Here’s How Trump’s Budget Request Would Impact the United Nations

The White House released its budget request to Congress this week.

The document is a formal expression of the Trump administration’s budget priorities for the next fiscal year, FY 2019. And when it comes to foreign affairs spending, those priorities are heavily titled against diplomacy, development, humanitarian affairs and non-military international affairs.

The budget substantially reduces US non-military foreign affairs spending in general, and to the United Nations in particular.  This includes an overall international affairs budget of just $41.7 billion, which is a 30% cut from the last enacted budget before Trump came to office.

Here are some of the ways this budget would impact the United Nations and its agencies, according to analysis provided by the Better World Campaign.   *

The White House budget completely zeroes out American funding for UNICEF

The White House budget request completely eliminates an account known as “International Organizations and Programs.”  This is the vehicle through which the United States makes contributions to a number of health, development and humanitarian entities, including the UN Environment Program, UN Women and the UN Development Program.

This account also funds American contributions to UNICEF, which is the largest entity devoted to the health and welfare of the world’s most vulnerable children. About 45% of all children in the world receive vaccines from UN entities, including UNICEF. Vaccines for diseases like polio and measles have resulted in millions of saved lives over the past decades. The United States, which is typically the largest single contributor to UNICEF, has been instrumental in making these massive gains in child survival possible. But the Trump administration does not consider this a priority.

The last year for which UNICEF funding was appropriated, for FY2017, the US contributed $330 million to the account that helps fund UNICEF. This year — as in last year —   the White House asked that congress contribute no money to this account.

Other global health programs also take a hit–though unlike UNICEF are not totally eliminated.  The budget cuts global health spending by 28%, including halving family planning programs and cutting the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by 31%. 

Peacekeeping Flatlined

The White House budget request essentially flatlines American contributions to UN Peacekeeping operations around the world, at about $1.2 billion. This includes funding for 11 peacekeeping operations around the world and also a UN support office in Somalia.

The challenge is that from a UN perspective, this flatline actually represents a substantial cut to its budget for peacekeeping operations. Every two years, UN Member States agree on how much they each will pay to support UN peacekeeping operations. The US, under the Obama administration, agreed to an assessment rate of about 28%. But Congress and the White House only agreed to a funding level of about 25%, leaving the United States in arrears last year to the tune of about $275 million. If this funding level is enacted, those arrears will grow past $500 million next year.

Peacekeeping budget assessments are up for negotiations this year, and the US is expected to achieve a lowered rate, but the UN depends on member states paying what they owe — and for the past year, the United States has not paid its fair share. This could undermine several key operations around the world, including in Mali where UN Peacekeepers are fighting jihadist groups; and in South Sudan, where Peacekeepers are struggling to contain a civil war. This budget request also comes just days after the US Government Accountability Office issued a report demonstrating that UN Peacekeeping came at a significant financial bargain to the United States; that it is essentially eight times cheaper for the United States to support UN peacekeeping operations than to deploy its own military around the world.

Cuts Coming to the UN Regular Budget?

The State Department’s “Contributions to International Organizations” account funds US payments to the regular budget of the UN. This pays the American share of basic UN operating costs–things like salaries for translators, electricity bills, facility upgrades and other costs associated with any organization or office building. This account also funds US contributions to UN agencies, like the International Atomic Energy Agency and WHO,  and also non-UN international organization like NATO.

The FY19 budget request includes a modest increase to the CIO account over the White House’s request last year. However, even this “increased” budget is a significant reduction over the last levels enacted. It is $266 million below the FY’17 enacted level, and $338 million below current anticipated needs for this account.

For UN watchers, the budget request also suggests that in the coming years, the Trump administration will seek to reduce its share of the UN regular budget. For the last 20 years, the United States has paid 22% of the regular UN budget. But an addendum to the budget request states that the funding levels represent 20% of the UN budget, suggesting that the United States will seek to reduce its share from 22% to 20%. This could set off a round of intense diplomacy at the UN when countries re-negotiate their assessment rates.

Will Any of this Get Enacted?

In many ways, the White House’s FY2019 budget request mirrors that of last year. And last  year, many of these extreme proposals were dead on arrival in Congress. Congress, after all, actually controls the pursestrings. And even though Congress is controlled by the Republicans, many members of Congress have a sophisticated understanding of the value of the United Nations to American interests.  Once again, many of these more extreme requests  — like totally cutting funding for UNICEF or reducing by half US funding to the WHO — will not pass congress.

“The foreign affairs UN-related budget numbers are almost an exact replica of last year’s request, which was widely and wisely dismissed as harmful to U.S. interests abroad,” Peter Yeo, president of the Better World Campaign said in a statement. “In fact, over the past year, we have seen military voices, business leaders and leaders in Congress all stress the importance of robust foreign affairs funding and continued support for the UN.”

This White House budget request is important for the fact that it will help set the parameters of the budget debate over the next year. This request makes clear that the White House is once again willing to sacrifice America’s longstanding leadership in global affairs. And once again, Congress probably will not let them.