Continued funding to U.N. necessary to advance American foreign policy agenda

Catherine Conrow

As Congress prepares the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, President Trump has vied for a reduction of government funds that go to support international organizations, most notably the United Nations (U.N.).

Since its founding in 1946, the United States has served as the largest single contributor to the U.N.’s regular and peacekeeping budgets (responsible for paying 22 percent and 28 percent of these budgets respectively), according to the Better World Campaign, an organization that works to promote the relationship between the U.S. and the United Nations.


According to a draft executive order leaked in January, the Trump Administration plans to eventually slash a minimum of 40 percent of U.S. funding to multilateral institutions, a move that would most severely impact U.S. funding to the U.N. and the World Bank.

In a budget proposal put forth in March by the Trump Administration, Trump also stated that he intends to reduce funding to the U.N. “by setting the expectation that these organizations rein in costs and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among members.”

Although Trump has dismissed the United Nations as “just a club for people to get together and have a good time,” the U.N. addresses global challenges that, due to their complexity and cost, the U.S. is unable to confront alone.

A withdrawal of funding to the U.N. would not only jeopardize U.N. programs, but would also threaten the U.S.’s ability to advance its agenda at the United Nations. Moreover, it would rob the U.S. of the political, economic and military benefits that result from strong engagement in the United Nations.

As a result of our heavy funding of the U.N., the U.S. arguably has more clout than any other UN member state and thus can influence the U.N.’s agenda to complement American foreign policy goals.

The United States has always enjoyed a position on the U.N. Security Council where it has had veto power. However, if the U.S. fails to fulfill its funding commitments to the U.N.’s regular budget, it might lose its voting rights in the General Assembly.

The Trump Administration has defended its proposal by arguing that a reduction of U.N. funding is in line with his America First initiative. However, strong and consistent U.S. engagement with the U.N. is essential to advancing our foreign policy, national security, humanitarian and economic priorities on a number of fronts.

Moreover, our contributions to the U.N. consumes a very small portion of our nation’s annual budget. Only 1.4 percent of the federal budget is devoted to foreign aid, including contributions to the U.N. and State Department aid programs.

Yet our heavy funding of the U.N. has come to serve as a solid investment that goes beyond advancing global peace and security—we also see tangible economic benefits here at home. For every $1 the US contributes to the U.N., we receive $1.60 back in contracts for U.S. based businesses and benefits to the economy, according to the Better World Campaign.

In addition, a recent NYC Economic Impact Report by the NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs found that the U.N. headquarters, located in New York City, boosts the city’s economy by $3.69 billion each year, the equivalent to hosting more than seven pro football championships in one year.

However, the greatest economic benefit of the U.N. is the work that it does to provide global security and stabilize turbulent areas of the world.

According to Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama, “Our ability to exercise leadership in the U.N.—to protect our core national security interests—is directly tied to meeting our financial obligations.”

Nearly half of U.S. funding to the U.N. is directed to United Nations Peacekeeping which works to promote stability, nonproliferation, counterterrorism, human rights and development, according to the Center for Global Development

If the Trump Administration hopes to, as Trump has said, work with all “freedom loving partners” to eradicate terrorism, he will need the assistance of the U.N. to do so.

Due to the global nature of terrorism, the United States relies on the multinational cooperation that the U.N. provides. In the wake of 9/11, the U.S. called on the U.N. to implement stronger counterterrorism measures, including strengthening the relationship between international counterterrorism organizations, prohibiting ransom payments to terrorists and requiring nations to criminalize acts of terrorism.

In recent years, the United States has worked with the U.N. to halt the flow of funds to terrorists organizations such as ISIS through the introduction of tighter sanctions, according to Eric Rosand, a former Senior Counterterrorism Official at the U.S. Department of State.

U.N. Peacekeeping missions not only save the U.S. military a significant amount of funds, but American lives as well all while being relatively effective.

According to Virginia Fortna, the Harold Brown Professor of U.S. Foreign and Security Policy at Columbia University, when the international community deploys peacekeepers in war-stricken regions, the risk of civil war reigniting drops by almost 70 percent and civilian casualties are dramatically reduced.

Even though Trump cannot be expected to care about civilians across the world, before slashing peacekeeping funding, he should note that the presence of peacekeepers makes the United States a safer place by denying terrorists safe havens, limiting refugee flows and reducing the risk that U.S. forces will need to intervene.

It does all of this at an annual cost to the U.S. equal to about 0.015 percent of the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In part, this is because each American serviceman deployed to war zones costs the U.S. $2.1 million per year compared to $24,500 per deployed U.N. peacekeeper—about 86 times as much, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. And only 72 Americans serve in the Peacekeeping force of 100,376 peacekeepers, according to a U.N. Peacekeeping report.

Ultimately, Trump’s proposed reduction of 40 percent of funding to multilateral organizations, including the U.N., will do little to alleviate the national debt and will jeopardize the nation’s long term security and our position as a global leader.