World

Does Trump Want to Sabotage the United Nations?

The Trump administration seems to see no value in participating in international conferences.

Donald Trump about to address the UN's 72nd general debate.
Photo Credit: United Nations Photo / Flickr

President Donald Trump has frequently scorned the United Nations, leaving his pragmatic UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to smooth over the rough spots as he rejected policies identified with his cerebral predecessor, Barack Obama.

The United Nations is made up of a lot of foreigners (and that’s the point); yet, Trump has stressed “America First” to the UN General Assembly, the world’s primary multilateral forum, most recently in September. This prompted Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, to comment: “This was a bombastic nationalistic speech. It must have been decades since one heard a speech like that in the UN General Assembly.”

Despite constant talk of bankrupting the United Nations, especially for peacekeeping, Nikki Haley made sure there was no “slash and burn” action—yet. She took credit for some budget reductions that were negotiated with the UN Secretary-General and Europeans. And she is known for withering condemnations of Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

But the bombardment by a Saudi-led coalition of civilians in Yemen is not high on the list of criticisms by the United States—or other Western nations since Iran is supporting the rebels.

Still, the Trump administration has injured the United Nations through relatively minor cuts that can add up. It withdrew from the Human Rights Council, cut financing to Palestinian refugees, and quit the UN population fund (UNFPA) as well as the cultural agency UNESCO. It also threatened all UN agencies and programs if they ever uttered the word “abortion” regardless of circumstances.

The White House started its negative initiatives by pulling out of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, which commits nations to take action against the earth’s rising temperatures. The United Nations has supplied some of the startling research on air, water and land pollution. Only the United States seems to reject the science.

The Trump administration also seems to see no value in participating in international conferences. The United States withdrew from a global compact on “handling flows of migrants and refugees, describing it as a subversion of American sovereignty” as the administration initiated horrific procedures on the southern border.

Then there is the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump denounced regularly even if he understood little of it. Nikki Haley joined him on all denunciations of Iran, which may be forced to take some action or live under increased U.S. sanctions.

A senior State Department official told a news conference in June that it was pushing allies to cut all imports of Iranian oil by November 5. The U.S. recently left the door open to possible exemptions. The deal was negotiated over two years and was supported by all 15 Security Council members.

Actions to defend Israel from what Washington sees as a chronic bias resulted in leaving the Human Rights Council, which investigates crimes all over the world and will make U.S. goals more difficult to achieve. Ironically, the rejection of the Council came just as the world was horrified at the separation of children from parents at the southern border.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a decision that was to have been left to a final peace treaty, resulted in anti-U.S. resolutions in both the Security Council and the General Assembly. So did U.S. opposition to any resolution on the strife in Gaza.

The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, says the Trump administration has committed only $60 million this year rather than the $360 million the United States donated last year. Christopher Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, said 25 donors had “fast-tracked” their contributions, raising $238 million earlier than expected. But it still leaves the agency $217 million short of funds it needs. “We never had such a large shortfall,” Gunness told this reporter.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Evelyn Leopold is a veteran United Nations correspondent, the chair of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.