Political forces on Capitol Hill and in the White House are unleashing policy initiatives, often around the theme of “America First”, that will shake up our nation. Some initiatives are targeting the United Nations. One is Senate Bill S 107, which aims to defund the UN as punishment for the recent Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in occupied territories. And, from the House of Representatives is the “American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017.” It repeals the United Nations Participation Act of 1945, leading the U.S. to leave the organization.
Although not as dramatic, the White House is working on executive orders massively cutting back funds for the United Nations. These policy proposals and executive orders are ill-advised and based on false reasoning. If we want to express frustration with the UN and the Security Council’s vote, there are much more effective ways of delivering that message, the more so when we keep our contractual agreement to pay our dues.
The U.S. pays for roughly 22 percent of the U.N.’s annual budget. Our dues for next year will total around $611 million, or about $ 1.88 per person. The relative share of several countries is higher, such as Canada at $2.06 p.p. The USA has withheld mandatory funding before, without much effect, politically or fiscally. We lose face, break our word, and the debt stays. Other nations will absorb the temporary deficit and have an opportunity to expand their influence. Next to our allies being irked, it may mean that rising powers – e.g. China, India ―- step up into that void.
“The interests of the United States are better served by demanding reform and seeing that reform takes place than by removing our influence from the U.N. It may surprise people to know that I advocate the reform of the United Nations, not its abolishment.” (Senator Jesse Helms, January 2000, at the UN)
Expansions of, or, as now suggested by the White House, reductions in voluntary funding of UN agencies and programs, have always been part and parcel of political maneuvering. There is nothing wrong with an evaluation of what we undertake in the UN System. However, a blanket, massive reduction of funding at 40%, as the administration indicated it was considering, would have repercussions in most spectacular ways all over the world. There will also probably be an immediate negative impact right here at home, on many thousands of Americans who play crucial roles for UN agencies. After all, most dollars spend by the U.S. on U.N. missions come right back. Furthermore, 40% budget cuts across the board would mean that we stand to lose not only our place of dominance at the U.N. but also our standing as a reliable partner and ally. Such a cut in funding to the U.N. may be but a footnote in the colossal US federal budget, yet it would be a calamity for the global marketing of our universities and many companies. It will mean hunger and death for millions abroad. 40% is a sledgehammer, where a surgeon’s scalpel should be the tool of choice.
Leaving the U.N. (as the House Bill suggests) would cause lasting damage, not only to the USA, or the U.N., but to the whole world. We are in one world, where nations are formed and considered sovereign within borders, where rules of law are applied, human rights are acknowledged, capital can move speedily, as well as ideas, opinions, goods, and missiles. We have on this planet only one organization where all 193 nations can engage politically, bargain, and promote their national and geopolitical agendas. An organization, started on the ashes of WWII; an organization that Americans have invested in deeply and used to promote American ideals, values, organizational insights, and economic interests. And now we want to step away? A most irrational step indeed, unworthy of a nation that wants to lead. We cannot throw off the mantle of global leadership in this political arena. We need to be in the U.N., lead in the U.N., and combat right there the ills of humanity. Want reform? Go for it. But reform is done from within. We need to be in the arena, at full force and full voice. Let’s continue to fund the U.N. in full and on time!
This op-ed is presented by the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia. UNAGP, led by Manisha Patel (President) and Dr. Christiaan Morssink (Executive Director), is a chapter of the United Nations Association-United States of America. UNA-USA was started by Eleanor Roosevelt with the specific aim of promoting the United Nations as an idea, as an instrument for preventing world wars and as a platform for multilateral political interaction that can support the geopolitical maneuverings of each member nation through diplomatic channels. The UNA-GP, among other issues, promotes the work of institutions within the UN System, and has worked on refugee rights, the roles of journalism, the right to proper and equal access to quality education, and global health dilemmas.