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3rd January 1999

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Inside the Glass House - New Series

Shylock in the United Nations

By Thalif Deen at the United Nations

For every dollar the US gives, it gets back more than two dollars
in UNDP contracts

Senator Jesse Helms, a rightwing Republi can from the State of North Carolina, hates the United Nations - passionately.

A full-time chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a part-time UN basher, Helms says that providing funds to the UN is like pouring money into a rathole.

As a direct result of his virulent anti-UN campaign, the Republican-dominated US Congress is holding back over $1.5 billion in outstanding dues the United States owes to the world body.

Helms wants to see the Glass House by the East River shipped out of New York - for good. "I have long called for our country's departure from this Organization - and vice versa," says Helms, one of the most influential legislators in Capitol Hill.

For most conservative, right-wing American politicians, the UN has perhaps outlived its usefulness - except when it serves as a political fig leaf for US military strikes overseas.

Last month, the US decided to dispense even with the flimsy figleaf: it attacked Iraq without Security Council authorization. One Third World envoy describes the military strike as "a modern day version of gunboat diplomacy."

But instead of the proverbial gunboats, the US and Britain unleashed their fleet of F-16s and Tornado fighter planes infuriating the Russians and the Chinese - even as they split the 15-member Security Council right down the middle.

"When you are the world's number one military and economic power," one diplomat concedes, "you can get away with anything, including murder, irrespective of whether you pay your dues or not."

The Congress has laid 38 conditions for repayment of US dues. But most of these conditions, including the elimination of UN programmes and a 50 percent cutback on staff, have been rejected as "extraneous and crippling". According to the UN Charter, the 185-member states are expected to pay their dues in full, on time and without conditions. The US demands are being viewed as clear violations of Charter provisions.

The US has been so late in its payments that the world's richest nation was on the verge of losing its voting rights in the General Assembly last month. But a part payment helped the US escape what the State Department said was "a stunning embarrassment."

Last month an exasperated Secretary-General, Kofi Annan of Ghana, admitted that the UN is on the verge of bankruptcy. It is being kept afloat, he said, only because of the financial contributions of European and Third World nations.

As the largest single contributor, the US is mandated to pay 25 percent of the UN's $1.2 billion annual budget. The US share is about $373 million compared with $189 million by Japan and $101 million by Germany, the second and third largest contributors.

But every year about 20 or 25 countries have put the US to shame by paying their dues in full by the Charter-mandated January 31 deadline. Last year, as it has for the past several years, Sri Lanka has been on the UN's "honour list" of countries meeting their deadlines.

Sri Lanka's Deputy Permanent Representative, Ambassador Janaka Nakkawita, confidently predicts the cheque will be delivered to the UN long before the deadline. "Since we were on the honour list, we were able to get a better speaking slot at the General Assembly," he said, pointing out that Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga spoke immediately after US President Bill Clinton and South African President Nelson Mandela on the opening day of the General Assembly sessions last September. Last year Sri Lanka shared the "honours list" with several industrial nations, including France, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and New Zealand - besides developing nations such as South Africa, Singapore, Mozambique, Marshall Islands and Kuwait.

Of the South Asian countries, Sri Lanka's share is about $136,711 compared with $3.2 million by India, $630,976 by Pakistan, $105,163 by Bangladesh, $42,065 by Nepal and $10,516 each by the Maldives and Bhutan. Since more than 130 of the 185-member states are developing nations, their contributions, although relatively small, make a significant impact collectively.

The European Union, whose 15 members have been equally diligent in their payments, is on the warpath. Amid strong opposition from the US, the EU wants the UN to punish defaulting member states by barring their nationals from working for the world body.

The EU says the only way to induce member states, including the US, to honour their international financial commitments is to introduce binding measures to remedy the faults.Countries that do not pay their dues should not only be barred from selling goods and services to the world body but their nationals should also be shut out of the UN system, it says.

Currently, about 49 percent of all UN business contracts go to American companies. For every dollar the US contributes to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), it gets back more than two dollars in UNDP contracts. The EU has bluntly accused the US of taking more money out of the UN- even as it gives less and less to the financially-crippled Organisation.

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