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Letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, on U.S. Contributions to the U.N. and Other International Organizations.

August 07, 1951

Dear Kenneth:

I am gravely concerned about an item of very special significance in H.R. 4740, the State, Justice, Commerce, and Judiciary appropriation bill. This item is the appropriation to cover the contributions which we owe this year to the United Nations, the Pan-American Union, and a number of other international organizations in which we hold membership.

Our obligations to these organizations amount to slightly more than thirty million dollars this year. This is a charge, of course, which we are bound to pay as members in good standing.

Yet the House of Representatives, in passing H.R. 4740 cut ten per cent from the funds required for this purpose. In addition, the House inserted a proviso--which has the effect of a further cut in funds--requiring that the United States contribution to each organization be no more than precisely one-third of the organization's total budget. These actions by the House, if allowed to stand, would force this Government to default on its obligations to these international agencies.

I want to urge as strongly as I can that the Senate restore the needed funds and eliminate the restrictive proviso added by the House. It is my earnest hope that these vitally important changes will be made in the bill as passed by the Senate and in the final version of the measure which is sent down to me.

We are pledged in this country to support the United Nations and help make it work. This is a pledge which our Government-through the Congress and the Executive Branch alike--has given in the most solemn and binding fashion, with the full support of both major political parties. It is a pledge which the overwhelming majority of our people endorse wholeheartedly--a pledge on which we all depend in great measure for our hopes of peace and security and a decent future for the world.

This is a pledge we have now reaffirmed by the blood and sacrifice and heroic effort of our forces fighting under the United Nations' banner in Korea.

Yet we would violate this pledge--just as surely as if we repudiated it outright--by a failure to pay what we owe for the upkeep of the United Nations and these other organizations.

The General Assembly of the United Nations and the conferences of the other agencies decide their own budgets and assess their membership for contributions to supply the needed funds. We, as a leading member, have a major voice in all decisions both as to total budgets and amounts of individual assessments. Members of the Congress from both parties, and the executive officials who serve on our delegations, have joined in determining and presenting the United States position regarding the budgets of these organizations. And once our position has been considered and a final decision reached within the organizations themselves, we have so far always honored those decisions and paid our full share.

In the United Nations, our assessment is now running a fraction over 38 per cent of total costs. This represents a reduction of about one per cent below our share two years ago--a reduction in line with the United Nations' own policy of gradually cutting down our share to a maximum of 33 1/3 percent. While the charge upon us is still higher than that, we are paying less, on a per capita basis, than several other members.

Our proportion of total expenses for the United Nations will continue to be reduced as time goes on, through cooperative agreement between us and the other members-agreement reached in the proceedings of the organization itself. That is the only way this can be done without breaking the pledges we have given. This is true not only of the United Nations, but also of the other organizations we have joined. We cannot compel reductions in our assessments by imposing arbitrary limits on the payments we can make, or by cutting the funds available to meet our obligations.

What we would accomplish by actions of that sort is a crippling effect on the work of the organizations we have promised to support--work of the greatest importance and value to us. We should keep in mind the vital things these organizations are doing, some of them little known to the general public. Take for example the work of the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau in locating and stamping out epidemics where they occur, before they can spread to the United States or our territories. Surely we must keep this work going. If we do not pay our full share of the expenses of these agencies, so they can continue to do the job, we may eventually be left to do it all ourselves, at far greater cost.

If we fail to pay the United Nations and these other agencies the full amounts we owe, we will jeopardize our leadership, our moral standing, our right to a strong voice in the conduct of their affairs. And that kind of failure on our part will jeopardize the very existence of these organizations and all their work for peace and progress in the world. In the United Nations and its specialized agencies, no major power has yet failed to pay its full contribution as assessed, save only China, beset as we all know by very special problems. No other member of the Security Council has failed to make its contribution, year by year. I cannot conceive that the Members of the House of Representatives meant us to fail. I cannot conceive that they wanted to take the risk of ruining these organizations and defeating their objectives merely in order to save three million dollars.

If by some chance, that is what any Member of the Congress does intend, it would be far better--and far more direct and honest-if he were to offer legislation which would withdraw this country from its membership in the United Nations, the Pan-American Union, the World Health Organization, and the rest.

But I am quite sure this was not the intention of the Members of the House who voted for these amendments. I am sure we all want the United States to continue to work actively in these organizations. After all, this country has a tremendous stake in their success and continued growth. The sum of thirty million dollars for this year is not a heavy charge upon us. It is only one-twentieth of one per cent of the appropriations for our armed forces. And no amount of military strength, no matter how much we build up our armed forces, can give us the hope for the future that is wrapped up in our work for peaceful cooperation among the nations of this hemisphere and all the world.

When the facts in this case are fully appreciated and understood, I am confident that the Congress will provide the full amount we owe these organizations and will steer clear of any rigid limitation on our share of their expenses. If your Committee desires any further information on this subject, I am sure that Secretary Acheson and Ambassador Austin will be glad to supply it right away.

Sincerely yours,


[Honorable Kenneth McKellar, Chairman, Committee on Appropriations, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.]

Note: As enacted, H.R. 4740 is Public Law 188, 82d Congress (65 Stat. 575). The final bill appropriated $30,297,861, the amount requested, for contributions to international organizations. The bill provided that in exceptional circumstances, necessitating a contribution by the United States of more than one-third of the budget of an international organization, the State Department would be required to obtain the approval of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees before it committed the Federal Government to such a contribution.

Harry S Truman, Letter to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, on U.S. Contributions to the U.N. and Other International Organizations. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230550

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