Chronology of the UN Financial Situation:


January 14, 1998: At a conference in Bonn organized by the prestigious Development and Peace Foundation, participants sharply criticize US failure to pay its dues, saying that this is harming the UN reform process. Several participants call for Germany to take a more active role on this issue in the international arena.

January 16, 1998: Amb. Bill Richardson, U.S. Delegate to the UN, gives a speech at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He says: "Today, America is a debtor nation at the United Nations -- to the tune of one billion dollars. It is a fact that I am often reminded of by my colleagues in New York. I believe that if America is to remain the world's 'indispensable nation' this unacceptable situation must be rectified." Later in the speech, Richardson says: "When I go to my fellow Ambassadors and ask for their support on resolutions or agenda items, by position is weakened by America's debtor status. And on a number of substantive issues . . . America's national interests and objectives are being compromised by thefailuree to pay our dues.

January 22, 1998: A members of the Council of Organizations of the United Nations Association-USA meet with Secretary General Kofi Annan at UN Headquarters and discusses at length the UN financial crisis. US Ambassador Richardson, also present, affirms that the administration will push for full funding of the US debate and tells the NGO leaders present that the Helms-Biden deal to pay the debt with many conditions is now "dead" and that a new (and presumably more UN-favorable agreement) will be negotiated in 1998.

January 27, 1998: President Clinton in his State of the Union Address calls on Congress to vote for funds to pay the UN arrears, saying: "it's long post time to make good on our debt to the United Nations. More and more, we are working with other nations to achieve common goals. If we want America to lead, we must set a good example. . . In this new era, our freedom and independence are actually enriched, not impoverished, by our increasing interdependence with other nations."

January 31, 1998: All UN member states are required to pay their assessment in full by this date, but only 27 out of 185 have done so -- the same number as in 1997. By comparison with a year earlier, the January income declines to $279 million from $405 million the previous year. See more details in GPF News Bulletin

February 2, 1998: The Clinton Administration submits a supplemental 1998 budget request to Congress that proposes paying $1.021 billion in arrears to international organizations, including the UN. About $800 million of this request would go to the UN and slightly more if all the UN system organizations are taken into account. However, according to the administration's own reckoning, the US owes the UN $1.5 billion and specialized agencies another $250 million, for a total of $1.75 billion, or less than half of the payment proposed, with many attached conditions. Further, most of the payout would not take place until 1999 and 2000. According to well-informed observers, however, there remains serious doubt whether the Congress will agree to even this meager concession before it adjourns for elections (approximately 90 days remain). At the same time, the Administration submits other "supplementals" to Congress including a request for $18 billion for special funds for the International Monetary Fund to increase its lending during the Asian financial crisis and a further request for funding military operations in Bosnia. FY1999 Budget The Administration also submits its 1999 budget, which includes "near-full" funding for the UN and a number of its agencies, plus a small $231 million for peacekeeping that will keep downward pressure on the PKO budget.

Week of February 9, 1998: US Secretary of State Albright testifies at Congressional hearings on budget matters, urging that UN arrears be paid, along with funds for the IMF. She points out that "the US ranks dead last among industrialized nations" on spending for international affairs. Conservative Senators and House members accuse the Administration of blocking the special funding legislation, with its attached amendment to block abortion. Each side accuses the other of responsibility in the deadlock. At the UN in New York top business officials from the International Chamber of Commerce and UN leaders announce a new partnership, including greater business input into UN decision-making on economic matters. They issue a joint statement setting out goals for work in the future.

