Background Briefing On U.N. Events by Senior Administration Official
War Memorial Veterans Building
San Francisco, California
12:59 P.M. PDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to begin a BACKGROUND BRIEFING in two parts. The first part will be a background briefing by two individuals -- they're going to talk to you and answer any questions on this morning's events, including the speech and the meeting with Boutros-Ghali that the President just concluded.
Following their presentation, another senior director at the NSC will join us and he'll brief you on the bilateral with Lech Walesa, which is ongoing.
So, again, this is on background.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You all heard the President's speech, and the themes I think are pretty straightforward. The theme is that if we didn't have the U.N., if we hadn't created it 50 years ago, we'd be creating it now. The message that he was trying to give to the United Nations was it needs to reform itself to deal with the new challenges of the 21st century -- the challenges of terrorism, proliferation, the nexus between those two; narcotics, transnational crime.
He pointed out that the administration does not disagree with all of the critics of the United Nations. We accept, and in fact, the administration is in the lead in New York, in the United Nations, in pushing for reform. Articles such as the one by Congressman Hamilton and Senator Kasselbaum yesterday in The Washington Post op-ed are an example of the sort of bipartisan criticism of the United Nations that the administration supports as part of our efforts to reform, streamline, downsize a bureaucracy that the President said have become bloated.
He pointed out, however, that the United Nations has had many successes. In the area of peacekeeping, we tend to concentrate on Bosnia where success has not been complete. But even in Bosnia, the U.N. peacekeeping operations have been able to prevent war from expanding and have protected innocent civilians.
He pointed out a number of other successes for peacekeeping in El Salvador, Cambodia, Namibia, and pointed out that the U.N. has become an agent for democracy, as the Secretary General said in his remarks. The President noted the Haitian election yesterday as an example of a country struggling to create democracy, struggling with the assistance of the United States and the United Nations.
The reform theme is one that you will recall from Halifax, where the G-7 leaders called for substantial U.N. reform. We see a track leading from Halifax through this challenge that the President made today to the U.N. Perm reps to engage in serious reform, through the 50th General Assembly next October, where the President will make another speech on October 26th, through the conclusion of that General Assembly in December. And our goal, working with the other members of the G-7, working with people like the General Assembly President who spoke today -- all of whom have spoken out in favor of reform --is to, by the end of that General Assembly session this year, to have a charge to the Secretariat, to the Secretary General, to the U.N. bureaucracy to do very specific and meaningful reforms, to streamline, downsize, make the organization more flexible, more adaptive so that it can address the challenges of the 21st century.
Why don't we take your questions.
Q: I wonder if you could run down for us one more time what amounts are at stake when the President says he'll lead the effort in getting the U.S. to pay its fair share. How much are we talking about again, this year and over the next several years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me go over with you the status of our payments to the U.N. By October 1st, we will owe the U.N. for peacekeeping around $600 million. Those arrears will continue to grow during the coming fiscal year and during 1996. Sometime in 1996, we expect that we will owe the U.N. for peacekeeping alone around $1 billion.
On regular budget, I can't tell you exactly what the payment situation will be this year because our appropriations bills have not yet made their way through Congress, but the versions in both Houses of Congress show a significant shortfall from what we're expected to pay for the year that's already in progress. So we're likely to incur arrears unless the Congress changes course for the regular budget for international organizations -- that's not just the U.N., but other international organizations -- of somewhere around $100 million to $200 million.
That adds to arrears to the U.N. that currently are around for the regular budget $100 million. So just the peacekeeping arrears are around $600 million, growing to $1 billion; regular budget arrears are around $100 million, increasing by some unknown amount during this calendar year.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So totally about $1.3 billion by the end of the calendar year, combining peacekeeping and regular assessment.
Q: As part of that reform, are we looking at changing the formula for payment so that those numbers may not be in fiscal year '96 the same as you're projecting, we may actually owe less?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, those forecasts already take into account the fact that we are required by law on October 1st to reduce the amount that we pay the U.N. for peacekeeping to 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget. Right now the U.N. is assessing us at 31.2 percent. So there will be a significant added shortfall.
That will also -- at least as far as the U.N. is concerned -- create arrears. Naturally, we won't count that amount, that is the six percent or so, as arrears since we, by law, will no longer be able to pay more than 25 percent.
