Both UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are in Washington, D.C. this week for consultations with members of Congress. For the UN secretary general, this means closed door meetings with key members of congress. For the US ambassador, this means her first public appearance on capitol hill since her confirmation hearings.
Haley will face two days of questions from committees of the House of Representatives that determine the funding levels the United States will pay to the United Nations and its related agencies. These meetings come at a key time. Earlier this spring, the White House released a budget request that sharply reduced US spending on non-military foreign affairs. This included steep cuts to the United Nations.
The White House budget request included a 37% cut to UN Peacekeeping, a 27% cut to the account that funds agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency and WHO, and totally eliminated funding for humanitarian organizations like UNICEF.
Congress did not approve that budget. Rather, in May Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that included funding levels for the UN and international programs that were generally consistent with previous years, though with a few exceptions including an underfunding of US contributions to UN Peacekeeping to the tune of about $300 million, which is problematic for the UN’s ability to effectively deploy blue helmets to hotspots around the world. The omnibus spending bill also defunded the UN’s Green Climate Fund. Still, Congress did not go with the kind of gratuitous cuts to the UN sought by the White House.
These hearings on the UN are going to be closely watched by the UN and NGO community precisely because they will indicate the extent of Congressional resistance to the deep cuts sought by the White House. And here, that resistance is bi-partisan. Foreign affairs spending is something that broadly speaking has cross-partisan support. Nearly every single living US Ambassador to the United Nations wrote to Congress this spring urging the full funding of the United Nations. And during her confirmation hearings last year, Nikki Haley said that she emphatically did not support a “slash and burn” approach to UN funding. Alas, the White House did not take heed.
Expect topical issues, like Syria and Russia, to be discussed in these briefings. But watch closely for any indications of how (or if) Haley defends the White House budget request for UN programs–which embodies an approach to the United Nations that she did not support during her last appearance before Congress.
These hearings kick off today–and UN Dispatch will be covering. Follow us on Twitter @MarkLGoldberg and @UNDispatch for updates throughout the day.