Overview

In President Biden’s first foreign policy speech, he spoke of renewing our role in international institutions, “reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost.” In the past, President Biden has also made clear the importance of paying arrears and demonstrating that “our financial support is in harmony with our policy.” Over the last four years, the U.S. downgraded its engagement with the UN system in several ways. This included underfunding, defunding, or outright withdrawing from UN agencies and activities that are working directly to advance U.S. interests. The arrears listed below–which now total over $1.1 billion–simply outline the treaty obligated dues accrued since 2017. In the past, Congress has–on a bipartisan basis–paid back arrears owed to the UN.

Current U.S. Arrears

Peacekeeping Arrears ($1.1B): Since FY’17, the U.S. has accrued $1.1 billion in arrears on its peacekeeping assessments, due to Trump Administration policy and Congressional enforcement of the 25 percent legislative cap on U.S. contributions. The continuing growth of U.S. debt is particularly problematic for countries that participate in UN 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. U.S. shortfalls amount to tens of millions of dollars each for these countries (see chart below).

In fact, in 2006, when the arrears were similarly problematic, former 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, and rightfully so, to support these critical missions. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to shortchange these operations.” Payment of arrears means making these countries whole i.e. this money is not held at the UN; it will be sent to all the relevant troop contributing countries for needed reimbursement.

Human Rights ($90M): Arrears in this space stem from Trump Administration withholding both to the UN Human Rights Council ($31M) and to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ($59M). These cuts have played an important role in enabling what Human Rights Watch called Russia and China’s “assault on human rights.”