitor its activities to prevent mismanagement, corruption and waste is at a particularly low ebb” under the direction of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean diplomat. In July 2010 a Swedish internal auditor accused Ban and his associates of undermining efforts to combat corruption in the organization; the auditor was subsequently fired.

So what else do we need to know about how the U.N. spends our hard-earned tax dollars? Congress should follow the British lead and wield the budget axe on our contributions to a bloated and inefficient international bureaucracy.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a retired American diplomat.