In the wake of World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took noble action to ensure that the unrelenting conflicts that had defined the early 20th century wouldn’t doom future generations. His vision was clear: “to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice” in their own lands, the global community would need to come together and create a post-war organization that would protect the sovereignty of all nations.
It was American leadership that mobilized the international community to create the United Nations, which would serve as a platform for addressing global threats and responding to crises that would demand coordinated, multilateral action. Since 1945, the U.N. has grown to include 193 member states, 16 specialized agencies, and an annual budget of $7.9 billion for peacekeeping operations.
Its successes are many. Eradicating smallpox and fighting famine. Responsible arms control, disarmament, and preventing nuclear proliferation. Ending conflicts and preserving peace in fragile states. And ultimately, preventing another World War.
Supporting the United Nations is both a moral imperative and aligned with our own national security interests. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to some of the reckless rhetoric from the White House and on Capitol Hill.
During her confirmation hearing, Ambassador Nikki Haley insisted that she does not believe in “slash and burn” attempts to decrease U.S. funding for the United Nations. Yet, the Trump budget does just that. Then, following her testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this week, Haley even boasted about cutting more than half a billion dollars from the U.N. peacekeeping budget.
The administration proposes a 27 percent cut to U.S. assessed contributions to the U.N. regular budget and U.N. specialized agencies, and a 37 percent cut to peacekeeping operations. The budget zeroes out funding for the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), U.N. Development Program (UNDP), U.N. Women, U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
When I asked Ambassador Haley what point was being made with this budget, she replied “to build up our military.” But she had no defense for why such a goal had to be paid for by children around the world who rely on UNICEF for more than one-third of basic vaccinations. Furthermore, decreasing U.S. support for U.N. peacekeeping efforts will actually end up costing us more in the long run. The U.S. only pays $24,500 per year for each deployed peacekeeper, compared to $2.1 million per year for an American service member deployed to a war zone – about 86 times as much.
A unilateral retreat, which is what the president’s budget represents, would neither improve the U.N., nor make our nation more secure. To say that this budget sends the message that U.S. leadership is essential in the world, as Ambassador Haley vowed to do in her confirmation hearing, would embarrass even George Orwell.