The White House budget proposal released last week targets massive cuts in funding for the United Nations. This proposed approach to foreign affairs funding would harm U.S. national security interests, run counter to American values, and diminish our global leadership.
At a time of unprecedented global challenges, including terrorism and humanitarian crises, now is no time for America to retreat from the international stage. In fact, it is the moment to rise to the occasion by helping to support a UN fit for today’s challenges.
U.S. funding to the UN in recent years has totaled only 0.2 percent of the federal budget, almost $9 billion. While U.S. funding for the institution is significant, this investment provides the United States with greater influence on matters of security, global health, and protection of human rights. At the same time, when we pursue our interests through the UN rather than going it alone, we share the financial burden and human cost with other countries. The UN system – where other nations pay the majority of costs – ensures countries stand up, not stand by.
Cutting these investments will not improve the United States’ position in the world, rather it will seriously undermine American interests, whereas using our influence at the UN makes the world safer and the United States stronger.
One example is the UN’s strong record in helping advance U.S. policies toward countering violent extremism throughout the world – a topic of an international summit being led by President Trump this week. In 2013, three Americans were murdered by al-Qaeda linked terrorists during an attack on a British Petroleum gas facility in Algeria. That attack, which left nearly 40 other people dead, was planned in the North African country of Mali – a place that House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, who had a constituent die in the attacks, deemed “the next theater of operations in the War on Terror."
Later that year, a UN peacekeeping mission, championed by the United States in the Security Council, began operations. Today, the mission in Mali has brought a renewed sense of stability to the fragile country, supporting French-led efforts to destroy the terrorist networks that robbed those three Americans of their lives.
If UN peacekeepers were not in Mali, U.S. forces may well be, exposing Americans to further risk and costing taxpayers multiple times more than the small percentage we currently contribute to the Mali mission. This is one reason senior military leaders, for decades, have deemed UN peacekeeping manifestly in our national interest.
Another area in which the UN makes America stronger is fighting against the risk of global pandemics and infectious diseases. In today’s interconnected world, these deadly diseases don’t stop at borders, as demonstrated by recent measles outbreaks and Ebola cases in the United States I have met dedicated UN workers in places like the Kakuma refugee camp who work to vaccinate and treat the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children from diseases like measles – protecting children overseas and right here at home. I have spoken with UN officials who helped coordinate the rapid response that put an end to the Ebola outbreak, and relied on polio prevention infrastructure and systems for its success.
UN organizations like UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency, and the World Food Program are already underfunded and overextended in their response to unprecedented global crises, including the spread of famine and the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Cuts to their budgets – large or small – will have real consequences for millions of people who rely on these agencies for their survival, put hundreds of millions of lives at risk, and exacerbate instability around the globe.
The UN’s new Secretary-General is committed to making the institution a stronger and more effective organization to respond to the evolving needs of our times. To help shape this process — to influence and encourage reforms — the United States must continue to have a seat at the table. While proponents of cutting U.S. funding for the UN argue doing so will trigger UN reform, by taking the United States out of the conversation it is far more likely that such cuts will only hamstring UN reform efforts and strengthen the hand of other countries looking to step in to fill the leadership void.
The United States is safer and better off precisely because we’ve chosen to engage. The only thing that will ensure America’s place as the most powerful and influential nation for the next 70 years is our continued and sustained support for the UN. Walking away from our commitment to international problem solving in favor of a go-it-alone attitude will jeopardize national security, waste taxpayer dollars, and put millions of innocent lives at risk.
Kathy Calvin is the president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.