Congressional Republicans Plan To Slash UN Funding

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a bill today that would cut American contributions to the United Nations and punish any UN organizations that go along with next month’s planned UN vote on Palestinian statehood. The bill would abolish the compulsory fees that the U.S. currently pays the UN in favor of voluntary contributions, which would vary depending on how the U.S. feels about the direction of UN policy. If the UN doesn’t get at least 80 percent of its overall funding from voluntary contributions, then the bill would require the U.S. to slash its contributions by 50 percent.

The bill would also freeze U.S. contributions to peacekeeping missions until Ros-Lehtinen’s reforms are enacted, and would withdraw the U.S. from UN Human Rights Council. It would also withhold U.S. funding to any UN entities which, in the words of Ros-Lehtinen’s spokesman, “upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission, in advance of the Palestinian Authority’s statehood push at the UN.”

Ros-Lehtinen clearly timed the introduction of her bill to coincide with the upcoming debate on Palestinian statehood. The chairwoman said in a statement that

“The Palestinian leadership’s current scheme to attain recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN without even recognizing Israel’s right to exist has been tried before, and it was stopped only when the U.S. made clear that it wouldn’t fund any UN entity that went along with it. … [M]y bill similarly seeks to stop this dangerous scheme in its tracks.”

How the bill will accomplish this goal is unclear. Ros-Lehtinen’s first problem is that the bill has almost no chance of becoming law. Peter Yeo, the vice president for public policy at the UN Initiative, told Foreign Policy,

“It’s an extremist bill, and as a result of that is has little chance of getting broad bipartisan support. … [Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads] John Kerry and Richard Lugar have been strong supporters of a sound relationship between the U.S. and the UN, and we’ll continue to have strong Senate and executive branch opposition to this initiative.”

Furthermore, the Obama administration has already come out in opposition to the bill, and if it somehow passed through both the House and the Senate, President Obama would almost surely veto it.

Even if it were to become law, Ros-Lehtinen’s bill would be unlikely to accomplish its goals. Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the bill would “undoubtedly weaken our influence at the UN and make it harder to counter Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood.”

It’s hard to argue with Berman’s point; if the U.S. pulls out of the Human Rights Council and slashes funding for humanitarian missions in desperate countries like Haiti and Sudan, our ability to claim moral leadership will be badly damaged.

Overall, the Obama administration has enjoyed a good relationship with the United Nations, as evidenced by the organization’s move to authorize military action against Libya. Jeffery Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation, said in a blog post,

“After two years of the closest and most productive cooperation in decades at the UN between Washington and the rest of the international community, it is hard to understand why Republicans in the House of Representatives are determined to poison the well.”

The recent foreign policy successes of the Obama administration may have intensified Republicans’ determination to move in a different direction. A push back toward unilateralism would give the Republican Party an alternative to President Obama’s foreign policy, which they could present to voters. Perhaps that’s why, at a time when many analysts are declaring the dawn of a “new era” in U.S. foreign policy, Ros-Lehtinen and her Republican colleagues seem determined to bring us back to the days of John Bolton diplomacy.

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