By Ramesh Jaura
This is the third in a series of reports analysing U.S. policy towards multilateralism in general and the UN in particular. The first was published on 16 March 2017, and the second on 4 April 2017. – The Editor
BERLIN | NEW YORK (IDN) – Will the ‘Axis of Adults’ that has reportedly emerged as the new power centre guiding national security encourage President Donald Trump to disavow his plans to slash U.S. contributions to the United Nations?
The answer is simply ‘No’. The Axis of Adults, as reported by the Daily Beast and the Washington Post, comprises Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Homeland Secretary John Kelly. Republicans who had been apprehensive about President Trump are celebrating the trio’s influence.
But as Jim Lobe, a long-time observer of U.S. national politics, writes in his blog titled ‘Bannon Down, Pentagon Up, Neocons In?’, “the apparent and surprisingly abrupt demise in Steve Bannon’s influence offers a major potential opening for neoconservatives.” Bannon is a staunch critic of the Republican Establishment and the Left.
The swing toward the Neocons bodes ill not only for Washington’s non-military international affairs funding but also for the U.S. influence on the United Nations. “The reduction of U.S. contributions will have implications for its standing in the organisation. But this may also be a reflection of changing times,” said Dr Palitha Kohona, a former head of the UN Treaty Section and a previous Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York.
Other countries, such as China, India and Germany, may want a higher profile role in the organisation reflecting their enhanced standing in the world. These countries are already filling up spaces being created by the diminishing financial role of Western donors. “The dramatic changes may not happen immediately. But will occur sooner than later,” declared Dr Kohona in an interview with IDN.
“It may also be time to consider moving elements of the headquarters to other capitals, particularly in Asia, which may be more willing to foot the bill and which are cheaper,” he said, suggesting that the annual General Assembly could be relocated to other continents on a rotational basis.
“The difficulties associated with entry issues to the U.S. as the country rings itself with increasingly harsh security measures against perceived external threats is another factor to be kept in mind,” he added.
Nevertheless, the priority should be on ensuring that “the UN survives,” Dr Kohona told IDN. “We are fortunate that we have the UN, with all its inadequacies, and there are many. It is the only global forum that we all have – the only global forum for the big and the small alike. It would have been well nigh impossible to agree to create a body of this nature today.”
Erol Avdović, a long-time UN correspondent and Editor-in-Chief of WebPublicaPress, finds the cutbacks “a disturbing message from Washington” although “it’s hardly news considering the United States’ love-hate relationship with the UN. Even the conditionality that the UN pursues reforms of its indeed bureaucratic system is a déjà vu story in the UN headquarters in New York.” Yet funding cuts would threaten many UN institutions, Avdović added.
Dr Kohona admitted that the United States has indeed been the major financial contributor to the United Nations since its inception in 1945. “But this was a reflection of the economic standing of the U.S. in the post-World War II world. On the other hand, while having been the major financial contributor to the world body, it has also benefitted enormously, both financially and politically,” the veteran diplomat stressed.
He went on to explain that New York City reaps a multi-billion dollar benefit annually from the fact that the organisational headquarters are located in New York. The United Nations awards contracts to different service providers located in New York. Besides, U.S. citizens gain priority access to employment opportunities at the organisation, especially at lower levels.
The endless conferences held at the headquarters are a ready source of high income for hotels, restaurants, apartments, hire car companies, and so on, although the prestige that the organisation confers on the city cannot be measured only in terms of dollars.
Politically, no other country has so successfully used the UN to achieve its political ends as the U.S. Whether in having its own goals realised or stalling global initiatives that the U.S. does not favour, the UN has been a handy international tool for the U.S., Dr Kohona said.
“The world body has also been used time and again to provide a respectable cover for realising intrinsically U.S. goals. U.S. diplomats have made manipulating the organisation an art form. All credit to them,” he added.
“From just being nice to their colleagues, twisting arms and even threatening dire consequences are all part of their well-practised repertoire. All this has been possible to a large extent due to the traditional deference that other countries and their diplomats have shown to the superpower and the UN’s largest contributor.”
Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America, noted: “Since the Second World War, presidents of both major parties advanced U.S. interests by working to strengthen international security, end global poverty, and deepen diplomatic and cultural ties with people around the world.”
That tradition has bolstered American leadership in the world, but it would come to an abrupt end if Congress follows the Trump Administration’s “callous blueprint,” Offenheiser warned.
Oxfam America is particularly concerned with a cut of one-third to foreign assistance and slashing of funding for important international institutions.
Furthermore, with climate change devastating communities around the world, the budget proposal also essentially zeroes out all international climate finance and targets key initiatives at the State Department intended to build resilience and support low-emissions energy pathways.
The proposed budget slashes the Green Climate Fund, a fund established to lift people out of poverty and to help countries themselves invest in inclusive, sustainable growth, and the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds, which were established with bipartisan support under the George W. Bush administration, noted Offenheiser.
President Trump’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2018 slashes funding for the State Department and international development programmes by a devastating 28 percent with massive cuts for the United Nations, humanitarian assistance and cultural exchange programmes. In contrast to cuts to diplomacy and foreign development aid, the budget proposal preserves military aid to Israel at 3.1 billion dollars.
Trump announced the first of the cuts early April 2017 when he decided to end funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which has played a key role in supporting programmes to tackle sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that affects an estimated one in three women worldwide.
The Trump Administration also envisages enforcement of a 25 percent cap on U.S. funding for peacekeeping operations. The United States is the biggest contributor to the world body, paying 22 percent of the 5.4 billion dollar core budget and 28.5 percent of the 7.9 billion dollar peacekeeping budget. These are assessed contributions agreed by the UN General Assembly.
According to UN officials, the U.S. currently owes the UN 896 million dollars for its core budget.
Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned: The proposed reduction in funding for UN peacekeeping and unspecified cuts for the rest of the UN sends a troubling message about the Trump administration’s commitment to human rights at a global level.
While it is appropriate for the U.S. to seek UN reforms, deep funding cuts would threaten UN institutions and programmes that advance and promote human rights worldwide, Charbonneau added. He urged the Congress to maintain the U.S. commitment to the international human rights system and institutions that have played a key role since World War II in advancing human rights globally. [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 April 2017]
Photo: Nikki Haley (front, centre right), U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN and President of the Security Council for the month of April, chairs the Council’s meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security: human rights and prevention of armed conflict. Secretary-General António Guterres sits to her right. (18 April 2017). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
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