New York, United States – The United Nations budget is not increasing, but the challenges it faces are.
As it kicks off its annual high-level General Assembly session in New York on Tuesday, the 193-member organization will attempt to unify an international community hit by a deadly coronavirus pandemic and an unbalanced global economic recovery that that widen the gap between the haves and have-nots of the world.
The UN has had its share of challenges in recent years: Security Council deadlock on Syria, unprecedented refugee and migrant crisis, global health crisis that has yet to be brought under control – especially in developing countries – and crippling budget cuts under the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
COVID-19 continues to ravage developed and developing countries as demand increases for more financial aid, vaccines and a unifying and guiding voice to lift all nations from the perils of the pandemic.
The coronavirus will certainly be one of the main pillars of the message from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he delivers his annual speech on Tuesday. He should call for greater unity between UN member states and developed countries with the means and vaccines to provide more aid to the less fortunate countries.
Last October, when presenting the UN’s nearly $ 3 billion budget for 2021 – a net reduction of 2.8% from 2020 – Guterres warned member states that the organization to do more with less and that it was struggling to fulfill its mandate.
“We are forced to operate not on the basis of a strategic direction, but rather on the availability of liquidity, which compromises the implementation of the mandate,” said Guterres.
Over the next 11 months, demands on the UN have not diminished, but have benefited from budget relief under President Joe Biden’s new US administration.
A friendlier US administration
Since the UN was founded in 1945 out of the ashes of World War II, the United States has been its largest donor.
In 2019, the United States contributed 22% of the UN’s core budget and 25% to its peacekeeping budget, giving the superpower, the host nation and the permanent member of the Security Council a certain level. weight within the organization.
Former US President Trump turned this decades-long symbiotic relationship upside down by turning off the funding taps. His administration withdrew funds from the UN’s core budget as well as from some of its agencies, including the United Nations Population Fund (on abortion), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency ( which helps the Palestinians) and the World Health Organization. (in the midst of a global pandemic).
States with developing and emerging economies have sharply criticized Trump’s greed. Speaking last October, Guyana’s representative on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China criticized the United States for withholding UN funds.
“It is unacceptable that this member state clings to its special privileges, while slowly bankrupting the organization and the multilateral system,” said the delegate of Guyana.
But the United States reopened the taps after President Biden took office, paying dues and signaling a renewed commitment to the UN.
“The administration which preceded [Biden] was downright hostile to the UN, ”P. Terrence Hopmann, professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told Al Jazeera.
Richard Stoll, professor of political science at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, told Al Jazeera that Biden can seize the opportunity to push for a more equitable sharing of the financial burden.
“It can be said that since the United States now has about 15% of world GDP [gross domestic product] that its contribution to the UN should be smaller and that other countries – for example China – should increase their efforts, ”Stoll told Al Jazeera.
China’s contributions, which represent 12% of the UN’s core budget, are just behind those of the United States. And his influence within the organization will continue to grow under President Xi Jinping, according to Jeffrey Feltman, who served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs from 2012 to 2018.
In recent years, China has broadened its reach in the United Nations development, peace and security work and has a healthy financial position to continue expanding its international footprint. He is already one of five permanent members of the Security Council to hold a very important veto card and is not afraid to use it on issues ranging from Syria to Sudan.
“There are many opportunities for China to scale up, and like any other great power, it has its own interests to promote,” Hopmann of Johns Hopkins told Al Jazeera, adding that the UN can and should be used as a tool to manage tensions between major superpowers like the United States, China and Russia.
Bigger challenges, but not greater resources
The UN is addressing some gigantic challenges, from the pandemic to climate change to achieving its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on its ambitious timeline.
The SDGs are the UN’s development plan and encompass 17 targets focused on issues such as eradicating poverty, promoting education, improving maternal health and achieving parity among children. sexes, among others.
All 193 UN member states have pledged to achieve the SDGs by 2030, but with less than nine years and a world-changing pandemic, ambitions have certainly been tempered.
“I think the challenges are that many countries are still grappling with the impact of COVID and may be reluctant to commit to these goals until they feel they have their own issues under control.” Rice University’s Stoll told Al Jazeera.
The UN continues to sound the alarm bells on the uneven global economic recovery and access to vaccines. He recently warned that developing countries could be $ 8 trillion poorer over the next decade due to the coronavirus crisis.
“Until the situation improves, I can imagine [developing countries] will be less inclined to commit – especially money – to the UN, ”Stoll added.
But as some countries tighten their purse strings, the demand for UN assistance and services grows. The percentage of the world’s population that is moderately or severely food insecure has increased from 22.6 percent in 2014 to 30.4 percent in 2020, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Special political missions
Almost a quarter of the UN’s core budget goes to fund special political missions, which are set up in countries in conflict or emerging from conflict. Missions are mandated to oversee democratic elections and peace negotiations and help strengthen multilateral institutions.
There are currently 39 such missions, and they take up 24% or $ 707 million of this year’s resources, according to the UN.
Special UN political missions are located in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Colombia, among other countries.
While member states view special political missions as a crucial part of the UN’s pillar of global peace and security, some member states criticize the fact that these missions have increased dramatically in recent years and are consuming too much from the regular budget of the United Nations.
There are more and more calls for a separate budget for special political missions – much like the budget for the Department of Peace Operations – which would clearly show how funds are spent rather than placing them under the budget. broader UN.
At a UN budget meeting last year, Cuba’s representative said that member states that sit on the Security Council and have the power to create these missions should take responsibility for funding them.
“It is illogical that these missions are financed from the regular budget,” Ana Silva Rodriguez Abascal told the committee. “[It] represents 24% of the resources allocated to it, an increase of two percentage points compared to the 2020 budget. “