February 11, 1998: A two-page political ad appears in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major outlets calling, among other things, for the US payment of its UN arrears. The ad is signed by dozens of powerful figures including former presidents and cabinet members, as well as many corporate CEOs and it opens with a short statement that says "We are concerned about a dangerous drift towards disengagement from the responsibilities of global leadership. This kind of modern isolationism seriously damages American interests." The ad presents a package of four actions including expanded funding for the IMF, flexible use of the Exchange Stabilization Fund of the Treasury Department, and "fast track" authority for the President to negotiate trade pacts. It is interesting that UN arrears is mentioned in this otherwise very business-oriented policy package. The actual organizers of the initiative are shrouded by a post office box address, but according to reliable sources two Wall Street heavyweights -- Maurice Greenberg of the American International Group and Peter Peterson of Blackstone Group -- were the key figures.

February 13, 1998: Secretary General Annan appoints Miles Stoby, one of the chief architects of the UN reform process as head of UNFIP, the U.N. International Partnership Trust Fund, an entity that will screen project for support from the Ted Turner gift of $100 million per year. The Turner money will be administered by the U.N. Foundation, headed by Timothy Wirth and currently headquartered in Washington DC. Stoby, who is from Guayana, will have the rank of Assistant Secretary General. On the same day Russia pays in full is 1998 UN dues of $28,636,251.

February 14, 1998: In a background article on the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the New York Times notes that tipping is not customary in Japanese restaurants. One restaurant owner, the article says, has decided to accept tips of Olympics visitors and then send them on to the United Nations. It is a touching reminder of the international concern for the UN financial crisis.

Late February 1998: In a State Department memorandum, the Clinton administration states that the Helms-Biden accord of 1997, making arrears payment contingent on more than three dozen conditions, must be renegotiated to take account of objections by other countries at the UN. The memorandum also calls for a higher total amount of arrears to be paid. And it urges that the US accept an assessment of 22% (vs.20% proposed in Congress), so as to remain the highest payer above Japan. Also Secretary of State Albright, in testimony on Capitol Hill, urges arrears payment. In one hearing she says: "Let me tell you frankly that, if we are not able now -- in the next few months -- to approve funding for our UN arrears, our legs truly will be cut out from under us at the UN. We are told daily, by our best allies and friends, that US credibility will be sadly diminished."

February 26, 1998: In a letter of this date, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Sen. Jesse Helms sharply criticizes the Administration's effort to change the previous agreement on UN funding, charging that the Administration has "presented [us] with a list of 27 new demands for drastic changes in our carefully negotiated package, including a demand for more money..."

March 2, 1998: In a briefing to NGOs at the US Mission to the UN, Amb. Richard Sklar makes unusually frank comments about the US failure to pay its UN dues. "US failure to pay has seriously undermined our ability to work in all kinds of areas," he tells NGOs. The NGOs also hear that "all the world sees it as a treaty obligation" and "some in Congress see advantage in non-payment." These statements seem to reflect a new, somewhat more vigorous Administration strategy to win appropriations from Congress, though Washington insiders continue to report that IMF funding and other legislation have far higher Administration priority.

March 5, 1998: The Banking Committee of the US House of Representatives approves a bill to authorize contributions of $18 billion to the IMF, though there is no further action on UN funding. It begins to appear that the IMF funding will be passed separately, but probably with many conditions for IMF reform, recalling the reform conditions imposed on UN funding.

March 10, 1998: UN Undersecretary General Joseph Connor, at a press briefing in New York, says that the UN's cash position is "weak and getting weaker, its unpaid assessments are "slowly decreasing" and its ability to cross-borrow from the peacekeeping funds are "drying up." Connor also notes that $152 million of funds appropriated by Congress in November 1997 have yet to be paid to the UN regular budget, due to various Congressional restrictions, thus adding to the UN's financial woes. At a meeting of the UN's Fifth Committee, where Connor also spoke, Mr. Nick Thorne, speaking for the UK Presidency of the European Union, says that the EU favors "tightening the rules for implementation of Article 19 of the Charter and their application to ensure that the disincentive envisaged by the founders is properly implemented." On the same day a group of NGOs headed by the Emergency Coalition for US Financial Support of the United Nations issues an urgent memorandum calling on citizens to send letters urging members of Congress to pass legislation supporting payment of UN arrears.

