By J Nastranis
Note: This is the first in a series of reports analysing U.S. policy towards multilateralism in general and the UN in particular. - Editor
NEW YORK (IDN) – While United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has expressed strong disapproval of President Donald Trump's plans to slash funding to the world Organization, an eminent Jewish leader has warned that the budget proposal embodies "dangerous bias against diplomacy, hurts Americans and Israelis".
The scathing criticism comes from Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of 'J Street', "the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people".
In contrast to cuts to diplomacy and foreign development aid, President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 preserves military aid to Israel at $3.1 billion.
The statement warns: "If implemented, the Trump Administration's budget proposal will weaken U.S. influence and security and cause untold suffering to vulnerable populations around the world." For this reason, "It should be fiercely opposed by all who care about the U.S.’s role as a global leader and about Israel."
Reacting to White House's plans to enlarge spending on countering terrorism and raising defence budget by $54 billion, a statement from the UN Chief's Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric on March 16 said the Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism, but believes that it requires more than military spending.
"There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, enhancement and respect for human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises," the statement said.
It added: “The international community is facing enormous global challenges that can only be addressed by a strong and effective multilateral system, of which the United Nations remains the fundamental pillar.”
Referring to the much touted share of U.S. contributions to the UN, which currently amount to 22 percent of the Organization's regular budget and over 28 percent of its budget for the 16 peacekeeping missions that are undergoing a review, the statement says: “The Secretary-General is grateful for the support the United States has given to the United Nations over the years as the Organization’s largest financial contributor.”
The statement assures that the Secretary-General Guterres is totally committed to reforming the United Nations and ensuring that it is fit for purpose and delivers results in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
"However, abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts," it adds.
“The Secretary-General stands ready to discuss with the United States and any other Member State how best we can create a more cost-effective Organization to pursue our shared goals and values,” the statement underscores.
In order to ensure that the UN is fit for purpose and delivers results in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, Guterres announced on February 14 the establishment of an internal review team that will take forward the reforms to the UN Secretariat peace and security strategy, functioning and architecture, which he outlined when he was appointed the Secretary-General last year.
According to a statement issued on February 14 by the UN chief’s office, Tamrat Samuel, who held numerous senior UN appointments, will lead the team, which has been tasked to submit recommendations to the Secretary-General by June. This will initiate a process of consultations with UN Member States and other relevant entities.
In the statement, he further noted that pending those evolutions, the mandates of senior officials working in the peace and security pillar would be maintained for until 1 April next year.
Ben-Ami points out that in contrast to cuts to diplomacy and foreign development aid, President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 preserves military aid to Israel at $3.1 billion. Those cuts, it warns, are "irresponsible and dangerous".
"The budget blueprint embodies an isolationist worldview and dependence on military might to solve problems at the expense of multilateral diplomacy. We urge Members of Congress of all parties to reject these draconian reductions in vital assistance," says 'J Street' President.
Over the years, many pro-Israel organizations – including J Street – have argued that Israel cannot be treated as a special case, exempted from cuts to foreign aid while programs affecting the rest of the world are slashed wholesale. "We call on pro-Israel advocates across the political spectrum to once again fight for robust foreign assistance beyond U.S. aid to Israel," says the statement issued on March 16.
It argues: "Weakening U.S. foreign aid, which is already far below the contributions of other advanced economies in percentage GDP terms, undermines Israeli security as well."
The budget proposal slashes funding for the State Department and for international development programs by a devastating 28 percent with massive cuts for the United Nations, humanitarian assistance and cultural exchange programs.
"This will severely impact the ability of the United States to work in concert with our allies and the international community on matters of immense strategic importance that affect every American and Israeli. It will cut our ties to the rest of the world on the most basic people-to-people level," warns the statement.
"As we have seen in recent years, diplomacy has the ability to deliver significant national security payoffs to the United States at a fraction of the cost of military action and without any of the attendant human suffering," says the statement, adding: "Our nation is still paying for President George W. Bush’s unnecessary and catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003. It will benefit for years to come from President Obama’s decision to secure a multilateral deal with Iran to defang its nuclear program."
Ben-Ami recalls what Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, stated: “It is my firm belief that diplomatic programs, as part of a coordinated strategy, will save money by reducing the likelihood of active military conflict involving U.S. forces. The more significant the cuts, the longer military operations will take and the more and more lives are at risk.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 March 2017]
Photo: A view of United Nations Headquarters complex in New York City as seen from the Visitors’ Entrance. Credit: UN Photo | Yubi Hoffmann.
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