Our guest blogger is Sarah Margon, associate director for sustainable security at the Center for American Progress.
Less than a week after a car bomb devastated the United Nations’ headquarters in Nigeria and killed more than 20 employees, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has decided to introduce legislation that, if passed, would defund and significantly damage U.S. engagement with this important international institution. The bill is meant to coincide with the Palestinian Authority’s push for statehood recognition at the U.N. A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen explained:
“The text includes a section that follows in the successful precedent set by the George H.W. Bush Administration in 1989 by withholding U.S. funding to any UN entity that upgrades the status of the Palestinian mission. It contains other provisions conditioning U.S. funding to the UN on the implementation of concrete reforms. The bill will be introduced with the support of several dozen original co-sponsors.”
Ros-Lehtinen’s bill sets a dramatic precedent that far exceeds previous anti-U.N. initiatives. It would require the U.N. to adopt a voluntary budget model in which countries selectively fund U.N. agencies rather than use the current formula for assessed (required) dues, which is determined for each member state based on the country’s gross national income, as well as factors like population and levels of debt. It would also end funding for Palestinian refugees, restrict the use of U.S. funds to the goals outlined by Congress, and stop U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations until major management reforms are made.
The introduction of this bill comes at a time when the United States has had notable success in galvanizing international action through the United Nations, whether in Libya, where the Security Council adopted a resolution authorizing a NATO military campaign to protect civilians or at the U.N. Human Rights Council, which recently called for an international inquiry into potential crimes against humanity by the Syrian government. Back in May, CAP expert Matt Duss also noted the U.N.’s success in Iran — where the multilateral sanctions, adopted under a June 2010 Security Council resolution — have begun to significantly impact Iran’s ability to proceed with its nuclear program. In fact, the expert panel noted that new measures constrain “Iran’s procurement of items related to prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile activity and thus slowing development of these programs.”
In general, the United Nations reflects the commitment of its member states to tackle enormous global challenges. The institution itself represents a shared understanding that it is cheaper and more effective for countries to work together toward the same ends. Continuing our engagement at the U.N., while pressing for greater reform to make it more effective, will enhance our ability to work collaboratively with other partners — both traditional and not. As I wrote in an op-ed in the Hill, it will also promote our agenda by leveraging key actors.
There is little question that the U.N. needs to undergo significant reforms, but one of the best ways for that to happen is to ensure the United States remains actively engaged and at the helm of such efforts. An April 2010 CAP report reminds us that:
[…] [H]istory shows that robust U.S. engagement is actually the best way to reform the institution. Ironically, cutting funds now also means we are shifting our obligations onto future generations since U.N. membership still requires dues even if Congress cuts the budget. Restricting U.S. support for the United Nations ultimately has a much higher price tag than it does savings as doing so substantially decreases our political legitimacy while costing America money and jobs.
Today’s threats to our national security are constantly evolving. If we are to address them systematically, we need to marshal all available resources to do so. Unilateral approaches are certainly one option to do so, but as the war in Iraq indicates, they are dramatically less effective and more expensive.