March 11, 1998: The Republican leadership in the US House of Representatives announces it will link anti-abortion provisions to a funding package for the IMF and UN arrears and the White House immediately announces it will veto any linked legislation. Shortly afterwards, debate on UN arrears legislation is cancelled, in the face of intense pressure from a group of conservative legislators. -- Rep. James Leach (R-Iowa) asks to be removed from a committee working on the legislation because, according to his staff, he has "grave reservations about allowing the bill to go out of committee with the dismal UN conditions in the legislation." At the same time the Congress begins considering proposals for the FY1999 budget submitted by the Clinton administration. Committees of both houses are substantially reducing the sums for assessed and voluntary contributions.

March 11, 1998: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan meets with President Clinton at the While House, reportedly encouraging the President to be "more aggressive" in seeking the payment of US arrears. The President is said to have asked Annan when the UN Charter's Article 19 might affect the United States and take away its voting rights.

March 12, 1998: State Department Spokesperson James Rubin is asked at a press conference whether the United States might lose its voting rights at the UN if it fails to pay its dues and arrears. He states that "there are some major, major problems that we face in the coming months if the Congress does not allow us to pay back the money we owe." Also, at a briefing at the National Press Club, Secretary General Annan indicates that the US would have to pay $600 in this calendar year so that this provision would not go into effect. He says: "By withholding the funds, I think the United States is offending friends and foes alike." He also says: "I'm sure that the United States Government would not want to be in that situation, nor would the people of America . . . where the US loses its vote in the United Nations because of lack of payment." Annan also meets with Senator Jesse Helms and other legislators.

March 16, 1998: In a press briefing at the White House, the question of whether the US might lose its voting rights at the UN again arises. Press Spokesman Mike McCurry answers: "we have not yet gotten to the point where the General Assembly provision on voting rights triggers, but we could conceivable come to that point in the months ahead. And that's another reason why Congress needs to act on that urgent supplemental request we've made ... "

March 17, 1998: The Senate Appropriations Committee drops legislation to fund UN arrears, while moving ahead on funding for the IMF, funding for contingency operations in Bosnia and Iraq, and domestic disaster relief. The same day State Department officials brief NGOs on UN funding. Asst. Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Princeton Lyman comments on the conditions in the Helms-Biden agreement, urging that legislation should be passed, however objectionable: "We need a piece of legislation," he says, "even if it's imperfect." Lyman also notes that existing legislation capping US assessments at 25% for peacekeeping and other withholdings now total $488 million and are growing at the rate of $50 million per year -- leading to ever-greater arrears.

March 24, 1998: The Appropriations Committee of the US House of Representatives considers the "supplemental" legislation on UN and other funding for international organizations, cutting out all funds owed as arrearages to 45 organizations, including a number of UN-system agencies. An amendment offered by Rep. David Obey (D-Wisconsin) to raise the funding level and eliminate some conditions was defeated. According to State Department sources, the United States owes $105 million to the FAO, $38 million to the ILO, $36 million to the WHO and $75 million to other UN agencies, for a total of $254 million.

March 25, 1998: During debate on a bill from which UN funding had been cut, the US Senate approves by 90-10 an amendment by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) "expressing the sense of the Senate that the UN should recognize the generous support of US taxpayers toward international peace and security." The amendment, which is non-binding, also calls on the UN to "immediately reduce" the US share of peacekeeping assessments from 30 percent to 25 percent. In introducing the amendment, Helms says: "While the UN crybabies whine about not receiving enough of the American taxpayers' money, the real truth is that the US volunteered more than three times what we were asked to pay." The Senate also calls for a tally of the money the United States has spent for enforcement of UN resolutions, an amount that some Senators say should be offset against US arrears.

