September 24, 2021

Chart of the Day: How the United States Funds the United Nations

How much does the United States spend at the United Nations? Where in the United Nations system does that funding go? How dependent on the United States are the 34 various branches, agencies and entities of the United Nations?

Answers to these questions and more are included in this fresh article from John McArthur and Krista Rasmussen of Brookings, which includes two useful charts that demonstrate how US funding is allocated across the UN system and how much each agency depends on US funding.

As you can see, the US spends about $10 billion across the entire UN system. Lumped together, agencies that provide humanitarian relief including the World Food Program, UN Refugee Agency and UNICEF account for nearly half of US spending at the UN. UN peacekeeping is another key investment for the United States, with some 100,000 blue helmets (including fewer than 80 US personnel) deployed to 16 hotspots around the world. What's striking about this visualization is how small a percentage of US contributions to the entire UN system goes to what is known at the UN's regular budget. This budget pays for the operations of the UN headquarters in New York, including staff salaries, office supplies, utility bills, etc. It turns out that a bureaucracy that some may consider to be bloated is not actually a major driver of costs to the US at the UN.

But what are key costs to the United States are the humanitarian crises around the world. The data in these charts are from 2014�the latest year for which full data are available. Since then, the crises in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen have only escalated. One key implication of this data visualization is that if the Trump administration really wants to save money at the UN, reducing the causes of humanitarian emergencies should be at the top of the list. This would be an enlightened approach, to be sure. But the less enlightened alternative � to just let people starve and otherwise suffer without US support � is not something American administrations have historically done.

Another key visualization depicted by the team from Brookings is a comparison of the proportion of each UN entities' budget for which the US contributions account.

The implications of this chart are that some UN entities are far more dependent on the United States than others. Should the Trump administration enact sweeping cuts, some agencies will feel the pain more than others�and simply not be able to function at the same capacity as they do now. From McArthur and Rasmussen.

Source: UN Dispatch