Friday, June 30, 2017

We Should be Working to Improve the UN, not Walking Away from it . . .

Source: Wikipedia
The United States contributes roughly 22 percent of the United Nations' general budget.  This is an appropriate and fair amount given our share of the world's economy.  The U.S. economy ($18.6 trillion 2016) remains the largest economy in the world, comprising nearly 25% of world economic output. The European Union ($16.4 trillion 2016) makes up a little under 22% of the world economy, and China ($11.2 trillion 2016) is in third place at 15%.

The Trump administration, however, wants to back away from our leadership role in the world community. Trump has turned his back on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement; he wants to renegotiate NAFTA; he wants to weaken our NATO commitments; he wants to exit the Paris Climate Accords; he wants to keep out refugees and immigrants; he wants to move towards autarky; and he wants to cut our commitment to the UN in half.

Returning to Our Isolationist Roots

After World War One, President Woodrow Wilson suggested a 14 point plan for an equitable peace in Europe. This included a League of Nations to help put an end to an era of hostile armies crossing the Rhine every 20 years, to borrow a DeLong meme. In the end, to the world's loss, the United States stayed out of the League of Nations, and a mere 21 years later civilized nations were at each other's throats once more. The world would have been better off had the U.S. engaged with the League of Nations after World War I. Would the infamous Munich conference have gone differently had the U.S. been involved? If God could play dice with alternate histories in a parallel universe, he would be tempted to do it in light of the catastrophe that followed.

Following World War II, the nations of the world got together once more to form the United Nations on October 24, 1945. The original 51 countries of the UN came together to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and to promote social progress, better living standards and human rights across the globe.  What's not to like?

Today the UN has 193 member states who have submitted to the founding charter and its amendments. Individual countries can express their views through the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and other bodies and committees. It's a democracy of sorts, even if some members are more equal than others. The United States, of course, is more equal than anyone. So what's not to like?

The work of the United Nations reaches every corner of the globe. The core mission is peacekeeping, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, but there are many other ways in which the UN works to help make our lives and the world a better place. UN agencies work on sustainable development, the environment, refugee protection, disaster relief, counter terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, the promotion of  democracy, human rights, gender equality and the advancement of women. The UN works on improving governance, economic and social development and international health, clearing landmines, expanding food production, and more, all in order to achieve a safer, better world for this and future generations.  What's not to like?

The isolationist forces that have taken over our government don't like the United Nations.  And it's true, the UN is not a perfect body.  In fact it is deeply flawed. The body needs to become more democratic. Stronger. More independent. Many of its member states need to become more responsible. The body needs to become more effective. Still, we should be working to make it better, not turn our back on it.

How do we work to improve anything? Through leadership. And who is in a better position to lead the UN than the United States? No one. And is the United States better off if someone else steps up to take the leadership mantle? I don't think so. Is the world better off if the United States walks away from its leadership role? I don't think so.

But this is not apparent to all. "America, we pay way too much for the United Nations" lamented Brett Shaefer at Fox News a year ago:
Over the last six decades, the share of the U.N. expenses borne by poor or small member states has steadily ratcheted downward to near- microscopic levels. From 1974 to 1998, the minimum mandatory payment for the regular budget for example, fell from 0.04 percent to 0.001 percent. For the peacekeeping budget, the minimum is 0.0001 percent.
The end result is a hugely skewed bill for U.N. expenses.

In 2015, 35 countries will be charged the minimum regular budget assessment of 0.001 percent which works out to approximately$28,269 each. Twenty countries will be charged the minimum peacekeeping assessment of 0.0001 percent or approximately $8,470 apiece. By contrast, the U.S. is assessed 22 percent of the regular budget (approximately $622 million) and over 28 percent of the peacekeeping budget (approximately $2.402 billion). 
But spare us the crocodile tears.  The nation of Tuvalu with a GDP of $36 million, admitted as the 189th member of the UN in 2000, is charged the minimum $8,470 for world peacekeeping.  In other words, Tuvalu is assessed .01 basis points for world defense and their share of world GDP is .0036 basis points.  By comparison, the United States with 25 percent of world GDP is contributing 28 percent of the UN defense budget, AND the U.S. gets to be the world leader. We get to have a veto over Security Council resolutions.  What does Tuvalu get?

In March, reports CNN, instead of stepping to the head of the line and leading by example, the White House instructed our UN mission to gut our contributions to the UN. Instead of having the US shoulder a proportionate to GDP share of the UN Budget, the current administration wants to pay much less. If they could, it appears, they would follow our League of Nations example and  quit the UN altogether.

So yesterday, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, celebrated a $500 million cut from the UN peacekeeping budget: "Just 5 months into our time here, we've cut over half a billion $$$ from the UN peacekeeping budget & we're only getting started," tweeted Haley. Oh Boy! Isn't that great?  No it's not.

Turning our back on the UN is nothing to celebrate. Let's never forget what happened when we turned our back on the League of Nations. We should be leading by example. We should be engaged with the world body; we should be working hard to improve it. We should not be walking away from it. . .

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles