The US, a major fund provider of the United Nations and its myriad agencies, has a longstanding notoriety for exercising its financial clout to threaten UN bodies refusing to play ball with Washington.

Back in 1984, it withdrew from the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), citing disagreement over its management, and also opposing a proposed plan for the creation of a new international information order. The withdrawal resulted in a substantive 25 per cent US cut in UNESCO’s annual $180 million budget. But despite the cut, UNESCO continued to survive. In 2003, Washington returned to the fold, arguing it could live with the then new management.

Last month, the Bush administration threatened to hold up the UN budget for 2006-2007 until and unless member states agreed to US-inspired management reforms, including the appointment of a chief operating officer mandated to run the world body along the lines of a US corporation. Since the overwhelming majority was opposed to some of the proposed reforms, the UN’s administrative and budgetary committee eventually agreed on a US-proposed compromise: Secretary-General Kofi Annan was authorised to spend only $950 million over a six-month period pending significant action on reforms, thereby emasculating the UN’s traditional biennium budget.

Meanwhile, the administration of President Bush has withheld a total of about $127 million — a sum duly appropriated by the Congress — from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). In 2002, Washington cut $34 million; in 2003, $25 million; and in 2004 and 2005, $34 million each. The cuts were prompted by a misconceived charge that UNFPA was supporting and promoting abortions in China. But several fact-finding missions to China, including one by the US State Department, reported they found no evidence that UNFPA supported the management of any programme of coercive abortion.

Contributions to the UNFPA regular resources last year were also the highest ever, increasing to some $350 million, from the previous year’s level of $322 million. The top six donors in 2005 were the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Britain, Japan and Denmark. Lawrence Smith Jr, president of the Washington-based Population Institute, said the resounding vote of confidence is a tribute to UNFPA’s response to the reproductive health and family planning needs of the world’s poorest nations. “At the same time, the announcement reflects a sad irony. In the 1960s, the US stood virtually alone in convincing the world community to establish UNFPA as a necessary component for achieving world population stabilisation,” Smith said. Today, the world community struggles to convince the US that, with 350 million poor women lacking access to family planning and reproductive health, slowing down population growth continues to be a critical global issue, he added. Werner Fornos, a UN Population Award Laureate, said that the increase in funding for UNFPA is a sign that the world fully comprehends the significance and severity of the grave population issues confronting all of us. “It further demonstrates the world’s confidence in the work of UNFPA, despite the fact that the richest country on earth is not contributing a single dime to the fund,” he added. — IPS