Expenses At U.N. Balloon 25 Percent

SOURCE: United Nations | The Washington Post - March 21, 2008
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2008

UNITED NATIONS -- Despite long-standing efforts by successive U.S. administrations to rein in U.N. spending, 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.

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.

U.N. administrative costs have more than doubled, to about $2.5 billion a year, since Bush took office, while peacekeeping expenses have increased threefold, with nearly 110,000 peacekeepers in 20 overseas missions at a 2008 cost of about $7 billion.

"This is a breakdown of a 20-year-long effort to rein in U.N. spending," said John R. Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations early in Bush's second term. "What happened in the late part of the Clinton administration, but most spectacularly in the Bush administration, is that the principle of zero nominal growth broke down completely."

That principle required the United Nations to maintain its administrative budget at the same level each year, meeting the costs of inflation through spending cuts.

The additional funds in the latest request would be used to renovate the landmark U.N. headquarters in New York, fund war-crimes investigators in Lebanon and pay $100 million to build a reinforced, attack-resistant U.N. headquarters building in Baghdad. But they would also be used to pay nearly $7 million for a 2009 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, which Washington believes would serve as a forum to bash Israel.

The United States pays for 22 percent of the U.N. administrative budget and about 27 percent of peacekeeping costs, and it has vowed to press member states and the U.N. Secretariat to seek cost savings. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, insists that the organization will have to find savings or live without its new programs. "I want to have a Ferrari, but if I can't afford it I would have to take something else or defer" additional spending, he said. "There have to be trade-offs; there has to be savings from reforms."

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.

On the eve of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Bush spoke before the U.N. General Assembly and challenged the institution to enforce the resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to disarm, suggesting that the institution's reason for being was at stake: "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?"

Bush sent Bolton to the United Nations as ambassador in August 2005 to cut costs, bring discipline to the sprawling agency and "help the U.N. reform itself to renew its founding promises for the 21st century," as the president put it. Bolton's first act was to negotiate a landmark U.N. reform pact by world leaders that included a new audit board and a U.N. ethics office aimed at improving accountability and oversight over U.N. spending. But such reforms proved expensive, adding more than $100 million in management costs over the next two years. The United States had hoped to defray some of those costs by eliminating other U.N. programs, but the effort was blocked by a group of developing countries.

The cost of managing international crises also spiraled. In August 2006, Bolton helped negotiate a cease-fire agreement to end the Lebanon war between Israel and Hezbollah militants, and approved $700 million a year for a peacekeeping force to help enforce it. 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.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a close ally of the Bush administration, has yielded to U.S. appeals for assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ban recently approved the largest expansion of U.N. activities in Iraq in years, which suffered a blow with the deadly 2003 attack against the U.N. office in Baghdad. The United Nations will spend more than $250 million on Iraq and Afghanistan, a figure that that does not include costly U.N. relief operations for more than 1 million refugees.

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