George Washington, the first President of the United States, said that the country should «steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world». 221 years after America is on the way to get back to this precept.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States will not continue participating in the Human Rights Council unless the UN rights agency undergoes «considerable reform».
Washington has long complained about the body’s actions in general and the fact that the Geneva-based Human Rights Council unduly focuses on Israel and includes member countries with poor rights records. The Trump administration has questioned the Council’s usefulness.
State Department staffers have been instructed to seek cuts in excess of 50 percent in US funding for UN programs, including peacekeeping operations. The United States provides about $2.5 billion per year to fund peacekeepers. The budget proposal reinforces the Trump administration’s shift from diplomacy and foreign assistance to increased support of the military.
The 2018 draft budget proposal released on March 16 includes cuts of 28 percent for spending on the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign assistance programs, including the UN. The cuts affect the World Food Program’s work to feed those dying from starvation; UNICEF’s child vaccination program, the UN Refugee Agency’s sheltering of refugees fleeing from war and peacekeeping missions, which affect millions and contain the spread of terrorism across the world.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested phasing in the major reductions over the coming three years. The country is the biggest contributor to the UN budget, funding 22 per cent of the Organization’s annual costs. Additionally, the US funds 29 per cent of peacekeeping operations. All in all, the US spends $10 billion yearly on the UN.
If Washington fails to honor its funding commitments to the UN’s regular budget, which is obligatory, it could lose its voting rights in the General Assembly. Actually, the stage is already set. The «American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017» was introduced in the House on January 3 and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), the legislation proposes that the US terminate its membership in the UN, that the organization removes its headquarters from the country, and that the US stops participating in the World Health Organization. Should it pass, the act would take effect two years after it is signed. Also in January, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill to defund the United Nations.
The anti-UN sentiments are fueled by the fact that in recent years the Organization has become increasingly vocal criticizing America for violations of human rights and international laws. For instance, in 2014 the United Nations Committee Against Torture released a report that deeply criticized the US for racial discrimination and other Civil Rights issues, including electronic surveillance, CIA interrogations, immigrant detentions, the failure to shut down the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay etc.
A new UN report in 2015 criticized the United States for being the only country in the world that imprisons children for life without parole. The US was blasted at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council being over its human rights record, including racism and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. The legality of using drones in other countries the US is not at war with has been questioned many times by international community.
In 2003 the US attacked Iraq without the approval of the UN Security Council. In 2011 as a member of NATO it went beyond the UN resolution on Libya.
There are other examples to prove that the US has many times gone around the international law. But will the withdrawal from the Organization meet US national interests?
Actually, the arguments for leaving the UN hold no water. The $10 billion, about one-quarter of one percent of the $3.8 trillion federal budget that the United States provides to the UN each year is crucial for worldwide humanitarian aid, fighting terrorism and discouraging nuclear proliferation. The contribution into stabilizing fragile economies helps to keep trade partners afloat or create new ones.
The UN has helped more than 100 other countries implement or improve existing counterterrorism laws. Today, the organization maintains 16 UN peacekeeping operations with 117,000 troops, police, military observers, civilian personnel and volunteers from 125 countries. The importance of UN for arms control, disarmament and, especially, non-proliferation is indisputable. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency have greatly contributed into preventing a nuclear war. The Organization is the depositary of more than 560 multilateral treaties.
A half dozen core human rights agreements and the creation of a Human Rights High Commissioner to monitor the compliance have made life better for many people. The Organization has helped to provide education to millions of children around the world.
The UN may be imperfect and needs to be reformed but it remains a vital instrument of international governance in the interdependent world at a time when the global security is under threat, let it be rogue states, terrorists, contentious deceases or climate change. All these problems can be addressed only through engagement and cooperation, not isolation or unilateralism. Nobody can tackle them alone.
Shaking off the burden of international law and global commitments does not lead to the solution of the problems. Leaving the Organization, the US will be deprived of a vital institution to communicate with the world. It will lose a lot and gain nothing. Hopefully, will prevail to stem the dangerous trend.
By Andrei Akulov