by Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Ten years ago, I stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate to introduce a bill, which eventually became known as the “Helms-Biden law”, to authorize the payment of nearly $1 billion in back dues to the United Nations. Securing its passage was a hard-fought, but worthwhile, initiative.
Unfortunately, we are again in arrears to the UN. For over a year, we have not been paying our full contribution for its peacekeeping operations — missions in places like Lebanon, Sudan, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kosovo — that advance our national interests while sharing the human, political and financial costs of peacekeeping with other nations. The Peacekeeping arrears — $117 million to date — are due to an outdated cap which prohibits the U.S. from paying more than 25 per cent of the United Nations’ peacekeeping budget. However, the UN is billing us at just under 27 percent (a reduction from 31 percent, negotiated by U.S. Ambassador Holbrooke in 2000, under the terms of my legislation). If we continue to let the arrears stand, these critical missions could suffer, the nations who have been contributing their troops as peacekeepers might begin to balk at future requests, and our standing to press for further UN reform will be diminished. This is why I introduced a bill to correct the cap problem and pay our arrears, S. 392, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved on June 27.
Ironically, while our arrears are rising, the importance of UN peacekeeping is rising too. If the UN didn’t conduct these missions, we might have to — at a much higher financial cost and burden on our over-stretched military. Our yearly dues to UN peacekeeping, which support missions in 18 conflict zones, are just over $1 billion — less than the cost of a week in Iraq, and less than 0.5 percent of our entire Defense budget.
The UN ‘blue helmets’ are literally on the front lines in conflicts that are the worst of the worst: protecting civilians, monitoring cease-fires, clearing mine fields, and disarming combatants. We vote time and again in the UN Security Council, and rightfully so, to support these critical missions — and our financial support should be in harmony with our policy. We can not, in good conscience, continue to shortchange these operations.