Following a vote in the United Nations that condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the country’s capital, Jerusalem, the level of U.S. funding to the international organization has come under scrutiny. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.N. resolution was disrespectful because the U.S. pays more than any other country to the U.N. “When we make generous contributions to the U.N., we also have a legitimate expectation that our good will is recognized and respected,” she said on December 21.
Currently, the U.S. pays for 22 percent of the U.N. operating budget for 2016 through 2018. However, that figure may be set to change under the Trump administration.
On December 24, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced that the Trump administration has negotiated for a $285 million cut in America’s contribution to the U.N.’s 2018-2019 budget. According to a statement from the ambassador’s office, the new budget “reduced the UN’s bloated management and support functions, bolstered support for key U.S. priorities throughout the world, and instilled more discipline and accountability throughout the U.N system.” Furthermore, the statement read, “We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked.”
In future negotiations, Haley said, “you can be sure we’ll continue to look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency while protecting our interests.”
The United Nations determines the levels of contributions from each country on the basis of gross national income, debt, and other factors. Therefore, the U.S. paid 22 percent of the body’s $5.4 billion budget for 2016 and 2017. Supporters of the U.N. contend that America’s contribution is reasonable because the U.S. accounts for approximately 25 percent of the world’s income. Next in line are Japan at 9.7 percent and China at 7.9 percent. However, China pays less than Japan even though its share of world’s income is 14 percent.
While the U.S. pays for 22 percent of the United Nations’ overall budget, it pays for higher percentages in some of the U.N.’s constituent agencies. For example, America paid $1.5 billion to the U.N. Refugee Agency: 38 percent of the agency’s total revenue, which is the largest proportion of U.N. agency revenue funded by American taxpayers. In addition, the U.S. contributed more than $10 billion in total to U.N. agencies in 2016. Of this, $6 billion was in the form of voluntary contributions, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Contributions to the U.N. constitute about 20 percent of U.S. foreign aid spending each year.
Former White House aide Sebastian Gorka recently stated that America pays for 28 percent of the U.N.’s peacekeeping budget, which costs the U.S. about $2.4 billion per year. In June, the U.N. agreed to reduce the peacekeeping budget by $570 million to $7.3 billion after being pressured by the Trump administration. The Trump administration had wanted to cut the peacekeeping budget to under $7 billion.
“Just five months into our time here, we’ve already been able to cut over half a billion dollars from the UN peacekeeping budget and we’re only getting started,” Haley said in June when she announced contribution reductions.
On Tuesday, former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told Fox News Channel that the cuts Haley announced constitute a "real opportunity" for President Trump to reconsider America's contributions to the United Nations. "There are plenty of parts of the U.N. system that don't deserve any U.S. funding, let alone a cut," Bolton told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" program. "I think if the administration really wants to review what the options are available to us, they should think about having the U.S. in the international taxation [plan] that burdens us with a 22 percent share of most U.N. budgets, and move toward voluntary contributions."
When other countries follow Trump's lead, he said, "it would be like a tsunami through the U.N. system." Bolton said that the Trump administration shjould pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and "totally defund it." Bolton, a former U.S. representative to the United Nations, said, "I think it's pure theater," adding, "There are a number of other U.N. programs and agencies I think we could zero out and we stay in the ones that we think are actually providing value. It is a revolutionary principle."
Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.