A Draft Executive Order Takes Aim at the UN. Here’s What’s Wrong With It

The New York Times reported yesterday on a draft executive order that would radically reshape America’s relationship with the United Nations. Except the draft executive order, as reported, was full of basic errors indicating that the authors lack some basic elementary knowledge of the United Nations and international affairs more broadly.

For example, Max Fisher reports the order “establishes a committee to recommend where those funding cuts should be made. It asks the committee to look specifically at United States funding for…the International Criminal Court.” In fact, the USA does not contribute one cent to the International Criminal Court. A 2002 law prevents the United States from making any financial contributions to the Hague-based court. The USA is not even a member of it.

The draft also reportedly calls for reducing US funding for “organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization.” Again, this is already a law on the books from the 1990s. The United States is statutorily prohibited from providing funding to any UN entity that admits Palestine as a member. It was for this reason that in 2010 the USA abruptly cut off contributions to UNESCO after UNESCO’s membership voted to include Palestine.

I have not seen the draft, so I cannot comment beyond what has been reported. But it is fair to say that it is both riddled with basic errors and also a profoundly dangerous posture on which to base a relationship with the United Nations and international community. The draft apparently takes aim at UN Peacekeeping, which is one of the more effective aspects of UN operations around the world. There are about 100,000 UN Peacekeepers deployed to 19 global hotspots, including places that are in the security interests of the United States and its allies. Thousands of UN Peacekeepers, for example, patrol southern Lebanon to provide a buffer between Hezbollah and Israel. In Mali, Peacekeepers are on the front lines of fighting an al Qaeda affiliated terrorist group. In Iraq and Afghanistan the department of peacekeeping operations runs political missions in coordination with the United States and other key stakeholders.

For all this, the US pays about 28% of the cost. The rest of the world picks up the other 72% of the tab. It’s a kind of burden sharing that advances the security interests of the United States for a relatively small financial cost, and also without putting American soldiers at risk. From a purely transactional point of view,  it’s a good deal for the United States. Plus, as a permanent member of the Security Council, the USA gets to direct where and how these peacekeepers are deployed.

The larger point, though, is that the UN is not an adversary of the USA. Rather, it was created (by Americans!) to help share the burden of maintaining global peace and security. To be sure, sometimes other countries use the platform of the United Nations to advance issues that the United States disagrees with, but that is no reason to undermine the operations of the UN around the world. As a former US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke famously said, it’s like punishing Madison Square Garden when the Knicks lose.