March 26, 1998: During debate in the House of Representatives on UN funding legislation, Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-New York) says: "I have a great deal of trouble with paying these so-called arrears to the UN, given its history of waste and abuse and, frankly, its lack of gratitude for all the expenses and danger on our troops that we incur in support of UN resolutions." But Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), a senior Democrat, comments that the proposed legislation "creates more US arrears to the UN. We are not going forward, we are creating larger arrears. And it fails to provide sufficient funds even for our current dues. It does not pay what we acknowledge we owe to the UN." While Rep. John Porter (R-Illinois) points out that the bill "conditions this money on unilateral reforms that run in direct opposition to the spirit under which the UN was created."

April 2, 1998: In remarks before the Association of Newspaper Editors in Washington DC, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks of the importance of paying "long overdue" UN arrears. In a note of humor, she adds: "I know there are some who believe the UN is a sinister organization. They suspect that it operates a fleet of black helicopters, which may, at any moment, swoop down and steal our lawn furniture. They say it is bent on world domination, which is absurd, and that we can not trust it because it is full of foreigners -- which, frankly, we can't help." She goes on to say that payment of US dues is a "matter of honor."

April 15, 1998: Timothy Wirth, President of the newly-formed United Nations Foundation, speaks at a special event at the United Nations. He tells a large audience of NGOs, diplomats and UN staff about the plans of the organization, set up to channel the Ted Turner gift of $100 million per year for ten years in support of UN programs. The foundation will channel much of its program funding to girls' education/population, climate change/sustainable environment, and children's health. In addition, there will be support for "telling the story" of the UN and broadening its financial support from other private donors. He is warmly received, and Turner's gift highly praised, but some difficult questions arise during the question period: will this mean further "privatization" of the UN, what influence will it wield over multilateral decision-making?

April 23, 1998: Secretary General Annan, on a trip through the United States to drum up support for the UN, speaks to a crowd of 4,000 at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He tells his audience that the US failure to pay its UN dues is hurting UN peacekeeping. "US behavior is destroying trust among nations," he said, in an unusually frank speech. "By withholding payments, the US is provoking friend and foe alike." On the same day in Washington, US representative to the UN Bill Richardson warned the House Appropriations Subcommittee that the US could lose its vote at the UN if it does not pay its arrears. He stated that "Our friends and partners in the UN will not agree to lower our assessment or meet our benchmarks if we can't pledge to pay our full arrears throughout the UN system." At the same hearing, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Princeton Lyman said that the US would be $11-40 million short of the threshold needed to retain its vote in the UN General Assembly in 1999 unless additional monies are appropriated.

April 24, 1998: The US Senate debates the measure to repay some of the UN arrears. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said: "Unfortunately, the amount authorized here falls far short of what we owe, and it is encumbered with too many restrictions." The bill, which would authorize payment of about half the US arrears, carries more than two dozen conditions that the UN must meet, it disburses the sum over three years, and it carries an amendment on family planning that President Clinton has vowed to veto. On the same day: a Washington-based polling institute issues a study of US public attitudes on UN funding. The Program on International Policy Attitudes finds that 60% of the US public favor paying UN dues in full, with 32% strongly in favor. By contrast, 27% told the pollers they oppose payments, with 16% strongly opposed.

April 27, 1998: Five Republican members of the House of Representatives send a letter to colleagues in the US Congress arguing that the US does not legitimately owe the UN money for peacekeeping operations the US government undertook on its own, in support of UN resolutions. The letter points out that other nations do the same and that they cannot claim reimbursement either. The letter seeks to counter the argument of Congressional conservatives who claim that the US does not owe any money to the UN -- instead that the UN is in debt to the US. "There is a difference between UN-run operations (reimbursable) and non-UN operations (non-reimbursable)," the letter points out.

April 28, 1998: The Senate adopts a conference report on the State Department authorization bill, setting the stage for final passage of the controversial package of payments for the UN and its agencies.

