The US at the UN: Time to Go, or Time for a Time-Out?
Just before the UN General Assembly voted to condemn the United States for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “I’ve often wondered why, in the face of such hostility, Israel has chosen to remain a member of this body.”
A better question would have been: Why has the United States chosen to remain a member?
If the United States were not already a member, would it make sense for it to join? Answering this question requires asking whether it would make sense for the United States to join an organization in which:
1. The United States pays a wildly disproportionate share.
The United States contributes more than three times as much money to the UN as all other permanent Security Council members combined. It contributes more to the UN’s regular budget than 176 other members combined. We contribute more to the UN’s peacekeeping budget than 185 other members combined. We contribute 20 times as much as the 56 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes 10 of the world’s top 20 oil producing nations.
2. The organization’s bureaucracy is so sclerotic that hiring key employees takes as long as a year.
That’s according to Anthony Banbury, a former Assistant Secretary General for Field Support. Once hired, it can be virtually impossible, “short of a serious crime,” to fire incompetent officials.
3. Some of the “peacekeeping” forces dispatched by the organization engage in rampant sexual assault.
UN peacekeepers sent to Africa have reportedly raped more than 100 women, girls and boys. In Haiti, UN peacekeepers sparked a cholera epidemic that sickened 8% of the population through their ineptitude.
4. The organization’s “human rights” body is dominated by regimes that suppress human rights; this body also focuses most of its energy on condemning one state alone: Israel.
The Human Rights Council includes such stellar human rights advocates as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In recent years, the Council has condemned Israel 78 times. North Korea has been condemned 9 times, and Iran 6 times. China, Russia,and Saudi Arabia, have never been condemned. The General Assembly is worse. In 2016, 77% of its country-specific resolutions targeted Israel. In 2014 and 2015, the figure was 87%.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has blamed the tendency of Palestinian men to beat their wives on Israeli settlements. The Palestinian Authority’s UN delegation has blamed Israel for global warming.
Abba Eban once quipped: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.” He meant it as a joke. But he was right. The UN’s resolution denying Israel’s connection to Jerusalem passed by a vote of 147 to 7, with 8 abstentions.
The United States was on the losing end of 12 out of 15 contested votes by the Human Rights Council in its last session. If the US were not already a member, would it make sense to join an organization where its money is accepted, but its views are rejected in some councils up to 80% of the time?
So why stay?
Some say that the UN provides a forum where the United States can find common ground with other nations.
True — but does the United States need the UN for that? In 1990, we formed a coalition to eject Iraq from Kuwait without involving the UN. On trade, climate change and space exploration, the United States finds common ground with foreign states without using the UN.
Others say that the best way to remedy the UN is to work from within. After all, didn’t the United States succeed in securing the repeal of the “Zionism is racism” resolution? True, but the antisemitism which Daniel Patrick Moynihan identified as the foundation of that resolution has proliferated over time, like mold in the dark.
The UN Charter provides no procedure for a nation to withdraw. Only one country has tried. In 1965, the President of Indonesia, miffed over the admission of Malaysia, announced that his country was leaving. But then he was deposed, and his successor sent the Indonesian delegation right back to the UN, which re-seated them.
That episode might provide guidance. The UN has become a spoiled, petulant body. Rather than formally withdrawing, the United States should give it a “time-out.” We should consider a one or two-year cessation of its involvement. Stop attending meetings. Stop funding it. Allow the organization to remain in New York (where its delegates rack up millions of dollars in parking tickets), but otherwise ignore it.
A time-out will test the repercussions of withdrawal. If it leads to a deterioration of international dialogue, or if it induces the UN to reform, we can return.
But if it doesn’t, then we must consider leaving for good. In evaluating that course, we should ask not whether the United States should remain a member, but whether, given the gift of foresight, it would have joined in the first place.