What John Bolton’s Ascension to the Most Important US Foreign Policy Position Means for the United Nations

Of course, you likely know John Bolton’s quip about lobbing off the top ten floors of UN headquarters in New York.  He’s clearly no fan of the organization.

But in her first year on the job, US Ambassador Nikki Haley approached her role in a far more conciliatory manner than her fellow Republican ambassador. In her Senate confirmation hearing she displayed a complex understanding of the United Nations, often acknowledging the organizations strengths as well as its shortcomings. She displayed some political acumen while working with allies and by all accounts forged a productive working relationship with Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

In other words, she seemed not to be cut from the same cloth as John Bolton. Instead, by her actions and demeanor she embraced an approach to the UN favored by most Republicans, from Jeanne Kilpatrick to her immediate Republican predecessor Zalmay Khalilzad. To be sure, she has emphasized budget cuts and UN reforms, as do most Republicans. But Haley still embraced the overall value of the UN to American interests. In her confirmation hearing she said plainly that she does not favor a “slash and burn” approach to cutting US funding for the United Nations.

Over the past several months, however, there has been a noticeable shift in Haley’s demeanor and policy preferences. She has become far more assertive and far more willing to risk unnecessarily alienating American allies. She lead the charge in the administration to freeze American funding for UNRWA, the humanitarian agency that serves Palestinian refugees. She fought for that freeze following a vote in the General Assembly that condemned the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. Cutting UNRWA was her payback. Haley then warned American allies that should they vote against America at the General Assembly — perhaps on any issues —  they risk losing US foreign aid.

In recent months, she has seemed more and more open that “slash and burn” approach to the UN that she initiatively eschewed.

Enter John Bolton as President Trump’s top foreign policy advisor.

Bolton’s preferred approach to funding the UN is what might be called an a la carte approach –pay for what you want. Right now, most of the UN is funded through assessed contributions of member states — essentially membership dues for the belonging to the UN. These are calculated every two years in negotiations between states, based in part on the size of a country’s economy. The US is the single largest funder of the UN.  Rather than these assessed contributions, Bolton prefers that all UN funding be voluntary. That is, the US could pick and choose what parts of the UN to fund, and do so in an ad hoc manner.  

The net effect of this approach would be massive cuts to the United Nations that could fatally cripple its operations worldwide. The extent to which we see Nikki Haley begin to embrace this view of UN funding might suggest a degree of Bolton’s influence over this debate.

In this special episode of the podcast, I explain the above dynamic and also take a look at what Bolton’s past interactions with other key issues, including North Korea, Iran, and Transatlantic relations, might suggest for the future of US policy.  

But first I start with a couple of anecdotes about Bolton from his time as UN Ambassador. I got my start in journalism covering John Bolton when he was the US Ambassador to the United Nations, so I have been on this beat for quite a long time. I have stories to tell. 

If you have 25 minutes and want to learn the implications of John Bolton ascending to the most important foreign policy position in the US government, have a listen. 


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