Jesse Helms: Media Star

By Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid

February 4, 2000

You undoubtedly have heard reports that the United States had a $1 billion "debt" to the United Nations. But you may not have heard that the United States last year spent over $10 billion on the U.N. That figure was cited by Senator Jesse Helms when he made an appearance before the U.N. Security Council on January 20. His appearance was well-publicized, but few news organizations mentioned his disclosure of the $10 billion figure.

The explanation is simple: the $10 billion figure throws into doubt the notion that the U.S. had a financial debt to the U.N. Senator Helms, who arranged the payment of that "debt," mentioned the $10 billion figure. He revealed that he had asked the General Accounting Office, the GAO, to assess just how much the American taxpayers contributed to the United Nations in 1999. The GAO told him that the American taxpayers contributed a total of more than $1.4 billion to the U.N. system in assessments and voluntary contributions. The American taxpayers also spent an additional $8.7 billion from the U.S. military budget to support various U.N. resolutions and peacekeeping operations around the world. Helms added it up -- a total of $10.1 billion.

This was an extraordinary revelation, but we found little mention of it in the media. The Washington Post ignored it, as did ABC’s World News Tonight, where correspondent Bill Redeker simply reported the tired refrain that the U.S. had finally agreed to pay back dues. The New York Times mentioned the $10 billion figure, but reporter Barbara Crossette tried to rebut it with a quotation from the pro-U.N. lobbying group, the U.N. Association. She failed to report that the Helms figure came from the authoritative GAO.

This $8.7 billion does not include assessments for the U.S. share of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping operations that the Congress pays. This constitutes extra peacekeeping assistance to the U.N. that has not been credited or reimbursed to the United States. Clearly, the $8.7 billion wipes out the $1 billion so-called "debt" to the world organization that was supposed to exist. So rather than owing the U.N., the U.N. owed us. Senator Helms didn’t put it that way because he had already committed himself to a deal to pay off that so-called "debt." But the figures speak for themselves.

On ABC’s Nightline program, Ted Koppel mentioned the $10 billion figure to the British Ambassador to the U.N., who said other countries had made such contributions and didn’t expect to get their money back. But here in the U.S. the Congress is supposed to decide what to spend on the U.N. That $8.7 billion was diverted from the Pentagon budget on orders from President Clinton.

ABC’s Peter Jennings had introduced Bill Redeker’s report by saying that Helms "all but controls the American financial contribution to the U.N." That’s not true. These figures demonstrate that this power has been mostly transferred to President Clinton, who loots the Pentagon budget to pay for endless U.N. peacekeeping operations. This is the story that the media should tell.