On December 21, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution calling on the US to reverse its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A total of 128 countries voted for the resolution, with nine countries voting against and 35 abstaining. 21 nations did not turn up for the vote. Major allies like the UK, France, Germany and Japan voted for the resolution, though some allies, like Australia and Canada, abstained.
The US was the only global power to oppose the resolution. The list of naysayers included only Israel itself, four states of Oceania, which depend on the US, and several Latin American countries, such as Guatemala. David Harris, the chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee, said he was “dismayed by the overwhelming support of U.N. Member States for the General Assembly resolution condemning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
For comparison, the UN General Assembly voted on December 19 in support of a resolution on the human rights situation in Crimea. 70 countries voted in favor (compared to 128 in case of the Jerusalem vote), 26 voted against, and 76 abstained. Unlike the Jerusalem vote, this outcome is evidently unconvincing. The majority of UN 193 members did not support the resolution condemning Russia.
Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, had warned that she would take names of the countries voting to criticize the United States. According to her, the UNGA vote will not influence Washington’s decision on Jerusalem. She reminded UN member states of the US’ generous contributions to the organization and said that the United States expects its will to be respected in return. She also noted that the vote will be “remembered” by the US and “make a difference on how the Americans look at the UN.”
Before the vote, President Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor. “Let them vote against us,” he said. “We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars... We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”
So, here is the gist of Washington’s position on the issue - it does not care about what the overwhelming majority of nations think. If the US does something that contradicts international law, then so be it. But international law is remembered when other nations do something the US does not approve.
When the UNGA voted against Moscow, Washington emphasized the need to comply and respect the opinion of “international community”. The State Department cites the UN resolutions in its statements to condemn Moscow. Former President Barack Obama referred to the 2014 UNGA resolution on Crimea to call for “isolation” of Russia on international stage. Now, when the US has suffered a crushing defeat at the UNGA, it insists on its right to do whatever it deems right and not to care about what the world says. This is a perfect example of double standards.
The threat to cut aid to other countries is a part of bigger trend. Financial and economic punitive measures have become a foreign policy tool to target Russia, Iran, North Korea and many more countries. Hard-power diplomacy is given a priority over soft power diplomacy. This policy has come under harsh criticism in the UN recently.
The Trump administration has announced its intent to cut foreign aid anyway. The president has significant legal latitude to do so. The question is, will close strategic partners, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, who voted for the resolution, be included into the list of the nations to be punished? This year, Congress rejected aid cuts proposed in the State Department budget request. Aid levels for Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco should remain “at or above current levels”. The preponderance of American aid to the Middle East and North Africa is earmarked for buying US-made military equipment.
Washington praises the UN when it serves its interests but it’s an open secret that the organization is largely viewed in the US as anti-American, inefficient, and known for its corruption and waste. This sentiment has been brewing for some time. The voices calling for leaving the UN have been heard loud enough. Donald Trump himself once likened the UN to a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”
Washington has already announced its withdrawal from UNESCO and the Human Rights Council. The bill, proposed by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), entitled American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017, seeks a complete US withdrawal from the UN. It says the international body should remove its headquarters from New York. Rogers and other prominent Republicans, such as Rand Paul (R-KY), believe that US taxpayer money should not go to an organization that does not promote US interests. As Senator Paul put it, “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There are a lot of reasons why I don’t like the UN, and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it.” With Donald Trump now in power, many Republicans seem to be attacking the idea of UN membership or cutting funding with renewed vigor.
The US reaction to the Jerusalem vote illustrates its contempt for international public opinion. Almost isolated, Washington resorts to threats against almost the entire world. That’s something really new in the world politics.