Do you want your UN a la carte?

At today’s Congressional hearing, American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow John Bolton aired the radical proposal of eliminating the current dues-based system of United Nations funding and replacing it with voluntary, a la carte financing of UN operations. This has been a recurring theme in Bolton’s speeches and testimonies for well over a year. And now that he is no longer the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, he seems to be pushing this extremist position with renewed zeal.

Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Bolton testified: “A system of voluntary contributions will allow UN members to judge the effectiveness of the various parts of the UN system, and demand results. Non-responsive programs and funds can be defunded, effective agencies and personnel can be rewarded and augmented, and, most importantly, the crippling mentality of ‘entitlement’ that pervades the main UN organization will be stripped away.”

Let’s be clear: Bolton’s proposal is both deleterious to American interests and dangerous to the millions of people around the globe that depend on the United Nations for their sustenance and security. Certain UN organs, like the World Food Program and UNICEF are funded through voluntary contributions by member states. But a system of voluntary funding for UN operations and peacekeeping (which by treaty are funded through membership dues) would mean the end of the United Nations as we know it. If member countries could pick and choose what UN programs and peacekeeping operations they would like to fund, and which they would like to starve, nearly every aspect of UN operations would become politicized. Translators would be in direct competition for funds with UN peacekeepers in Sudan. Worse, UN organs would have to devote time and resources to fundraising, not fulfilling their mandate. Just imagine the head of a peacekeeping mission in Haiti or Lebanon spending his or her time panhandling member states rather than devoting his or her full energies at the task they were given.

Further, the greatest asset the United Nations brings its work–its unique stamp of legitimacy– would no doubt be undermined should member states simply pick and choose the specific UN functions they financially support. For example, if the UN investigation into the assassination of Rafik Harriri were supported by countries that advocate regime change in Syria, the investigation and nascent independent criminal tribunal, would loose all credibility.

From an American perspective, perhaps the greatest danger a la carte UN funding poses is its potential to diminish American influence at the United Nations. The United States is currently the single largest contributor to the UN budget. And for these contributions, the United States carries great clout and influence in Turtle Bay. More so than any other member state, the United States is able to steer the agenda at the United Nations and help set its priorities. Should UN funding become de-centralized, the United States would loose this influence. It would not be stretch to imagine that some of America’s detractors would seek to hijack UN organs and use the United Nations to attack American interests and policies.

Fortunately, the only place that a la carte UN funding seems to be gaining traction is the American Enterprise Institute. On Capitol Hill or at the United Nations the idea is rightly rejected for the danger it poses.