With UN-assisted operations taking place in Libya and Ivory Coast, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon may have thought he chose a good time to make the case for continued strong US financial support of the United Nations.
But when he made the trip from New York to Washington on Thursday, what the secretary-general got instead was a wall of Republican resistance – to funding US foreign-policy operations in general and the UN in particular.
The UN needs “robust financial support from the United States” to carry on its global-security, development, education, and health work, Mr. Ban told reporters on a day of meetings with congressional leaders. But with Washington more focused on prospects for a government shutdown as a budget stalemate dragged on, the message for Ban was more one of slashed US support.
The US pays 22 percent of the UN budget and 25 percent of UN peacekeeping operations, and President Obama has requested $3.5 billion for the UN in his FY 2012 budget.
But in the House, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida, let it be known that if she gets her way, the days of the US sending a check to pay a large chunk of the total UN budget will be over.
In addition to reduced overall US spending on the UN, Representative Ros-Lehtinen favors an a la carte approach under which the US would pick and choose among UN programs, funding only those it likes or deems effective.
Ban said he has told his top managers to plan on a 3 percent reduction in spending. Ros-Lehtinen dismissed that as a gesture akin to “forgoing a cost-of-living increase.”
Also on the Hill Thursday was Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN. In testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee, she tried to portray the UN as a security bargain for the US, pointing to Libya and UN contributions to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Republicans in front of her would have none of it.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) of California said it is an “incredible demand” to ask US taxpayers to pay 22 percent of the UN budget in the midst of an “economic crisis” – and especially when the billions of US dollars are provided with “no strings attached.”
Ambassador Rice cautioned the committee that if the US treats its UN bill “as an a la carte menu,” this would encourage other countries to do the same – in the long run resulting in a stiffer financial burden for the US.
Ban found himself on friendlier turf when he made his way to the Democratic-controlled Senate. With Ban looking on, Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters it would be “unwise and even dangerous” for the US to reduce its presence on the world stage.
[Editor's note: The original headline for this story was changed to more accurately describe Ban's funding request.]