Under the Charter, it is the task of the General Assembly to "consider and approve the budget of the Organization" and to apportion the expenses of the UN among the member nations. From an administrative standpoint, the expenditures of the UN may be said to fall into two categories: expenditures that are included in what is termed the "regular budget," to which all members are obliged to contribute; and expenditures for certain high-cost items or programs, for which are established separate, or "extrabudgetary," accounts or funds financed by special arrangements that do not necessarily involve obligatory payments by UN members.

Included in the regular budget are the costs of services and programs carried out at UN headquarters and all overseas UN offices; the expenses of the International Court of Justice; and debt services charges, which are also listed as "special expenses."

Outside the regular budget, member states also are assessed, in accordance with a modified version of the basic scale, for the costs of peacekeeping operations. The number and cost of these operations has been aggravated in recent years, in large part due to political instability in Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and Africa. In the period 1992–93, the Secretary-General estimated the cost for these operations increased sixfold. In a report to the Economic and Social Council, he stated, "It would be mistaken to try to attach an order of importance or priority between peace and security on the one hand, and economic and social development on the other. The two are so closely interlinked as to be indivisible." This underlying philosophy provides the rationale for the growth in the number of peacekeeping operations and the expansion of their mandates beyond the previously traditional observer status, to activities such as disarming and demobilization of forces, humanitarian assistance, human rights monitoring, electoral verification, and civilian police support. Each peace-keeping operation is approved and budgeted separately.

Following is a list of 15 UN observation or peacekeeping operations under way as of November 2002, along with the original starting date: United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), June 1948; United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), January 1949; United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), March 1964; United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Golan Heights, June 1974; United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), March 1978; United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), April 1991; United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), April 1991; United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), August 1993; United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH), December 1995; United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka (UNMOP) in Croatia, January 1996; United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), June 1999; United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), October 1999; United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), November 1999; United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), July 2000; and United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), May 2002.

As of 31 May 1999, unpaid contributions for the peacekeeping operations with separate assessed budgets amounted to US$ 1.5 billion. Shortfalls in the receipt of assessed contributions were met by delaying reimbursements to states that contributed troops, thus placing an unfair burden on them.

United Nations activities that are financed mainly by voluntary contributions outside the regular budget include: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Program (WFP), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The member states of the specialized agencies decide on each agency's budget and scale of assessments separately from the United Nations itself.

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