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U.S. seeks to cut U.N. funding by more than half, according to report

A view of the Secretariat Building, with Members States’ flags flying in the foreground, at United Nations headquarters in New York. (Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

The Trump administration wants to cut U.S. contributions to the U.N. by more than 50 percent, according to a report from Foreign Policy.

The reduction is significantly more than what was set out in a draft executive order leaked in late January. And the proposal would come on top of a proposed 37 percent cut to the U.S. Agency for International Development expected to be in the administration’s 2018 budget proposal, to be released on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already indicated that the White House budget proposal would likely not pass. But the effort shows that the Trump administration is willing to target the U.N. to cut federal spending. The proposal comes after U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley chastised the Security Council and threatened to leave the Human Rights Council over what she called an anti-Israeli bias.

U.S. contributions account for roughly one-quarter of the U.N. budget. A funding cut would be devastating at a time when world faces a series of major humanitarian crises, including war and famine.

The response to the Syrian civil war and the immense pressure it has put on neighboring countries and Europe has been hampered by limited funding already.

Meanwhile, more than 20 million people in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and the Lake Chad basin in West Africa face starvation and famine, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien warned. Famine was declared in parts of South Sudan and declaration in Somalia is expected soon.

“We stand at a critical point in history,” O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council late last week. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”

U.S. officials reportedly told other wealthy nations at the U.N. that it plans to cut contributions. Unnamed European diplomats told Foreign Policy that they were not told specific figures. It is also unclear how the cuts would be enacted and over what period of time. One U.S. official said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has the opportunity to decide how to move forward. That means cuts could be immediate or spread out over a few years.

There is also uncertainty over which programs would be affected. The State Department directly funds UNICEF, the U.N. Development Program and peacekeeping. State Department officials reportedly were asked to find $1 billion in savings amid the annual $2.5 billion peacekeeping contribution. The World Food Program gets a lot of its U.S. money through the Department of Agriculture, which does not expect the same level of cuts.

“The situation for people in each country is dire and without a major international response, the situation will get worse,” said O’Brien. “The U.N. and its partners are ready to scale up. But we need the access and the funds to do more. It is all preventable. … This is frankly not the time to ask for more detail or use that postponing phrase, ‘what would you prioritize?’ Every life on the edge of famine and death is equally worth saving.”


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]