Fun and Games at the United Nations

It’s nice to work at a place where the budget is no object. That isn’t the case at most businesses. Sadly, it isn’t the case at many free market think tanks. But it is the case at the United Nations.

Reports The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):

Most of our readers probably wouldn’t mind working for an outfit whose budget is slated to expand by 25% next year. But then again, most of our readers don’t work for the United Nations.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s proposed “initial” budget for 2008-09 is $4.2 billion, a mere 15% increase over the Secretariat’s current budget. Oops, make that $4.8 billion, which includes the “add ons” the Secretary General has already identified. But even that’s not the final final figure. The U.N. budget is released piece by piece — how convenient — and the U.S. estimates that the full budget will end up being in excess of $5.2 billion, a 25% increase over the last two-year budget cycle of 2006-07.

Yes, the U.N. has a lot on its plate and the world is full of challenges. But Mr. Ban’s proposed increases aren’t going for humanitarian assistance in Darfur or development aid to Africa. Roughly 75% is for salaries and other staff costs — in other words, toward boosting the size of the U.N. bureaucracy. Peacekeeping goes on a separate budget, which is anticipated to grow 40%, to $7 billion from $5 billion.

The U.S. is the largest donor to the U.N., paying roughly one-quarter of its budget. With the support of Japan, the second-largest donor, the U.S. is making the entirely reasonable demand that the U.N. set budget priorities. If it wants more money for X, it should be required to identify spending cuts for Y or Z.

The U.N. can get away with its profligacy only if the U.S. and other industrialized states go along. Almost 200 countries theoretically “run” the organization, but just a dozen or so actually pay for it. It’s time they — the U.S., Japan, the Europeans, and South Korea — said no more fun and games at taxpayer expense.