April 29, 1998: At a consultation at the UN organized by Global Policy Forum and the International Student and Youth Movement for the UN, participants discussed "Innovative Financing for Development: global taxes, frees and charges." Amb. Hans Dahlgren of Sweden led off the discussion and Kevin Baumert of GPF and the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs presented a summary of the current debates. Some 40 NGO delegates, attending the Commission for Sustainable Development, attended.

April 30, 1998: The Boston Globe runs an editorial calling on Congress to stop "playing foolish games" and pay the US debt to the United Nations. The editorial quotes Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy as having told Globe editors the previous week that Congress "'is becoming the bane of existence of all good friends of the US.'" The editorial concludes: "Most Americans, whether they favor or oppose abortion, do not like deadbeats. Congress' refusal to pay the UN harms itself and the nation." On the same day, the Chicago Tribune runs an editorial calling Congress' action on the UN arrears bill "boneheaded."

May 1, 1998: President Clinton signs the FY1998 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 3579) which includes funding for domestic disaster relief and for US troops in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf. Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Samuel Berger, at a speech to the Brookings Institution, says that the bill "left out two critical parts of the President's original request - satisfaction of our long overdue debt to the United Nations and payment of our share of support to the International Monetary Fund." The same day President Clinton calls on Congress to pass "new legislation quickly, with workable terms, so that the United States is able to maintain its position as a world leader and to meets its obligations to the IMF and the UN."

May 3, 1998: The ABC national network program "Good Morning America" runs a segment on the Ted Turner gift to the UN. Turner's new United Nations Foundation is set to begin funding UN programs in the month of May. The report is supportive of the UN and generally positive about the Turner funding, but interviews with GPF Executive Director James Paul and WEDO Executive Director Susan Davis raise questions about a UN supported by private philanthropy.

May 5, 1998: President Clinton, speaking at the dedication of the new Ronald Reagan building in Washington, calls on Congress to "maintain our leadership by paying for our support to the IMF and settling our dues to the United Nations." He goes on to say that "In 1985, Ronald Reagan said that the UN stands as a symbol of the hopes of all mankind for a more peaceful and productive world. We must not, " he says, "disappoint those hopes."

May 13, 1998: In Washington, D.C. Ted Turner announces the composition of the Board of Directors of his United Nations Foundation -- the organization established to execute his $1 billion pledge in support of United Nations. In addition to Turner, its members are Ruth Cardoso, Graca Machel, Emma Rothschild, Maurice Strong, Timothy Wirth, Andrew Young and Mohammad Yunus.

May 15, 1998: "We're $50 million richer today" says Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary General, in reference to the US payment of $50 million. US debt to the regular budget still equals $569 million and total arrears including peacekeeping and tribunals equals $1.535 billion. $100 million was made available by Congress for payment of US dues for FY1998. The $50 million payment, half of the available funds, is made over a year after the $100 million was due for 1997 calendar year assessments. The second half of the payment may be made in the later part of the summer, though this depends on the UN's adherence to the budget caps imposed by the US.

May 20, 1998: In a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Rod Grams questions Assistant Secretary of State Princeton Lyman on the UN's adherence to an already constricting $2.53 billion budget for 1998/99. Grams raises questions about additional spending and says he will "be pushing for a reduction in the number of authorized [staff] persons." On the same day the President of the new United Nations Foundation, Timothy Worth, announces the first set of grants made from the Turner donation. 22 grants in all totaling $22,181,000. The UN Population Fund receives the largest amount $7,885,000. UNICEF, UNDP (including UNIFEM), WFP, UNEP and the UN Drug Control Programme are among other beneficiaries. See New York Times article.

May 27, 1998: At the weekly meeting of the UN Senior Management Group, a report is given on Ted Turner's contribution to the United Nations. A member of the Cabinet comments that, to his knowledge, the Turner donation is the one source of money in the United Nations system that pulls it together because United Nations funds, programmes and agencies are asked to work together in planning fund distribution.

