Trump's Reckless Approach to the UN
Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations is a critical avenue to advance America’s national interests, defend our core values, and share the cost of global burdens. Our responsibilities and privileges as a permanent member of the UN Security Council reflect America’s importance to international security and the world order. The UN supports stability around the world, promoting security and opportunity for the United States and our allies and partners, and helping ensure other countries pay their fair share.
President Trump has turned America’s back on the UN, forsaking American commitments, ceding global leadership to our rivals, and instead adopting a policy of vindictive and bullying diplomacy. In doing so, President Trump is eroding American influence, weakening coalitions and alliances vital to U.S. national security, and leaving core American values like human rights without a champion.
America weakened and alone: For more than 70 years, the United States has been the indispensable nation at the UN. Historically, presidents of both parties have leveraged this leadership position to advance key U.S. national security interests, build coalitions to fight problems we cannot tackle on our own, and share the costs of global burdens that America ought not bear alone. But we now have a President who doesn’t believe that the United States should continue to lead or defend the international system that has led to decades of unprecedented global economic growth and peace among the world’s great powers. When we cede that leadership role, dictators and competitors like Russia and China will fill the void – making America less secure and less prosperous.
Ambassador Haley has shown few results from her tenure, instead producing fiery speeches that achieve little. On core U.S. national security issues, including Middle East peace and Iran, we are more isolated than ever, as Ambassador Haley focuses on yelling at our closest allies and burnishing her political reputation rather than mobilizing other countries to help us tackle global problems. Too often under Ambassador Haley, the United States has been on the losing end of UN Security Council vetoes or lopsided vote counts, diplomatic defeats that undermine our standing.
President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, hindering UN action to address the global threat of climate change. Virtually every other world leader knows climate change is real and must be addressed. When President Trump stands before the UN General Assembly, he will be alone in his refusal to face facts.
Trump’s appointment of John Bolton as National Security Adviser elevates a longtime UN antagonist. Bolton, who failed to win Senate confirmation as UN Ambassador under President Bush and had to be recess-appointed to a brief term, was largely ineffective during his time in New York because he focused on bluster and bombast instead of the tough work of diplomacy and pressure. Bolton once declared that “there is no United Nations” while serving as President Bush’s UN Ambassador. Shortly before his appointment as National Security Adviser by President Trump, Bolton again argued in 2017 for the UN to be defunded.
U.S. threats about the International Criminal Court are a sideshow seeking to distract from the ICC’s important mission, which historically was shared by the United States. The ICC handles cases of war crimes and genocides and has indicted the likes of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It is therefore a sad day when John Bolton uses his first public speech in office to somehow conclude that the ICC is a threat to the United States, rather than an important global body that advances American values. Continuing his feud from the Bush administration, Bolton has threatened travel bans and sanctions on the ICC’s judges, a petty and small response befitting this administration.
America’s ability to influence global events is weaker than ever. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who came into office eager to work with the United States, remarked recently: “I think that the soft power of the United States is being reduced at the present moment... the attraction of American society that was a dominant factor in international relations just a few decades ago is today less clear.”
Abandoning human rights: President Trump and Ambassador Haley have largely forsaken America’s historic commitment to defending human rights and to using the UN system to do so. The Trump administration loudly invokes human rights only when bashing its adversaries, while often remaining silent when their friends, like Russia, commit violations. Because of this hypocrisy, as well as the President’s cozying up to some of the world’s most notorious dictators, our statements on human rights ring hollow.
UN condemnations of the United States have become more common. In an interview with the Guardian, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said: “The Trump administration seems to have separated itself from previous administrations in its upholding of human rights globally.”
American withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council ceded longstanding U.S. leadership on a body with a track record of advancing American core values. By withdrawing from the body, the United States abandoned an opportunity to defend human rights and advance American interests.
Trump’s policies at home have reverberated at the UN as well, further undermining American credibility when it comes to human rights. The Trump administration's family separation policy in particular has earned widespread condemnation across the world.
The U.S. refusal to support the Global Compact for Migration isolated America from not just from our traditional partners and allies, but from nearly the entire planet. After the international community created an historic agreement recognizing every nation’s rights and obligations vis-a-vis the challenge of migration, the Trump administration joined only the increasingly authoritarian government of Hungary in opposing the agreement, letting President Trump’s xenophobia leave us further alienated.
Losing the top position at the International Organization for Migration, a post that, with only one exception, had always been held by Americans, was a stunning break from a long tradition of American leadership. Their cause was simple; the Trump administration nominated a notorious Islamophobe who stood in lockstep with its anti-immigrant agenda.
Trump’s war on women has gone global, following the reinstatement of the “global gag rule,” a partisan policy that denies all U.S. funding to international aid groups and agencies that so much as advise on the issue of abortion. Imposing a barrier to reproductive rights to women around the world, the gag rule falls hardest on some of the most vulnerable women in the world, including survivors of rape in war zones.
A bully’s approach to foreign aid: The Trump administration’s approach to the UN has mirrored its larger chaotic and transactional foreign policy, which hurts American interests and damages global bodies that for decades have supported U.S. goals. Instead of standing on principle, Trump sees diplomacy as zero-sum. The Trump administration has sought to cut foreign aid and crucial American support to the UN at every turn, using threats as a blunt tool to punish those it disagrees with.
Threatening draconian retaliatory cuts to America’s UN dues payments has become standard procedure for Ambassador Haley. After the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to disapprove President Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Trump administration fell back on threatening to cut financial assistance to states that voted against the Trump administration. Such retaliatory pettiness has undermined our standing, making it harder for us to demand meaningful management reforms to the UN and other foreign policy goals.
Cruel cuts to foreign aid have hit the UN hard. New USAID rules make it harder for UN agencies––such as UNICEF, which provides humanitarian aid––to obtain crucial U.S. funding for programs that advance U.S. interests at a fraction of what it would cost us to do so ourselves.
Cuts to aid for Palestinian refugees, intended to exert pressure in the peace process, will instead worsen a bad situation. By zeroing out U.S. financial contributions to UNRWA, the UN body that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, the Trump administration will only punish innocent Palestinians, potentially sparking unrest that will undermine Israel’s security.