Meeting the Moment: The U.S. and the UN in 2023

U.S. Assessed Financial Contributions to the UN

In recent years, U.S. assessments for the UN regular budget, peacekeeping operations, and specialized agencies have amounted to approximately $3 billion annually, equivalent to around 0.06% of the total federal budget. Annual funding to pay UN assessments is provided by Congress through three accounts in the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill: Contributions to International Organizations (CIO), Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA), and Peacekeeping Operations (PKO). Each year, the Better World Campaign (BWC) formulates recommendations based on anticipated funding needs for these accounts. A summary of recent funding for these accounts and our Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 recommendations is provided below.

Dollar amounts are in thousands.

Acct.FY22 OmnibusFY23 President’s Request FY23 House SFOPsFY23 Senate SFOPs FY23 OmnibusFY24 President’s RequestFY24 BWC Recs.
CIPA$1,498,614$2,327,235$1,797,500 $1,962,235$1,481,915$1,940,702$2,877,834
CIO$1,662,928$1,658,239$1,659,739$1,604,205 $1,438,000$1,703,881$1,703,881

Contributions to International Organizations (CIO): $1.703 billion

The CIO account funds U.S. assessments for the UN regular budget (UNRB) and more than 40 other international organizations, including UN specialized agencies and non-UN organizations such as NATO and the Organization of American States. Funding through CIO helps support the work of the UN and its family of agencies on an array of U.S. policy priorities, including:

  • The work of the World Health Organization (WHO) to address the COVID-19 pandemic and other global health threats;
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been working to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants in Ukraine during the current conflict;
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which focuses on long-term efforts to fight hunger and support sustainable agriculture, food safety, and animal health;
  • Special political missions operating in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries that are either undergoing or emerging from conflict, where they work to advance peace negotiations and mediation processes, investigate human rights abuses, support the development of effective governing institutions, and facilitate free and fair elections;
  • Much of the UN’s core international human rights monitoring and advocacy work.

In addition to funding the UNRB and all other international organizations funded by this account, our recommendation (which is in line with the President’s budget request for FY24) for CIO includes $150 million for the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which the U.S. defunded in 2011 and withdrew from entirely in 2018. The FY23 Omnibus Appropriations bill signed into law in December 2022 included language waiving current statutory funding prohibitions on the agency, allowing the U.S. to resume financial contributions. Our funding recommendation would allow for a down payment to be made to begin addressing U.S. arrears to UNESCO, approximately $612 million, should the Biden Administration choose to rejoin. UNESCO does essential work in a number of areas, including promoting international Holocaust education and press freedom, disseminating guidance to governments to minimize educational disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, and helping to protect and restore cultural heritage sites that have been threatened or destroyed by extremists in Iraq and the Sahel. The U.S. absence from UNESCO has starved these activities of needed resources and given strategic adversaries, especially China, greater room to advance their own interests, often at cross purposes with the founding principles of the organization, which are grounded in international human rights norms. It is therefore critical that the U.S. moves to return to the organization and restart dues payments.

In addition to providing adequate funding for CIO, Congress and the Biden Administration must work together to address the timing of payments to the UN. Since the 1980s, the U.S. has paid its UNRB dues in the fall every year, despite the fact that the UN’s fiscal year begins on January 1st and bills are sent to Member States in the first quarter. This practice has exacerbated regular liquidity challenges at the UN, repeatedly threatening the organization’s ability to pay staff and vendors and forcing the Secretary-General to periodically institute hiring restrictions, spend down cash reserves, and take other undesirable austerity measures. No organization, particularly one as consequential as the UN, can adequately fulfill its obligations when operating under such persistent budgetary uncertainty. As a result, we urge congressional appropriators and the White House to reach a mutually beneficial solution that would allow the U.S. to pay its UNRB dues in a more expeditious manner.

Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA): $2.877 billion

CIPA funds U.S. assessments for 10 UN peacekeeping missions, including critical operations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Golan Heights, Lebanon, Mali, and South Sudan. All of these missions were approved by the UN Security Council—of which the U.S. is a permanent member with veto power—and play an essential role in promoting stability, protecting civilians, and mitigating conflict in strategically significant regions of the world. UN peacekeeping operations are extremely cost-effective and do not require the U.S. to put boots on the ground.

Assessment rates for peacekeeping are determined by each country’s ability to pay, with permanent members of the Security Council paying slightly more than they do for the regular budget in recognition of their unique responsibility for greenlighting peacekeeping missions. Under the current formula, the U.S. is assessed at a rate of 26.94%. Unfortunately, since the mid-1990s, U.S. law has capped U.S. contributions at 25%. While Congress frequently waived this requirement on an ad hoc basis in the past, between FY17 and FY23 it did not do so, causing the U.S. to accrue more than $1.28 billion in cap-related arrears under CIPA.

In part because of these underpayments, the UN is unable to sufficiently reimburse countries who participate in peacekeeping for their contributions of personnel and equipment. This creates significant challenges for troop contributors, most of which are lower-income countries that rely on reimbursements to help sustain complex peacekeeping deployments. U.S. underpayments also threaten to:

  • Erode U.S. influence at the UN in favor of its global competitors.
    China, which like the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council, has significantly increased its participation in UN peacekeeping in recent years. Currently, it is the 10th-largest troop contributor (providing more than France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. combined), and the second-largest financial contributor. China is seeking to use this expanded profile to more aggressively articulate its agenda at the UN, including by challenging the aspects of UN peacekeeping mandates related to human rights and civilian protection.
  • Undermine U.S. ability to push for critical reforms at the UN.
    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 important 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. This was all done at a time when the U.S. was not enforcing the 25% cap. The U.S. failure to pay its assessments in full 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 will be taken seriously.

BWC’s FY24 recommendation for CIPA includes sufficient funds to pay the estimated U.S. FY24 peacekeeping dues at the full assessed rate (approximately $1.597 billion), plus an additional $1.28 billion to fully pay back arrears. To make these payments, language will need to be inserted into the FY24 legislation waiving the cap.

Peacekeeping Operations: $563.1 million

The PKO account supports several non-UN regional peacekeeping operations and bilateral security initiatives, including an international observer force in the Sinai Peninsula that monitors security provisions of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. PKO also finances U.S. assessments for the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), which provides critical equipment and logistical support to African Union forces in Somalia. By working to help local forces defeat Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has carried out numerous attacks in Somalia and the wider region, both entities play an essential role in advancing U.S. counterterrorism objectives in East Africa. BWC’s FY24 recommendation would allow the U.S. to fulfill its current financial obligations to UNSOS, as well as pay back an estimated $108 million in arrears accrued from FY17 to FY23 due to application of the peacekeeping cap.