Haley uses Trump cuts as 'leverage' at UN

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Story highlights

  • The agreement slices 7.5 percent off America's bill and is part of the mission
  • UN General Assembly officially voted to approve the peacekeeping budget on Friday

Washington (CNN)US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley received mixed reviews this week after cheering cuts to the UN's peacekeeping budget and leading efforts to dramatically reduce the organization's long-standing presence in Sudan's embattled Darfur region.

"Just 5 months into our time here, we've cut over half a billion $$$ from the UN peacekeeping budget & we're only getting started," Haley tweeted on Wednesday, referencing a deal that cuts $600 million from the annual peacekeeping budget of more than $7.5 billion.
The agreement, which was initially reported by Reuters, slices 7.5 percent off America's bill and is part of the mission to trim "fat around the edges" of the UN, according to Haley.
    The UN General Assembly officially voted on Friday to approve the peacekeeping budget, which makes up 28.5 percent of total US contributions to the UN.
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    The UN Security Council also voted on a new mandate for its peacekeeping mission in Darfur, deciding to cut the number of UN bases there by nearly half and dramatically reducing the number of troops that provide protection for civilian groups and aid workers.
    "Our peacekeeping reforms are aimed at producing more effective missions for vulnerable civilians and holding host governments accountable to their responsibility to protect their own citizens while also cutting down on waste and inefficiency," Haley said on Wednesday while testifying before the House foreign affairs committee.
    Haley said the program, which last fiscal year cost almost $8 billion, needed to be looked at and reconsidered during her Senate confirmation hearing nearly five months ago.
    Under former President Barack Obama, the US paid for about 30% of the UN's peacekeeping budget. China was the second highest contributor, paying just over 10%.
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    The peacekeeping department -- which has been rocked by sex abuse allegations and often unending missions -- was a clear target for slashing after the White House instructed the US mission to the UN to cut its budget for UN programs nearly in half this March.
    Initially the US had proposed $1 billion in cuts, which would have dropped its contributions by more than 10 percent. The UN said in May that the US cuts would make continuing its work "impossible."
    "The figures presented would simply make it impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights and humanitarian assistance," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement.
    Haley maintains that the White House's budget proposal was "more about making a point" and Trump was "putting the UN on notice."
    "I have used that as leverage ... now we're seeing a lot of the other countries come forward and say 'yes we should do reform,'" Haley told lawmakers on Wednesday.

    A 'misguided' mandate?

    While Haley's comments on the UN budget cuts captured most of the headlines this week, it was the security council's unanimous decision to downsize the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur that has some human rights advocates concerned.
    The proposed cuts to the mission in Darfur were largely orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the US, according to human rights advocates.
    "Darfur was more shocking because of the dramatic reduction in military troops on the ground where people are still at risk and 2-3 million people are still displaced in camps," Akshaya Kumar, Deputy UN Director at The Human Rights Watch, told CNN.
    Kumar called the initiative to pull peacekeepers from 11 of the 36 bases in Darfur and move military staff from seven additional locations "misguided," adding the council's assessment that the situation in the region is improving "is not based in reality" according to reports from people on the ground who were interviewed by the non-profit human rights organization.
    Assembled in 2007 amid a bloody civil war that has been labeled by the US as 'genocide,' the peacekeeping operation currently consists of nearly 20,000 personnel -- including military troops, police advisers and officers, UN volunteers and civilians.
    The UN had until the end of June to reauthorize the mission's mandate and voted this week to approve a draw-down that will take place over two sixth-month phases.
    While the UN and the African Union maintain that the conflict in Darfur is coming to a close, Kumar warns that the security council's perception may be skewed by a natural blind spot on the issue and a misrepresentation of conditions in the region from the Sudanese government which has long argued the peacekeepers should be removed.
    "The planned cuts reflect a false narrative about Darfur's war ending," said Daniel Bekele, senior director for Africa advocacy at Human Rights Watch. "There is no reason to believe that government attacks on civilians and other abuses have ended since the same security forces remain in place; they have never been prosecuted for their crimes and can't be relied on to protect civilians."

    "Cutting costs vs. ceding ground"

    Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized the need for reform at the UN, but expressed varying opinions about how to best address the issues Haley deemed as "fat around the edges."
    The Trump administration's desire to cut costs by reducing US commitments to international organizations has sparked concerns that the US could risk losing influence on the world stage.
    "The UN has problems. No one disputes that. But walking away from our commitments isn't the right way to affect the reform we all want to see," Rep. Eliott Engel, the top Democrat on the foreign affairs committee told Haley on Wednesday.
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    "These cuts would also send a deeply troubling message to UN members: the United States no longer wants to be a global leader on a whole range of issues that we're willing to cede that ground to whoever steps in our place," he said.
    Other UN countries see the US emphasis on cutting the budget as a chance to push their own agendas, according to Kumar.
    During budget negotiations, China actively lobbied to cut large amounts of human rights monitors in peacekeeping missions around the world, Kumar said, evidence that other nations are reading US priorities as an opportunity to redirect focus away from human rights issues they perceive as inconvenient.
    Ultimately, diplomats from several European countries stood in opposition to China's proposal and tempered some of the cuts to human rights personnel.
    "We were certainly nervous," Kumar said. "You could worry an administration that prioritizes saving money wouldn't prioritize human rights efforts but they did end up standing up for the human rights jobs."
    "In a way this penny-pinching kind of decision is something that happens every year but you want to make sure you don't lose something important in that process," she said.