In case you haven’t been following the ongoing knife fight between Trump and the UN, you may have missed the relatively modest budget cuts the Trump administration is now proposing. Any cuts in funding to the UN are painful, though if you poll Americans, most agree that we “pay to much” to the UN without realizing that the amount is less than 1% of our annual budget. The organization is perhaps the only giant bureaucracy in the world that is famous in America for its inefficiency, despite the fact that most Americans have zero personal experience with the UN, as opposed to hours and hours of personal experience on hold with their inept, overcharging and inefficiant cable company.
So many of us UN boosters greeted the Trump administration with a heavy heart. We were not surprised to see the Steve Bannon budget of death, nor were we unprepared for Nikki Haley’s faux outrage at the fact that the other countries don’t always agree with us. The US government has never liked a democratic process it can’t control. So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that the current proposed cuts to the UN budget are only $285 million. Remember that the annual US contribution to the UN, including all specialized agencies and peacekeeping, is over $3 billion. The 40% reduction originally proposed by the Trump administration would have removed at least a billion dollars from the UN’s core budget and billions more from peacekeeping and the specialized agencies. It would have crippled the UN’s work. (For contrast, you can read about G. W. Bush’s cuts to the UN population fund due to concerns over abortion funding here. They were minor in comparison, though highly criticized at the time. Trump has also eliminated funding to the UN population fund.)
Don’t get me wrong, these cuts will be felt, particularly if they are in addition to the $200 millions worth of cuts already proposed by the UN itself. But these cuts will leave core functions intact. Of course, the overall affect of multiple Trump administration budget cuts will be felt over the long hall, particularly if this is only the beginning of cuts, rather than the final number. It remains unclear if the Trump administration will preserve UNHCR’s current funding levels. If the plan is to keep refugees where they are, countries like Lebanon, Bangladesh, Kenya and Turkey are going to need a lot more money for camps.
***Update: Even though the Trump administration has not slashed the WFP budget, the agency is still facing serious shortfalls.