What to Do with the United Nations

“The U.N. was established to promote Western values. Franklin Roosevelt did not set it up to be anti-American or promote dictators and terrorist regimes.”  — Fred Fleitz, a senior VP at the Center for Security Policy

There is a lot of grumbling about the United Nations and, lately, some of this has turned to talk of getting the U.S. out of the U.N. altogether. Part of me wants to support this. But, given the organization’s prominence in international affairs and its potential for good, I also have questions about the wisdom of such a move.

From what I can tell, the main complaints appear to be 1) ineffectiveness, with an associated poor use of funds, and 2) undue influence of dangerous nations and NGOs which work against the promotion of Western values, including many of the freedoms that we still (mostly) enjoy. So, the questions we must ask are, “Is it worth the roughly $10 billion per year that we spend on the U.N. and its programs for the U.S. to remain a member?” and secondly, “Should we boot the U.N. out of New York City?”

To be honest, if the U.S. withdrew from the U.N., I’m not totally sure we would have a markedly smaller influence on world affairs. Lots of diplomatic activity happens in other ways and at other venues, of course. However, it might make things more difficult, and I think it would lessen our ability to keep tabs on what other nations — in particular, non-allies — are discussing, debating, and deciding among themselves, which often affects us and our allies. Waiting for notification of U.N. plans, resolutions, and activities via the newsmedia or other intel might be “too late”, in some cases. It’s better when we are involved and can have some influence, even if the votes don’t always go our way.

Similarly, if we forced the U.N. to relocate outside the U.S., it would only make it that much harder to stay on top of U.N. activities. So, with my admittedly limited knowledge about these issues, it seems to me that a better solution is to work toward reforms within the U.N. and keep it where it is. So, what can the Trump administration do to, as Fred Lucas puts it, curtail the U.N.’s power and help make sure it is spending American taxpayers’ money more wisely?

Brett Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs with The Heritage Foundation, says that the U.S. needs to stay in the U.N. to influence actions of the U.N. Security Council. Schaefer also ideas about the various and sundry U.N. programs, which cost so much money.

“The U.S. should look at contributions to each program, and determine if it is meeting its mission.”

Late last year, Schaefer authored a Heritage Foundation report recommending several actions Trump et al. should take to address the many U.N.- and related concerns: “Eleven Priorities on International Organizations for the Trump Administration”. He begins by recognizing reform efforts that the previous administration had initiated or supported and encourages the current administration to continue and expand upon them, “especially higher standards for conduct by U.N. peacekeepers.” On the other hand, he acknowledges that “[t]he Obama Administration, however, has pursued misguided policies or failed to pursue others that would advance U.S. interests.”

Brett Schaefer

Schaefer encourages Trump to ask Congress to “examine past practice on how various subjects have been treated historically (treaty, executive agreement, or congressional–executive agreement) and specify the issues or context that should mandate consideration of international agreements as treaties under Article II.” He then proceeds to lay out the titular 11 priorities:

1) “Evaluate all peacekeeping operations before supporting establishment or renewal.”

“[A] U.N. operation may not be the best option for addressing a crisis, particularly one where there is no peace to keep.”

2) “Enforce the 25 percent cap on funding for U.N. peacekeeping.”

Despite a 15-year-old deal, the current U.S. peacekeeping assessment is 28.5738 percent, and it’s Congress’ fault.

3) “Enforce whistleblower withholding as required by U.S. law.”

Unlike the Obama Administration, “[t]he Trump Administration should hold U.N. organizations to the standard established by Congress.”

4) “Strengthen independent oversight of U.N. organizations.”

U.N. employees are largely immune to criminal prosecution, and the U.N. has been historically weak in its internal oversight and accountability. “[T]he Trump Administration should establish a dedicated unit within the State Department Office of Inspector General charged with inspecting and auditing use of U.S. funds by international organizations and work with like-minded governments to establish a truly independent U.N. oversight body.”

5) “Engage with Congress to clarify the treaty process.”

“Which international agreements constitute treaties requiring Senate advice and consent in accordance with Article II of the Constitution is often subject to dispute.”

6) “Withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).”

“Unless and until [the Palestinians formally recognize Israel as a sovereign state and agree to a peace agreement acceptable to both sides], the U.S. should not provide any funding to UNESCO lest it encourage other U.N. organizations to grant membership to the Palestinians.”

UN General Assembly hall

7) “Withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”

“Withdrawal would not preclude the U.S. from adopting climate policy deemed appropriate. It would, however, prevent abuse of the UNFCCC as a vehicle for asserting U.S. commitments while avoiding Senate advice and consent in the treaty process.”

8) “Reduce U.S. support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).”

“[E]stablished more than 60 years ago as a temporary initiative to address the needs of Palestinian refugees…, [UNRWA has grown to] become a permanent institution providing services to multiple generations of Palestinians, a large majority of whom live outside of refugee camps, enjoy citizenship in other countries, or reside in the Palestinian-governed territories.”

9) “Reconsider U.S. support for the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC).”

“[The HRC] remains biased against Israel, includes repressive governments among its membership, and fails to condemn many of the world’s worst human rights abusers.”

10) “Launch a cost-benefit analysis of U.S. participation in international organizations.”

Not all such organizations provide important contributions to U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security interests, so our ROI should be questioned.

11) “Instruct the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to compile and release a comprehensive report on all U.S. contributions to the U.N. system.”

Though the State Dept. is the largest contributor, some funds flowing from the U.S. to the U.N. come from other agencies; so, we cannot rely on State’s annual report as a complete picture.

These actions all seem reasonable, even necessary, to me. Trump should definitely take this report seriously and work with Ambassador Haley, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Congress to incorporate these priorities into the overall, foreign affairs agenda. Of course, Schaefer goes into a bit more detail on each item, including links to additional reports and other documents. Good summary regarding reasserting U.S. interests at the end, too. The report isn’t terribly long or technical, and I encourage you to read it.

Antonio Guterres, the new United Nations Secretary-General, sounds like he is on board for at least some changes.

Antonio Guterres

“We need to make sure that we are able to reform the U.N. development system as member states have asked us, and we need to try to get rid of this straightjacket of bureaucracy that makes our lives so difficult in many of the things we do…. [T]his also requires a lot of discussion and dialogue and mutual understanding with member states and we need to overcome many of the divides that still exist within the organization.”

Very diplomatic, in that he didn’t name any specific nations or issues in his remarks. But, then, he is now the world’s top diplomat. It remains to be seen if he is only paying lip-service or if he will make it his own priority to support and, whenever possible, implement the many reforms necessary to make the U.N. a much more effective and efficient force for peace and security in the world.


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