Why defunding the UN is a bad idea
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President-elect Trump’s transition has been overtaken by foreign events and gotten off to a rocky start. Congressional furor over U.S. abstention in a Security Council resolution regarding Israel has led to growing calls to cut the UN budget. Such a move is unlikely to advance U.S. interests, and President-elect Trump would be well advised not to heed the critics seeking to slash U.S. involvement in the UN.

Proposing cuts to the UN budget in response to a decision by the Security Council is a classic “shoot the messenger” move. The Security Council is a political body comprised of elected and permanent member countries. It is not controlled by the Secretary General. The president-elect understands that the Security Council reflects the views of member states rather than the preferences of the UN bureaucracy.

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The 14-0-1 vote against Israel came only after intense lobbying by the president-elect to ask Egypt to withdraw the resolution and to ask the Obama White House to veto it.

That the resolution passed is a testament to the diplomats who drafted it rather than the wishes of outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. For Congress to propose cutting the UN budget in this fit of pique, then, is like blaming one’s silverware for weight gained during the holidays.

Threatening U.S. contributions to the UN budget will not produce greater support for Israel. Congressional demands that other Security Council members, including permanent members Russia, China, Britain, and France, somehow ‘repeal and replace’ the resolution will fall on deaf ears. Other Security Council members will not see the Congressional threats as meaningful, and they may well increase their contributions to the UN in response to any U.S. budget decision.

Triggering greater Chinese contributions to the UN will only shift the organization toward its policy preferences rather than our own. Despite its rhetoric, the Trump administration faces a multipolar world, and this means that relationships need to be actively managed rather than avoided.

President-elect Trump understands that the UN is a forum for advancing U.S. interests. In his statement nominating Nikki Haley as U.S. Ambassador to the UN, he referenced Haley’s ability as a “proven deal maker” adding that “we look to be making plenty of deals.” The president-elect recognizes a key value of the UN: where else can you speak to 193 countries at once across a range of issues? For a new administration seeking to reshape American foreign policy, working with other countries at the UN is an efficient way to get things done. At a time in which the UN is taking on a crucial role in aiding a record number of refugees, keeping peace across the globe with a record number of peacekeeping troops, and staving off global pandemics, U.S. engagement with the UN is more important than ever.

The proposed Congressional budget action comes at a difficult time for the president-elect, but it also comes at a bad time for the UN itself. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General who just took office on Jan. 1, campaigned on reforming the organization and on better communicating what the UN does. Congressional discussions about cutting the UN budget, then, undercut Guterres just as he is getting to work, and they undermine U.S. legitimacy. Keeping the UN accountable has been a focus of U.S. foreign policy for years, but our voice for reform is weakened when it is based on politics rather than principle. Other countries will be less likely to listen to Nikki Haley’s future initiatives in this area. The White House and the Secretary-General can find common ground here, but the case for UN reform needs to be based on impartial assessments rather than whether other countries respect U.S. wishes.

While the new Congress may still need instruction in the value of the United Nations, the American people do not. A recent survey by the Better World Campaign found that eighty-eight percent of voters say it is important that the United States maintain an active role within the United Nations, and that majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support the U.S. paying its dues to the UN on time and in full. Any move to cut U.S. contributions to the UN, then, will fly in the face of considerable bipartisan opposition. The American public understands that the UN is a force multiplier for U.S. interests and values, and that a UN without the U.S. would be one less capable of solving global problems. Hopefully, Congress learns this lesson soon.

Martin Edwards is an Associate Professor at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.