How significant is the 2018-2019 UN budget cut?
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How significant is the 2018-2019 UN budget cut?

December 26, 2017

How significant is the 2018-2019 UN budget cut?

After the U.S. Mission to the U.N. announced the organization had agreed to reduce the biennial budget by $285 million, some media outlets suggested the cut was: 1) significant and 2) due to President Trump’s influence. Although we may not know the degree of influence Trump had on the budget cut, we can look at the organization’s budget system, how its funding is allocated and how its budget has changed over time. Adding context to the coverage may help us evaluate the media’s take on the news.

How is the U.N. funded?

Each of the U.N.’s 193-member nations contributes to its biennial budget, which currently starts in January of an even-numbered year (the budget process has changed over time). The amount contributed by each member depends on its gross national income (GNI), conversion rates, national debt and other factors. Overall, each member state funds between 0.001 and 22 percent of the budget.

Here are the top five contributors, based on 2015 data.


U.N. budget contribution

United States










The U.N. Committee on Contributions establishes the budget contribution rates, and meets annually to review its methodology.

Members and non-members may also voluntarily contribute to U.N. programs such as the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF). According to the U.N., Japan contributed the most voluntary funds in 2016, at $382,512,042. Voluntary funding contributions are not included in the biennial budget.

What happens if a member state doesn’t contribute?

Under the U.N. charter, if a member state doesn’t pay its dues “in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for two preceding years,” it can lose its ability to vote on U.N. matters in the General Assembly. However, some exceptions may be made for a country that’s unable to pay due to “conditions beyond its control.”

The U.S. has not paid its U.N. dues on time on multiple occasions. For example, the U.S. owed about $1.2 billion to the organization in 2010. The U.S. was also considered “in arrears” to the U.N. in 1998, when it owed about $1 billion, and in 2015 when it owed over $2 billion. In those cases, the U.S. eventually paid its dues and did not lose its voting rights.

Have there been previous budget cuts?

According to NPR, the U.N.’s 2016-2017 budget was about $400 million less than the funding appropriations for 2014-2015 (a larger reduction that the one agreed upon for 2018-2019). The budget for 2012-2013 was about $260 million less than the budget for 2010-2011. NPR also notes that the countries that contribute the most typically attempt to reduce the U.N.’s budget each biennial.

“The US fights hard, together with other countries, every year to cut UN budget & regularly does,” tweeted Bethsheba Crocker, a former member of the State Department bureau that develops U.S. policy in the United Nations.

Where does the money go?

The U.N. funds a variety of programs across the globe, as well as offices and staff to support its operations. Funding helps support issues relating to outer space use, economic and social development, human rights, refugee assistance, “terrorism,” climate change and the environment.

The U.N.’s 2016-2017 budget is separated into 36 sections; below is a sampling of those sections with their corresponding funding appropriation:

  • Section 4: Disarmament: $24,950,700
  • Section 6: Peaceful uses of outer space: $7,162,300
  • Section 7: International Court of Justice: $45,975,700
  • Section 10: Issues relating to the “least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States”: $10,912,500
  • Section 12: Trade and development: $135,159,400
  • Section 14: Environmental issues: $35,331,400
  • Section 15: Human settlement programs: $20,806,800
  • Section 16: International drug control, crime and terrorism prevention and criminal justice: $36,917,600
  • Section 17: Women’s issues: $15,256,400
  • Section 18: Economic and social development in Africa: $153,650,300
  • Section 19: Economic and social development in Asia and the Pacific: $94,646,200
  • Section 20: Economic development in Europe: $64,870,900
  • Section 21: Economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean: $105,299,700
  • Section 22: Economic and social development in Western Asia: $69,369,400
  • Section 24: Human rights: $191,574,900
  • Section 25: International protection, solutions and assistance to refugees: $82,204,900
  • Section 26: Palestinian refugees: $55,592,900
  • Section 27: Humanitarian assistance: $30,402,300