Since its establishment in the wake of World War II, the U.N. has served as the preeminent multilateral organization for confronting global issues of peace and security. Like the U.N.’s other 193 members, the United States is required to make regular payments to the organization as a condition of membership. As a permanent member of the Security Council, host of the U.N. headquarters, and the largest economic and military power in the world, the United States is the organization’s most influential actor. Reflecting this influence, the United States is the U.N.’s largest donor, providing about 22 percent of the organization’s annual budget and 28 percent of its peacekeeping budget. In addition to these mandatory, “assessed contributions,” nations also make voluntary contributions to other U.N. organizations like United Nations Children’s Fund, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Food Program.
Strong and consistent U.S. engagement with the U.N. ensures American national security, advances global economic prosperity, and promotes humanitarian interests around the world. However, in early 2017, the Trump Administration proposed a 40 to 50 percent cut in funding to both the United States mandatory and voluntary contributions to the U.N. (Brookings, New York Times), arguing that the U.S. reaps too few benefits from its substantial appropriation. He followed this up with a FY18 and FY19 budget that called for a $1.1 billion cut to U.N. peacekeeping forces and a cap on the United States’ contribution to peacekeeping efforts—no more than 25% of the total peacekeeping budget. Also proposed in President Trump’s budgets are cuts to the Green Climate Fund, which addresses climate change in developing countries by encouraging private investment (White House).
If President Trump’s proposed cuts are fully realized, the U.N. would need to fundamentally change its operations. Ironically, reducing U.S. support to these organizations would likely be more costly to the United States in the long run; these missions are critical for our security and interests, and if the U.N. becomes unable to deliver on them the U.S. would need to fill that gap at a higher price. Though the U.N. covers a broad range of issues furthering U.S. interests, America’s total contributions account for a very small portion of its national budget: peacekeeping and regular budget dues make up just 0.2% of the annual federal budget. We get a tremendous return on our investment. For example, if the United States were to replace the U.N. peacekeeping forces with unilateral action, the cost to the American taxpayer could reach eight times its contribution to the U.N. operation.
The U.N.’s role in combating terrorism, promoting nonproliferation, enforcing free and fair trade, providing humanitarian assistance, and fighting climate change is indispensable. It is a vehicle for solving problems that are too complex and expensive to solve unilaterally. American security relies on a strong and properly-funded U.N.
On December 24, 2017, United States Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) Nikki Haley announced a cut to the U.N. Budget of more than $285 million (U.S. Mission to the U.N.). On January 16, 2018, the administration followed that with a $65 million cut to contributions to UNRWA, the U.N. organization for aiding Palestinian refugees (Washington Post) -- a move that forced the agency to lay off 267 workers and cut health services (NY Times). While the administration characterized these cuts as a “historic reduction in spending” and a reversal of the United States “bearing a disproportionate share of these costs,” in reality they simply underscore its disdain for multilateralism. Additionally, President Trump withdrew the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 18th, 2018 over what he perceived as the Council’s bias against Israel (The Washington Post). This move came in the midst of controversy when a contemptible U.S. policy of separating children from their families at the southern border came to light. This policy was labelled an abuse of human rights by the U.N. human rights chief (Politico).
In late August 2018, President Trump cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). This was a budget cut of $300 million dollars, which has led to a 2019 emergency appeal to donor partners to overcome “an unprecedented shortfall and existential crisis following the decision by the Agency’s largest donor to cut US$ 300 million of its contribution last year.”
In February 2019, Congress passed it’s 2019 budget. This came after a 35 day shutdown over a border wall. The final budget included U.S. funding for U.N Peacekeeping as well as funds for the U.N. General Budget. In the peacekeeping area the U.S. budget allocated $1.551 billion dollars which is about 25% of the U.N. Peacekeeping budget, but fell nearly 3% short of the 27.9% of the U.N. Peacekeeping budget that the U.S. had agreed to fund. This has resulted in the U.S. under-funding the U.N. Peacekeeping budget by about $750 million. For the U.N. General budget the U.S. allocated $1.3 billion, which according to the U.N. is “commensurate with the rates the United States is assessed as a dues paying member of the U.N.” (UN Dispatch).
In March 2019, the White House released its FY 2020 budget. This budget included a 27% cut to U.S. contributions to the U.N. Peacekeeping budget, reducing contributions from $1.551 billion to $1.14 billion. The administration also recommended a 25% cut to U.S. contributions to the U.N. General budget from $1.3 billion to just $1 billion (USGLC).
WHAT YOU CAN DO
US contributions to the UN advance our foreign policy interests and promote American values. That’s why we’re asking Congress to fully fund the U.S. dues to the United Nations.
Call your congressional representatives at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support full U.S. financial support of the United Nations and their critical missions. Here are a couple key things to say:
UN Peacekeeping operations are extremely cost-effective, having been found by the GAO to be eight times less expensive than deploying U.S. forces, and, by relying on troop contributions from more than 120 countries, are an excellent example of global burden-sharing in action.
Polling in September of 2018 found that more than 7 in 10 voters support the United States paying our dues to the UN and UN Peacekeeping.
Funding the United Nations: What Impact Do U.S. Contributions Have on UN Agencies and Programs? - Council on Foreign Relations
In One Move, Trump Eliminated US Funding for UNRWA and the US Role as Mideast Peacemaker - Brookings Institution
Importance of Funding the UN – Better World Campaign