May 28, 1998: At a press briefing, a Spokesman for the Secretary General says that "At this moment we have no high hopes of seeing any significant payment of arrears out of the legislation that is now in Congress."

June 1, 1998: John C. Whitehead, Chairman of UNA-USA sends a letter to all Members of Congress on the necessity and benefits of paying US dues and arrears to the Untied Nations, and the potential consequences if these legal obligations are not met.

June 10, 1998: Senator Jesse Helms invites European diplomats from ten countries to coffee at the Capitol for a briefing led by James W. Nance on the Senator's stance on the State Department authorization bill. Senator Helms prepared a three-page memorandum outlining his position. "The Administration has refused any compromise and is demanding total capitulation," the document says. "Helms now blames the Administration's intransigence for the current impasse." Helms tries unsuccessfully to persuade the Europeans to lobby the Administration on behalf of his bill. See New York Times article.

June 15, 1998: To date, 78 countries have paid their dues to the UN regular budget in full for the year, compared to 65 on the same date last year. However, regular budget assessments owed the UN currently exceed $977 million, compared to $738 million on the same date last year. The total outstanding balance to the UN is $2.4 billion.

June 16, 1998: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee stating that "we've been given an unacceptably low allocation" of funds for international affairs for FY1999. The Clinton administration had requested $14 billion, while the House would provide only $12.48 billion and the Senate $12.65 billion, even less than FY1998 allocation of $13 billion. About 20 UN voluntary programs, voluntary peacekeeping operations and around a dozen multilateral development banks would be affected.

June 19, 1998: The UNA-USA Board of Directors sends a letter to President Clinton urging him to veto H.R. 1757, the State Department Authorization bill for FY 1998-99, because of the legislation's terms for payment of arrears to the UN and other international organizations.

June 22, 1998: At a press briefing, Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary General, is asked if the SG is planning to go to Washington and Capitol Hill to lobby personally for the United States debt. Eckhard says that, at this time, the Secretary General has no intention of getting personally involved in securing the United States funding and that he feels it is very much a domestic matter that has to be sorted out between the executive and legislative branches of that Government.

June 24, 1998: A new report from the General Accounting Office says that the US is in danger of losing its vote in the General Assembly. The report says the US will have to come up with $211 million to $241 million more than it currently expects to pay in order to keep its vote. Interestingly, the report endorses the United Nations numbers on how much the United States actually owes the UN, opposing the position held by many members of Congress that the US owes less than the UN has claimed. See GPF News Bulletin for more details.

June 25, 1998: The Senate Appropriations Committee recommends funding for US assessed contributions to around fifty international organizations for FY1999 at $877.7 million, about $53 million below the Clinton Administration's request of $930.7 million and $29.2 million less than the FY1998 spending level. For peacekeeping, the Senate Committee recommends $210 million, $20 million less than the Administration's request of $231 million, but equivalent to the FY1998 spending level. The bill also recommends arrears payments, but it remains uncertain whether or not they will be funded, depending on the fate of the controversial Helms-Biden accord.

June 26, 1998: The House Subcommittee, along the lines of the Senate, also recommends spending levels below those requested by the Clinton Administration. Funding for international organizations is recommended at $915 million, $15.7 million below the Administrations request and $13.8 million below spending for FY1998. Peacekeeping spending is recommended at $220 million, $11 million less than requested. House recommendations are higher than those made by the Senate Committee.

June 29, 1998: UNA-USA releases an article by Jeffrey Laurenti, Executive Director, Policy Studies, titled "Losing America's Vote at the United Nations." It examines, in depth, the prospects and consequences of the application of Article 19 of the UN Charter.

June 30, 1998: The end of June status report on contributions shows disappointing performances compared to last year. $517.9 million has been collected against this year's assessment, less than half the total amount (47.7 per cent) due for 1998. At mid-year in 1997, more than $709.7 million (63.9 per cent of the assessment) had been collected.