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Why the United States’ Consideration to Defund the U.N. is a Bad Idea

Posted on February 17, 2017 by Martijn Vermeersch

Even before taking office, President Trump disclosed that when it came to the U.N. things would be “different.” Over the last few weeks, we’ve been given a glimpse of what “different” might entail for the future of the 71-year-old international organization whose sole purpose is to uphold peace and security for all. 

In two draft executive orders, President Trump is calling for “the way to drastically reduce the United States’ role in the U.N. and other international organizations.” Not only do these drafts envision a termination of funding for certain international bodies, they further include an overall decrease of funding by no less than 40 percent. 

Yet, hasn’t the U.S. invested a lot into this relationship? In terms of financial commitment, yes and no. Yes, the United States has poured more money into the organization than any other country since its founding, contributing 22 percent of the regular UN budget and 28 percent of the peacekeeping budget.  But, on the other hand, no. When you consider that despite these impressive percentages, only 1.4 percent of the U.S.’s entire federal budget is devoted to foreign aid and less than 0.1 percent of the annual federal budget goes to U.N. peacekeeping. So, insofar as heartfelt affection goes, the U.S. has been rather lukewarm toward the U.N. 

While these numbers might seem low, when compared to the potentially disastrous impact defunding the U.N. could have, the latter is far more disconcerting. For instance, the 16 peacekeeping missions currently deployed across the globe would all suffer greatly from a loss of financial support. But it’s not just about maintaining the missions. In today’s armed conflicts, women and girls make up the majority of civilian casualties. One of the main objectives of the U.N. is maintaining international peace and security, yet it needs funds and logistical support in order to carry out its mission. Without these, it cannot hope to redress the consequences of armed conflict, among which sexual violence is one of the most reprehensible. Defunding peacekeeping missions could severely reduce the protection women and girls desperately need in times of conflict.

But, it’s not just about upholding women’s rights during times of conflict. Many of the agencies that work under the U.N. umbrella, in fields ranging from development to human rights, are the very organizations that combat the root causes of violence and inequality. A major cause for concern is the impending defunding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) (remember the Bush Administration’s defunding of the UNFPA in 2002). This organization’s work includes combatting Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), ensuring safe childbirths for millions of young women and girls, and since its work also involves providing abortions, the UNFPA is now a prime target for the recently reinstated and expanded ‘Global Gag Rule.’

In addition to these potential defunding nightmares, the Trump Administration’s request to look into the funding aspect of the International Criminal Court has left many raised eyebrows, because the U.S. is not even a member of the Court. Also, one executive order calls for the review of certain multilateral treaties that are still pending or awaiting ratification. Among these treaties is Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which the U.S. never ratified. Although, these could be chalked up to periodic reviews, taking into consideration the current administration’s position on the U.N. leaves cause for alarm. 

To take away a significant part of U.N. funding, rather than addressing constructive reforms, will eventually cause more trouble for the U.S. than it could hope to solve. Whatever standing the Trump Administration hopes to gain with its defunding policy will pale in comparison to the influence it will lose.





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