Nine former United States Ambassadors to the United Nations, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, wrote to key members of Congress today urging them to maintain American financial support for the United Nations and its agencies. In the letter, addressed to Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, the diplomats pressed Congress to “support U.S. leadership at the UN, including through continued payment of our assessed and voluntary financial contributions to the Organization.”
The letter comes at a key time. The White House released a budget request that would substantially reduce American support for diplomacy and development, including programs at the United Nations. That budget is now being debated in Congress and this letter sends a (bi-partisan) message that the United Nations, despite its flaws, deserves American support.
“In our experience, the U.S. is much more effective in pressing reforms when it stays engaged and pays its dues and bills,” the ambassadors write. “Withholding or slashing funding for the UN, by contrast, weakens our hand, alienates allies whose support is critical to our reform priorities, undermines essential UN activities that promote core American interests and values, and costs us more over the long term. It also cedes the agenda to countries that can be hostile to our interests and more than willing to see the U.S. give up its seat at the table.”
The US is the single largest funder of the United Nations, contributing about 25% of the regular budget and about 28% of the peacekeeping budget. The USA is also a major funder of UN humanitarian agencies like UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the UN Refugee Agency, among others. In all, the US spends about $10 billion on UN programs each year. “Our message is simple,” said Madeleine Albright, who served as UN Ambassador in the Clinton Administration, on a conference call to discussing the letter. “Cutting the UN budget, as Trump indicated, will only damage national security.”
“None of us believe the UN is perfect,” she said. “We all believe it remains an essential tool in the American foreign policy and national security tool box. Whether we are dealing with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, or Mali the UN plays a vital role.”
The ambassadors released this letter just one day after President Trump met with members of the Security Council over lunch at the White House. According to the press pool report, President Trump said that the United Nations has “tremendous potential” and stressed the value of the United Nations when confronting the North Korea crisis.
“I like the president I heard,” said Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who served under President George HW Bush and joined Albright on the press call. “I don’t like the president that put forward the skinny budget.”
Both Albright and Pickering expressed concern that a reduction of US financial contributions to the UN would create an opening that America’s global rivals could exploit at the expense of American interests or values. “If we step back and give up on our role at the UN, the Chinese and Russians will exert it in a way that will not be helpful,” said Albright.
Pickering agreed. “We don’t want to put ourselves in the position of being isolated at the UN by Russians and Chinese,” he said. “It would be terrible and frankly stupid to do that.”
As Congress begins debating the budget in earnest, it is still unclear how some of Donald Trump’s proposals will fare. On a press call yesterday Senator Bob Corker — the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — touted the value of US foreign aid spending, which the Presidents budget would dramatically slash. “It’s 1% of what we spend,” he said. “If we spend it wisely is what keeps [American soldiers] out of harms way and out of a hot war.” Corker dryly added that he has “never seen a president’s budget become law.”
Still, reductions in US contributions to the United Nations are a distinct possibility. This letter from nine individuals who have spent years of their lives defending American interests at the United Nations shows how counter productive those cuts can be.