President Trump likes to argue that other countries should pay more to fund international groups like NATO and the United Nations. He frequently criticizes globalism and advocates for his “America First” foreign policy agenda. Among other things, this has meant decreasing the money the U.S. spends for on the UN.
We decided to dig beneath the headlines to uncover exactly how much money different countries and continents contribute to the UN. As it turns out, the President has a good point about how much Americans contribute compared to everyone else.
The U.S. contributes hundreds of millions more than any other country in support of the UN, providing some 22% of the organization’s total budget.
Developed countries with the largest economies tend to spend more on UN operations than the countries directly benefiting from UN programs.
China and Japan are the only two non-Western countries spending over $100M each.
Our figures come from the United Nations’ Secretariat’s December 2018 report on member contributions. We applied the UN’s own methodology for grouping countries by continent to create the divisions in our visualization. The size of each piece of the visual corresponds to the size of each country’s allocation to the UN, which is calculated in two ways. First, there’s a real financial outlay of money from countries directly to the UN. And second, there’s a contribution of staff and resources to run the organization. Our visual takes into account the combined total of both types of support.
The U.S. alone contributes an incredible $674.2M, or 22% of the entire world’s outlay. No other country comes anywhere close. China, the second leading contributor in the world, provides almost $300M less than the U.S. at $367.9M or 12%, and Japan comes in third at $262.4M or 8.5%. Only a handful of other countries surpass the $100M mark, with the vast majority providing far less. The Russians notably only spend $73.7M despite being a member on the UN’s permanent Security Council.
There are a few other insights we can glean from our visualization. Developed countries in the West tend to contribute significantly more than the rest of the world. The combined total of all European countries comes to $844M. Including China, this means that the major world powers with the biggest economies pay the most for the UN. Meanwhile, the countries most likely to receive direct aid from the UN pay relatively little.
That’s because some countries clearly benefit from the UN’s existence more than others. The UN was originally created after World War II to promote world peace and de-escalate tensions, especially between the U.S. and Russia. More recently, the organization is well known for its humanitarian work, for example, raising awareness of human rightsviolations. Developed countries in the West as well as the East have a shared interest in stability and economic development.
Are these benefits worth the size of the American investment? To keep things in perspective, the millions spent on the UN is a rounding error in the U.S federal budget of $4.1T. That being said, the budget deficit keeps growing, and just hit $319B for the first 3 months of the government’s 2019 fiscal year. If the deficit is only going to get worse, then perhaps every penny of U.S. expenditures deserves scrutiny.
Data: Table 1.1