Time for the US to Send a Message by Cutting UN Funding
Recent events at the United Nations likely indicate a new tone to deliberations at the international organization. Driven by their frenzied attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel, many of the UN’s member states improperly injected themselves into a matter of sovereign US policy — and, as a result, tried to humiliate the United States. As a consequence, the US should substantially cut its financial contributions to the United Nations.
On December 18, the US vetoed an Egyptian-drafted UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution that expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem.” The “recent decision” was announced in President Donald Trump’s December 6 speech, in which he declared that the United States “officially recognize[s] Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” The other 14 members of the UNSC all voted in favor of the resolution.
Seeking recourse after falling short at the UN’s highest body, on December 20, Yemen and Turkey — as the respective chairs of the Arab Group and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — brought the resolution before the UN’s General Assembly (GA), where no country can exercise a veto. Although GA resolutions have no enforcement mechanism, they often serve as a litmus test of world opinion. And the resulting vote was unequivocal: 128 in favor and 9 against, with 35 abstentions.
That an anti-Israel resolution passed in the General Assembly is no surprise; Abba Eban, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, once famously remarked that if Algeria introduced a resolution stating that the world was flat — and that Israel had flattened it — the resolution would pass by a vote of 164 to 13, with 26 abstentions.
However, the December 20 resolution should particularly concern the US — not simply because the resolution is anti-Israel, but because it seeks to interfere with a matter of internal US policy. Where a nation decides to locate its embassy is a sovereign act, and one that is not within the purview of the United Nations. In his speech, President Trump rightly noted that every country has the right to choose its own capital. Likewise, every nation has the right to determine the location of its embassies.
The decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem was first legislated by Congress in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Furthermore, in June of this year, the Senate passed a resolution (90-0) recognizing that “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” and called on the president to “reaffirm the Jerusalem Embassy Act … and abide by its provisions.”
Far from a reflexive, compulsive act by a non-traditional president, Trump’s decision simply affirmed what has already been American policy for more than two decades; furthermore, it’s a position that enjoys broad support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle. Understood in this context, it is clear that the General Assembly vote was not just an admonition of an American president or an effort to humiliate the US, but a provocative attempt to repudiate the sovereignty of the American people.
Moreover, the UN needlessly inserted itself despite the clear absence of direct, tangible policy consequences. As host to Israel’s parliament, Supreme Court, prime minister and most Israeli government agencies, it is understood that Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, irrespective of final parameters of any peace agreement with the Palestinians — including the most generous Israeli peace plan in 2008, which offered eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. Trump also noted that his decision does not “reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement…that is acceptable to both sides.” In short, it does not change the facts on the ground.
The second notable development is the length to which UN member states went to pass this latest anti-Israel resolution. For comparison, the last time that the US issued its Security Council veto was in February 2011. Then, 79 states co-sponsored a draft resolution that demanded Israel cease building settlements in and around Jerusalem. The resolution failed 14-1, yet not one of the 79 cosponsors sought recourse in the General Assembly, where passage may well have carried significant consequences for Israel. For example, the EU could have increased its campaign to discriminate against, or boycott, products made in the settlements.
In 2017, however, the resolution in question concerns a decision internal to the United States, one that neither affects facts on the ground nor benefits Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians. And yet two different countries did not hesitate to bring Egypt’s resolution before the General Assembly.
The obvious purpose of the GA vote was to give certain members of the international community an opportunity not only to reject Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but to effectively reprimand the United States. The fact that Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion annually in US foreign aid, first authored the resolution makes this blatant display of anti-Americanism all the more egregious. The US must act to disincentivize UN members states from future attempts to neutralize its Security Council veto, and to try to humiliate it in the General Assembly.
The US provides 22% ($4 billion) of the UN’s mandatory contributions — far exceeding the contributions from other major countries — for administrative and programs costs, as well as for peacekeeping operations. The remaining $6 billion in US support are voluntary contributions that fund organizations such as UNICEF, the World Food Program and UNRWA (whose existence likely perpetuates the Palestinian conflict).
On December 24, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley offered an initial response to the resolution: that the US will cut the UN’s 2018-19 fiscal year operating budget by $285 million. Admittedly, this reduction is intended to “increase the UN’s efficiencies while protecting [American] interests.” Though a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to discourage the UN’s recent behavior.
The US, in the world of international relations, cannot always expect an unambiguously causal relationship between financial support and policies it wants. However, when illiberal actors hijack the UN, and pursue extraordinary measures to actively interfere with internal US policies, it is time to impose a consequence: reduced funding to the United Nations.