Keep the U.S. in the U.N.
Ved Nanda is Evans University Professor and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law. He has taught at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law since 1965. Nanda is past president of the World Jurist Association, former honorary vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the advisory council of the United States Institute of Human Rights.
It’s déjà vu all over again. Ever since the John Birch Society’s campaign in the 1950s to “get the U.S. out of the U.N.,” this refrain has been repeated from time to time, and every year for at least the past 20 years it has been the subject of a resolution in the House of Representatives. Let’s hope it never comes to fruition.
The latest row occurred in December on President Donald Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to move the U.S. embassy there. In the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. had to use its veto on a resolution demanding that the administration retract its decision, and the General Assembly’s version of that resolution passed by an overwhelming vote of 128-9, with 35 abstentions. The U.S. then implemented the president’s threat of financial repercussions, slashing America’s budget for the U.N. by $285 million.
Announcing the decision, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, “We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked.” But such cuts will have serious adverse consequences.
What are the stakes for the United States in the United Nations? After the death and destruction of the World War II, when the U.N. was founded, it was clear that no nation could address the potential challenges facing the world if all were to stand alone, so it was mandated to engender global cooperation and promote human rights. It is now more evident than ever that the world is a huge global village, beset by challenges of poverty, conflicts, global health crises, and environmental degradation that cannot be solved by any nation alone and without tremendous levels of participation and cooperation.
Take the U.N. Peacekeeping forces as just one example: U.N. funding permits many countries to come together in a common effort, but out of a total force of more than 100,000 U.N. peacekeepers worldwide, American soldiers, military advisers and police number just over 100. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, U.N. Peacekeeping missions are eight times cheaper than U.S. forces acting alone. Where U.N. Peacekeepers are, civilian deaths are reduced and stability can be achieved. It is important to note that the U.N. Security Council must authorize these missions, so the U.S. consent is essential since it has a veto.
Then there’s global health — clearly the U.S. cannot manage infectious diseases and pandemics without being part of a massive international team. The Ebola crisis provides a good illustration: Because of cuts to the World Health Organization, it cost the U.S. $2.4 billion just to pick up the slack. In humanitarian assistance programs like the U.N. Refugee Agency, the U.N. Development Program, and the U.N. Population Fund where the U.S. has a tremendous interest at stake, it must also be a major player.
Trump has severely criticized the U.N., as he did in his address to the General Assembly. And the U.S. has withdrawn from UNESCO, which aims to improve education and preserve cultural heritage worldwide, because it admitted the Palestinian territories as an independent state of “Palestine.” The administration plans to withdraw from the Global Compact on Migration, which is aimed at improving global migration and refugee issues because, according to Haley, the U.S. will decide on its own immigration policy; the compact’s “approach is simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.” The U.S. has also withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and from the Paris Climate Accord.
Has the U.N. lost its relevance? Despite all its faults and critical need for reform, the answer is unequivocally no — especially for the United States.
I am reminded of the words of the United Nations’ second secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld, who said the U.N. was created “not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.”