Our regular budget contribution is also 25 percent. So after October 1st our regular budget contribution and peacekeeping budget contribution will be at the same level.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the point -- the President said explicitly in his address that the point of reform, while it may save us money, the point of reform is not to save money. The point of reform is to eliminate a bloated bureaucracy that is, unfortunately, sometime engaged in unproductive, duplicative and wasteful activities; that if we were to use the money currently being spent on the U.N. more effectively, it could be far more productive.
Q: Could you give us some examples of some of the activities that the President considers duplicative or unnecessarily bureaucratic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there are a number of agencies who may have outlived their usefulness. One of them, for example, is UNCTAD, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. UNCTAD, which, now that the GATT Treaty has brought us the World Trade Organization, WTO, one might ask why do you still have UNCTAD? It took -- even after apartheid was abolished in South Africa, the U.N. didn't abolish the apartheid committee in the U.N.
There is a three-council system, a three-chamber system in the U.N. Charter, the Security Council, the ECO-- Council, and the third is the Trusteeship Council, which made a great deal of sense in the period of decolonialization where it was managing that process. Now there is only one -- none -- now there are none, there are no trusteeships being managed by that council, and yet that council still exists.
Another one is the United Nations Industrial Development Organization -- UNIDO -- in Vienna, whose activities do not seem to be so unique that they could not be folded into such things as the U. N. Development Program, UNDP. So there is a whole series of organizations whose effectiveness and whose necessity we question.
Let me rush, however, to say that there are a series of organizations that most people don't think of as the U.N. that are effective because they don't say U.N. in front of them: The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the agency that is stopping nuclear proliferation, is the agency that's inspecting in Iraq and North Korea. The International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, ICAO, that makes it possible for international air traffic to work and work well. WHO, the World Health Organization, that got into -- in Zaire to fight the Ebola outbreak within days of realizing it had happened. Those are all very effective organizations -- UNICEF, the UNHCR, the High Commissioner on Refugees -- extraordinarily effective organizations that are doing a good job and doing it very economically.
But there are 70 organizations and groups under the U.N. umbrella, and we believe it's time for a very serious look at eliminating them and consolidating them.
Q: Has the U.S. actually studied this and it has a list and will propose it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're in the process of doing just that -- studying each organization, talking to people who use that organization both within the government and soon outside the government, in order to see what we are getting from -- update our views on what we're getting from those organizations in terms of value for money. And, naturally, we have to make our judgments on -- we can't make our final judgments on payments to these organizations until we know how much we'll get from Congress.
But the overall thrust of reform -- it's very important that we cut infrastructure and overlaps and bureaucracies in order to leave the programs that are actually doing good in place. Too many of these organizations, both inside the U.N. and outside, have large headquarters staff and very few people out in the field doing the kind of work that you saw in some of the film clips today, actually helping people on the ground. We have to maximize that.
Q: Just one more question back on the money. You talked about the arrears that are going to accrue over the next year or so; what is the annual assessment that the U.N. imposes on the U.S. that we do pay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, starting October 1st, the assessment for peacekeeping and the assessment for the regular budget will be the same, 25 percent. We pay 25 percent -- we are obliged to pay 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget and 25 percent of the regular budget.
Q: Which is a big cutback, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's -- starting right now, our assessment for peacekeeping is 31.2 percent, so it's going to decline on October 1st.
Q: How much does that mean in money?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: How much does that mean in money? The peacekeeping budget is declining, but for calendar year 1994, the U.N. spent around $3.5 billion for peacekeeping. So our assessment was just a little over 30 percent of that, or around $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion in 1994.
Q: Isn't 25 percent significantly smaller than what we've been paying?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Twenty-five percent will be a six-percent reduction in our assessment, yes. And we're doing that as a result of legislation by the Congress that requires us to reduce our payment. We're trying within the U.N. to work toward a multilateral agreement so that we can redistribute the share. But until we get that agreement, there is going to be an uncovered portion of the peacekeeping budget.
Q: That's my question -- were there negotiations over that reduction, or did we basically tell the U.N. we are reducing our payment; please readjust the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. It's been the policy of two administrations now that our peacekeeping assessment should be 25 percent. And we have been attempting in various ways to bring our assessment down to 25 percent through quiet negotiations, consultations with others. We've been doing it now for three or four years; not been able to do it. The problem, of course, is we if we pay less, others pay more, it's hard for them to do that.
