FAQ: Talking About the UN

Why is the UN important?

In our increasingly interconnected world, national challenges often require international solutions. Age-old calamities like war and disease have no respect for borders or boundaries – and their effects can spread rapidly. The UN provides a platform for the world to discuss and debate these common problems and more – problems like human trafficking, environmental degradation, weapons proliferation, and international terrorism. The UN, it is often said, is not a perfect institution, but it serves a near-perfect purpose: to promote global cooperation to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Who funds the UN?

Are you a member of a campus club – or maybe a Greek society? If you are, chances are that you have to pay dues to the organization of which you are a member. That’s how the UN works too. Each of the 193 member states makes an annual contribution to fund the work of the UN, based on their Gross National Income (GNI). These general budget funds finance the General Assembly and the Security Council, among many other essential UN bodies and missions. Although the U.S. is the UN’s largest single contributor, its regular budget dues are capped at 22 percent, meaning the rest of the world is responsible for sharing over two-thirds of the UN’s total financial burden.

In addition, the UN’s peacekeeping budget is separate from the regular budget. You’ve most likely heard about peacekeeping in the news. Peacekeepers are the soldiers in blue helmets working in places like Sudan and the Congo. These service members come from all over the world – places like Jordan, India, and Nigeria – to help bring stability and normalcy to countries destroyed by war and political turmoil. The UN funds its peacekeeping budget with assessments on member states similar to those made for the regular budget, but with greater discounts for less wealthy nations.

With 16 missions currently in operation and a deployed military totaling 120,000, it’s easy to see why peacekeeping is the UN’s largest “line item” expenditure. Despite the price tag, however, peacekeeping operations are proven cost-effective and, most importantly, reduce the need for America to send its armed forces into harm’s way. To put it in perspective, a UN peacekeeper costs about $15,000 per year, with the U.S. covering just a share of that. On the other hand, we spend around $2 million per year on every single U.S. solider serving in Afghanistan right now.

How does the U.S. pay its UN Dues?

Congress and the president are responsible for making sure America pays both its UN regular and peacekeeping dues on time and in full. The process begins with the president’s annual budget request, which is then taken up by the House and Senate Appropriations committees separately. At the end of the day, both the Senate and the House’s bills have to be identical to go to the President for his signature and final approval. It’s a process that’s not always fluid and prone to deadlock. The UN is a political institution and UN funding is often a subject of political debate. By working through the UN and paying our dues, though, America is able to reinforce its core foreign, economic, and humanitarian priorities around the world – and that’s a sound investment

How does the UN promote human rights?

The U.S. has a long history of supporting UN human rights mechanisms, beginning with our deep involvement in founding the UN. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt led the effort to develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the first document in human history to spell out the basic civil, political, economic, and social rights that all human beings should enjoy. The UN works to defend and promote human rights through three key mechanisms within the UN system: Human Rights Treaties, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Human Rights Council.

What does the future hold for the UN?

In 2000, the UN came together to do something extraordinary – develop a new international framework for tackling some of the planet’s most complex challenges. Known as the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs), the framework set forward eight development targets to be achieved by 2015, including halving extreme poverty rates and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In the nearly 15 years since they were first enacted, the MDGs have made a huge impact in the lives of billions. With their target date fast approaching, discussion of what should succeed them —known as the “Post-2015 development agenda”— is one of the most important and impactful debates happening today. Inside the UN, 193 countries are working to agree on a new set of goals that will shape the next 15 years of global development priorities. These goals aim to enable the world’s seven billion-plus people to live lives of dignity without undermining the future of our planet.