At long last, Congress has passed the 2008 supplemental appropriations bill — and it includes $665 million to help fund UN peacekeeping missions, pay back U.S. debt to the UN, and contribute to key international organizations like NATO and the World Health Organization. In response, the Better World Campaign expressed cautious optimism in a press release that it issued on Friday:
“At a time when the United States is asking the United Nations to take on more and more responsibilities for peace, security and progress around the world, it is imperative that America honor its financial commitments to the UN,” said former Senator Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation and Better World Campaign. “America is a great nation and as such needs to pay its bills on time and in full. This legislation is an important step toward reducing America’s nearly $2 billion debt to the UN,” Wirth said.
“If the President approves this budget request, U.S. debt to the UN will fall to $1.734 billion,” said Deborah Derrick, Executive Director of the Better World Campaign. “In order to further reduce U.S. debt to the UN, and enhance America’s reputation in the world, the Better World Campaign is calling on Congress and the Administration to prioritize payment of unpaid bills to the UN in the fiscal 2009 appropriations process,” she said.
“Fall to $1.734 billion” may seem depressingly ironic, as such a sum means that the country with the world’s largest economy still harbors an unacceptably bloated debt to an organization that it asks to take on so much around the world — from Darfur to Iraq to, most recently, Zimbabwe. Even with this funding, the U.S. is still dangerously underfunding peacekeeping missions in places like Chad, Kosovo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, jeopardizing the ability of these missions to be effective. Furthermore, the upcoming FY 2009 funding bill threatens to undo all of the gains that will be made by this $665 million.
Nonetheless, there is a positive sign in Congress’ decision of how to appropriate funds in the supplemental. The $665 million for UN causes will go not just to high-profile issues like the peacekeeping force in Darfur, but also to the less “sexy” — but no less important — cause of paying back the U.S.’s debt to the UN. Congress has made the statement that fully funding the UN is a worthwhile endeavor, and, in its work on the 2009 budget, it needs to make sure that this step forward is not canceled out by two steps back.
There was some good news for the Price of Peace campaign yesterday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee endorsed S-392, which would increase the amount the United States pays in dues to support UN peacekeeping missions. The United States is assessed at 26% of the UN’s peacekeeping budget, but over the years has not paid that amount in full, resulting in the accumulation of significant arrearages. If the legislation is signed into law, it would be a significant boon to UN peacekeeping, which requires additional financial resources to keep up with its ever expanding number of missions.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden summed up the importance of the legislation rather succintly, “At a time when we are seeking a robust U.N. force in Darfur, and are relying on U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, we should pay our dues in full.” Hear! Hear!