Retribution for an attempted rebuke from the General Assembly, or just good reform practice? After warning the United Nations that the US would “take names” of countries that voted for a resolution demanding that Donald Trump withdraw recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ambassador Nikki Haley announced a $285 million cut to the UN’s operations budget. Haley cited the need to address “inefficiencies,” but the timing seems to send a message too:
The announcement didn’t make clear the entire amount of the budget or specify what effect the cut would have on the U.S. contribution.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that the “inefficiency and overspending” of the organization is well-known, and she would not let “the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of.”
She also said that while the mission was pleased with the results of budget negotiations, it would continue to “look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency while protecting our interests.”
Note that this is not a cut in our contribution, but in the UN’s overall biennial spending in the 2018-19 budget. How much will that save the US? We are the largest contributor for UN operations; we supplied 22% of the previous biennial budget, and we’re probably still on the hook for a similar amount in this next budget. Assuming that percentage applies evenly to the savings, we cut our total outlay by $62.7 million.
To be sure, $285 million is a lot of money, but as with all such figures, context is necessary. The UN’s operating budget for the biennium ending now was $5.4 billion, approved exactly two years previous to this announcement. That budget trimmed off $100 million from the previous biennial budget, although then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon complained that the issue was fewer resources, not an effort to reform the UN’s budget. “Funding continues to shrink,” Ban said at the time, “while demands on the United Nations grow.” (Note, however, that peacekeeping functions and subsidiary UN agencies operate out of separate budgets funded mainly by voluntary donations from member nations.)
As a percentage of the overall budget, the cuts announced by Haley amount to just under 5.3%. That’s not insignificant — a 5.3% cut in real terms to the US federal budget would remove $217 billion in spending — but it’s not a crippling blow either. Plus, it seems very unlikely to have been part of a punishment for the General Assembly vote that took place last week, as budget negotiations would have been going on for months.
Still, this sends a message that the US will keep the pressure on the UN for real reform in its operations. Haley intends to get tough with the UN both on policy and “inefficiency and overspending,” which is a diplomatic manner of saying featherbedding and corruption. If the UN can’t do that on its own, the US intends to reduce the spoils possible and remove much of the incentive.