U.S. should pay its United Nations debt
Charles Floyd
May/June 1998

A deadlock between Congress and the Clinton Administration over the payment of the approximately $1.5 billion owed by the US to the United Nations threatens to push the world body into bankruptcy and seriously undermine US relations with nations around the world, including our closest allies. The US is so far in arrears to the UN that it may well suffer the penalty prescribed in Article 19 of the UN Charter--loss of our vote in the General Assembly.

The deadlock developed late last year when a plan for partial payment of the arrears was linked with the totally unrelated issue of funding for international family planning programs. Splitting these two issues is essential if there is to be progress on payment of the arrears. But even if this impasse is resolved, the mood in Congress is to make significant cuts in the administration's request for $1.021 billion in UN arrears payments when the matter comes to a vote this spring.

The arrears represent unpaid assessments that support both the UN's regular budget and the cost of UN peacekeeping operations. Payment of these assessments--much like dues in a club--is a solemn treaty obligation, entered into when the US became a founding member of the UN in 1945.

While Washington has allowed these arrears to accumulate for well over a decade, recent polls indicated that American citizens understand that our dues must be paid. They understand that the UN deals effectively with issues that do not recognize national boundaries. Cooperating with the UN allows the US to share the expense of global security with many other nations. They know that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's recent diplomatic victory staved off a unilateral US military strike against Iraq, sparing countless lives on all sides and saving taxpayer dollars.

The US benefited when the UN's World Health Organization eradicated smallpox from the planet and polio from the Americas. We benefit again as the UNAIDS program works to contain the spread of that deadly virus. The International Atomic Energy Agency enforces safeguards that prevent the diversion of nuclear materials from peaceful to weapons use, and the International Drug Control Programme promotes international treaties to stem the flow of illicit drugs into our communities.

International mail delivery is made possible by the Universal Postal Union. Americans, who account for 40% of international air travelers, benefit the most from the International Civil Aviation Organization's efforts to set safety standards. All of these benefits--and many others cost $7.00 per year per US resident--less than the cost of a movie ticket.

Our economic, environmental, business, and security interests are increasingly reliant upon the UN system's work to promote global stability. It is time to act upon what US voters and taxpayers know to be true. It is time to pay our dues to the United Nations.

Charles Floyd is the president of the United Nations Association of the USA, Gainesville chapter.

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