2018 isn’t looking good for U.S. world relations

Trump administration announces "historic reduction" to U.N. budget.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, talks with Chinese deputy ambassador Wu Haitao, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, at United Nations headquarters. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, talks with Chinese deputy ambassador Wu Haitao, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, at United Nations headquarters. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Relations between the United States and the rest of the world seem likely to suffer in the new year after the Trump administration lauded a $285 million cut to the 2018-2019 fiscal year United Nations budget.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced the “historic reduction” to the global body’s budget on Sunday. Emphasizing the role the United States played in the trimming, the ambassador’s office took aim at the U.N.’s “bloated management and support functions” and called for greater “accountability” from other countries.

“The inefficiency and overspending of the United Nations are well known. We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked. This historic reduction in spending – in addition to many other moves toward a more efficient and accountable [U.N.] – is a big step in the right direction,” said Haley.

The sizable budget cut comes after a long year of sparring between President Trump’s administration and governments around the world, as well as with the U.N. itself. While budget cuts to the organization are typical, and wealthier countries (like the United States, Japan, and much of Western Europe) usually advocate for cuts, the White House has taken an aggressive stance on the issue. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the United States carries an unfair burden and that other countries should step up and contribute more to global endeavors. Under the formulas laid out by the U.N. charter, the size of the U.S. economy and other factors require the country to pay for around 22 percent of the organization’s operating budget.

Trump considers that amount an injustice, one he wants rectified along with U.S. global contributions more broadly. Under the president’s budget, international aid and humanitarian efforts around the world have taken a serious blow.

Those cuts have gone over poorly, as have major U.S. policy decisions. Almost immediately after taking office, Trump introduced the first in a series of travel bans targeting refugees and citizens from a number of predominately Muslim-majority nations. In May, Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement, a landmark effort to mitigate the impact of climate change. Months later, the United States pulled out of UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, citing anti-Israel bias from the U.N. The administration has also repeatedly taken aim at the hard-won Iran nuclear deal achieved under President Obama.

Recent weeks have unleashed a new storm of international tension. Earlier this month, Trump declared the contested city of Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, a direct blow to Palestinians who claim occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The president also indicated that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved from the city of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as soon as possible, a move backed by Israel’s far-right prime minister and Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu but overwhelmingly opposed by the rest of the international community.

That decision sparked outcry, not least of all from the U.N. After numerous nations panned Trump’s announcement, the U.N. General Assembly voted last week to nullify the U.S. move. The vote passed by a margin of 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions.

Many have noted the timing of the U.N. budget announcement, which followed the Jerusalem vote. Prior to the vote, Haley appeared to issue a threat to countries unwilling to tow the U.S. line on Jerusalem.

“The United States will remember this day, in which it was singled out for attack…we will remember it when we are called up to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations,” she said. “And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, when they so often do, to pay even more, and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Trump himself dared other governments to vote against the United States.

“We’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” the president said.

Those threats went unheeded and the U.N. is now faced with an increasingly tightened budget. While it is unclear how the cuts will impact U.N. efforts around the world, the White House underscored that the announcement is only the beginning, with more reductions to come.

“While we are pleased with the results of this year’s budget negotiations, you can be sure we’ll continue to look at ways to increase the [U.N.’s] efficiency‎ while protecting our interests,” Haley said.