On January 20, 2017, just after 12 Noon, the 45th President of the United States raised his right hand to take the oath of office and, with that, shockwaves were felt permeating through many of the world’s capitals.
No more was this transition in power felt greater than in the corridors of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. With a new president now in the White House, the U.S. Congress has introduced legislation to defund the global body. The decision was brought to a head by the previous administration’s vote to abstain in the U.N. Security Council vote on Israeli settlements. However, defunding (or withdrawing from) the U.N. was part of the President’s agenda before this vote. The Security Council resolution just added “fuel to the defunding fire.” What is important to point out here is that the U.N. did not initiate the Security Council resolution; it was 14 of its member states who did so. With respect to this issue, it has been said that "the U.N. was the stage, not the actor."
The U.S. accounts for 22% of the U.N.’s budget and provides valuable leadership and guidance to the world body: To withdraw funding, or to defund, is entirely misguided and short-sighted. This money is spent on extremely important programs that people around the world depend upon for their everyday lives.
In addition, programs that provide food and assistance to approximately 80 million people in 80 countries, and supply vaccines for 40% of the world’s children helping to save 3 million lives annually, would be severely threatened by defunding.
Moreover, these resources are allocated to assist and protect 65 million people fleeing war, famine, and persecution. The U.N. works with 195 nations to prevent a further rise in global temperatures; it fights extreme poverty by helping to improve the livelihoods of more than 1 billion people, as well as keeping the peace with approximately 120,000 peacekeepers serving in 16 operations on 4 continents across the globe. Peacekeepers will go where others will not allowing the U.S. military the option of not having to send our own troops into conflict zones. In today’s cost-conscious world, U.N. peacekeeping provides quite a return on our investment. U.S. national interests and our values are promoted abroad without having to put “boots on the ground.” Defunding would have far-reaching ramifications, specifically as it pertains to peacekeeping operations.
Furthermore, the global body protects and promotes human rights through roughly 80 treaties and declarations. It coordinates a $20.1 billion appeal for the humanitarian needs of 87.6 million people. Likewise, it uses diplomacy to prevent conflict, including electoral assistance in some 67 countries, and supports maternal health by aiding 30 million women survive pregnancy and child birth.
There are specific U.N. agencies staffed with extremely dedicated and loyal employees whose work would be severely impacted by this legislation. For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plays a crucial role in monitoring states like Iran to ensure their compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. The World Health Organization (WHO) responds in a moment’s notice to public health crises like the Ebola epidemic and the continued battle against the Zika virus. The World Food Program (WFP) provides vital assistance in war-torn states such as Syria where the conflict has created a massive humanitarian crisis displacing millions from their homes. The WFP, along with agencies like the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), lead the efforts to deliver critical aid. To defund the U.N. would place those people who are the most vulnerable at greater risk. This line of thinking works counter to all of the principles that this country was founded upon over 240 years ago.
This was not what President Harry S. Truman envisioned when he signed the U.N. Charter in 1945 making the U.S. the first nation to join the international organization. In addressing the U.N. Conference in San Francisco at its closing session, President Truman stated the following: “By their own example the strong nations of the world should lead the way to international justice. That principle of justice is the foundation stone of this Charter. That principle is the guiding spirit by which it must be carried out – not by words but by concrete acts of good will.” Defunding the U.N. does a great disservice to the words of our former president who had the foresight and vision to create this body; we need that similar vision today.