Who’s paying and not paying their fair share at the UN?

John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — It’s long been an economic truism that the United States pays the lions share of the UN budget.

Moreover the European Union (EU) countries contribute the largest bloc of dues of the 193 member organization. Well, there’s good and bad news.

The USA’s budget assessment is no longer as large as the 25 percent it once was, but spiraling budget costs still add up for Washington and about a dozen other countries.
Let’s look at the UN’s budget bottom line at Turtle Bay. The $2.8 billion annual budget is based on the mandatory fixed assessments of member states. As one expects gross national product and current accounts play a role in determining the assessment scale.

Thus richer countries such as the United States and Japan logically pay the biggest sums. Conversely many member states pay the minimal assessment which translates to 0.001 percent or $28,113 annually.
Thirty-six member states are assessed at 0.001 percent and an additional ten countries pay 0.002 percent. Most of these countries from Togo to the Tonga Islands are terribly poor and I’m not at all hinting that they pay more. Yet under the rules, each paid-up member state still has a vote in the General Assembly as does the U.S. or Canada.

Though such realities have long defined the budget math at the UN there’s been a perceptible but generally unnoticed change which has seen some economically successful countries South Korea, Brazil, China, India and Turkey pay a larger budget share. Let’s look at the numbers.

As mentioned the USA’s assessment has fallen from 25 percent to 22 percent. This is due to reforms a decade ago. Yet the actual dollar sum for 2013 still comes to $618 million. Without question the United States is the largest single contributor to the UN system. This is for the regular budget account and does not include additional assessments for peacekeeping ($2.098 billion) which have risen dramatically for the USA or Voluntary contributions to UN agencies such as UNICEF or the UN Development Program (UNDP) which comes to another $327 million for the current year.

Equally 27 European Union member states form the single largest sum of contributions at approximately 38 percent of the regular budget and 40 percent of peacekeeping.

At the same time the super rich petro-dollar states, let’s name them, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, still pay laughably little to the budget despite riding on a sea of petroleum wealth. Bahrain’s assessment stands at 0.03 percent and $1 million, Kuwait’s assessment is 0.27 percent or $7.6 million while Saudi Arabia logs in at 0.86 percent or $24.3 million and Qatar at 0.2 or $5.9 million. Talk about paying a fair share?

Yet some of the traditional financial heavyweights such as Japan and Germany no longer pay the outlandish assessments since there is wider equity among most countries dues. For example Japan’s share of 19.4 percent in 2006, was trimmed to 16.6 percent in 2009 and 10.8 percent for 2013. The Tokyo government is still slated to pay $305 million but this is a far cry for having to foot nearly 20 percent of the budget.

Germany too has seen its assessment fall from 9.82 percent in 2000 or $102 million to 7.14 percent today but with an actual cost of $201 million. Thus despite the lower assessments, the actual spending has risen. Interestingly commensurate with the organization’s budgetary dependence on Japan’s and Germany’s financial contributions, there been a parallel desire by both countries to play a larger role in the UN politically as prospective permanent members of the Security Council.

The reason some of the top-tier assessments have been trimmed is that there are many members such as South Korea who given their economic success, can afford to pay. For example in 2001, Seoul was assessed 1.72 percent or $18 million. Today the Republic of Korea has a 1.99 percent assessment but pays $56 million. As a point of comparison, communist North Korea is assessed at 0.006 percent or $168,000.

Mainland China has seen a long overdue jump in its assessments. Despite years of economic growth and wealth creation, Beijing’s assessment stood at 2.05 percent in 2006. In the current assessments China is rated at 5.1 percent with gross contributions at $145 million. This is almost precisely the same figure as the United Kingdom!

Indeed new players such as Brazil have moved into a higher tier. Brazil has an assessment of 2.9 percent or $82 million putting its standing alongside that of Canada.

Though the U.S. Congress has long tried with limited success, to trim American UN contributions, it appears that growing prosperity among new economic middle-powers may both balance the books and help shift the unfair financial burdens.

John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.