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U.S.: Republicans Call for Major Cuts to U.N.

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Sep 16 2011 (IPS) - As leaders from around the globe begin gathering in New York City for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), Republican lawmakers in Washington are calling for a major overhaul of the world body that would almost certainly result in huge cuts to its budget and operations.

Among other provisions, the newly introduced “United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act” would slash U.S. funding to the U.N. unless, within two years, it implemented a voluntary contribution system that would permit Washington to fund only those agencies and programmes “that advance U.S. interests and values”.

The bill would also require Washington to withhold its contributions from any U.N. agency or programme that upgrades the current “observer” status of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – a major issue at this year’s UNGA – and end U.S. contributions to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. body charged with aiding Palestinian refugees since 1949.

Co-sponsored by 57 Republican members of the House of Representatives, the bill, which would also require Washington to end its participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), was originally introduced last month by the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a long- time champion of right-wing foreign policy causes.

Because of the summer recess, however, the bill received little notice at the time, so she arranged to re-introduce it with greater fanfare here earlier this week in a press conference attended by nine of the co-sponsors, including the chief deputy House Republican whip, Rep. Peter Roskam; the chair of the Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, Steve Chabot; and the co-chair, along with Roskam, of the House Republican Israel Caucus, Rep. Michael Grimm.

“This bill is about reforming the U.N. so that it can work again – not trying to bash the UN, or take the U.S. out of the U.N.,” Ros- Lehtinen insisted. “…(L)ast year, as our nation faced a struggling economy, skyrocketing deficits, and crushing debt, the Obama administration contributed 7.7 billion dollars to the U.N. – 21 percent more than we contributed the year before.”


“What did U.S. taxpayers get in return for all of that money? We got a U.N. that is increasingly non-transparent, unaccountable, ineffective, biased against the U.S., Israel, and other free democracies,” she complained.

The bill has been strongly denounced by both the administration of President Barack Obama and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, who said there was little or no chance that it would be enacted into law this year. Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate.

“I cannot see this legislation becoming law,” he told “The Cable” blog on foreignpolicy.com. “I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.’s actions and I share her (Ros-Lehtinen’s) frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you will still get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good they are doing.”

Despite its poor chances of passage, a number of analysts say it requires attention. “While this bill will not become law this year, it should be taken very seriously,” according to Don Kraus, the CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), a national grassroots group.

“It sets the agenda not only for House Republicans, but potentially many of the Republican presidential candidates and Congress in 2013,” he told IPS. “As extreme and misguided as this proposal is, worse ideas have taken a life of their own when not addressed immediately and seriously at their inception.”

Indeed, Republican efforts – led by the far-right chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the late Jesse Helms – to force the U.N. to “reform” by withholding or delaying U.S. dues during the 1990s inflicted serious damage on the world body and its peacekeeping operations, as well as Washington’s image as a responsible superpower. At one point, U.S. arrears exceeded 1.5 billion dollars.

Since the Republicans won a majority in the house last year, they have made the U.N., as well as other multilateral institutions, a major target for budget cuts.

Last month, a key Republican-dominated appropriations committee, among other cuts, sliced a total of 600 million dollars from the administration’s 3.5-billion-dollar 2012 request for the U.N. and its peacekeeping operations. It also zeroed out U.S. contributions to the UNHRC, the U.N. Population Fund, and cut funding to the World Bank and its regional counterparts by a third.

Since the U.N.’s founding, Washington has been its single biggest contributor. The U.S. currently funds 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget and some 27 percent of its peacekeeping budget. The U.N.’s total budget this year is some 22.3 billion dollars, of which the U.S. has paid 6.4 billion dollars.

Under Ros-Lehtinen’s scheme, the U.N. would have two years to shift its funding basis from compulsory-assessed fees to voluntary contributions by member nations. If, by that time, it does not receive 80 percent of its funding from voluntary contributions, then the U.S. would be required to withhold 50 percent of its contribution and continue to do so until the 80 percent mark is achieved.

The bill would also impose new reporting requirements by the U.N. to, among other things, ensure that U.S. contributions are used “for the specific purposes for which (they were) made available by Congress”.

The bill is also clearly designed to discourage ongoing Palestinian efforts to seek U.N. recognition as a state – on which the U.N. Security Council and/or the General Assembly is likely to vote possibly as early as next week – by requiring Washington to withhold contributions to any U.N. agency or programme that accords such recognition.

“Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is blatantly attempting to hijack Americans’ support for Israel in the hopes of derailing the United States’ relationship with the U.N.,” said Kraus. “She is misusing and distorting the high emotions around the Palestine vote to promote her longstanding and extreme anti-U.N. agenda.”

The administration, which has vowed to veto a Palestinian application for statehood in the Security Council in any case, has strongly denounced the bill.

“The goal of reform is one that we are working to pursue every day of the week,” Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters this week. “But we believe very strongly that the way to do that is from the vantage point of a member in good standing that meets its obligations and is viewed as a constructive player where our influence is much enhanced rather than as a laggard and a debtor who’s carping from the outside that things are not changed as we would like to see them changed.”

That charge was echoed by Peter Yeo, director of the U.N. Foundation’s Better World Campaign, who called the bill “short- sighted and extremely dangerous”.

“This bill actually undercuts major reform efforts already underway by forcing the U.S. to lose our vote at the U.N. and relinquishing our ability to press for important changes,” he said.

Yeo’s organisation last week launched an internet campaign, www.LetUSLead.org, to organise against the bill.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

 
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