The United Nations fiscal crisis
Person InterviewedKeyes, Alan L.
Richardson, Elliot L.
Examines the UN budget dispute that drove the UN to the verge of fiscal collapse.
The United Nations was created as a forum to discuss and resolve international disputes. Yet as tensions between the Cold War powers escalated, some began to see the UN less as the neutral moderating power it was intended to be, and more as a place where the Soviet Union and its allies went to criticize the United States. For many American policymakers the UN's budget was also a source of resentment. Despite the fact that the United States contributed 25% of the UN's annual budget, the UN gave each member nation equal say in budget considerations. Under this one-country one-vote system, the 106 countries whose combined contributions constituted less than 2% of the UN's annual budget could make appropriations obligating the US to increase its own assessment, which by 1985 had grown to a massive $210 million a year. Faced with spiraling costs over which it had no control, Congress passed the Kassebaum Amendment, which mandated that the U.S. cut its contributions to 20% unless the budget system was reformed to give the UN's largest donors more say over how their money was being spent. The following year Congress, still unhappy with the size of the UN's budget, went even further and slashed the 1986 U.S. contribution by half, resulting in the worst fiscal crisis in the history of the UN. As the UN verges on the brink of bankruptcy, Hedrick Smith sits down with Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes and Elliot Richardson, Chairman of the United Nations Association, to discuss the question of budgetary reform at the UN and the outstanding financial obligations of its member nations.
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