SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT:
SOME FACTS ABOUT THE UNITED NATIONS
October 1998 Update
The United Nations is today, more than ever, engaged in service to all the world's nations and peoples, but
its ability to function is hampered by financial problems. Unless Member States pay their debts to the
Organization -- over $2.5 billion is owed as of 30 September 1998 -- the UN will remain in a precarious
financial situation. It is clear that this situation stems in part from widespread public misunderstandings
about what the UN really is -- and does.
Consider These Facts:
The budget for the UN's core functions -- the Secretariat operations in New York, Geneva, Nairobi,
Vienna and five Regional Commissions -- is $1.25 billion a year. This is about 4 per cent of New York
City's annual budget -- and nearly a billion dollars less than the yearly cost of Tokyo's Fire Department. It
is $3.7 billion less than the annual budget of New York's State University system.
The USA's share of the UN's regular budget for 1998 is $298 million -- the equivalent of $1.11 per
American. Tiny San Marino, by comparison, pays $4.26 per citizen to the UN.
The UN has no army. Governments voluntarily supply troops and other personnel to halt conflicts that
threaten peace and security. The United States and other Member States on the Security Council -- not
the Secretary-General -- decide when and where to deploy peacekeeping troops.
The New York Headquarters of the UN requires the services of less than 4,700 people. The Swedish
capital of Stockholm, by contrast, has 60,000 municipal employees.
Some 52,280 people work in the UN system, which includes the Secretariat and 29 other organizations
such as UNICEF. Three times as many people work for McDonald's, while Disney World and Disneyland
Eighty per cent of the work of the UN system is devoted to helping developing countries build the capacity
to help themselves. This includes promoting and protecting democracy and human rights; saving children
from starvation and disease; providing relief assistance to refugees and disaster victims; countering
global crime, drugs and disease; and assisting countries devastated by war and the long-term threat of
The United Nations and its agencies, funds and programmes -- mainly UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, WFP
and WHO -- have $4.8 billion a year to spend on economic and social development, to assist countries in
such areas as health care, sanitation, agriculture and food distribution. This is the equivalent of 81 cents
per human being. In 1996, the world's governments spent about $797 billion in military expenditures -- the
equivalent of $135 per human being.
The total cost of all UN peacekeeping operations in 1997 was some $1.3 billion -- the equivalent of less
than .5 per cent of the US military budget, and less than 0.2 per cent of global military spending.
The United States' assessed share of UN peacekeeping expenses -- nearly 31 per cent of the yearly total
-- has dropped by half, from about $1 billion in 1995 to some $400 million in 1997. This equals less than
one-quarter of 1 per cent of the annual US military budget.
Member States share the risks of maintaining peace and security. Since 1948, over 1,580 UN
peace-keepers from some 85 countries have died in the line of duty. Less than 3 per cent were
Under the supervision of an American, Joseph E. Connor, the Under-Secretary-General for Management,
the UN Secretariat has a zero-growth budget of $2.5 billion for 1998-99 -- $1.25 billion a year. This is
down $100 million from 1994-95, the result of efficiency gains and the elimination of nearly 1,000 jobs.
UN Secretariat staff has been cut by 25 per cent to about 8,700 from a high of more than 12,000
in1984-85, and streamlining continues. Tough new standards have been set for staff performance. UN
staff members have about one-third of their salaries deducted in lieu of taxes.
A "quiet revolution" to make the UN leaner and more effective was launched by the Secretary-General in
July 1997, as the second phase of his reform efforts. Initiatives include consolidating several Secretariat
bodies, streamlining management and shifting resources from administration to development work.
An Office of Internal Oversight, established in 1994, is pursuing its mandate of promoting more effective
and efficient management, and eliminating waste, fraud and mismanagement. It includes a special UN
investigative unit and a hotline.
The total operating expenses for the entire UN system -- including the World Bank, IMF, and all the
UNfunds, programmes, and specialized agencies -- come to some $18.2 billion a year. This is less than
the annual revenue of a major corporation like Dow Chemical, which took in more than $20 billion in
The top seven contributors to the UN are the USA (25%); Japan (17.98%); Germany (9.63%); France
(6.49%); Italy (5.39%); the United Kingdom (5.07%); and Russia (2.87%). Collectively, they account for
more than 72% of the regular UN budget.
The United States -- whose citizens hold more UN Secretariat jobs than any other Member State, as well
as the top posts at UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, the World
Food Programme, the International Court of Justice and the Universal Postal Union -- owes more in
unpaid assessments, both past and current, than any other Member State: $1.6 billion.
Of the $327.5 million in procurements approved by the UN Secretariat in New York in 1997, American
companies got 59 per cent of the business, or $192 million. For every dollar that the USA contributed in
1996 to the New York-based United Nations Development Programme, it got back more than $3 in
contracts to US companies and other goods and services.
The UN, its agencies and the diplomatic and consular corps contribute $3.2 billion a year to the economy
of the New York City area alone, according to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. That has generated 30,600
jobs, yielding $1.2 billion in annual earnings.
For information, contact the UN Public Inquiries Unit: tel. (212) 963-4475; media inquiries: (212) 963-7160
Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information--DPI/1753/Rev.16--October 1998
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