Trump Aims to Take Massive Cuts From UN Funding
The budget reductions would hurt climate change programs, peacekeeping, and foreign aid
By Quinna Halim
The Progressive Teen Staff Writer
AMIDST A TENSE POLITICAL CLIMATE, the future of United States-United Nations relations seems up in the air. When The New York Times leaked an executive draft order to reduce U.S. funding for the United Nations in January, the panic alarm sounded in U.N. headquarters and beyond — and for good reason: the draft order, entitled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations,” threatened to cut funding to the U.N. by 40%. While White House staffers assured that no such executive order was implemented at the time, recent developments suggest that President Trump will take a hefty cut out of U.N. funding.
These reductions largely align with Trump’s domestic-centric administration. Trump has long regarded himself as a “hard power” ruler with antipathy toward soft power such as the U.N., which provides an open forum for discussion between nations. He views the United Nations as an ineffective body misaligned with his own vision for American foreign policy. The United States provides much more to the U.N. budget than any other member state at around $10 billion annually, or about 25% of the budget. While this may seem like a significant amount, it consists of only 0.1% of the total U.S. federal budget. Furthermore, this sum is proportional, as the United States holds about 25.4% of the world’s wealth. The draft reads, “This financial commitment is particularly burdensome given the current fiscal crisis and ballooning budget deficits and national debt[…] while the United States’ financial support for the United Nations is enormous, the United Nations often pursues an agenda contrary to American interests.” The “agenda contrary to American interests” in question largely refers to actions such as the U.N. sanctions against Israel, the Paris accords, and the Iran Nuclear Agreement.
The White House’s budget plans for 2018 reveal a 28% cut from the State Department, which gives funding to the U.N. and similar organizations. The State Department was not alone; most of the other departments received blows in Trump’s slash-and-burn policy, with the Environmental Protection Agency taking the biggest hit at a 31% reduction. The money will be reallocated into a 10% increase in defense spending. This skinny budget is far from a finished product — it excludes government revenue and mandatory spending (which makes up two-thirds of the government’s budget). But how much of an impact will these budget cuts have?
The changes would curtail funding to the U.N. climate change programs, coming as little surprise given Trump’s dismissive attitude toward climate change and his earlier campaign promises. Earlier this month when asked about climate funding, Trump’s head of Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney stated, “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your time to go out and do that.” The proposed budget would eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative, which supports other countries working on sustainability, and funding for the Green Climate Fund, the U.N. effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries.
The budget would also cut $1 billion from U.N. peacekeeping operations. Currently, the United States pays just over 28% of the peacekeeping budget. The proposed reductions would cut the U.S. contribution to no more than 25%. This comes just as peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Haiti are winding down. French UN ambassador Francois Delattrem noted, “Do we want to downsize UN peacekeeping operations so they are no longer able to react in case of massacres or when terrorists threaten the existence of fragile states and even our own security? Or do we want to make UN peacekeeping operations more efficient and right-sizing so they can help stabilize countries and protect civilians when they are in real danger?” Meanwhile, China has bolstered its support for the peacekeeping operations, having deployed troops to South Sudan and pledged 8,000 to the standby force.
“‘Do we want to downsize UN peacekeeping operations so they are no longer able to react in case of massacres or when terrorists threaten the existence of fragile states and even our own security? Or do we want to make UN peacekeeping operations more efficient and right-sizing so they can help stabilize countries and protect civilians when they are in real danger?’”
Under the skinny budget, it is unclear what specific measures will be taken in regards to programs such as UNICEF, which have gained widespread bipartisan support.
Some have raised concerns about decreasing funds resulting in decreasing influence, leaving Russia or China to fill the void. If the U.S. were to cut spending in half, it would fall behind the European Union with 18.9% of the budget (accounting for Great Britain’s impending exit). This shift of power could undermine the United States’ title as the “leader of the free world.”
Currently, however, it’s unclear whether the proposed “America First” budget will pass through Congress. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) stated, “President Trump is not making anyone more secure with a budget that hollows out our economy and endangers working families.” Republicans such as Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) also warned against the feasibility of a budget proposal with such deep cuts to the State Department passing through the Senate, proclaiming it “dead on arrival.”
Between now and the end of April, when the full budget plan is due, it’s likely that there will be changes as Trump seeks the approval of Congress. Some are hopeful that Trump will reconsider the allocation of spending. It is, after all, the soft power of the United Nations in alleviating poverty and stabilizing regions that mitigates the need for bombs and nukes to combat terrorism; the soft power that helps create a better future for Americans and the rest of the world alike.