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The Case for Paying UN Arrears

US Payments


Member countries pay a portion of the UN regular budget and its peacekeeping budget. Rates are determined by a formula that accounts for a country’s ability to pay, Gross National Income (GNI), per capita GNI, and several other economic indicators.

Under the current formula, the U.S. pays just under 27% of the total peacekeeping budget. However, U.S. law enacted in the mid-1990’s caps U.S. contributions at just a quarter of the peacekeeping budget. While Congress has periodically waived the cap to enable us to pay our full dues, we continue to accrue debt to the UN that has now topped $1.1 billion.

Although President Biden has consistently shown support for payment of arrears to demonstrate U.S. “financial support in harmony with our policies,” America remains in the red with our UN obligations.

  • Impact on Less Resourced Countries

    The continuing growth of U.S. debt is particularly problematic for countries that participate in peacekeeping operations, including U.S. partners like Rwanda, Nepal, and Bangladesh, who are not being fully reimbursed for their contributions of uniformed personnel and equipment.

    In fact, in 2006, when arrears were similarly ballooning, then Senator Biden stated, “If we continue to let the arrears stand, these critical missions could suffer, the nations who have been contributing their troops as peacekeepers might begin to balk at future requests. We vote time and again in the UN Security Council to support these critical missions. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to shortchange them.”

    Payment of arrears means making these troop-contributing countries whole.

  • Impact on Global Competitors 

    U.S. arrears contribute to cash flow issues at the UN and shortchange our international partners; they also elevate our global competitors.

    While the U.S. has sought to limit its support for UN peacekeeping in recent years, China has stepped up its contributions. Paying nearly a fifth of the UN peacekeeping budget, China is currently the second largest financial contributor and tenth largest troop contributor — providing more uniformed personnel than the four other permanent members of the Security Council combined.

    China is seeking to use these growing contributions strategically in order to gain favor with the international community and push a peacekeeping agenda that aligns with its national interests and values. A 2021 National Defense University, “Strategic Competition and UN Peacekeeping,” lays out how China is steadily increasing its investments to advance its ideological and economic interests, while deepening its relationships with developing countries. The report also suggests that strong support of UN peacekeeping by the U.S. would provide a competitive and strategic advantage relative to China.

  • Impact on U.S. Influence

    The accrual of debt to the UN undermines the ability for the U.S. to pursue reforms of the international body.

    During the Obama Administration, the U.S. and UN worked together to adopt several critical reforms and efficiencies, cutting the cost per peacekeeper by 18% and reducing the number of support staff on missions to lower administrative costs. The UN also undertook efforts to combat sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, including an unprecedented policy calling for the repatriation of entire units whose members engaged in widespread instances of abuse. Importantly, these efforts were achieved when the U.S. was not enforcing the 25% cap.

    Today, failure to pay U.S. assessments alienates like-minded countries whose support is needed to make progress on reform priorities — and makes it less likely that future U.S. entreaties around cost, efficiency, and accountability are taken seriously.

  • Timing of UN Payments

    Congress and the Biden Administration must work together to address the timing of payments to the UN. Since the 1980s, the U.S. – unlike almost any other country – has put forward a policy of paying UN Regular Budget dues at least nine months late, even though the UN’s fiscal year begins on January 1. This practice has exacerbated major liquidity challenges at the UN, repeatedly threatening the organization’s ability to pay staff and administrative costs and forcing the UN Secretary-General to periodically institute hiring restrictions and tap cash reserves set aside for peacekeeping.

    Combined with U.S. arrears, this persistent budgetary uncertainty is routinely raised by other nations as proof that the U.S. is unreliable and lacks the same sound fiscal policies that we demand of the UN. This is why “resynchronization” of payments to the UN is vital.