Funding the United Nations: What Impact Do U.S. Contributions Have on UN Agencies and Programs?

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Many UN agencies, programs, and missions receive crucial funding from the United States. President Trump’s budget cuts could jeopardize their work.

Article by Laura Hillard and Amanda Shendruk

Last updated April 2, 2019

The United Nations is the world’s main organization for deliberating matters of peace and security, but its work encompasses far more than peacekeeping and conflict prevention. The UN system includes scores of entities dedicated to areas ranging from health and humanitarian needs to economic and cultural development. As a founding member of the United Nations and the host for its headquarters, the United States has been a chief guide and major funder of the organization for more than seventy years.More From Our ExpertsStewart M. PatrickAs NATO Turns Seventy, the European Security Debate Comes Full CircleMiles KahlerGlobal Governance to Combat Illicit Financial Flows

The United States remains the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing more than $10 billion in 2017, roughly one fifth of the body’s collective budget. President Donald J. Trump, however, has raised questions about how much the United States will continue to contribute. If the Trump administration is able to follow through on his proposed cuts to foreign aid spending, the United Nations will likely undergo significant changes.

How is the United Nations funded?

All 193 members of the United Nations are required to make payments to certain parts of the organization as a condition of membership. The amount each member must pay, known as its assessed contribution, varies widely and is determined by a complex formula that factors in gross national income and population.

These mandatory contributions help fund the United Nations’ regular budget, which covers administrative costs and a few programs, as well as peacekeeping operations. In 2018, the United States paid 22 and 28 percent of these budgets, respectively, but it has proposed reducing peacekeeping contributions to 25 percent in 2019. Assessed dues also finance other UN bodies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization.