The United Nations (U.N.) was founded on Oct. 24, 1945, after the end of World War II. As the largest and most influential international organization in the world today, the U.N. boasts many organs and branches, a wide-ranging operational scope, a large number of staff members and relatively high expenditures, which has put it in a tight financial condition for quite a long period of time.
However, it seems that such an old financial problem turned from bad to worse in recent years. “Despite numerous efforts to cut expenditure this year, we are likely to run out of cash in August,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month at the U.N. headquarters in New York City while reporting the organization’s financial situation to the public. Generally speaking, the international organization should have enough cash for at least the next three months. “Money shortage has put at risk not only the functioning of our various operations, but also the people who serve in difficult environments all over the world,” he said.
As far as we know, the U.N.’s budget is mainly composed of two parts. One is the regular budget, which includes the financial obligations of member countries, taxes paid by U.N. employees and some other income from selling stamps and publishing; the other is the special budget, which encompasses peacekeeping fees and voluntary donations.
According to Guterres, the inability of the U.N. to meet payroll and vendor obligations will have a serious side effect on the reputation and sustainability of the famous international organization. Frankly speaking, the solution to its enduring financial problems lies not only in structural reform to the organization itself, but also in ensuring that all of the 193 member states pay their financial obligations in full and on time.
First and foremost, the U.N. should urgently make reforms to solve its own structural problems. Even Guterres himself described the U.N.’s budget procedure as “absurd.” It has more assets than liabilities but not enough liquid assets to pay the expenditure. Moreover, additional mandates, which are approved by the General Assembly and the Security Council, are assessed at the beginning of the next year. The one-year lag between expenditure and assessment has created a large gap and made the organization’s money shortage more prominent, especially in the second half of each year.
Increasing arrears and late payments are some other major factors that have worsened the financial situation of the U.N. According to news released on its website, among the 193 member states, 104 had paid their dues (34 paid on time and 70 made late payments) by June 6, 2019, which means that the other 89 countries are still on the outstanding list.
Big and rich countries should carry more responsibilities. However, it is a pity that as the largest economy and one of the richest countries in the world, the United States is the biggest debtor to the U.N. By the end of April, outstanding payments from member states totaled about US$3.9 billion, of which more than US$1 billion was owed by the U.S. Frankly speaking, the U.N. is an international organization which serves the whole world, not a domestic body of the United States. But the U.S. administration only regards the U.N. as a private tool to serve its national interests. If the U.N. cannot completely keep in line with the superpower, its budget will be at stake. On Dec. 24, 2017, then U.S. representative to the U.N. Nikki Haley demanded that the 2018-2019 financial budget of the U.N. be cut by US$285 million. Not satisfied with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United States even announced its withdrawal from the organization in October 2017.
In sharp contrast to the United States, China has so far done a good job in funding the U.N. The country has already paid its financial obligation for this year in full and on time. At present, China is the second-largest contributor to both the U.N.’s regular budget and peacekeeping budget, after the United States. Its contribution to the regular budget for 2019 to 2021 has increased from 7.92 percent to 12.01 percent, while its share of the peacekeeping budget in the U.N. for the same period has risen from 10.24 percent to 15.22 percent.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)