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Strong words, but few details, from Haley on cuts in U.N. funding

Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, talk on Wednesday March 29, 2017. (Credit: Facebook/Nikki Haley)

The new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley wants to see some changes.

While she championed human rights at an event Wednesday hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, she also criticized the United Nations without evidence or solutions. Her comments echoed the White House’s plan to reduce U.S. contributions to the U.N., taking particular aim at peacekeeping.

“I believe that you will see cuts to the U.N.,” she said. “But I also know that Congress has been unbelievably supportive of me helping them decide where we should cut and how we should cut. And so that’s what I think we’ll see going forward.”

The U.N.’s peacekeeping work was singled out as a place where Haley wants to see cuts. She reiterated the White House’s plan to reduce U.S. contributions to peacekeeping from 28 percent of the total budget to 25 percent. The hope is for a review of the mission to establish “better and smarter peacekeeping operations.”

“We don’t want to just cut for the sake of cutting,” she said. “There are places we can cut. Everybody knows there’s fat at the U.N. Everybody knows there’s fat in the peacekeeping missions. So that’s why we’re taking each one.”

Haley said she spoke with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the draw-down of peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of that is already happening. The outgoing peacekeeping head Hervé Ladsous said he expects the missions in Haiti, Ivory Coast and Liberia to end by March 2018.

The savings on those missions may be offset by the U.N.’s desire to increase its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan by 4,000 troops. Achieving that expansion and continuing the mission in the Congo will be difficult if the U.S. contributes less money.

“Trump and his U.N. Ambassador Haley have proposed an arbitrary figure of funding cuts before carrying out a review of the relevant issues,” Paul Williams, international affairs professor at George Washington University, told Humanosphere.

Williams said that by picking an amount to cut, the U.S. undermines its ability to carry out an effective review. Former Assistant Secretary for the U.S. International Organization Affairs Bureau Bathsheba Crocker agreed, tweeting that threats by the U.S. to walk away weakens calls for other countries to pay more. There is plenty of room for reform in U.N. peace operations, but that requires the cooperation of member states, including the U.S. and other world leaders, and the secretary-general.

“This is not an example of good leadership,” Williams said. “Nor are they leading by example- they are a corrupt and unaccountable administration at home demanding accountability from the U.N.”

Haley’s most controversial proposal calls for reduced forces in the Congo. She accused the mission of “aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people.” The mandate for the $1.2 billion mission is set to expire tomorrow. Experts and humanitarians would like to see the mission extended to ensure a peaceful presidential election later this year.

Just this week, two bodies were discovered and identified as members of the U.N. Group of Experts on Congo. They had been investigating human rights violations in the region when they were captured with their interpreter and drivers on March 12. Many experts point to these kinds of challenges to documenting abuses as one of the many reasons not to draw down the peacekeeping force there.

The U.S. will take over leadership of the U.N. Security Council next month. Human rights and U.N. reform are the top agenda items, Haley said. And she indicated that she planned to put the Human Rights Council “on notice” during her planned speech to the body in June. The ambassador previously criticized both U.N. bodies for their treatment of Israel – calling the Human Rights Council “so corrupt” on Wednesday.

Haley summoned many of the same critiques leveled at the U.N. by previous administrations. She described the Security Council as “basically a club” where there is “constant pressure to comply with this culture,” much like her experience with the South Carolina legislature. Reform is possible with her experience as governor and the “wave of populism that is challenging institutions like the United Nations and shaking them to their foundations.”

The comments were a tamer version of remarks she delivered at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday. She also used the vague phrase of putting member states “on notice” and declared that the “days of Israel-bashing are over.”

“I wear heels. It’s not for a fashion statement,” she said. “It’s because if I see something wrong, we’re going to kick them every single time.”

The critical language at both events was not matched with specific proposals. Other major issues facing the U.N. were not discussed on Wednesday. She made no mention of the historic famine warning for four countries. The U.S. has been virtually silent in response to the emerging crisis that requires more than $4 billion, according to the U.N.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]