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Repaying $1 billion in UN Debt in 1999

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Prior to 1999, the United States had amassed a staggering level of debt—nearly $1 billion—to the United Nations. As these debts grew, the U.S. became in danger of losing its vote in the UN General Assembly. However dissatisfied with the UN, the U.S. knew it would have been devastating to lose the American voice within the United Nations.

The Better World Campaign (BWC) was founded because of Ted Turner’s frustration with the U.S. government’s decision to withhold funding for the UN, and thus began BWC’s mission to get the debt paid off and return the U.S. to good financial standing at the UN.  The campaign was a major public relations effort that included advocating directly with Washington and New York, organizing more than 500 events around the country, and launching a communications and advertising effort called “Great Nations Pay Their Bills.”

Thanks in part to the tireless work and attention generated by the United Nations Foundation and BWC, a compromise was reached between the U.S. and the UN, which included the U.S. paying back its debt and the UN promising key reforms. The unlikely Congressional duo of Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina teamed up to create a law that required the United States to pay back its dues to the UN and other international organizations, but also required that the UN meet certain benchmarks. 

In exchange for U.S. payment of these debts, the United Nations lowered the maximum rate any nation can be charged for regular UN dues from 25 percent, where it had been before, to 22 percent where it stands now. It also included a change in the maximum rate for peacekeeping operations, from 31 percent to 25 percent. 

We are proud to have been a strong voice in favor of this policy and legislation that allowed for the payment of almost $1 billion owed to the United Nations by the United States.