USA First Look

Report: Trump asks State Department for 50 percent cut to UN funding

Foreign Policy magazine reports that State Department staffers have been told to seek cuts exceeding 50 percent for UN programs, marking an unprecedented US withdrawal from international affairs. 

Large display monitors show the result of voting from member states during a meeting of the UN General Assembly, in October 2016, during the vote on a UN resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba.
Bebeto Matthews/AP/File
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The White House budget proposal is considering cutting funding of the United Nations and its programs in half as it looks to shrink spending by the State Department.

President Trump’s administration is expected to slash the State Department budget by 37 percent, and sources say the department’s staffers are looking to pull funding from certain UN programs in order to meet that goal, according to a report from Foreign Policy.

Currently, the United States spends about $10 billion a year funding the UN, which amounts to about 20 percent of the organization’s budget. That money, which funds efforts such as peacekeeping, vaccinating children, and monitoring nuclear weapon programs, could seriously decrease, leaving the organization to scramble for new ways to fund its international efforts.

The White House is slated to release its 2018 budget on Thursday, at which point the extent of rumored cuts will become clear. Mr. Trump has promised to seriously curtail what he sees as unnecessary spending across a variety of domestic and international platforms.

While the previous administration under former President Barack Obama sought to grow diplomatic ties and US aid, Trump has taken initial steps to reverse that trend, and argues that cuts to foreign aid and the state department will fund a proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending.

Trump has aired concerns with the UN in particular before. In late December, he called the 193-member nation group, which engages in worldwide peacekeeping and aid, "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time."

"As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," he tweeted as a warning at the time.

The leaked plan could be a vehicle to make good on that promise.

While his remarks take a hard stance, Trump isn’t the first to criticize the organization. Many have noted the shortcomings of its entangled bureaucracy, and decried lapses in the UN’s productivity.

But those who have tried to reform the organization have often walked away unsuccessful.

Sources close to the budget proposal told Foreign Policy that programs such as peacekeeping, UNICEF, and the UN Development Program, which receive funding from the State Department’s International Organization Affairs office, are mostly likely to be slashed. Sources said staffers were told to cut up to $1 billion of the $2.5 billion allocated to peacekeeping.

Other efforts, such as refugee-related assistance and food aid, are popular within Congress and could fare better as the budget makes its way to the chopping block. For now, it isn’t clear if the proposed cuts would come all at once, or if officials would phase them in over a period of years.

And the budget proposal must also go before Congress and garner its approval, a process that often results in compromise and reworking of aspirational financial planning.

It’s too early to speculate just where Congress and the president might meet in the middle of UN funding, but experts warn that taking an ax to such a large portion of spending on the organization could have drastic, far-reaching results.

“Multiply that across other humanitarian agencies, like the World Food Programme, and you are basically talking about the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy, predicting that cuts as large as those sources are suggesting would usher in “chaos.”