New Internationalist

The Facts

December 1994

new internationalist
issue 262 - December 1994

UN Peacekeeping operations, 1994



UN membership embraces virtually the whole world but continues to expand - due in the 1960s to decolonization and more recently to the arrival of smaller nation-states, especially after the break-up of the USSR.

UN Growth [image, unknown] The Swiss people voted against joining the UN in a referendum in 1986; Serbia and Montenegro have been debarred from taking up the former Yugoslavian seat at the UN and have to reapply.



THE RHETORIC... Official representations of the UN's structure show the principal organs as satellites revolving around the General Assembly. But a more realistic diagram would be as below.


[image, unknown] The decisions of the Security Council are binding on member states; those of the General Assembly are not. The five main victors in World War Two have permanent membership of the Security Council and an individual veto over its decisions. These five nations in practice also appoint the Secretary-General, though officially the appointment is made by the Assembly on the Council's 'recommendation'.



Cost of UN Peace Keeping By early 1993 the UN was deploying four times the number of troops, 70 times more police and over 100 times the number of civilian personnel as in 1987 at nearly 10 times the annual cost.2







[image, unknown] Payment by the UN helps poor countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh offset the cost of the large standing army they want to keep for local strategic reasons. France and Britain, meanwhile, contribute mainly to the force in Bosnia, which is in their sphere of interest.



The UN is routinely criticized as a big bureaucracy wasting vast amounts of public money. Yet its budget and staff numbers are small given what the world expects it to deliver.

UN regular budget
(cost of Secretariat, General Assembly, Security Council etc) $1.2 billion

UN peacekeeping budget $3.6 billion2

NYPD The bill for the regular budget and peacekeeping is roughly the same as New York City spends on its fire and police departments.1

Flowers The bill for the UN's regular budget plus the costs of all its agencies and projects ($6.5 billion in 1993) is about the same as US citizens spend on cut flowers and potted plants each year.3

Saatchi & Saatchi The UN Secretariat employed 9,094 staff in 1990 - a smaller civil service than the Canadian city of Winnipeg or the staff of the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi.1

Health service The UN and its agencies employed 51,484 people worldwide in 1990 - fewer than the civil service of the US state of Wyoming or the health service in Wales.1



The US is by far the biggest contributor to the regular UN budget, though its current 25% share has been reduced from the 49% it undertook to pay in 1946.

Share of UN regular budget, 1993 [image, unknown] No country can pay less than 0.01% of the regular budget. That was $102,000 in 1993 and was paid by 87 member countries at the bottom of the scale. Every member state must pay in US dollars - a severe disadvantage for poor countries. UN reformers are keen to reduce the percentage paid by the US to 10 or 12 per cent since the bigger the sum it pays, the more leverage it inevitably has.



The UN suffers constantly from late payment of dues by governments. The Secretary-General is not allowed to borrow even one dollar for a week, yet governments are charged no interest on the late payment of their dues.

In the red as of 30 June 1994 [image, unknown] The US is consistently behind in its payments to the UN yet the location of the main UN buildings is worth $800 million a year in net income to greater New York region - not counting the millions more spent in the US to procure materials for UN peacekeeping and development efforts.5


1 Renewing the United Nations System, Erskine Childers with Brian Urquhart, Development Dialogue 1994:1.
2 Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, 13 July 1994.
3 Surveys of Current Business, US Department of Commerce.
4 Assessment Table UN Doc A/48/503/Add.1, 11 Nov 1993.
5 UN Doc A/47/419/Add 3.

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This feature was published in the December 1994 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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