Hurting the United Nations hurts the United States

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Nikki Haley Confirmation Hearing origwx cs_00000000

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Story highlights

  • President Donald Trump reportedly is considering an order to slash US funding for the UN budget
  • Peter Yeo: If Trump signs such an order, he would endanger US foreign policy and national security interests, while putting millions of lives at risk

Peter Yeo is president of the Better World Campaign and vice president for public policy and advocacy at the United Nations Foundation. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)In her confirmation hearing last week, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wisely said, "You can never win with slash-and-burn techniques. That doesn't work." Yet slash and burn is precisely what the White House reportedly is considering through an order that calls for "at least a 40 percent overall decrease" in voluntary contributions to international organizations, including the United Nations. But the President should listen to Nikki Haley before it's too late.

Peter Yeo
If signed, such an order would seriously endanger US foreign policy and national security interests, and put millions of lives at risk. It would potentially undermine the US ambassador before she even gets to New York, facing diplomats from 192 nations furious that the United States was disengaging from the most important global institution just as the world needs American leadership more than ever before.
Slashing voluntary funding to the UN would devastate the agencies that serve the world's most vulnerable populations, including the World Food Program, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Refugee Agency, UN Population Fund and the World Health Organization. As part of their vital work, these agencies provide food to 80 million people in 80 different countries; vaccinate 45% of the world's children against deadly diseases; provide life-saving insecticide-treated nets to 26 million people annually to guard against malaria; assist 65 million people who have been forced to flee their homes to avoid war or persecution; and provide maternal health care to 30 million women.
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Let's remember why the US provides these funds to the United Nations in the first place. Promoting global peace and security abroad through the UN prevents conflicts abroad and minimizes the number of people who need to flee, efforts that are directly aligned with President Trump's policy to keep Americans safe. Vaccinating and educating children in developing and fragile nations leads to healthier economic partners and more stability around the world. Poverty is a key driver of instability because young people resort to violence and even extremism when there is a lack of hope for the future.
The world has seen the harmful impact cuts to UN humanitarian funding can have. In a recent interview with ABC's David Muir, President Trump cited the mass migration to Europe as evidence that "the world is a mess." It was a shortfall in global funding to many of these same agencies, however, that led to the wave of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers washing into Europe in 2015 in search of food, shelter and safety. Since the US provides a significant amount of funding to these organizations, cuts in American aid would have devastating consequences to essential services. It would also threaten the stability of American allies and interests -- allowing more hostile nations to fill the voids and creating safe havens for terrorist elements.
Such an action would also be out of step with the wishes of the American people. A new poll conducted for our organization shows that bipartisan support for the UN remains high -- 88% of Americans support active engagement at the UN. This support is shared by Republicans and Democrats alike.
While cutting foreign affairs spending may appear to be a convenient way to cut costs, the truth is that US funding for the United Nations is only 0.1% of the federal budget. While the UN is a small expense for American taxpayers relative to other interests, the benefits these funds provide are immeasurable to people across the globe.
It is reported that the presidential order also would recommend that all US funds to the UN move to a voluntary system rather than being obliged by treaty. Such proposals have been floated in Washington for years, but successive administrations and Congresses have wisely never moved forward on them.
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The argument that voluntary funding arrangements save the US money is a red herring: on the contrary, under these types of scenarios, the US actually ends up paying more. The beauty of assessed funding structures like the regular and peacekeeping budgets is that they require other countries -- by virtue of their membership in the UN -- to support the organization at a specific level, saving the US money in the long run.
The Trump administration has an opportunity to work with the new secretary-general to achieve real reforms that will strengthen the UN's ability to carry out its work around the world. We know from experience that staying engaged is the best way to advance American interests. Continued UN funding is vital to ensure that the US keeps its seat at the negotiating table and that millions of lives aren't needlessly put in danger.