Finally, Congress last year said, basically, we've had enough of this, we're going to legislate it. And that was done in conjunction with an appropriation of the funds needed to bring us up to date on peacekeeping. So it was signed into legislation. It's the law of our land. We're going to obey it.
Meantime, at the U.N. in New York, we're negotiating now in a high-level working group on the financial situation of the United Nations to bring about an agreement so that the financial system will be able to move forward. I can't tell you that we will reach agreement on multilateral reduction to 25 percent by October 1st, but we are applying that step in any case.
Q: Can I ask you to flush out one thing in the President's speech? He said, "We must not ask the Blue Helmets to undertake missions that they cannot be expected to handle. Peacekeeping can only succeed when the parties to a conflict understand they cannot profit from war." That sounds at first blush like Bosnia, but I thought out policy is by all means we want the peacekeepers to stay in Bosnia.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What the President said was that going back to his directive to us of last year, PDD 25, that in the past the U.N. Security Council has passed instructions for peacekeepers, what the U.N. Security Council calls mandates, without ever looking at the capability then of the force that they sent to the region to perform that mandate.
One of the things PDD 25 requires of us in the Security Council is that we examine very closely and have our military, have the Joint Chiefs of Staff examine very closely what is the military capability required to perform a proposed mandate. And what we've discovered and very often has been the case in the past that the Security Council, without the benefit of any military analysis, has blithely passed mandates that have become Christmas trees. We want the U.N. peacekeepers in country X to do this, this, this, this and this without ever then giving them the capability, the size of the force, the weapons they needed, the staff they needed to do that mission.
We have insisted in the Security Council, and the Security Council has now adopted a procedure much like our own PDD 25 procedure, to make sure that the mandate conforms to the capabilities. And we have in several cases walked back the mandate. In fact, just last month the Rwanda mandate was walked back; the Angola mandate, the Liberia mandate have been walked back to be realistic.
Sure there are things we would like U.N. peacekeepers to do, but we can't set very high goals, targets for them, not give them what they need to do that job, and then criticize them for their failure to achieve it. That's what the President was saying in that paragraph.
Q: What about the passage precisely I read you about -- when parties to a conflict understand they cannot profit from war -- was that with respect to Bosnia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's with respect to the general phenomenon of peacekeeping, and it's consistent with what he said in PDD 25. It's consistent with what he said and what Tony Lake has said in past speeches, that peacekeeping has limitations; that peacekeeping works best when the time is ripe, when the parties to a conflict are willing to bring in an outside force, an evenhanded force.
There are times, however, when we can contain war, when we can protect civilians before a peace has been achieved, before a formal agreement has been achieved while such an agreement is still under negotiation. And in Bosnia that has been the case. The number of civilian deaths has declined after the deployment of UNPROFOR from 130,000 in one year to 2,500 in one year. The U.N. peacekeepers contained the war, it didn't expand into Macedonia, didn't expand into Croatia. They protected civilians; that was their charge.
But they have not been able to end the war. And we cannot expect the U.N. peacekeepers alone to be able to end the war. That war will only end when the parties recognize that the price of war is too high for them. In the meantime, the United Nations peacekeepers can protect the innocent civilians, they can contain the war and prevent if from spreading, and they can create an environment in which the international negotiators can work with the parties to try to bring a settlement.
Q: You just stopped short of giving us the operational assessment. You gave us the peacekeeping assessment for this year. What's the operational budget number?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Three hundred million.
Q: For the U.S. or for the U.N. as a whole of which we pay a percent that amounts to $300 million?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The U.N. regular budget just for the Secretariat and the organizations related to the Secretariat is about $1.5 billion, and we pay one quarter of that -- excuse me -- no, no, no, no. It's about $1.2 billion, and we pay one quarter of that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To put these numbers in perspective, our contribution to U.N. peacekeeping, were we to pay it, would be one half of one percent of the U.S. defense budget. It does not, however, come out of the U.S. defense budget, it comes out of the State Department budget where it's a somewhat higher percentage.
Essentially, the cost of the U.N. system to the American taxpayer is about $7 a person a year, or about the price of a movie ticket in most cities. That's for peacekeeping and regular budget rolled together.
Q: You don't get the popcorn.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. Well, we're offering that next year.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:17 P.M. PDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing On U.N. Events by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269853