Foreign Policy for America Statement on Suspending Funding to the World Health Organization

April 15, 2020

Foreign Policy for America Statement on Suspending Funding to the World Health Organization

Washington, DC – The fight against coronavirus is a critical moment for the United States and our relationships with countries around the world, as people everywhere struggle against a common enemy. But in a break with American values, President Trump announced yesterday his intention to halt U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, the international organization tasked with leading global efforts to defeat the virus. This unconscionable action is yet another effort by President Trump to deflect blame for his own failure to act quickly to address the threat of COVID-19.

Around the world, at a moment when global leadership is urgently needed, this will be seen as a sign of American weakness and abandonment of our commitments. It will result in countless lost lives.

This virus has reached every corner of the world, and to make it safe for businesses to reopen, for economies to restart, for people to resume a normal life, every country must work together. If we walk away from the rest of the world at a time that urgently requires international action, the risks are clear – the world may walk away from us. Trump’s “America first” will lead to “America alone.”

The WHO has the ability to organize the nations of the world in a coordinated response to the virus and its work in countries with fewer resources will be especially critical to end the pandemic. The coronavirus does not respect borders: if we don’t stop the pandemic everywhere, it will find its way back to us. It is in the interest of the world, and every American, for the WHO to have the resources it needs.

The WHO is not perfect and there will be a time and a place to study and address what went right and what went wrong in this crisis. But that time is not now, while thousands are still dying. The international community has to work together to end this pandemic before we can look in the rear view mirror. Foreign Policy for America urges the administration to immediately resume U.S. payments to the WHO.

“We’re not some petty banana republic,” said FP4A Executive Director Andrew Albertson. “This is the United States of America, the most powerful and prosperous country on the planet. We can either step up in times of crisis or admit just how weak and pathetic we’ve become under Trump. It’s that simple. Decades from now, the world will remember how we acted during this global crisis.”

“This is a dangerous decision made at a terrible time, as the virus spreads in the poorer areas of the world,” said Tony Lake, former National Security Advisor and Executive Director of UNICEF. “It will produce not only another loss of American influence, but far worse – the likely loss of many lives. Shameful.”

“Whatever concerns there may be about the WHO, this is the exact wrong moment for the largest contributor to withhold funding,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, former President and CEO of CARE and Assistant Surgeon General in the U.S. Public Service. “The United States was a leader in the creation of the WHO in 1948, and it’s more important than ever that we continue to ensure they can lead on a global response.”

“This action substitutes grandstanding for real accountability,” said Heather Hurlburt, director of the New Models of Policy Change at New America and former White House and State Department official. “It communicates loudly that this administration is more interested in nourishing opposition to international cooperation than in either saving lives or doing the hard work of improving international organizations. In the long run, a weakened international response to COVID-19 and other diseases will cost the U.S. far more in dollars and lives than this gesture might appear to save.”

“President Trump’s decision to withdraw critical funding from the World Health Organization as worldwide COVID-19 cases top two million is a dangerous, illegal, and cynical ploy to deflect criticism from his own early inaction,” said former Deputy National Security Advisor Ambassador Nancy Soderberg. “I urge Congress to step in immediately and reverse this divisive and deadly step. Not only does the WHO help us all tackle the coronavirus, it works to fight polio, malaria, cancer, and many other diseases throughout the developing world, which is particularly at risk during this pandemic. At this critical time, we need to come together worldwide to use the institutions we built up to help keep us safe.”

“At a time when the need for international cooperation to save American lives has never been clearer, we cannot afford to once again isolate the United States from the global community,” said Ambassador Donald Steinberg, former Deputy USAID Administrator, director of the State/USAID Joint Policy Council under President George W. Bush, and senior advisor for Africa to President Bill Clinton. “There will be time later for assessments and reforms: now is the time for the United States to embrace the WHO and other international health institutions that are stepping forward to address the leadership void left by this administration.”

“This isn’t the time to isolate ourselves, but a time to work with the rest of the world to stop the virus as quickly as possible,” said Lindsay Coates, Managing Director at BRAC and former President of InterAction. “A pandemic knows no borders, so the whole world must have a coordinated response. In playing our part in the global community through our contributions to WHO funding, we help everyone, from the poorest to the richest, be safer and more secure.”