There are many warning signs to indicate that the US is poised to adopt a more negative approach toward the United Nations than it has in recent years. For instance, the Trump administration is considering canceling US participation on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in protest of the body’s actions in general, and specifically its treatment of Israel.
On February 16, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, called out the HRC for «breathtaking double standards» and «outrageously biased resolutions» against Israel, during a press conference after her meeting with the UN Security Council. She lashed out at the council for failing to discuss the buildup of illegal Hezbollah weapons, provided by Iran; strategies for defeating the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group; or holding Syrian President Bashar Assad accountable for the alleged crimes against civilians.
According to Politico, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson is questioning the value of the US belonging to the Human Rights Council.
The US believes that the countries which violate human rights are members of the council. In 2012, the body was slammed for allowing a representative of the Palestinian Hamas group to speak.
The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2016
Indeed, the council has been many times criticized for being biased and incompetent. Russia has blasted the body for confrontational approaches. Speaking at the UN General Assembly session in November, 2016, Grigori Lukyantsev, Russian Foreign Ministry’s deputy director of Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights, accused the UNHRC of becoming a platform for lambasting certain countries and settling political scores. «We have to note that the Council’s agenda has become an instrument for promoting conjunctural interests of several countries and groups. Discussions more and more often turn to settling political scores, mentorship, defamation of states. Moreover, the ungrounded geographical imbalance in the matter of human rights situations in one or another country does not reflect real tendencies, but rather represents a result of political orders», he noted. The deputy director also noted that Russia decries «attempts to use the HRC for including different politically charged issues on the agenda for the UN General Assembly».
In October, 2016, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi criticized the re-election of Saudi Arabia to the UNHRC, saying that the election is, «the best indication that human rights is merely in direction of political interests». Human rights groups had called on countries to reject the candidacy of Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Yemen. The kingdom was elected for its calls to protect women’s rights, which are widely believed to be violated by Riyadh.
No doubt the US is serious about pulling out from the council. The calls for leaving have been heard there since a long time ago. Actually, Republicans have always been prone to minimize the role of the UN. In 2003, many US officials and lawmakers were stunned by the fact that the UN Human Rights Commission elected the Libyan ambassador Najat al-Hajjaji its president yesterday, overriding a US objection that her country's «horrible» record disqualified it for the post. Many Americans hold the opinion that the withdrawal from the UNHRC will not hurt the United States in any way.
They may be right; the decision to withdraw will not have grave consequences. It’s not the membership in the council that matters but rather the US disparaging attitude towards the United Nations in general. The views of President Trump and his advisers – combined with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress – indicate that Washington is poised to change its policy towards the UN. In the 1980s, President Ronald Regan was antagonistic to the international body. The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation acted as the leading anti-UN lobby at that time. It campaigned for defunding the organization. George W. Bush Jr. openly derided the UN and renounced many multilateral treaties.
President Trump has made making derogatory comments about the United Nations. The UN has «such great potential,» but it has become «a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!» he tweeted in December, 2016. A couple of days later he tweeted again: «As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th».
The new US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, had argued for a review of US expenditure on the UN to ensure America «gets what it pays for» though she cautioned in her confirmation hearing against «slash and burn» cuts.
The administration is preparing to order sweeping cuts in funding to the UN and other international organizations, while potentially walking away from some treaties. A president’s draft executive order would reduce voluntary contributions to international bodies by 40% and complains of ‘burdensome’ commitment to UN. The draft order could reverse or roll back funding for priorities championed by former President Barack Obama, including international peacekeeping missions and US support for development work under the UN umbrella. A second order calls for a review and possible withdrawal from certain forms of multilateral treaties that do not involve «national security, extradition or international trade». Potential targets include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
According to the Washington Post, the proposed funding review is envisaged to take a year and be overseen by a panel including the departments of defence, state, justice, the office of the director of national security, the office of management and budget and the national security adviser. It is likely to attract only limited opposition in Congress. «The United States is in fact the United Nations’ largest supporter, providing nearly a quarter of its total revenues, and the American contribution continues to grow annually», the Guardian cites the text of the order on international funding cuts, titled Auditing and Reducing US Funding of International Organizations.
Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said «I think that heavy cuts to US funding to the UN are likely, and Trump will keep on kicking the institution to score cheap political points».
Alabama representative and senior Republican Mike Rogers drafted a bill to terminate the US membership in the UN. In early January, a bill known as the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 was introduced to US Congress. The bill aims to repeal the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 and other related laws. It requires the president to terminate US membership in the UN and to close the America’s Mission to the United Nations. The legislation prohibits the authorization of funds for the US assessed or voluntary contribution to the UN, the authorization of funds for any US contribution to any UN military or peacekeeping operation, the expenditure of funds to support the participation of US armed forces as part of any UN military or peacekeeping operation, US Armed Forces from serving under U.N. command, and diplomatic immunity for UN officers or employees.
Also in January, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill to defund the United Nations. Many Republicans see the Trump presidency as the best opportunity to pull out from the UN.
True, the organization is certainly overdue for serious internal changes but the world needs it as the only universal body able to take on the challenges to humanity and maintain global security, including the fight against terror. The UN is a communication platform bringing states together to talk instead of plunging into endless conflicts.
After the Cold War, the UN saw a radical expansion in its peacekeeping duties, taking on more missions in ten years than it had in the previous four decades. Between 1988 and 2000, the number of adopted Security Council resolutions more than doubled, and the peacekeeping budget increased more than tenfold. Today, the organization maintains 16 UN peacekeeping operations with 117,000 troops, police, military observers, civilian personnel and volunteers from 125 countries.
In the current UN budget, these operations cost $7.87bn a year. The US defense budget in FY 2016 was approximately $600bn. The Guardian emphasizes that «for a truly tiny cost, close to 1% of the American defense budget, America receives a huge dividend from the UN – peace in many remote parts of the world, making them safe for American trade, investment and tourism. If the US tried to do all this alone (which it would be unable to), it would cost first, American lives, and second, billions more in US tax dollars». The UN’s role in tackling the problem of refugees around the world is immense.
The UN isn’t perfect but it’s the best international body to address international problems. To reject the organization will rob the US of a vital institution to communicate with the world. To disregard the UN means to disregard international law. Hopefully, this is only a temporary trend and reason will prevail. By leaving, the US will shoot itself in the foot.