Barely a week has passed since a new session of Congress was sworn in, and members have wasted no time in launching a full-on assault on the United Nations. This week, Senators Ted Cruz (R-FL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced legislation to withhold all funding to the United Nations because they disagree with a recent vote taken by members of the Security Council. At least four additional bills have already been introduced in the House of Representatives that would either block funding or end US participation in the UN. These steps are part of a growing attack against the UN, and against the very principles of multilateralism.
The cornerstone of multilateral engagement for over half a century, the UN remains critical in our increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. We at the International Women’s Health Coalition are extremely concerned by these recent proposals and strongly oppose any effort to reduce funding for or participation in the UN or its member agencies.
The UN is not without its serious flaws, and we—like other civil society organizations—are often disappointed by its shortcomings. But instead of walking away from the institution, we continue to work to make it better. As a leader in the Women’s Major Group, and having actively participated in the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Population and Development, we have seen the impact the UN has in countries around the world. We engage with the UN and its separate agencies on a range of issues—from child marriage to HIV to abortion. This engagement is critical simply because the United Nations is critical. From trade to security to human rights to development, the UN plays a central role in promoting international peace, prosperity, and health.
Cutting off US funding for the United Nations will not change the votes of member states, but it will isolate the United States, minimize US influence at the UN, and undermine American credibility throughout the world. Withholding funding will also cripple the UN’s global operations; the institution is responsible for lifesaving work, including providing food to 80 million people, assisting more than 60 million refugees, and deploying some 120,000 peacekeepers the world over. It would place coordination with partners and allies on key American interests in serious jeopardy. It would also be out of line with public opinion: polling by the Better World Campaign shows that 88 percent of Americans support active engagement at the United Nations.
This is a critical moment for the United Nations. The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals present an ambitious development paradigm aimed at ending poverty and reducing inequality and injustice. Climate agreements seek to move our planet away from a catastrophic, manmade disaster. UN leadership in addressing armed conflicts and forced migration can help avert untold human suffering and maintain regional and global stability. The UN remains the single global forum for the international community to seek solutions to these enormous challenges, to continue progress and development, and to hold each and every government accountable for the commitments they have made.
The US cannot afford to back away from multilateralism because some disagree with a vote taken by the international community. Now, more than ever, the United Nations is critical to promoting peace and prosperity, to upholding human rights and international law, and to building a more secure and stable world. If legislation blocking UN funding were to be considered by either house of Congress, it would send a devastating message to the rest of the world: that the United States does not intend to meet its international commitments and is walking away from multilateral engagement.
Photo by Daniel Huizinga