Since the UN’s founding in 1945, the United States has been the organization’s largest funder. As a permanent member of the Security Council and host of UN Headquarters, the U.S. arguably has more clout than other UN member states, and its leadership in providing financial support to the organization is a reflection of that influential role. Continued U.S. funding is essential to a number of UN activities that promote core U.S. interests and values, from peacekeeping missions and global nonproliferation efforts, to the provision of humanitarian and development assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
Funding from member states for the UN and its affiliated programs and specialized agencies comes from two main sources: assessed dues and voluntary contributions.
- Assessed dues are payments that all UN member states, including the U.S., are obligated to make by virtue of their membership in the organization. These assessments provide a reliable source of funding to core functions of the UN Secretariat via the UN regular and peacekeeping budgets. In addition, each of the UN’s specialized agencies have their own assessed budgets that member states are required to help finance as well.
- Voluntary contributions are, as the term implies, not obligatory, but instead left to the discretion of individual member states. These contributions—which account for more than half of what the U.S. provides to the UN in any given year—are vital to the work of UN humanitarian and development agencies, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Program (WFP), UN Development Program (UNDP), and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“Our ability to exercise leadership in the UN – to protect our core national security interests – is directly tied to meeting our financial obligations.”
— Samantha Power, Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Why should the U.S. pay its UN dues in-full?
Strong and consistent U.S. engagement with the UN is critical to advancing our nation’s foreign policy, national security, economic, and humanitarian priorities on a number of fronts. From peacekeeping missions that promote stability in various parts of the world, to its work on issues as varied as nonproliferation, counterterrorism, human rights, and development, the UN is a force-multiplier for the U.S., addressing global challenges that—due to their complexity and cost—the U.S. can’t possibly be expected to confront alone.
While the UN’s work covers a broad array of issues and impacts U.S. interests in virtually every corner of the globe, the total amount of U.S. contributions to the UN consumes a very small portion of our nation’s annual budget. Overall, only 1.4% of the federal budget is devoted to foreign aid (including contributions to the UN). Our peacekeeping and regular budget dues account for just 0.2% of the annual U.S. federal budget. While the U.S. is the largest single contributor to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets (responsible for paying 22% and 28% of these budgets respectively), other UN member states pay the vast majority of costs associated with the activities funded by these assessments. Moreover, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the U.S. ultimately has final say over the size of the peacekeeping budget—by far the largest of all of the UN system’s assessed budgets—since no peacekeeping mission can be authorized, expanded, or withdrawn from the field without U.S. consent.
When the U.S. fails to pay its peacekeeping and regular budget dues, it jeopardizes UN programs that are manifestly in our national interests and negatively impacts our ability to advance our agenda at the UN. In order to continue reaping the benefits of engagement with the UN, and to be able to influence the organization’s overall direction, it is critical that we make our dues payments on-time and in-full.