Congress and U.N. Reform
Generally, Congress supports the United Nations and its mission. It authorizes and appropriates U.S. funds to the organization each year, and often utilizes U.N. mechanisms to further U.S. foreign policy objectives.43 Congress can also be critical of the United Nations, however, especially when some Members believe that the organization may not be running as effectively as it could be. When this happens, Congress may use a wide range of legislative tools to influence and direct U.S. policy at the United Nations. Such efforts may include considering “sense of the Congress” resolutions; holding hearings to investigate U.N. programs or oversee Administration policies; and determining U.S. nominees for U.N. posts. Placing financial conditions or limits on U.S. funding to the United Nations is another common congressional policy approach to U.N. reform.
U.S. Funding as a Tool for U.N. Reform
Overview and Options. In the past, Congress has used its authority to limit U.S. funds to the United Nations as a mechanism for influencing U.N. policy.44 In some cases, Congress withheld a proportionate share of funding for U.N. programs and policies of which it did not approve. Since 1980, it has withheld funds from regular budget programs, including the U.N. Special Unit on Palestinian Rights (for projects involving the Palestine Liberation Organization), and the Preparatory Commission for the Law of the Sea.
The overall impact of withholding a proportionate share of assessed payments depends on the origin of the program’s funding. If a program is funded by the U.N. regular budget and the United States withholds a proportionate share of its normal contributions, the cost of the program will most likely be covered by surplus regular budget funds. Some U.N. programs are funded from several budgets that may include the U.N. regular budget, specialized agencybudgets, and separate conference and administrative budgets. Because of this, it may be more difficult for U.S. proportionate withholdings to have a significant impact because the program’s funding comes from several sources. In such cases, a U.S. withholding would largely be a symbolic gesture that may not affect the program’s operation or funding levels. If the United States withholds funds from a program funded primarily by member state contributions, however, the impact of a U.S. withdrawal could be greater. Currently, the only proportionate U.S. withholding from the U.N. regular budget is
43 Congress has enacted laws supporting U.N. policies and/or requiring that U.N. member states comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions or the directives of other U.N. bodies. For example, the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for FY2007 (P.L. 109- 364, §302) states, “Congress urges ... in the event Iran fails to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 (July 31, 2006), the Security Council to work for the adoption of appropriate measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.”
44 For a more detailed examination of U.S. funding of the United Nations, see CRS Report RL33611, United Nations System Funding: Congressional Issues, by Marjorie Ann Browne and Kennon H. Nakamura.