Cato Policy Analysis No. 304 April 23, 1998

Policy Analysis

The United Nations Debt:
Who Owes Whom?

by Cliff Kincaid

Cliff Kincaid is a journalist who writes frequently on UN affairs. He is president of America's Survival, Inc., and director of the American Sovereignty Action Project.


Executive Summary

Claims that the United States owes the United Nations more than $1 billion are false. No legal debt exists or can exist. The UN Charter does not empower the organization to compel payment from any member state.

Even the notion that the United States owes money in the sense of a moral obligation is fallacious. It ignores the military and other assistance that the Clinton administration has provided the UN and for which the United States has not been properly credited or reimbursed. Over the past five years, that assistance has amounted to at least $11 billion, and perhaps as much as $15 billion. The administration has been diverting funds from federal agencies, especially the Department of Defense, to the United Nations.

Allegations of debt have distracted attention from a disturbing administration policy of providing resources, personnel, and equipment to the UN without the advance approval of Congress. In effect, the administration and the UN have been conducting important elements of U.S. foreign and military policy and bypassing Congress's power of the purse. That tendency raises grave constitutional concerns.

Because of the work of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) on the debt issue, Congress is now aware of the situation and has an opportunity to reassert its constitutional authority. Bartlett has authored legislation to prevent payment of any alleged debt to the United Nations until all U.S. assistance to that organization is factored into the financial relationship. That approach would help restore the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative branches and put the United Nations on notice that it does not have an automatic claim on resources of the U.S. Treasury.

Full Text of Policy Analysis No. 304 (PDF, 18 pgs, 58 Kb)

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